Hello, Wicked Wolves, this is Carson of Something Wicked Games coming to you with some not-so-pleasant news. We will be shutting down this blog. The Author was caught with copious amounts of methamphetamine and has been summarily discharged from service. Please tune into the youtube channel for further news.
Now that the obligatory April Fools joke is out of the way, let us move on to the true subject of this essay. This week I plan on discussing the great contributions to the medium made by ZOG’s Nightmare and Custer’s Revenge.
Despite the backlash generated by these two games I took great pleasure in seeing such honest and meaningful attempts at putting forward a compelling narrative. ZOG’s Nightmare, in particular, was a chilling and unflinching look at a serious threat to American culture. It wouldn’t be for another few years that Call of Juarez would make such a brave statement about national security.
Okay, that last one put a bad taste in my mouth. Happy April Fool’s day, Wolves. This is the Author and this week we will be talking about trolling.
We are at a very interesting crossroads as a culture. 5 years ago you couldn’t so much as log onto Xbox Live without getting slammed in the face by a barrage of sexism, racism, and overall bad behavior. Nowadays, while the previous statement remains the case, I have seen a rather interesting reversal of fortunes. Whereas before the general consensus has been “Ignore the trolls, they’ll always be there”, nowadays I’m seeing a more active internet. The other day I saw one guy in a raid bad mouthing a healer that forgot to switch tanks (or some other minor mistake we have all made)… real disgusting stuff. I prefer to avoid cursing here (my father used to say that cursing was the last bastion of those without an argument) but there were some pretty vitriolic sexist and racial slurs getting tossed. Details aside the rest of the raid jumped on this guy like the Flood. Seriously, everyone started berating this druid and at the end of it all the entire raid (24 people not including the offender) reported him to customer support.
Now, to anyone who doesn’t regularly visit forum boards this might seem like common decency mixed with some cowboy justice, but on the internet, this kind of cooperation to save an underdog is what is known as a Big the Cat deal (I’m subbing out my curses with b-list character names, what do you think?). The internet has never been a place for team thinking. The internet, for the longest time, has been somewhat of a libertarian dystopia. Since the foundation of 4-chan and Reddit the internet has has been a place where anybody with enough balls to ask for help usually got crushed under the heel of those who have already lost sight of their dreams. To see a crowd unanimously and spontaneously decide to rally behind the guy with less firepower is such a big deal that I was literally stunned into silence by the raid’s response to this one druid’s bile.
So what does this have to do with anything? Well, the slogan “don’t feed the troll” is starting to take a slightly different connotation. I personally believe that we are at a point where we have to better define the word “troll”. For the longest a troll was someone who intentionally disrupted conversation for the sake of ‘lulz’ and the term was used as a blanket to cover every jerk that calls Obama a “household negro” (I’m looking at you, grave of Bin Laden, Scoreboard!). Nowadays. Well. I’m simply not sure, hence why we’re here.
I believe that nowadays, the term “troll” refers only to a small portion of internet ne’er do wells. I posit that we need to divide these guys into 3 (who guessed) categories. Those categories are: harassers, detractors and trolls.
“But why would it be important? These people are pains in my Banjo”. Three words: clarity breeds enlightenment. The first step in perfecting anything should always be defining exactly what you want. Say, for example, you say “the internet would be perfect without any trolls”. Well right there you’ve eliminated everyone who self identifies as a troll. You’ve eliminated Carson, all of Barrens Chat and about 85% of anonymous. Do you really think that Vanilla WoW would have been as cool without the capital raids? Do you think Trade Chat would be any more charming without [Thunderfury, Blessed Blade of the Windseeker]? How about the ‘Anal’ game (you know, where you post the word “anal” before an otherwise innoculous term… like Anal [Eviscerate], Anal [Firebolt] and Anal [Victory Rush]).
All of the above examples are instances where disruption of the flow of events (in this case, the disruption of WoW’s bustling economy) manages to enrich the experience. This essay is entirely about defining what a troll is in comparison to other not-so-helpful internet denizens. First I will start with griefers, then disruptors, then (finally) trolls.
So, what is a griefer? I usually call them harassers but that lacks the elegance I prefer in my writings. Griefers are those despicable fellows you see in LFR all the time. You know the sort, the healer misses one dispel and this jerk flies into a torrent of racial and sexist slurs. It happens all of the time. The funny thing is you don’t even have to do anything to warrant the ire of a griefer.
Tell me if you recognize this story. So, you’re pugging (mom, the acronym PUG stands for Pick Up Group. It’s the term used to describe when, instead of bringing your own friends to a dungeon or raid, you allow the computer to sort you into a group that is missing your role) Siege of Orgrimmar. It’s taking you an excruciatingly long amount of time to down Sha of Pride. Suddenly you hit the soft enrage and the swarm of adds wipes the raid (okay, mom, enrage is a mechanic that most bosses have in WoW. What happens is that as time goes on either the mechanics increase steadily in difficulty (which is called Soft Enrage) or the boss’s stats suddenly skyrocket after some arbitrary amount of time (called Hard Enrage). It’s WoW’s way of saying “you’re too slow, try it again). Suddenly a warlock with the handle ‘Lotsofdots’ pipes up calling for the expulsion of the entire healing team because ‘we would have been able to do it if those cunts got back in the kitchen and let real gamers heal’. Those that don’t immediately reach for the ‘report abuse’ button decide to check the damage meter to see Lotsofdots is below the tank in damage (for the record, mom, the tank is a role designed to sacrifice damage dealing for the ability to soak huge amounts of damage. The only time it’s acceptable to be below the tank in damage is if you’re the healer). You roll your eyes, call for a counter action to kick the lock and continue on your day (unless your raid goes full lemur. How many times have I seen the tank team get kicked because the healers refuse to remove curse. Never go full lemur).
Let us move onto the psychological make up of the griefer. The griefer is typically characterized by an extremely low threshold for tolerance. This low threshold is usually caused by some deep rooted insecurity. This insecurity could concern something going on in his/her personal life. It could stem from his/her fears. I am of the school of thought that claims “psychology is everything” and thus believe that this unacceptable behavior can stem from anything from childhood abuse to a recently stubbed toe. Regardless of the cause, this otherwise rational individual has some disturbingly intense need to shuffle his/her anguish onto someone else. Quite ironically, these individuals are rarely bad people. In fact, out of the three categories of miscreants I am describing today, the griefer is the least likely to be actively evil. Griefers are typically just normal people having a very bad run.
So, how do we handle griefers? I usually go with a three strike rule on these guys. You know how it goes. First offense is rewarded with a verbal warning. Typically this is accomplished by a simple ‘will you stop that? What did she do to deserve you blasting her like this’. Second offense warrants a shot across the bow. I typically achieve this by sending a personal message. For some reason the purple text that characterizes a private message hits a lot more clearly than a general warning. The third offense is responded to with a full offensive. If after the second offense behavior doesn’t cease then I start calling to report and kick the offender. The real trick to it all, however, is never responding positively to a griefer’s behavior. I am not saying “don’t feed the troll”, what I am saying, however, is that any positive response whatsoever will justify this guy’s vitriol. Do not let him know that any part of his argument is valid. Even if the healer does suck you should never publicly acknowledge this in the presence of the griefer. If the griefer happens to be right, to use the previous example, private message the healer and talk out whats going on. If you acknowledge the griefer’s behavior in a public setting then you will have contributed to the group going full lemur.
Okay, moving on. The second variety is the Disruptor. If the griefer is an incompentant coach that throws the water cooler every time the play fails to make a goal, then the disruptor is the Chaser that immediately flies back to the locker room every time he gets his hands on the quaffle. Now that my nerd credentials have been proven, lets see what the disruptor looks like.
Let us move first to the most obvious example. I direct your attention to Minecraft. Also, note that as soon as I mentioned Minecraft everyone reading this essay experienced a ‘nam flashback featuring a life-sized replica of the USS Enterprise (that took you and your friends 5 months to build from the bridge to the nacelles) filled to capacity with TNT (or nukes, if you have the mods for it) and detonated. The disruptor uses the rules of an environment for the explicit purpose of interfering with the intent of an environment. Anyone who’s ever played an FPS knows that a camper is also an excellent example of this. Now, I know we all know what a camper is but you know how I am about defining terms. A camper is a player (typically in a team format, but often found in Free For All matches) whom, instead of following the intended rules of a match, picks an easily concealable but frequently trafficked spot and nukes anyone who walks by. There is a variant of the camper called the Fragger who refuses to even let his teammates dodge his wrath. Now, this sounds like a good thing (the camper, not the fragger) but you have to keep in mind that Deathmatch is but one of many pvp formats with formats like King of the Hill, Capture the Flag or Assault being more popular in many modern games.
So, let us look at the psych profile of the disruptor. While on the surface a disruptor looks a lot like a griefer or a troll, the cause for disruptor behavior comes from somewhere more primal source. You see, while natural evolution is a largely linear affair with changes happening steadily over millions of years, technological evolution grows exponentially. Think of it this way: 200 years ago we were mostly farmers. While slight shifts in technology allowed for more efficient harvesting and planting, your life wasn’t much different from your grandmother’s or her grandmother’s. In fact, the story of Jesus Christ (which occurred 2000-1966 years ago) made a compelling argument as to why women couldn’t take jobs like soldier or smithy that remained true (if detestable) until the invention of Penicillin. The growth of technology has picked up in pace since then, by 1950 nobody was expected to walk to their place of employment, by the 60’s we could travel across the planet in 12 hours, by the 90’s you could get any book ever published without leaving your lay-z-boy and nowadays if you stop upgrading your equipment for a year then half of the junk in your house is outdated tech. Hell, my cellphone is an Iphone 5 and I’m already getting compatibility issues with some of my apps and in 10 years there will be a device in every first-world home that instantly builds any 3d structure, from microchips to edible sandwiches, with little more than a few keystrokes. Our brains are literally incapable of handling the stresses our bodies take on a regular basis and this dissonance shows itself in virtual spaces. We are in a world where nobody needs to starve, yet our brains are still working on the theory that if a vagrant steals a single ear of corn we could literally starve to death. How does this translate to virtual spaces and video games? Well, try to translate that concept into game terms. Imagine a variant of Team King of the Hill in which only the person with the most contribution points actually gets the win with everyone who failed to get the absolute highest score recieving the goose-egg for ranking and ladder points, even if they are on the same team and achieved final scores that were only 1 point apart. When you play in that mindset (consciously or unconsciously) it becomes really easy to think “I’m failing because Naughtyseal148 has built a bigger castle than mine” and decide to mercilessly stand on top of an ally’s corpse and kill them over and over and over for 5 or 6 hours to prevent them from getting a new raid character. After all, if all you need to win is the highest score then the most logical way to win is to prevent anyone else, friendly or otherwise, from scoring anything.
So how do we combat disruptors? This is a rough one because relatively few spaces offer suitable means of punishing people who aren’t technically breaking the rules or mistreating the world. I mean, how many times have you tried to talk to a moderator only to get the standard: “Well it’s not like we can ban everybody who uses TNT, he really isn’t breaking any rules.”, “I’m sorry and I know he doesn’t deserve a key to our club but if we banned every clothy that rolls need on plate gear then we’d have to levy sanctions against everyone who ever misclicked” or “we simply don’t have the manpower to litigate every instance of camping and every time we try to write an algorithm to do it for us we start getting false flag complaints from people who engage in legitimate PvP. I mean, how do you tell a computer that it’s only camping if player A kills player B 5 times in 5 minutes and only if player B isn’t given enough time to recover or flee between engagements?”.
There is no silver bullet for killing disruptive behavior. Look at the issues Youtube is going through right now. Every 30 minutes 3000 hours of footage gets uploaded to Youtube. To put that in perspective, that’s 6000 hours of footage every hour of the day, 144,000 hours of footage every day and the average person lives 631,139 hours. That means if you took a newborn baby fresh from the womb, placed her in front of a computer and played every video that was uploaded since the second of her birth, she would die before finishing footage uploaded 5 days after she was born. Youtube tried to write an algorithm to manage people who tried to monetize copyrighted footage and now Carson is making me post his Truth Behind theories here because every time he spends 2 months putting together footage he gets flagged the next day, resulting in Capcom getting all the proceeds from the hundreds of hours SWG put into crafting an alternate storyline and recording relevant footage proving that Megaman was intended as a sentient weapon of mass destruction and not, say, a cybernetic defender of humanity (yes, I will be picking up The Truth Behind, stay tuned for TTB Pokemon).
Actually, I lied, I can think of one possible way to fight disruptors. It’s a bit draconian but I know it works. We need to bring back the public execution, metaphorically speaking, of course. We need to hit disruptors hard, hit them fast, and hit them in a very visible way. How do we do this? Pick 20 cases every week and ban the offenders. I know, 20 is an infinitesimal sample compared to all of the disruptive use out there but it takes advantage of the Availability Heuristic (the tendency to exaggerate the likeliness of an event based on how easy it is to find examples). Your players don’t need to believe that you will prosecute every single incursion, they just need to see how screwed they are if they are caught. As it stands most social game developers use a similar, though inferior, technique. Yes, they do ban people regularly for disruptive behavior but it’s really hard to see this when the only evidence we have that someone has been banned is that they stop showing up in trade chat or LFR. This leads people to fall into confirmation bias (the tendancy to lend more credibility to on personal experience than mathematical statistics), and assume that nobody’s listening to the call for help, thus leading to a drop in reporting.
Finally we get to the title of this essay. What is a troll? Well, if the griefer is the cooler pitching coach and the disruptor throws the bludger at his own teammates, then the troll is the guy who yells ‘GO METS’ at the quidditch match. I intentionally put trolls near the end of this essay because, as opposed to the other two, I don’t feel that trolls are, at all, a threat to our community. Every village has it’s fool and trolls have fought hard to bring levity and gravity to otherwise boring experiences. I’m not saying all trolls are good or that trolls serve the role of rebel alliance standing in defiance of an repressive empire. What I am saying, however, is that nobody would be running Molten Core anymore if linking [Thunderfury, Blessed Blade of the Windseeker] (a piece of gear that hasn’t been relevant since 2007) in trade chat wasn’t such a big Master Chiefing deal. Hell, I would even argue that WoW wouldn’t have become such a huge phenomenon if it weren’t for pranks like world boss kiting (people used to kite 40 man raid bosses to capital cities where they would kill NPC and player alike until the moderators were forced to reboot the server) or the ability for mages to sneeze and throw everyone in front of them off a cliff.
So, psychology of a troll. There is one motivation for true trolling. That motivation is, as Anonymous claims, the ‘lulz’. What is a ‘lulz’ you ask? Well, a lulz is an offshoot of the term ‘lol’ meaning to Laugh out Loud. Just like how in every language there are words that take completely different meaning when spoken with different inflections, the term ‘lol’ takes different meaning if spelled in different ways. It can be spelled ‘lol’, ‘lmao’, ‘lulz’, ‘lawl’, etc. and each different spelling carries with it a slightly different meaning. ‘lmao’, for instance, is used in situations that actually make you chuckle while ‘lol’ is used if one recognizes the humorous potential of an event. Trolls, however, are more interested in ‘lulz’, a permutation of ‘lol’ used to describe humor at the expense of another entity. This entity doesn’t even have to be a person, I’ve seen people spell out crude messages with murloc corpses. Nothing says “I don’t care” quite like the words “Jak you” spelled out in Minecraft torches.
The primary difference here is that trolls are (mostly) harmless. Sure, occasionally you will find a jerk that will write “1 box has your diamond pickaxe, the other 3 are wired to TNT” on a sign in the middle of your castle, but that’s the exception rather than the rule. I know, on first, second, and third glance a troll looks a disruptor and one could easily assume that there is no real difference, both work to interrupt the flow of play and both (in sufficient qualities) are extremely annoying. So why differentiate? As I said before, disruptors do their thing out of a need to dominate while trolls act both to amuse themselves and those around them. For example, the Playstation Online DDoS was the work of disruptors seeking to royally screw a bunch of people for personal gain while the infamous incident at the Habbo Hotel (pool is closed, full of aids) was a work of trolls attempting to bring levity to a community.
Now that I’ve defined terms and (possibly) offended some people I will move on to the point. How do we combat trolls? Well, in actuality, I’m not sure trolling is a thing that needs stopping. Most of the internet (and certainly all of it’s comedic content) was built on the backs of trolls. Sure, organizations and movements can be built entirely with anger or desperation, but communities, that is to say, groups of people gathered for social purposes, are cemented with comedy and levity. Every village needs it’s idiot (or in the case of Valley 4 Winds, a village of idiots). The long and the short of it is I’m not sure places like Devianart, Azeroth or Facebook would survive without trolls.
So, that’s my bit on trolls. Sorry if the intro scared anyone, I had to try my hand at messing with people. Next time you see someone post “Anal [Rupture]” or some guy named WanyeKest shout “Varian Wrynn doesn’t care about green people” in trade chat, followed by an audible collective groan, I want you to think about where the world would be without those guys. Sure they’re annoying. Sure they’re obnoxious. Sure they’re idiots, but they’re our idiots. Happy April fools, everybody
- what is your favourite game joke?
- Do you consider there to be a difference between the 3 varieties of internet miscreants? Why?
- Do you think I missed any other distinctions? Why?
- Does the term “don’t feed the trolls” still apply? If not, did it ever?
- Now that we have had some time with this new format, what do you think about it? Why?