For Science: The psychology of online gaming toxicity, fanpersonism, and gamer identity

    
40

Over the holidays, I bumped into some great video material from author and YouTuber Caleb Ross that seems useful for online gamers in particular. After all, if you want to fight toxicity, within or without you, you need to understand why people act awful online in the first place.

“Why do some players turn into angry trolls the moment other players are introduced?” the first video asks. “Let’s turn to player psychology to find out why Online Me is such a piece of shit!” Yes, that was a joke. The answer is basically “deindividuation” – that’s when your identity fades a bit in a group, leading to reductions in “social accountability” and “self-monitoring.” In other words, we feel more anonymous within the group, and we know there aren’t going to be consequences for being a turd. Compounding the problem is the fact that the people in the group are transient, so you rarely have to deal with the same people twice.

This, he says, was the rationale for things like Blizzard’s (rejected) RealID in World of Warcraft and Riot’s League of Legends player behavior team, since it turns out that the effects of “deindividuation” can be muted by proper social programming in the other direction, but of course studios have to actually do that with intentionality.

The second video, titled “Why do videogame fanboys/girls want to fight you,” focuses on fanpersonism that veers toward toxicity. Ross uses Fallout 76 and himself as an example, pointing out that his brain worked hard to convince himself that Fallout 76 was fine when it most obviously was not. It’s the unfortunate effect of choice-supportive bias: We’re biased in favor of stuff we choose/buy in an attempt to dodge buyer’s remorse, and that ties into our identity, which translates into everything from console wars to openly sexist groups within the fandom.

They’re fun watches if you want to understand the psychology behind why you support the games you support and why some gamers are ruining it for the rest of us.

Source: YouTube
newest oldest most liked
Subscribe to:
Reader
Anton Mochalin

Sometimes I love to be somewhat “toxic” in games and I’m happy it’s so easy and doesn’t have much consequence.

Reader
Hikari Kenzaki

What this doesn’t touch on is the people who hate on a game despite its many improvements over months or years.

People can get just as entrenched in an idea that “Game X Sucks!” and will continue the comments equivalent of plugging their ears and screaming La La La when anyone shows proof otherwise.

You see this often in the “Oh yeah, I played that for a couple months and left because it ______” and the players playing it now scratch their heads and say “But… that was 4 years ago…”

It comes down to the fact that they’ve become invested in a thought process/ideology and pride won’t allow them to reevaluate.

Reader
Robert Mann

Lack of accountability and consequence. Leaving the second off is a mistake, because without a consequence quite a few people simply look at the unhappy people around them and raise one rude finger.

MilitiaMasterV
Reader
MilitiaMasterV

I think the bigger question we need to start asking is why has acting like this become normal in greater society, even with actual consequences still taking place?

Reader
Danny Smith

You could have just put a big ‘brand loyalty’ sticker on the ten year old ‘greater internet dickwad theory’ penny arcade comic and call it good.

MurderHobo
Reader
MurderHobo

It’s interesting, but I think it’s an error to associate the problem with the psychology of the troublesome players while failing to address the environment of the games which enable them.

If you create shitgoblin and murderhobo simulators, don’t be surprised when you get shitgoblins and murderhobos as a result.

I’m of the exterminatus camp in this. Give the players the ability to remove the problem. I think it’s a naive to think that any publisher can referee any world of value without the players being involved in protecting their own interests.

Reader
Robert Mann

Player tools are surely an important part of this… but I believe that developers and gamers deserve better than what we have. Basically, make those who are atrocious jerks have their own place where they are confined, across all platforms, based on real identity. After 5-10 years they can be ‘evaluated’ at cost to themselves for a return to the general gaming public.

Reader
TheDonDude

Good to see Aperture Science has branched out into new areas.

Reader
Fervor Bliss

Think he should of added self-righteousness that being a level 100, and riding a super sparkle pony brings. The levels of gear and character seem to foster a mindset that, they have all knowledge and no one else can have a credible view of a game.

Reader
McGuffn

Even better when they buy their account and sparkle pony from a goldseller and then opine.

Reader
draugris

Yep, the lack of consequences brings always out the best in human beings

Reader
Utakata

I am not sure it would have any effect on toxicity though. Because, people do asshole things because they’re assholes. However, I can see having less consequences would be a degree less toxic, as opposed to a high stress environment with consequences. As it gives peeps less reason to be …err, assholes over. o.O

Reader
draugris

I disagree with that one. There is a reason why civilized countries have laws. It is not so long ago that the human race climbed down from the trees and without rules and consequences if you break them, life would be a bit like in online games. Only survival of the fittest and strongest or in other words pure anarchy. We are unfortunately not so far developed as a race that we can interact with each other peacefully without something that keeps us in line.

But I do not purely blame the players. Development Studios and publishers are also to blame. They are not even able to define clearly what is toxic? Where is the red line? “Toxicity” is like “Entitlement” one of the most overused words ever. For some studios or devs, if you critique their games you are toxic. We had a few examples in 2018.

So if the industry is sometimes in the future able to define clear policies for them and for their player base on how to interact with each other I would support real consequences for inappropriate behaviour.

Reader
Utakata

Err…putting aside the social Darwinist weirdness of where the narrative of this is all going, why would you want such when you just claimed lack of consequences always brings out the best in human beings? Sounds like you actually posted that as if it where a bad thing. O.o

Reader
Robert Mann

That was sarcasm. 100% pure grade AA sarcasm. It just lacks a nice vocal tone over the internet! :D

Reader
Utakata

I was wondering such…as it seemed an overly optomistic proclamation even by this social anarchist’s standards. But there was no real indication he was being sarcastic outside of reading this poster’s mind, so I took as is. >.<

That said, there are two rather big problems with his position then. 1) Real consequences already exist, even in games. 2) And that does not really deter toxic behavior and/or the worst of humanity. So becoming more fascist will unlikely make us more civil. Probably the opposite.

Reader
Robert Mann

No worries on missing it as sarcasm, as I noted text doesn’t have a very good indicator without a big sign saying “Sarcasm here!” or some such. *Sorry for wall of text to follow.*

As to consequences, the current ones are at best annoyances to people. Oh dear, I have to roll a new account? That’s… so not difficult. Less than $100 certainly isn’t a consequence of note either. Where there’s nothing that ever deters the worst people, there is success in isolating those people from others so they cannot do harm.

I do contend that the primary reason that people are asshats is that they don’t get punched in the face for it. Where I dislike the idea of violence as the solution, I really mean more that a consequence has to be significant enough to matter. Such as being placed in a 10-year gaming limbo where the only servers one can join online are full of the same raging asshats who have nothing but the desire to gank and offline raid people who aren’t in their little club… which means that their griefing hobby is over for a long time. Of course, getting devs and publishers to work together and agree to do that is another story.

Reader
Utakata

I think I would find this more agreeable if we replace the word “consequence” with “accountability”.

As it stands, there is too much emphasis on punishment as opposed to reward with consequence. And thus, it would likely drive most players away from the game if not frustrate them, to say the least. Accountability though, gives the player the opportunity to own their mistakes and infractions. Allowing them to fix it and move on, or face the music. Whether through gameplay (ie. that was a bad pull), social interactions (don’t be an asshat) and/or Terms of Use (here’s that game vacation you where trolling for) .

Reader
Robert Mann

You can be accountable without having consequence to your actions, though. As in, there are things where people can take note, but since these people largely do not care if others are happy with them.

Since accountability merely means that others are considering you responsible, it is the first part of the equation. However, without consequences (positive or negative) accountability amounts to nothing but the perception of integrity one has. They aren’t the same thing, both are needed.

P.S. I’m all for positive consequences as well. For example, maybe developers and publishers start a “People of the week” award that features a $10 gift card for being excellent to others in games…

Reader
Skoryy

That would depend on the consequences. I’ve found its hard for stuff like shame to work when its not directly applied in person. If its anything you can easily work around or have to face up to, then its really not any consequence at all.

Reader
Robert Mann

Shame is a social construct, and is more tied to the accountability side than the consequence side. The consequence in the case would be that other people are upset or disappointed with you (which they don’t care about either).

Such a consequence is not effective, which is why I try to specify that the consequences involved need to be effective.

Reader
draugris

You don´t really understand the concept of sarcasm do you lol ? Nevermind bro

Reader
Utakata

Yes, I use it quite a bit actually. And thnkx! But that’s not really an interesting question here though. Rather, it’s whether you understand the concept of sarcasm…err, “bro”.

Reader
draugris

Oh I do, the only thing I forget from time to time is that you kids need a Kappa behind it to get the sarcasm. So I apologize.

Reader
Utakata

For the record though, I understood it was sarcasm. But since there was nothing to indicate it was, I assumed to take it at face value…as I couldn’t rule it out it wasn’t. With folks making the such ludicrous claims and proclamations on the internets, it’s very hard to distinguish when someone is pulling a Poe.

But you should be thankful at least, it brought out a thoughtful discussion on this with reasonable discourse. So in the end, it was your win. :)

Reader
Robert Mann

It would, although you are correct that some would just go blazing forward with their asshat on. The wonderful thing about consequences is that those can include removal of the asshat wearer from interaction with the rest of us.

Reader
Kickstarter Donor
Patreon Donor
Loyal Patron
Ashfyn Ninegold

Group dynamics. Amazing how it works everywhere you go. Also amazing that MMO devs proclaim to want to make toxic-free games but fail to get past the basics to understand why games are full of insults, aggressive behavior and threats. They make games for teenagers but don’t understand teenage (even as an adult) behavior?

Deindividuation is a nice therapist couch word that seems to be the opposite of individuation. I suppose if you think of individuation as conscious behavior and deindividuation as unconscious behavior, it works.

But it really just comes down to a plain old fight to see who’s in charge of the group and who is recognized as a member of the in-crowd. Just the usual atavistic behavior.

smuggler-in-a-yt
Reader
Kickstarter Donor
Patreon Donor
Loyal Patron
smuggler-in-a-yt

TL;DR MMOs that want different results need to be designed differently. The human condition is, and will be, immutable for the foreseeable future.

Yup. This. People in the individual are remarkably unpredictable, but interesting things happen when they start to group together. The more people you get together, the less they act like individuals and the more they start to act like well, a thing. Plenty of visualizations of crowds that start behaving more like liquid flows than anything resembling individual conscious choice.

So much research has been done in this area, and indeed Wired had a fantastic write up on a leader in the space who’s been advocating for a unifying theory of stimulus response.

(See the article on Friston here: https://www.wired.com/story/karl-friston-free-energy-principle-artificial-intelligence/)

If we know people won’t change. And we know that the current design models which are targeted as direct dopamine release (typically through destructive behaviors) don’t work, then it’s time to start focusing on new ideas which will work.

Then, once you’ve got a game/platform which isn’t inciting the worst of humanity’s faults, you can actually work on removing the trolls.

Until then. Stick to single player games. Like nuking the site from orbit, it’s the only way to be sure.