Today’s Ask Mo is not really about comment moderation, but it’s where I want to start.
Over the years of trying to cat-herd Massively OP’s comments, I’ve come to believe much more in second chances. You know the old League of Legends lesson that most toxic folks don’t even truly know they’re being toxic? That cultural norms of toxic subgroups can seriously warp folks’ perceptions of what’s acceptable in society? Sometimes people just need a gentle reminder that what they’re doing isn’t OK, and a lot of times, they really do stop when warned. This is a challenge for sure when someone’s flown into a rage at me over a warning, but you’d be surprised how many times an angry rant has been followed up with a “shit, I’m sorry, I way overreacted” email later, and I’ll either reverse bans or just encourage them to make a fresh start with a new username that has no baggage or history with the mods or the other commenters.
One member of our community who did just that – swapped his username and started fresh to stop other commenters who knew his history from heckling him – recently wrote to me to point out that this same phenomenon afflicts MMORPGs too, only there’s no easy way to fix it.
“I think positive criticism is a lost art that keeps discussions civilized, communities civilized, and is a refresher that half of our community in MOP comments section needs a refresher on,” he opined. “I’m not perfect but I have certainly taken steps toward improving my discourse with others in the past year [following the change of my username]. Unfortunately it seems that once a game gets targeted as a dead game people lose the ability to say anything positive about the game being discussed.”
I now wish I had included “dead game” in our last Overthinking about MMO terms we wanted to ban because holy heck I hate “dead game.” It’s obnoxious hyperbole, and it can absolutely wreck a very much living game when it catches on. I wonder how many small games would be better off if Reddit, which in its worst form is designed and used to provoke and promote drama and conflict and yes clickbait, didn’t exist. How much of a game’s success is based on nothing more than faith that other people still like it? And how many games do we accept as “dead” (read: dying) just because enough loud people shouted it disparagingly?
Look at how many people are still calling Guild Wars 2, for example, a dead game, in spite of the fact that it’s starting up a new season. Obviously Guild Wars 2 isn’t a dead game, in spite of its many issues. We can see its quarterly financials. And sometimes games are called dead before they even launch – Astellia Online being just the most recent victim, attacked by players who haven’t paid the game a lick of attention but trashed it anyway. Bless Online had its problems, but how much were they exacerbated by players insisting it was dead and unresurrectable before that was actually true?
A recent Reddit thread astutely called this phenomenon a “desire for failure” from a “hate wagon” that just wants to see the world burn, with toxic behavior that helps to bring about the MMO genre armageddon they’re hyperbolizing about. Because the reality is most MMORPGs never get a second chance – they don’t get to change their names and start with a clean slate like a commenter who makes a mistake. For every Final Fantasy XIV and Elder Scrolls Online that bombs at launch and recovers spectacularly because both the studio and players didn’t give up on them, we have dozens of smaller studios that can’t just throw money at the problem until their reputation turns around and catches up with their game improvements.
Imagine if people had given WildStar a second chance.
Now, please don’t take this out of context. Some games really do have one foot in the grave and their owners really do deserve shade, to be held accountable by press and players for one breach of community trust or another. I’m not saying let abusive games off the hook, to turn the other cheek just for the sake of rising above.
But that’s not actually the majority of titles being harangued daily in MMO communities just because they made a cash-shop misjudgment five years ago or aren’t in the “big four” or you just don’t like the tone of the community manager or the subreddit isn’t busy enough. The “dead game” snark and outdated grudges aren’t helping anyone. Maybe take a lesson from our reformed commenter: Try giving games more credit instead of more salt when they actually make efforts to improve themselves. Punching down sucks, but punching down forever for the fleeting amusement of the “hate wagon” is actively hurting the genre you purport to love.