Another problem with online gaming.

There’s an article in the New York Times about the prevalence of trolls in online gaming.  The article focuses particularly on their attacks on female gamers, but it also speaks to a larger point about trolls in general.  The key line is: “For trolls, offensive language — sexist, racist, homophobic comments — are interchangeable weapons that vary with the target.”

This is absolutely true, and the core of understanding troll behavior.  Trolls are not deeply committed to racist, sexist, or homophobic ideologies.  They are simply interested in causing as much trouble as they possibly can, and see such insults as a means of doing this.

The difficulty with online gaming–and this is another reason I avoid it–is that seems to have been inadvertently designed as an almost perfect platform for trolls.   Frankly, the primary purpose of online gaming seems to me to be to encourage trash-talking, and trolling is but a mutated form of trash-talking.

Everything I have seen indicates that the online experience delivers, on average, no better of an experience than playing the A.I.  For every highly-skilled player, there are ten unskilled players whose performance is below that of a competent A.I.  The only advantage online offers over offline is the ability to compete with some stranger, and beat him or her at the game.  And then, of course, the trash-talking.  Trash-talking a machine is simply not as satisfying.

To me personally, trash-talking in any venue is a pointless and stupid activity.  I hate it when athletes do it, I hate it when people on internet forums do it, and I hate it when gamers do it.  The difficulty, as highlighted in the NYT article, is how to manage it so it stays within decent bounds.  But the online gaming services won’t eliminate it outright, however, because they would be destroying their own market.  A blogger named Ferrerman wrote some posts about a related phenomenon on internet forums. (Be warned: he uses a lot of strong language to make his point.)


  1. Just after my family got ourselves a dial-up connection in the mid nineties, I used to cruise Starcraft’s My connection was too poor to game, but I wasn’t there for that: I simply logged in and out of chatrooms, watching the conversations. The intensity of feeling that seemed to exist was riveting to me: utterly hateful interactions, offender and offended. I couldn’t understand where these people were coming from- why Starcraft players were such angry, aggressive individuals.

    Now I see it as part of the larger phenomenon you’re talking about here- still as epidemic as it was fifteen years ago. All part of the cover of anonymity we can pull over ourselves in cyberspace, I guess.

    1. I can believe that gamers might be a little more aggressive than the typical internet denizen–after all, they play because they want to compete with people. But in truth, almost every internet forum I have seen ultimately devolves into nasty troll wars.

      My theory is that the internet is so crowded with stuff that people feel like they need to be offensive to even get noticed. And there’s some truth to this, sadly; because I’ve noticed that civil comments on forums to get ignored and lost in the sea of vitriol.

      Fortunately, blogs seem to generally have a much higher standard of discourse.

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