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.)