League of Legends and the Famously Vitriolic Online Gamer Community

(NOTE: LoL is not alone- or even the worst case- in problems of bad behavior of online gamers. I use it here only as a case study.)

Riot Games, Inc.  reportedly hired psychology PhDs to improve the community. Predictably, they failed—what would a PhD know about the real world? The “Honor” mechanism (which did not require a PhD to invent) was met with some dramatic decreases in reports of bad behavior (perhaps because it felt like punishing others to just not give them Honor). But players continue to rage. I wonder: how much raging and toxicity can be attributed to poor communication?

 The common scenario is this: an event happens in the game (like a team fight), and one player on my team feels it went badly (probably because he died). That player considers why it went badly and perceives a failing of another team member. But in what did this other team member fail? To follow the strategy envisioned by the first player. Yet in all likelihood, the second player feels that the first has failed to follow her strategy. It may even be the case that either strategy- if effectively communicated and executed, would be entirely successful.  Yet each players feels the other has simply performed poorly, even though each player had a carefully considered plan and executed that plan with precision. There may be other psychological factors (e.g., a supporting role may pre-emptively blame a damage-dealing role in anticipation of receiving blame), but it seems from my experience that much of the toxic behavior: 1) Only starts after a player perceives the game to be going badly (even though by all objective measures it might be going quite well for our team), 2) Involves vague accusations of the failings of others to succeed (though RARELY does it include specific, helpful criticism) 3) Denies personal responsibility for any role in the perceived failing, 4) Makes little to no effort to understand the actions of the accused fail-er, 5) Quickly disintegrates the team, becomes unnecessarily (and even psychotically) vitriolic, extends to “cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face,” and often the efforts of complaining about one’s teammates cause losses more than the actual activities of the teammates about which one complains (both in time wasted typing insults and useless remarks as well as in animosity among team members).

While others’ imperfections are often frustrating, I think LoL shows how bad our society is at social problem solving: our population consistently lacks the skills to bring people together to solve a problem. We toss around terms like “communication skills” and “team player” on resumes and in job interviews, but I estimate fewer than 10% of the population actually has these skills, for they are antithetical to selfishness, insecurity, self-doubt, suspicion, mistrust, greed, envy, apathy, anger, and most of the other characteristics our culture subtly lauds and rewards. At the end of the day, it is hardly of any consequence how immature strangers may be while playing a videogame. However, my deep and serious concern is that these are the same people who consume our media, who vote, who teach, who manage, who run our public services and our private industries. They are the people of our democracy, and I am gravely worried that they are fundamentally immature, unaware, ignorant, selfish, and fearful.  Hopefully, most LoL players are just 10-18 year olds acting their age, but I suspect this is not the case. And it isn’t just something that makes my hobby a little less fun: it’s something that makes everything about my society- from the news, movies, and music to the literature, politics, and communities- much, much worse.

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