Are Our Gaming Communities Toxic?

Posted Fri, Jan 03, 2014 by Lewis B

Massively multiplayer games have notoriously harsh environments to play in. It isn't from the monsters, but the players who inhabit these worlds. Should we and developers do more to stop this behavior?

There isn't a day goes by where I don't encounter an obnoxious or rude individual. The prick bus driver who won't say please or thank you, an individual who queue jumps at the bank or the cyclist who shouts at me because I opened my car door when he was 10 meters away. Life is full of idiots and yet more and more, they seem to house themselves in massively multiplayer games to such a degree that at times I wonder why I play this genre. Admittedly the gaming industry as a whole is filled with idiotic human beings (as is life), especially in first person shooter circles, but there seems to be a greater quantity hiding behind elf eared avatars than there does hiding behind a military uniform.

As an individual raised by two relatively level headed parents, I was always taught that if what I wanted to say couldn't be said to a persons face, that I shouldn't say it at all. And yet here I find myself, on a daily basis, witnessing players be bombarded by a variety of hatred from unknown and unashamed individuals, in the games they and I love to play. Sometimes it's aimed at me and a recent exchange in WildStar when I asked in the help channel as to whether Carbine were publicly aware of a certain class flaw and whether it was to be fixed, resulted in a pleasant: "Of course it will you idiot. Go and play WoW"

That small exchange was incredibly tame compared to some I've seen in my time and yet I can't help but wonder why we as gamers tolerate such individuals and more importantly, why developers allow them to taint the product they've created. If you or I were to stand in the middle of a department store verbally abusing the staff, the likelihood of being removed and barred would be high. It certainly is where I live: stickers on store windows and counters litter the high streets in the United Kingdom, where “STAFF WILL NOT TOLERATE PHYSICAL OR VERBAL ABUSE – YOU WILL BE PROSECUTED” is a mantra you simply don't mess with. Why then are developers so reluctant to act on such unpleasant behavior and why do we all stand by too reluctant to report?

Partly I think the subscription model is to blame, with developers in fear of a heavy handed approach scaring away paying players even if those said players are undesirable. After all, banning or barring too many would have repercussions for the team behind the massively multiplayer game and lost revenue, to shareholders, is never a good thing. On the flip side, the tools that developers provide us with to weed out the bad apples are too flimsy or non existent. I've reported many players over the years for racial, homophobic or misogynistic comments and yet continued to see said players for months (keeping track of them on a “friends” list is a clear sign of a development team taking action or inaction). It's cowardice from all of us not to continue to confront this repeat behavior or to challenge why the industry does so little to combat it.

During a recent sub-reddit discussion, one user asked whether there were any MMOG's in existence that allowed users to rate one another. The ratings, they said, could present themselves as a variety of options after you've played alongside an individual (in a party), similar to the pre-sets presented by eBay. An interesting concept I felt but one many were quick to denounce as open to abuse. Would this not be an elegant solution to allow players to form some sort of consensus on an individual? The system certainly isn't perfect on eBay, but it levels out for the vast majority. Were a similar system be supported by tools to report individuals as well as forum and game accounts publicly linked and displayed, it might have some legs. It would still heavily be reliant on in and out of game moderation, but the fear alone at receiving negative feedback that you know can be viewed by all might just stir enough of a conscience from disruptive or unpleasant individuals for them to think twice before they spew bile.

You might be wondering at this point why I've not yet pointed out anonymity as the biggest cause of harm to our communities and that's partly because it's a matter neither you nor I can change. Unless developers begin to demand drivers licenses or passports and display an individuals details for all to see, we will forever be hiding behind not only our avatars but our PC's as well. I'd like to think it's our responsibility to ensure that we challenge such behavior or we risk tarnishing the genres reputation to an even greater extent. I'm sure that's something none of us want to see happen.

The only toxic community for MMOs is mmorpg. I realize you meant in game prolly...but this is where they bread.

Hello! (this is my first comment here)

First of all, I played Lotro for several years and it was my first MMOROG I played for real. It had and still has the best online comminuty I have seen so far, so maybe my view on this topic is a bit altered by that experience. The community consisted a lot of mature people who just wanted to explore Middle-Earth, a lot of Role-Players, Tolkien-Nerds and many people who were offended by the rude communites of other MMORPGs and searched for a new home.

I always believed that three other factors worked well for Lotro's community in the beginning. It had a clear focus on PvE and the Endgame was accessible to all players who reached Level 50, there was no gear gating in the beginning. The third factor was that the dungeons (e.g. Fornost, Urugarth, Carn Dum) were not very hard, but therefore very long. It took several hours to complete a dungeon. So the time looking for a group always paid off with hours of fun in the dungeons. Groups always made coffee- and smoke-breaks before and after bosses, you had time for chatting and joking in TS while killing trash mobs, overall a relaxed atmosphere.

Theory: I always had the impression that PvP-focussed games attract toxic people. Because grouping in PvE is a win-win situation, everybody wins or everybody looses. While PvP always creates a winner and looser by default, and the chance is getting higher and higher that you meet a sore looser (or even worse, a sore winner) as more as you play. Players will grief, gank and all that stuff, and the tone will get rough (e.g. the discussions in the PvP Subform of Lotro were on a total different (lower) level then those in the PvE Forums).

But, I have recently started Final Fantasy 14: ARR. I love the gameplay, the graphics and the stories. It has a clear PvE Focus and I met a lot of nice and helpful people during leveling up. But the second I hit level 50 and entered endgame the tone changed completely. There is a lot of elitelism going on, people are rude in dungeons, rage-quitting, flaming and toxic behavior is everywhere. People told me that league of legends would be lot worse, but my theory that PvE-Focus produces better communities seems to be proven wrong anyway. From my point of view, yes, the overall online gaming community has actually changed.

But also the gameplay mechanics in MMOs have changed. And I think they also produce the toxic behavior up to a certain point. Especially when it comes to instances and gearing up. Dungeon runs these days will take you 30 minutes, at maximum one hour, and this is the consensus in nearly every modern MMO. Same goes for league of legends sessions. In FF14:ARR you also have a time limit for completing the dungeon, to make it worse, coffee-breaks and wipes cost precious time and are a no-go these days. And you need to farm those dungeons a lot to get better gear to have access to the next tier of dungeons. Experienced players will get to the point on which they will try to get as fast through the dungeons as possible, because they did them like twenty times before. Fast-quick-farm-runs. Then you have a dungeon finder that just mixes a random group of players together. Now an experienced player is put together with a new player who just reached level 50 and doesn't know anything about the dungeon. The conflict is preprogrammed. There is no time to explain the dungeon to the new player, one or two wipes and the experienced players will rage-quit and try to find a more efficient group. Patience and helpfulness are barely rewarded. Especially when it comes to lair-boss fights this totally escaltes. There are single bosses that are pretty hard fights, but with a good group, that knows the fight well, it will take 10-15 minutes to complete the fight. An unexperienced group however will most likely have wipe after wipe and double or triple the time needed to complete the bossfight. Nowadays you better not even dare to enter such a fight the first time without having watched several walkthrough videos.

What's worse, the vicious cicuit is that as a newbie player you naturally do not have the best gear, so every mistake you make can kill you or your group quickly. With better gear, you can compensate your mistakes better. But, to gear up, you need to clear those dungeons and gain experience, but if nobody wants people in their group that are not geared up and experienced, you are simply left behind.

At least Square Enix seems to be aware that these problems exist, and they have implemented some measures against it. First, if a player joins a group and hasn't done the dungeon before, the other players get a first-time bonus, but this is just a bonus on xp and doesn't help in any way for endgame dungeons. Then there is the new 'most-valueable-player' feature, where you can vote for the most helpful player after completing a dungeon. You can gain an achievement with that, but that's it. League of legends also introduced some of these features, like the tribunal. The direction is good, but those measures aren't going far enough. In my believe MMORPGs must focus far more on rewarding good social behavior.

In the past there were smaller server communities and people feared for the reputation as nearly everybody knew each other. But with this huge anonymous communities, where you meet people from other servers for your dungeon runs that you most likely will never meet again, gamedesign has to step in. Lotro has gone the way of protecting players from other players by making everything soloable, but turning an MMORPG into a Singleplayer RPG can't be the solution. Players need to interact and play together in an online game. Therefore social behavior needs to be rewarded and people need to see the social reputation of other players. E.g. guild- and raid-leaders need to be rewarded by the game for doing so, these people run your game, they are the foundation of your community, but nearly all games just igores that fact. Helping newbie players through a dungeon needs to be rewarded, but barley any game does so. Why?

For me, the community of a game has become more and more important, it's even as important as the graphics, sound and gameplay. Magazines should definitly put the community into account when they rate a game. Bad community = that's a 70 instead of an 80 rating for this one. Also game companies should really think about how many players they loose just because of toxic behavior of other players. A good community is a selling-point.

Thanks for reading! :-)

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