Building a a Troll-Free Community

I don't know any adult person who looks back at the person they were when they were younger and thinks everything they did and said are still things they would do and say today. We've all done things we aren't proud of, said things that were hurtful to others and, possibly, even contrary to our current beliefs. If you can think of a time you've used the internet to belittle someone else, then we have something in common. I was and sometimes still am an internet troll.

To my credit, I have gotten a lot better. I used to say horrible things and tell horrible jokes I won't deny that my younger me, unaware of its impact, said things I regret today. These days, typically, I mind my own business in online games and speaking only to relay game related communications. But other times, I am also a total asshole for no reason. I'm not on the level of using epithets anymore but, I can get to the point of cussing people out, knowing it won't do a damn thing to change what I'm angry about in the first place. Then I realize I've become the very thing I despise. It's not just me though. I've seen many people over the years who I know to otherwise be level-headed people completely slip. It's something we're all capable of and capable of getting better at avoiding.

I know what this sounds like already and no, I sure don't mean to excuse the very trolls I've written about or my own behavior. What I am saying is that these people aren't different than you or me, and while there are some people who troll just for the fun of it, I have to believe that they're in the minority. Most people just want to have a good game, and win. When you meet someone who's trolling, you're talking to someone for an infinitesimal amount of time. You know, nothing about them. They're probably decent people most of the time, but there's very little accountability on the internet. People say and do what they like and the companies which provide the companies they abuse do very little to hold them accountable. Often times, it feels like the report feature is just there to make those who are victimized feel better rather than to improve the player experience. For the layman, it often feels hopeless. Just the other day, my friend (check out his beautiful Tumblr: here) had a situation where not only did he report an offender he also sent the information on a customer report ticket straight to Riot support.

Riot didn't ban that person. As much as they say they care deeply about eliminating toxic players, especially, those who rely on racism, sexism and homophobia, in action they don't seem to care. Similarly Matt Vaughn who I've mentioned a few times, wasn't banned by Blizzard. The only hyper visible banning of a toxic player I can think of was the banning of Tyler1 one League of legends. And he was was being toxic in places where both League professionals and Riot employees often are. He bothered the ones with a voice. The rest of us are expected to report people blindly expect never to hear if we had an impact.  Meaning they can continue their tirade.

Accountability is not something player bases have been empowered to do. In various ways game companies endorse the idea that people who have been harassed online take a back seat to the actors of harassment. Every time you report someone in League of Legends, and other games, they also give you the option to block the person, probably because they don't really have the intention of disciplining that person. If you get into a game with someone who is being toxic your option is to mute them for the rest of the game, because leaving will give you a penalty and sometimes will result in retribution towards you though, you left because you were being harassed.

The system around reporting and dealing with toxicity in online video games is not adequate. Not even approaching adequate and something needs to be done. We must put pressure on companies like Blizzard, Valve, and Riot to have swifter punishments for repeat offenders but also for offenders who commit particularly egregious offenses, the first time it happens. People feel too comfortable being bad because they know how hard it is to be held accountable and they know that players who don't want to end up with leaver status are all but bound to play through the barrage of insults. Or mute them which lowers your probability of winning. Punitive measures against offenders also need to be reevaluated as well.

A ban isn't going to change anyone's outlook. Frustrating them by giving them a wait time before they enter their next game, isn't going to reform them. These are actions which make sense on a simple punitive scale but there should also be a value placed on reforming them. Expecting a for profit to ban potential sources of income is a losing battle but, reforming players so they still provide profit and don't detract from the experience of other players is enticing. Anger management or a threat of harsher punishment upon their next offense for a set amount of time also would go a far way with a goal of reformation.

Implementing measures such as having a bot take over for a player when a person disconnects or having another player pushed into an ongoing game give players a way to get out of a bad situation. We all know sometimes the best way to keep your cool is to distance yourself from a situation. But we don't allow that in online games. Arguably this is where much of this toxicity stems from. It comes from feeling of frustration and knowing that the party at the end of the insults pretty much has to stay. Being allowed to leave a game reduces the chance of raging, allows players who are being harassed to leave and creates another reason not be a jerk to your team. Because they might leave you high and dry and that'll be your own fault. All in all higher community standards and better policies start with the companies which set them. So next time one of those companies asks you for feedback. Tell em to shape up and how.