The negative influence of community

Chris over at Levelcapped has started a series called The Theory of Geekdom where he’s exploring “…why geeks are the way they are, what it means for them, and what it means in their relationship with the non-geek mainstream.” All he’s got so far is an introduction, but knowing Chris it’s going to be an interesting series. No pressure, buddy!

As grist for his mill, I wanted to share one micro-experience I just had, as relates to gamers and community and how negative we can be, and how that negativity influences (some) people around you.

I got into the Firefall beta yesterday morning. While I was at work I had the client download, so as soon as I got home I jumped in and played a few missions and really enjoyed myself. But I only got 10-15 minutes before the dog needed walking, dinner needed eating and so on. During this downtime I was pondering the game and everything I didn’t know about it, so the next time I had a moment I jumped on the forums to learn what I could.

Sadly they were typical game forums. Some people trying to give honest feedback and other people shouting them down, calling them inferior gamers, telling them to learn to play and so on. And that was in one thread (the guy had voiced his opinion that the first missions are a bit too hard since he’d died several times).

I quit my browser and got ready for a scheduled Guild Wars gaming session. That session got cut short after about an hour so I fired Firefall back up.

And I didn’t really like it. I played for all of 5 minutes and then quit to play TERA.

So, I play the game and enjoy it. 5 hours later I play the game and don’t enjoy it. What changed? The game obviously didn’t change. I did. And what changed in me?

Suddenly I was seeing the people around me as “those assholes from the forums” instead of as other gamers having fun, and now I didn’t want to have anything to do with them, so I was playing the game like a single player game. Instead of banding together with other players and helping them burn down enemies I was avoiding people and looking for empty spaces to play in.

Just to be clear, the Firefall forums aren’t any worse than the forums of any other online game; I’ve yet to find an ‘official forum’ that wasn’t absolutely vile. And also just to be clear, I’m not a fan of trolls. I do, however, know a troll. There’s a kid I work with who finds trolling endlessly amusing. He legitimately enjoys getting people aggravated and upset and sees absolutely nothing wrong with it, and in fact finds it hilarious. He can’t understand why I don’t also find it hilarious.

In all other aspects, this kid (who is also a gamer) is a really nice guy. In spite of being a troll, he’s always willing to lend a helping hand and get things done. He’s the kind of guy who always lets everyone know when he’s running out to get lunch or whatever, and asks if we want him to pick up anything while he’s out. He’s generally well-liked in the office. I even like him…when he’s not trolling.

But I digress. The point is, if you’re a troll you probably think it’s really stupid that I let what goes on in a forum influence the way I play the game associated with that forum. And I even know, intellectually, that it’s stupid, but this is an emotional thing. I try to deny it but the fact is, I now think all Firefall players are asshats and I’m going to treat them accordingly. Which of course is just going to detract from the in-game community in some small way.

The worst part about gaming forums is that 80% of the population can be friendly and helpful, but the 20% who are trolls are going to make the entire place feel like a cesspit. When you ask “What key do I use to take a screenshot?” you won’t remember the person that simply replies “Print Screen” but you will remember the person who replies:

First, search the forums before you ask your dumbass question. There are a 100 threads asking how to take screenshots. Second, how the hell did you get into this beta if you’ve never played an online game before? You must not have ever played a game if you don’t know how to take a screenshot because every game uses the same damn key. Maybe do a little research before you open your mouth and prove to the world what a dumbass you are. I swear I miss alpha when these forums weren’t filled with stupid noobs filling up the place with stupid threads like this one.

So how do we fix this? I don’t think we can. I think this is a symptom of a greater disease. Until we culturally start thinking more about the impact we have on people around us, any anonymous gathering of gamers is going to be vile because there’s always going to be a few trolls who are determined to make it vile.

The only hope I have for the future of Gamers is PAX. When all these people gather in person, the 80% tend to overwhelm the 20% and the overall vibe is really positive. Why? Well first, some percentage of trolls moderate their behavior when they’re in danger of getting a fist in the face. But aside from that, how is it that the gamer bullies are overwhelmed by the friendly gamers dressed like Pikachu? I think it’s because everyone is 100% devoted to being there at PAX. I think on forums, a lot of us are there to get info and get out, while the trolls are just hanging out in there all day trying to piss people off for laughs. Because of this, although they may be 20% of the population they’re generating 60% of the posts. [making numbers up here]

Aside from better moderation (which is a minefield for the moderators) I’m not sure what the answers are. I just think it’s a shame that so many communities are undermined by people like my troll co-worker (scariest part? he’s a psychology major. Or maybe psychiatry… I forget which) who take delight in making others miserable.

A final word: This post focused on the negative side of community but of course there are many positive sides as well. I’m not denying that. Though I’d argue that most positive communities are smaller and somewhat exclusive.

11 thoughts on “The negative influence of community

  1. Man.. its really hard to define a gamer or what makes a gamer tick. They are a strange breed. In one breath they will tell you why they hate a game and in the next tell you why they love one that’s a complete copy of the one they hate or tell you why they can’t stand certain developers or designers. But they can’t be happy to just say, “You know, I just didn’t like the game, lets talk about something else” they have to go on telling you why the game is bad and then tell you how stupid you are for still playing that game or that you need to come to your senses because the game is just horrible. Forcing their opinion down your throat and making you feel silly for even buying the game.

    I just don’t get these people at all. What drives them to this form of compulsive insanity. To troll a game that for one, isn’t even out yet, and two its in the beginning stages of beta, of course know one knows how to play it effectively yet. Crazy people. I’m sorry they ruined your experience, damn gamers,

  2. I have no clue why so many of us are that way. I’m certainly not innocent… I’ve been the same way in the past but I hope I’ve grown past behaving that way.

    Of course there’s all kinds of positive things to the gaming community too. Heck we have our little ‘circle’ of people that we all know via gaming, and that’s pretty awesome.

  3. Yeah, it’s sad. People are broken. It’s like narcissism run amok, people have become completely incapable of understanding that other people exist outside themselves or their finite circle. And the drive to make all games “social” is totally depressing, as the last thing I want to do is spend any time at all with “gamers.” I don’t really think there’s a solution, either, other than small niche games (that still require moderation.)

  4. Ha, one of the Kickstarter projects that got a lot of attention was Wasteland 2 and at one point Brian Fargo said something like “If we hit X dollars we’ll add social elements” and man, did he get shouted down at that! People were threatening to pull their pledges and everything else.

    I think we’re maybe starting to see a bit of a backlash to the days when games…at least some games… were just about losing yourself in another world, by yourself.

  5. But so many people that are haters play Multiplayer games especially MMOs. I don’t get it. If you hate people why play with them?

  6. Because trolling (in the way described above) is a form of bullying, and you can’t do that on your own… Most of these type of trolls get a buzz of superiority from all this… As for why it happens, Penny Arcade explained it better than anyone (

    How to sort it? Moderation is the key and I can’t wait for the game company with the courage to deal with this stuff as they should (i.e. as if dealing with bullying) – Everyone is so afraid that they would lose customers, but these are just a very vocal minority that most people would like to go away…

  7. I think its a fear of loss of customers as well as a fear of legal action, at least here in the US where everyone is always suing everyone else for stupid reasons. A troll gets moderated and then turns around and claims he was being Censored and some lawyer somewhere will take on his case, assuming he wasn’t being overtly threatening or using “hate speech” (though I’d argue that there’s plenty of what gamers recognize as hate speech going on, that the courts wouldn’t recognize as such).

  8. Agree that there are reasons why companies don’t moderate their forums but I suspect most of them boil down to not wanting the cost of doing so. It is most definitely possible to moderate forums effectively – some games already do – and I am beginning to find it sloppy when games don’t have a clear policy for what is and isn’t permitted and then actively moderate. It’s also such incredibly bad business practice to have a small group of people annoying the customers who you actually want – you know – the ones that somehow manage play (and pay) without being unpleasant.

  9. I read a post somewhere recently that hypothesized that all forums in their native state are essentially 4chan, and how they develop from there depends on the type and amount of moderation applied. I think that can be applied directly to game forums, which are usually terrifying.

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