Wings Over Atreia: Feeding trolls

"WoW was the first MMO."
"WTF you --------- [bless the filter]."
"Your mom just left here."


Channel /3 will be the death of me. Or perhaps just my sanity. If not, then it may be the cause of some random homicides soon.

Although I had another topic all planned out (and already mostly penned), I had an about-face for this week's article. This subject is something that is always on the edge of my mind, and as of late, it has been more front and center. In fact, this week has seen discussions on the matter with friends, colleagues, legion-mates, and even my munchkins. The hot topic? Trolls.

Aion players know that /3 is the LFG (looking for group) channel, and occasionally you can actually find people looking for groups there! However, because it is the only server-wide channel, people mostly use it for any type of random chatter. And by chatter, I mean a range of sexual comments, preening, raging, and flat-out trolling. Granted, sometimes following along with /3 chatter is simply amusing, but oftentimes it becomes annoying or even outright offensive. In any case, it's hard to pick out anything of value through the fast-paced spam.

Now don't get me wrong; I am all for quips and banter and building a community, but it seems that the folks with any amount of consideration and class stay quiet for the most part. If we were to judge society off of universal chat channels, I think I would be all for large-scale nuclear annihilation; people treat others in virtual worlds like they wouldn't dream of vis-à-vis. Why is that? And what can we do to increase civility, decrease trolling, and improve gaming experiences overall?

Cross the bridge (don't stop to feed the trolls!) to explore these points with me and share some amusing trolling moments from your server! (Please keep it clean folks!)

LFG is literally a communication bridge in Aion, but who can't picture an actual physical span with hideous, hungry beasts underneath, lying in wait for the unsuspecting passers-by to come along and become lunch? Or worse yet, those who come along and fling sustenance down to the trolls? For every person who knows that ignoring the trolls starves them, there are others who seem to delight in feeding them; troll-feeders are as much of a problem as the trolls.

With my interest and focus on social dynamics, I tend to watch and explore this behavior more than perhaps the average gamer. I also seek ways to improve communities, whether big or small. The first step is to understand: What is it about global chat that makes people lose all civility towards one another?

Degrees of separation

One of the main reasons people feel so free to unleash on others in the virtual realm is that they rationalize they aren't really hurting anyone. Interestingly (in a "huh" way, not a "cool" way), the simple action of just placing an object between two people so that they are no longer face-to-face causes a slight dehumanization of each person to the other. An obvious example is to look at how differently people act when they slide into a car; how many people are more short-tempered, impatient, and aggressive towards other drivers? That is only one degree of separation. Now imagine a computer monitor, distance, and another monitor between you and the other person you are typing to. If we can't even think of another driver -- whose face we can often see -- as a being with feelings, how will we envision one behind pixels?

Because of the separation, not only are people dehumanized, but there is no accountability and no fear of actual retribution. How many of you made faces at someone through a window when you were young because he/she couldn't reach forward and slug you for it? You could get away with it because you were out of reach. And this gave you a feeling of power. Look at how far "out of reach" we are when gaming.

Look ma, no brain!

A final point is that some people just need attention. Seriously. Anyone who has worked with children knows that they will seek attention in any way possible, positive or negative. Global chat is equivalent to having the attention of... well, tons of people. You can feel important because your words -- regardless of how empty, untrue, or meaningless they are -- are being read by untold others. This can be a real thrill for some. While the internet allows for people to post their thoughts for the world to see, gaming gives the unique benefit of a (captive) audience; no one may ever find or look at a web page, but there are always gamers online, day or night! Even the meekest of people in real life can turn into vicious, raging trolls in LFG. Add anonymity to the need to be in the spotlight and it pretty well spells disaster; basically, you can say whatever you want with little fear of repercussion.

Mz fix it

I know there are plenty of people who do not participate (and frankly, who simply turn off the channel completely), but there is a reason for the channel -- even those who avoid it have to grit their teeth and wade in sometimes. So it would be beneficial to improve the experience overall. Of the possible solutions to help curb this problem, some are at the player level and some are at the developer level.

As players, the best way to combat trolls is simply to stop feeding them till they starve. Even the best-intentioned players can be sucked into feeding the trolls when comments are made that are so erroneous or even offensive that people simply cannot sit back and let them slide. The problem is, you can't win against a troll. It has nothing to do with truth or logic for them; it's just about the attention. Deny them the negative attention and they go look for it elsewhere.

Another way is to lessen the dehumanizing factor by removing some of the degrees of separation. While you can never fully avoid the separation (short of a LAN or living with someone), using a voice program with your legion and faction will make their members more real and less abstract. Knowing there is a real person behind a character brings a measure of accountability.

As the developer, NCsoft can help by giving us an unlimited block list! Please, please, please! Many of us have full lists for a reason! A wish for Solorius can still come true, right?

NCsoft can also help by restricting the use of the LFG channel. Removing the channel clientside is really the only current solution to avoiding the drama, the language, and the garbage that is so prevalent there. Since NCsoft implemented the feature on the social tab (v) by which you can recruit for a group or offer yourself up for a group, why not restrict LFG chat to this feature only? This way, people seeking groups can still find/make them, and those who don't want to hear the trolls can have a bit more peace. Of course, people can still troll using that tool, but the character limit is much more restricted. You also can't troll if you happen to be in a full group. If there must be a server-wide channel for gabbing, make a separate universal channel -- then those of us who want can turn it off and enjoy the quiet without missing groups.

In short, let's have an LFG bridge without the trolls. Who's with me?

Soaring through the Aionosphere, MJ Guthrie touches down weekly to bring you Wings Over Atreia. Featuring tips, guides, and general snippets of life in Aion, the column is better than Tutty-on-a-stick, ackackackackackack! Have a suggestion to share? No need to bribe a Shugo -- just send mail to mj@massively.com.

This article was originally published on Massively.