Here on Massively, EVE Online and World of Warcraft seem to be the biggest magnets for such tomfoolery. Guild Wars 2 and Star Wars: The Old Republic attract these behaviors as well, and WildStar is well on its way to becoming the next troll-favorite comment piñata.
There's nothing wrong with not liking a game, of course. And a little conflict is good; why allow comments if everyone's going to have the same opinion? There's just one problem: If your opinion of a game is based on preconceived notions and not actual experience, that opinion is adding nothing to the dialogue. In short, you are trolling.
The braying of donkeys
In many, many instances, the best word for gaming sites' comments sections would be "cacophonous." They are a messy, chaotic pile of anger, bitterness, personal attacks, and uninformed opinions. Our moderation team tries to keep things relatively civil here on the site; some of the comments we remove are absolutely stunning in their idiocy and bile.
The whole idea of comments is that they enable two-way communication between a site and its readers. Theoretically, a comments section provides the opportunity for visitors to voice their agreement or disagreement with a post's content, especially in the case of opinion pieces like this. Unfortunately, somewhere along the line, comment sections changed from "place to offer your opinion" to "place to be a huge jerk for no reason beyond your own futile boredom."
That's not to say that all commenters are bad, or somehow unwelcome. Far from it. We have some amazing folks writing amazing things in the space below our posts, and have even been known to hire those folks when the right opportunity shows up. Massively commenters offer hundreds of examples every week of the types of two-way communication between writers and readers that make the internet such a wonderful place to exist.
But the trolls. Oh, the trolls.
Insight vs. inane
There is a massive gulf between an insightful comment that works to shed more light on a subject and a troll-bait jab that exists only to fulfill its creator's need for attention. Troll posts are, by nature, self-serving; they move the conversation away from the topic at hand and onto the individual who made the post. Any time you see a post on Massively that says, "WoW is for casuals," you can read that post as, "Look at me, everyone!"
We're a community, here. A group of completely different human beings bound by one particular niche interest. If we all didn't like MMOs and online games, we'd be off on some other site reading about fast cars or celebrities or bathing suits or fancy gadgets or celebrities in bathing suits with fast cars and fancy gadgets. It makes sense that we would want to treat each other with respect and to build something inclusive and supportive as opposed to spending our time finding new and creative ways to hurt each other's feelings.
A community bound by a desire to learn and grow is a community that thrives.
There is no such thing as a world without trolls. Long before the internet was a thing, some Egyptian carved a story in hieroglyphics and some other Egyptian glanced at it and said, "That sucks." There will always be those who look to disparage the work of others without ever doing work of their own, people too cowardly to take any real stand but all too quick to attack those who do.
When it comes to video games and the discourse around them, we do have the power to improve our community's dialogue. We can't rid ourselves of trolls (we need them to justify our million-dollar banhammer budget), but we can work to heighten our debates above the level of personal attack or misinformed copy and paste critiques. All we need to do is ask ourselves one simple question before clicking the "Submit" button: Does this comment contribute to the conversation by offering an informed and reasonable critique, or does it instead muddy the waters through inflammatory composition?
"No one is forcing you to read anything written about any game you don't want to play."
One easy mechanism for creating more effective comments is working from personal experience instead of making broad sweeping statements. Here's an example: "World of Warcraft is garbage now that it's all casual." Not a super useful comment in that it starts with an attack and ends with a common generalization. However, "I don't like World of Warcraft because changes to raids to make them more casual friendly left me without a challenge" is a perfectly valid complaint that echoes the exact same sentiment. One is based on personal experience, and the other is based on nothing.
If you don't like a particular game, that's fine. No one is forcing you to read anything written about any game you don't want to play. We're certainly not demanding you comment on everything we post. Maybe instead of leaving your hundredth comment about how much you hate EVE Online, you should read one of our excellent columns, make yourself a snack, or hug your favorite pet. Or heck, play a game you do like. If you have a criticism of EVE based on your personal interactions with the game or its creators, tell us about it.
I get that this is very much a preaching to the choir editorial. The great majority of our commenters are rad and the people who care enough to read this whole post are likely to be the people who already leave compelling comments steeped in personal experience and carefully reached conclusions. But it's always good to step back a moment and remember that we are indeed all in this together. This is our space, and our ability to enjoy it depends entirely on our commitment to respecting it instead of turning it into a smoldering heap of barbed insults and generic critiques.
All of us are guilty of leaving trollbait comments or stepping outside of our expertise to smack down something simply because we didn't like a game or a post caught us in a bad mood. It happens. Let's just agree to try a little harder to build the community we MMO lovers truly deserve.
Thoughts? Email me: email@example.com.
Everyone has opinions, and The Soapbox is how we indulge ours. Join the Massively writers every Tuesday as we take turns atop our very own soapbox to deliver unfettered editorials a bit outside our normal purviews and not necessarily shared by Massively as a whole. Think we're spot on -- or out of our minds? Let us know in the comments!