Bullying Online: What's The Solution?

You're playing League of Legends. You make a slight error. You are now dead and, worse, your team — made up of anonymous players online — is dead. Now they're angry. A torrent of abuse streams through vent. You are belittled, bullied, all for a simple mistake. In a video game. This is a common scenario, one that is holding back online communities across borders, across formats.

But what can be done? Are we doomed to suffer these trolls, or can developers and communities work together to find a solution?

People are assholes online. Whether you’re sitting on Reddit, browsing N4G, or listening to torrents of abuse on Xbox Live, it’s been well and truly proven that the internet is full of socially inept trolls. Generally, it’s pretty easy to ignore them, but when you’re stuck dealing with a vocal minority of awful people during a gaming session, it shouldn’t be up to you to quit the game to avoid the abuse.

Traditionally, most controlled services (such as Battle.net or Xbox Live) have abuse reporting. Dedicated abuse teams monitor messaging services and public games, flagging members or content. Producing evidence of threats or inappropriate “imagery” is pretty much sending the perpetrator on a shortcut to a permanent ban.

In most cases, these old school methods of punishment are reasonably successful at culling the top 5% of morons, but what about those who don’t leave evidence of their crime? How about if the harassment isn’t offensive but simply unnecessarily negative, impacting your ability to learn the game or play at your own pace?

Many gamers have encountered this first hand, whether as a bystander witnessing the harassment, or the victim on the receiving end of it. The rapid advancement into the mainstream of all genres of games, even those generally suited to a specific niche, has invited a flood of people with poor people skills and intolerance for new players.

Dealing with a large player base, one usually unwilling or unable to step in to stop abuse, can quickly become a problem. New players, particularly in games with high learning curves, are already squeamish about dedicating time to a venture that may not suit them. Publishers and developers have been notorious for ignoring this problem, at their own peril – games lose thousands of potential new sources of revenue every day thanks to a lack of ambassadors willing to guide newbies.

Many MMOs, particularly vulnerable thanks to a tight market, have developed “buddy” and “mentor” systems designed to allow the community to accept, rather than reject, new players. Older players are rewarded with in-game bonuses for participating, while new players are given help to learn the basics. As a result, there’s a new understanding – the newbie L2P, the veteran is rewarded with experience and/or gold.

Studies on the viability or success of these schemes are pretty thin on the ground, but the simple device of integrating, rather than ostracising, players is good for everyone. After all, who will there be to group with you if new players don’t feel welcome enough to stick around? The increase in players choosing to play within tight, exclusive guilds has become both a solution and catalyst to this problem.

Other games have taken a slightly different approach to dealing with a hostile player base. The notoriously hardcore players of League of Legends are known to take no prisoners. Players are hounded from game one for their mistakes, with countless stories of intense abuse and negative reinforcement. The situation became so fragmented that the developers noticed the growing problem and decided to do something about it.

The Tribunal system involves a judge and jury style system of punishment that takes the onus off the developer and plants it firmly onto the back of the community itself. Players of sufficient standing and status are invited to review reported causes of anti-social behaviour, collate the evidence and vote on a ruling. The punishment, whether via suspension or a permanent ban, is final and completely independent on whether money has changed hands or not.

This method isn’t entirely new, but it’s the first I’ve seen that has been implemented directly as part of a games internal systems. Players who participate are rewarded with in-game bonuses and are encouraged to prevent situations escalating before a tribunal is necessary. Not all issues are taken to this tribunal, and it’s only after a significant number of votes are taken that a penalty is doled out.

But for such a significant investment and injection of trust into the community, the system does have its flaws and critics. Players are not vetted for their age, nor is their record of voting cross checked to make sure they aren’t needlessly punishing randoms for fun, or picking on a particular player. Many players say that the system simply doesn’t work and that many will push their luck and continue to abuse players anyway.

At the same time, however, in the 7 months since the Tribunal was introduced, perceptions have changed. Forum chatter and my own personal experiences have found a much calmer player base since the system was introduced, as reports aren’t heading to a mysterious cloud of CSRs, they are heading straight to the people they might prey on. The system is audited by the developers, Riot Games, to ensure accuracy and fairness.

Bullying and abuse will probably always be a problem; particularly amongst vulnerable targets such female gamers, gay gamers or those with a mental illness. In the end, it’s down to the community to shape up or ship out to ensure a future for online play. The problem is only going to escalate over the next decade, as more community focused games release and so do the methods in which people can communicate over them.

Developers and publishers have been dragging their feet for years to develop systems that keep up with the changing face of gaming. Riot Games’ bold approach needs to be replicated and enhanced across all platforms and genres to provide players with more than a mute button and the expectation that a tiny team of “abuse monitors” will solve the problem for them. It hasn’t worked to this point, so what expectation is there that it will in the future?

Abuse between gamers is completely unacceptable, in any form, in any game and to any player. Being a newbie or a woman is not a valid excuse for harassment or threats, regardless of what may or may not have “caused” the altercation. Tragically there is no single bullet solution to what is a very complex issue. A solution may involve input from all parties to develop a successful end to a situation that would be abhorrent in the real world. Here's hoping we can find one.

James Pinnell writes for Games.on.net, OzGamers and Pixel Hunt. You can follow him on twitter @JamesPinnell


Comments

    Mute button.

      +1 take it into your own hands and mute them or take it and grow up. As the saying goes sticks and stones will break my bones but names (abuse) will never hurt me. Today everyone is so sheltered and need to realise that the world isnt a nice place

        In LoL it's 'ignore' - and Link, you are the problem, not the solution. That saying isn't helpful - it allows the persistance of abuse and blames the victim of verbal abuse for the privilege of being abused.

        The vast majority of people I meet offline are perfectly decent. There's the very occasional instance of terrible people, but I can go weeks without being bothered like that. You can't say the same for the Internet; it's not even anonymity that's the problem, as there's plenty of places with anonymity that had people acting decently. It's that at some point we all decided that the Internet was going to be full of arseholes and we weren't going to do anything to stop it.

    Won't somebody please think of the healers?!

    When someone nerd rages, just egg them on. lol

    You get amusement from watching them be a total retard and they don't enjoy their gaming session.

    win/win

      Exactly, troll them into rage-quitting. It's the only way.

    The funny thing is LoL's Tribunal is not the end of the line when reporting players. All results (whether pardon or punish) are forwarded to a mod who will give final judgement and determine punishment if warranted. Tribunal doesn't really serve a purpose in moderating the userbase.

    What it does achieve is giving players a false sense of security that they've done their bit to make the LoL community a better place.
    It may only be a placebo, but it works.

    If your feelings get hurt playing online games I suspect that's the least of your worries.

      No. It's not about 'feelings being hurt' - it's about enjoyment of games. You know, the whole point of gaming -> fun. Not saying that competitiveness is the problem... just the trolls.

    wtf, "anyone who is level 30 and hasn't been banned for leaving" ???
    damn, would hate to have a less than perfect internet connection if you were playing that game....

      If your internet is so bad that you can't guarrentee up to an hour of uninterupted play then you shouldn't be joining a team oriented game and you should get your connection checked out.
      Bans only happen after a decent number of leaves. I think they also have to be in a certain timeframe and you can drop and come back without receiving a leave.

    For so long did I want to get into DotA/HoN/LoL, but it's insanely difficult to do without someone to sit down with you and teach you the basics. Jumping online and attempting to learn is almost futile, at times. 75% of the time, even picking the wrong piece of gear is met with derision and belittlement from (almost) everyone in game.

    Via text or verbally, it's not a nice thing. I mean I don't get finish the game and cry or feel bad about myself, but my confidence and willingness to try the game again take a massive hit.

    I guess I've survived without DotA games until now, but I still feel like I'm missing out. If the communities and players surrounding said games weren't so unbearably elitist, there might be even more people playing. A little bit of help or understanding would go a long way.

      I recently got into LoL, and the community is generally acceptable or even outright friendly. Maybe 1/3 act objectionably, at least at my level of play.

      I learned by myself by playing bot matches, asking question of players who did well, and following guides on sites like SoloMid and MobaFire until I got an understanding of the mechanics and individual player quirks.

      If you're keen to get into it, it's not so difficult, and if you really want help, hit up my account (jordaanm), or email me, and I'll gladly help where I can.

      The biggest hurdle, however, is learning the strengths and weaknesses of the 80+ champions in the game.

        Thanks for the input. Admittedly I haven't given LoL much of a go yet, most of my negative experiences are with DotA maps on Frozen Throne or with HoN. I didn't realise you could go bot matches on LoL, I'll have to give it a try. I always wished HoN had bot functionality, but the community seems to largely object to it.

        I might give LoL a go then, bot matches first, methinks. Who knows, I might hit you up when I'm confident I'm not completely retarded.

          The LoL community seems to be a lot friendlier than I've heard HoN is.
          In all the time me and my friends have played we haven't had many abusive/hostile players. Lots more friendly or silent players.

          Also, once you reach level 30, it opens up the ranked mode, which is more competetive so you tend to get the less competetive players outside of that.

            Hon takes itself a lot more seriously and therefore win/loss ratios are more important to people, where as LoL just has plain trolls. Currently I am sitting at 900 elo (ranking) and every game has atleast one leaver and a handful of trolls who are terrible and decide to bash on every one else.

            The worst part of games like LoL is that because it is a team game you are required to rely on other people to some extent and if even one of the wheels falls off it tends to drag the entire team along with it. I can't count the amount of times I have had to go tank or support because every one else refused to and then watched as the carry fed or our ad characters contracted lemmings syndrome.

              As a rank 30 LoL player that is heavily invested in the community and the Tribunal, I can say that there is a line between pointing out someone's mistakes, and pure abuse.

              Example, I reviewed a case yesterday where one player was berating another, but with comments such as:
              "Idiot, don't run in when Rammus has his earthquake up, moron."
              "You're a bit stupid aren't you? Why would you try to melee a Jax 1v1?"

              These comments, while rather harsh, could provide some basis for improvement i.e. Don't approach Rammus while earthquake is up, and don't try to 1v1 Jax.

              In cases such as this, I am a LITTLE more lenient with rulings as I can understand the frustration that comes with trying to educate a newbie.

              However, when I see comments such as:
              "Fucking idiot, go uninstall the game then kill yourself."
              or
              "I'm going to find out where you live and punch you in the face."

              I instantly reach for the 'Punish' button.
              Like it's been stated before, at level 30 you find less of these players as they've all been playing for a while and understand the game a bit more, but you still find them from time to time.

              Comments like that make people not want to play the game, and ruins the fun totally.

              When I started with post-DotA mobas, I tried HoN before LoL. That game is *horrendous* for abuse.
              I joined a game and did the right thing, informing everyone off the bat that I was new to the game, and before the creeps had even spawned I was torn a new asshole because I hadn't played before.

              That was $10 well spent...

    I floated this idea on twitter a while back, but why not name and shame the game/user in the public space and or a major games site?

    Personally, the main take-away from this article is I do not to need to concern myself with the game the author has chosen as an example (Riot Games' approach to solve the issue should be commended though), because I don't like playing with those sort of people.

    There are always Friend Codes or Real ID...

      Since you mentioned your ELO I'm guessing you play ranked games, which as I said is more competitive. There will always be people who try and mess up competitive games, and that is what the tribunal is for. As for the ones that aren't that good, you're going to get them in any game, however I've heard that the higher the ELO the better they are and the less likely they are to troll. The problem is getting enough games to get to the higher ELO.

      The solution to that is to find people to play with. I have a heap of friends that play, but also found plenty of people to friend in the game that I can play with as well. It's worth talking to your team mates and even the opponents that are competent and open to playing with you in future games. There have been plenty of times when only one of my RL friends is on but we still got games in with people that we'd met in game.

        Damnit. This was for JPhillips reply to my comment.

    If you are so easily offended and are unable to find the 'mute' button then maybe the internet is not for you. SO unplug return to your gated community with your stuffed animals.
    Also probably a good idea not to friend 'everybody' on facebook for publish your name, phone no. and email on a blog or a youtube video asking people to stop harassin / abusing you.
    Incompetent parenting and the view of the internet been a human right rather than a privilege is to blame, imo.

      Wow. Do you beat your wife and then tell her if she has a problem she knows where the door is? Your argument is classic abuse propaganda.

        ian dont relate to different things and make him appear to be a bad person. he has a point its in your own personal power to mute the player so do it. its called diffusing the situation and now person who doesnt find ragers funny doesnt have to listen to it while those who love em can laugh at them. imagine if they banned trash talking in sports because little johnny got his feelings hurt. Both sides need to grow up and deal with it.
        New flash life isnt fair.

          ? Lame. Are you saying that ANONYMOUS!'s comment is a reasonable addition to this discussion?

          You wanna try and call one of the West Indian batsmen a black bastard during a world cup cricket match.
          I think you will find pretty quick that it has well and truly been banned in spot

    I started playing LoL about two weeks ago, and the polarisation of the community is ridiculous. About 1/3 of the players don't say a word ever, 1/3 are friendly, joking, nice people, and the other 1/3 are total tossers.

    The horrible thing is, if you fall behind early (one or two deaths in the early lane phase), it is very difficult to stop from just falling behind further and further, every second making you a more vulnerable and obvious target.

    I can play a game with Graves, get two kills early, and quickly hit a point where I go supernova and am virtually unkillable. The very next game, I might get ganked early, or be 0/1/5 with a greedy lane partner, and I will be behind the entirety of the remainder of the match, and probably end up being the team feeder.

      Biggest problem with LoL is that the first 15minutes can sometimes guarantee a loss so then your forces to waste 25 minutes to complete the loss

    I find on Xbox live that 99% of people don't speak at all in bf3 or mw3. If they do it's rarely about the game or any tactics etc. I find abuse about actual gameplay cockups rather thin on the ground, even when warranted!

    Having been an Admin of a FPS deathmatch game of a very common ISP provider i couped abuse all the time, but for atleast 95% of the time i had to remeber i was the mature and smarter person (and 5% was knowing i had the power over them to do what i wanted to them)

    The issue is, always has been and always will be anonymity. People think they can get away with being a total douche online without taking responsibility for their actions.

    I have no issues with abuse online, I've encountered it a few times and tend to just ignore it or strike back depending on my mood. I don't have a problem with being abused in a virtual world, but maybe that's because I have maxed out my charisma, wisdom and intelligence in the real world. There is a real world out there... right?

    That man has quite the impressive coating of facial hair.

    I beleive the solution is suck it the fuck up. You've just got to imagine how hollow someones life must be that they are getting so pissed off over a game. If someone gives me shit in a game I give it back 10 times over. They usually never fuck with me again.

    As the great scholar Chopper would say "Harden the fuck up".

    What's the solution?

    Single player

    Ignoring trolls is usually the best way, but honestly it depends on the mood you are in for abuse I guess.
    Some days I enjoy the shittalk, others ignore and mute anyone that seems remotely retarded.
    With games like HON, when you have a feeder you can pretty much guarentee that you have lost, that is the frustration expressed by most players (though tards gunna tard), sitting through at least 15 mins of a losing game due to no fault of your own.

    Don't take it personally. A single MOBA match can take 30-60 mins. On a good night I can fit 3 games in. If there is a n00b on the team fscking shit up then my time is wasted.

      If that the way you feel i will no longer play with you, Goodbye FOREVER :P

        Oh Rocketman. but i heard you have been improving a lot lately!

          Oh man i could easily win against you, But in all seriousness i haven't improved i just have learned to suck a little less!

      The reasoning is irrelevant. If you're abusing someone it's abuse plain and simple. Justifying abuse is just a mechanism used by abusers to continue the cycle of abuse. I'm not saying you don't have a reason to be frustrated but when you (and I'm not talking you personally cause I don't know how you respond) decide to turn your frustration into rage than that's wrong absolutely.

        just to save you from looking like a total moron to "us" gamers, the term n00b is different from newb. N00b usually refers to (or is more readily accepted as an equivalent of) a troll. So someone ruining "my" gaming experience is abusing me and possibly a max of 8 other people more than that "rage" that I would be unleashing on him/her. Play for fun, play to win, one in the same.

    I just mute or leave the server. I apologise profusely whenever something goes wrong too. Also, I seem to mainly play games with less abusers, I think.

    Best way to deal with a troll is to troll them :P

    Failing that, the mute button is always a winner

    if pixels on a screen from an anonymous person on the other side of the world calling you terrible hurts your feelings then it's already too late for you anyway.

    If your bad and dragging others down with you, you deserve to be called out imo. I've probably played 1000 games of LoL and directly fed and caused my team to lose about twice in that amount, and both times i put my hand up and deserved the crticism

      There is a difference between criticism and abuse, though.
      I'm still new to MOBA-format, so it's not unheard of for me to end up feeding the opponents despite my best efforts. In this case, I put my hand up, take responsibility, ask for advice, and play lower risk.
      If people say "You're weak, stick with a better player" or "You're feeding too much, just tower hug or jungle" then fair enough.
      If, however, they say "BAD GAME, NOOB TEAM. Hey nub stop fucking feeding you retard and play better.", that is uncalled for and helps nobody, and ruins the atmosphere of the game for the rest of the team.

        gaming is ruthless and if people want to consider gaming a sport they have to take the emotions that come with humans competing and that includes rage. mute them if you dont want to hear it otherwise cop it. btw i suck a LOL etc but i know i do so im willing to take the abuse. some people need to grow harder skins. gaming is a hardcore environment that doesnt tolerate the weak thesoon people understand that the sooner we can get on with the gaming and the muting of abusers.

    One thing I'd suggest is an orientation phase which would consist of the following:
    * New players are presented with (in-game and via email) notices pertaining to player bullying that detail proper conduct, grief-reporting and methods for dealing with it on a personal level (example: how to mute players)
    * Interactive guides covering the basics of the game (preferably pitted against bots) - optional
    * Beginners' lobby with low-level players up to Level 10 (as used in Crysis 2 and Gears of War 3) - mandatory
    *Survey players after first two weeks in proper competition - rewards given (either in-game cash or items) - optional

    On the topic itself: I think in FPS games where it easier to pick up the basics of play, abuse is part of the game. I love hearing all the pre-pubescent rants and responding - at times - in kind.

    As an example: over Xmas, my brother and I played Halo: Reach online via splitscreen. My brother wasn't doing well and proceeded to get trolled. As we had the Kinect hooked up as a mic, we blasted back at bullies and made a general nuisance of ourselves. We had such a great time and I'd hate to exclude experiences like that from online play. We just need developers to provide infastructure to cope w/ bullies when it gets out of hand.

    Can you tell that I work in a university?

    "layers are not vetted for their age, nor is their record of voting cross checked to make sure they aren’t needlessly punishing randoms for fun, or picking on a particular player"

    This is incorrect. All players that get banned have been viewed by Riot employees first. If Riot decided to pardon someone who was punished by the community then those who voted that way's voting power will be reduced. This is from the Reds not from me.

    I think your trying to find faults in a system which aren't there.

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