Team Mentality – The Anonymity Effect

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The early days of the humble video game troll

Trolls. We’ve all seen them, we all feed them, and intentionally or unintentionally, we have probably all been them at some point. Ever since the first badly-dressed gamer from the 70’s altered the size of their paddle in pong, there have always been people who will grief, cheat, and exploit game mechanics to have fun. Nowadays, with the inclusion of multiplayer in so many titles, these people have found a way to affect the enjoyment of other players. Hell, I’ve been guilty of it myself, spending game after game of Halo 3 camping in areas that required trick jumping to get to, bringing an energy sword raining down onto the skulls of unsuspecting enemy players that happened to stroll by. Similarly, I have had to suffer my fair share of Call of Duty matches where someone is floating above the map somehow, repeatedly busting open my skull from an invisible location. Don’t even get me started on the amount of times I have ragequit matches after being hit with a grenade launcher from halfway across the world upon spawning, only to be told that I’m an 8 year old noob who should probably go and jump off of a cliff.

Hidden behind an alias or a veil of anonymity, it is easy to say or do whatever you want without any fear of repercussion, but what is the reason that people act in such a manner online? Well, according to a study carried out by Vivian Hsueh-Hua Chen and Yuehua Wu, this kind of behaviour isn’t always driven by the individual, but rather the attitude of the group as a whole. The study examined 941 teenagers and how they acted online when playing MMO’s. Interesting results were drawn regarding the level of ‘cheating’ among different genders, but the most striking conclusion was the following:

… deviant behaviors online, such as game cheating, are largely influenced by the online social groups people feel they belong to. An online group, despite its fluid, unstable and imaginary nature, is powerful in constructing and changing its members’ attitudes and views on behaviours. Hence, a behaviour that is perceived as problematic and deviant can be reconstructed with a different interpretation.

Simply put, this means that when an anonymous player is put into a group of other anonymous users, they will tend to imitate how those players behave, speak, and play.

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No foul play here, just two guys crouching over a dead body… Repeatedly

As someone who focuses on competitive games, I can’t say I am entirely convinced by this conclusion, but I can definitely see how it would apply to particular games. Since I started playing DOTA 2, I have had to acclimatise myself to the sea of hatred that is the MOBA community, be it in League of Legends, Heroes of Newerth, Defense of the Ancients, or any other MOBA style game. In that scenario, I can definitely see how imitation is a factor, be it the post-game GG or the torrent of mutual hate that comes whenever someone gives up after 5 minutes and feeds for the rest of the game.

One question to ask yourself though is whether imitation of group behaviour is always a negative thing? One form of imitation that is integral to the success of most MMOs is a sense of competitiveness. Without friends to play with, most gamers lose interest in new titles at an alarming rate, but in a team of like-minded people, something drives them to aspire to new heights. Taking this discussion back to my earlier example of Halo 3, sure, groups or ‘clans’ of players probably taught each other some bad habits and I probably dished out my fair share of abuse and exhibited some, “deviant behaviour,” of my own. Oh, the shenanigans we would get up to: comparing people’s mothers to various moons of Saturn, telling screechy little kids to delete system 32 before realising I wasn’t on a PC, ah, what little bastards we were, but I digress. Having a team mentality can make a game infinitely more entertaining by making you push for that next skill level, raising the bar with every game. Given the choice between the hellish, flaming spiral of bitterness and contempt that we have now and a world where all games are uncompetitive, but everyone is best friends, I’d pick up my headset and scream at my DOTA buddies any day of the week. In conclusion, play nice, but not too nice. Unless someone noobtubes you. Then they probably deserve it…

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The only troll I have to deal with nowadays

What do you think? Does flaming, trolling, and griefing come down to the individual? Or is this behavior learned and imitated from the people they play with? Let us know in the comment section below.

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  • degobabdub0

    > Does flaming, trolling, and griefing come down to the individual?
    Some of it is in the eye of the beholder. Is shouting at someone a flame? Is camping a spot griefing? Are MOBA games really a sea of hatred?

    There will always be people who will clutch at their pearls whenever they so much as see a game character fire a gun. There’s a spectrum of opinion. But I seriously doubt that player behaviour in games is as big an issue as people are making it out to be these days. It’s the same internet, with the same people as it was 10 years ago. If anything trolling and griefing has gone way down since then.

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