MMO Communities: Personal Responsibility

by Tyler Edwards, June 20, 2012

Massively multiplayer communities tend to get a bad rap, and with good cause. Some games have better communities than others, but even the best are usually still ripe with trolls, griefers, noobs, elitists, jerks, and asshats. With the anonymity provided by the online setting, people feel free to let the nastiest parts of their personality take the reigns and abuse other players as much as they please.

But as we struggle to withstand the endless barrage of trolling and stupidity, it's easy to forget that we, too, are the community. Before you complain about the actions of others, take a good hard look at how you behave in the game. There are many small ways to make your own contributions to the greater community of the game more positive, and if you don't, you may become part of the problem yourself.

troll face

Feeding the trolls:

Some people will only behave like jerks when provoked by someone else's bad behavior, but others log into a game with the intent of simply making other players miserable. These people are the scourge of the Internet: trolls.

"Don't feed the trolls" is a piece of advice you see a lot of on the Internet, but surprisingly few people remember to follow it. It simply means not to rise to the bait. When someone tries to provoke you by saying incredibly stupid or offensive things, you don't let it get under your skin - or at least don't let them see that it got under your skin.

You see, Internet trolls are a lot like the Joker in The Dark Knight. They have no goal in mind but chaos, and they want nothing more than to see you sink to their level. By refusing to get drawn into their idiotic arguments, you rob them of their greatest pleasure.

Instead, there are more constructive ways to deal with trolls.

mmorpg community

A more subtle revenge:

You shouldn't directly respond to trolls, but that doesn't mean you should just a turn a blind eye to the more toxic members of the community. You can still work out your anger against them, but there are better ways.

The best options are to use the game's built in ignore or block feature so you never have to deal with the person again. You can also attempt to submit a report to the game masters. A lot of people claim that reports of bad conduct are ignored in most games, and to be honest, I suspect as much myself. But it only takes a minute or two, and isn't it worth it if there's even the slightest chance it might result in a ban of that numbskull who just tried to ruin your raid?

You can also tell your guild and all of your friends about the person and urge them to block the troll, as well. Hopefully, you can succeed in destroying their reputation, and they'll run out of people to bother.

Finally, try not to let trolls ruin your play too much. As frustrating as they can be, just try to shrug it off and move on. In the immortal words of Jerry Seinfeld, "The best revenge is living well." A troll wants nothing more than to ruin your day, so moving on and enjoying the game robs them of their victory.

nerd rage

Temper, temper:

If you're the sort of person who enjoys trolling and griefing other players, I very much doubt anything I say will convince you to behave like a human being. Not all conflicts in MMO communities stem from people who set out to cause trouble; sometimes, an otherwise decent person is driven over the edge. Your tank does something idiotic, and before you know it, you're hammering insults in the chat window, making insinuations about his parentage with your caps lock key blazing.

It's only natural to get angry when someone says or does something stupid, and there's nothing wrong with venting a little, but try to keep everything in perspective. Maybe the person is new to the game and doesn't know any better. Maybe some constructively phrased criticism would serve better than hypothesizing about their personal habits involving farm animals.

Or maybe they really are a hopeless, knuckle dragging ignoramus who is guaranteed to make the rest of your time with them a living hell. But even in such a case, raging at them isn't the best solution. In this situation, one of the two of you must leave the group or otherwise part ways. If possible, remove them from your group or guild - perhaps with a brief apology - and if not, leave yourself. Life is too short to waste on such numbskulls.

Even if you're not venting your anger at someone directly, it's wise to not let your temper get the best of you too much. It is possible to unintentionally hurt or annoy others even if you're not attacking them. It's common these days for a lot of gamers to describe something bad by saying something along the lines of, "That's so gay!" But this can be quite offensive to people who actually are gay. Likewise, going on a profane, all-caps rant in your guild chat because some PUG member stole your loot might not be the best way to deal with your anger.

I'm not saying you need to be totally mired in political correctness and never swear or express your anger, but try to avoid making a complete jackass of yourself [Warning: link contains mature language]Venting is good for the soul, but keep it within reason.

mmorpg raids

It never hurts to help!

Building a better online community is about more than minimizing the damage caused by griefers and morons, though. There are lots of ways you can help other players enjoy their time in the game a bit more.

Of course, there are big, dramatic ways to assist other players. You can spend hours running them through instances to help them level. You can invest weeks into getting them geared. If it's a game with micro transactions, you could even spend real dollars to help them out.

But helping others doesn't need to be so grandiose. If you're traveling through a low level zone and some unfortunate noob needs a trivially small amount of in game money for repairs, consider giving it to them. If someone asks for advice on a public chat channel, answer them to the best of your ability. If someone in your area needs help with a group quest and you aren't busy, lend the poor fellow a hand.

I would actually argue that small, random acts of kindness between strangers like these do much more for the health of an online community than bigger acts of charity between people who are already friends. A good community is about everyone being able to play together and help one another, not just individual guilds working only for the betterment of their own members.

Little things like this can also do a lot to create new friendships. In the first few weeks after I joined World of Warcraft, I answered a request for help with a quest from another player, and I wound up joining his guild - my first ever guild in an MMO - and I'm still friends with that guy to this day.

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Does it really make a difference?

You're probably wondering if any of this high minded behavior will really make a difference in the greater scheme of things, and I'll be honest: it probably won't. There will always be trolls, noobs, bigots, and idiots. One person being polite won't change that.

But what will make a difference is not being a good member of your online community. Giving into trolling or raging or cruel insults will have a real and negative impact on other people's playtime, and it will contribute to an environment of hostility and disrespect. Likewise, ignoring other players and never helping them contributes to a cold and disconnected game community.

Personally, I see it like voting. A lot of people say you shouldn't complain about politics if you don't vote, and it's sort of the same way with MMO communities. If you complain about your game's community but don't do your best to treat other players well, you're a bit of a hypocrite. If you try to treat other people decently in the game, then you can complain all you want!

As much as it's a cliché, this is one case where if you aren't part of the solution, you're part of the problem.