Ain’t Misbehavin’

The other day I was playing Allods Online. I had a quest to kill a mob that required a group. Not wanting to wait in what could have been a very long respawn conga line, I formed a raid to facilitate the process.

The terrain of the area had a small but steep hill where players could stand on top and hit the mob with ranged attacks. Since the mob could not path to them, it would automatically reset. Players quickly recognized this exploit and used it to grief others. Soon the situation devolved into a profanity-laced 3-ring circus, with the griefers taunting the raid members, the raid members yelling epithets at the griefers, and the mob yo-yo-ing between the two. All of this in an effort to get credit for completing an incredibly ill-conceived quest.

Oh, did I mention that I was level 5 and this took place in the beginner area?

But this post isn’t about the game’s questionable design choices. Goodness knows I could rant about that for paragraphs. This is about the behavior of the players.

I felt as if I was wrangling a bunch of 6th graders on a playground as I tried to cajole and placate everyone involved. Based upon the amount of verbal abuse and general lack of emotional maturity exhibited, I wondered afterward if perhaps I was dealing with kids. And it got me to thinking about why bad behavior is so prevalent online.

Mike Krahulik of Penny Arcade attempted to explain this phenomenon with his Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory. Although the online disinhibition effect does account for much of it, I think there is also a generational component.

We have all kinds of social constraints in place to facilitate co-existence. We learn at an early age the consequences of stealing someone’s lunch money or lying about our homework. But our rules of etiquette haven’t caught up to our technology, which has resulted in a technological generation gap. Parents may be concerned about their children being exposed to objectionable material online, but they fail to realize that controlling their child’s own objectionable behavior is equally important. I doubt that many parents have the time or inclination to closely monitor how their children interact with others online. Many probably aren’t even aware of the significance of establishing some form of online etiquette.

It’s unlikely that a child will be traumatized by seeing a pixelated ass cheek. Bullying and name-calling is far more damaging, especially when it’s done anonymously. Until we create consequences for bad online behavior, or remove anonymity completely (which I am in favor of doing), 12 year-olds will be typing “gaywad” and “STFU” without any recognition or concern for the harm they’re causing.

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8 Responses to “Ain’t Misbehavin’”

  1. henebry says:

    This is a really smart analysis. I’d like to see the discussion carried further.

  2. henebry says:

    Just got back from the Penny Arcade you listed.

    One interesting irony: the comic is guilty of the very crime which it accuses the anonymous guy of committing: acting like a “fuckwad.”

    Incivility breeds incivility to the point where objections to incivility are couched in incivil language. The comic engages in self-righteous, profanity-ridden attacks on people for engaging in self-righteous, profanity-ridden attacks.

    And I’m not sure that ironic self-awareness really saves the day here.

  3. Deetviper says:

    I was kinda confused by the images you used, but only because when I got to this page I was like “Wait, I didn’t accidentally click Stolen Pixels, did I?”

    Quality insight as usual, though :)

  4. camazotz says:

    @henebry: the authoritative text of the comic doesn’t use derogatory or uncivil terminology, just the last panel which depicts examples of such….how would you model such behavior in a recognizable manner while still censoring it?

    @OP: Love your blogs! Also thought I’d stumbled on Stolen Pixels by accident there for a moment. I am firmly in agreement that we are seeing an entire generation rise up that has no checks and balances for how to conduct themselves in an online environment, as you suggest. This, combined with the GIFT from Penny Arcade suggests to me that in another decade or two while we may well see some sort of major backlash in an attempt to wrangle in this exceptions-based code of ill conduct online, it will probably backfire. My only real concern is that “online hebavior” practices eventually blur with offline behavior in this new generation where talking with real life people is going to be the exception, not the norm.

  5. Michael says:

    This reminds me so much of City of Heroes, where a teen rating means that I couldn’t have a Zombie summoning mastermind named “Necro Feelya” whilst people in Atlas Park were shouting STFU NEWFAG F.U.C.K Y.O.U and other such non-teen rated content in various creative ways so it slipped past the profanity filters.

  6. Dumbledorito says:

    @Michael: I think you misunderstand what the profanity filter is there for. It’s a fig leaf, not an actual attempt to keep kids from swearing. It makes the parents feel better about letting their children loose on a computer unsupervised.

    And I’m not in favor of there being no anonymity in games or in other places, but not for the sake of protecting people from being “fuckwads.” Let’s assume I have a political opinion that is unpopular with society as a whole, or where I work. I’d like to express it on a forum. I’d rather be able to do that freely and not have my boss find out and find a reason to fire me just because I don’t think the way he does.

    There’s more to anonymity than trolling.

  7. Michael says:

    I think you missed my point, Dumble. My point was that City of Heroes, like the game mentioned above, claims a T rating when any time spent in a common area with other players will expose you to M+ textual abuse… All the MMO’s should just admit that they should be rated M for the content the other players keep adding.

  8. Daf says:

    Hmms, Michael makes a good point. ESRB needs to HTFU and rate these games at their “expected” content level.
    We have our films and games rated not on the average content but for the peaks (admittedly some titles peak more often).
    You won’t find people swearing in chat 24/7 but you’ll see it often enough – depending on where you are you might see it more often than not.
    You won’t have people swearing directly at you for no real reason (see GIFT) all the time, but it will crop up.
    It’s, sadly, just part of playing an MMO; they need to be rated accordingly.

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