Flaming 2.0

There was a time when I actually looked forward to playing online. Whether it was FPS, or flight sims, frankly any multiplayer game, I could look forward to a competitive atmosphere with reasonably well-behaved players — even in random pub games. It was frankly unusual to have an exceptionally bad experience interacting with fellow PC gamers. I’m not saying that we behaved like saints five to ten years ago. Let’s make it clear. Back then, you could expect your opponents to flame you if you failed in a rather embarrassing fashion. Tea-bagging, the iconic gaming version of the finger, was common-place. Sure, teammates would whine a bit if you screwed something up egregiously. Yet, for every gibe or derisive epithet launched your way, you would get a “NS”, a “Thanks”, “GG” or some amount of appreciation by your teammates and even your competitors. If you were not doing particularly well, chances are that you would get helpful advice and if you were doing too well, you might even be asked to tone things down so that the opponents didn’t become so demoralized that they’d want to uninstall the game. After all, gaming was symbiotic. Winners realized that they needed losers to win and losers simply wanted to try hard to be a winner. There was mutual respect.

Yo Momma!

Sadly, I must report that times have definitely changed. Taunting somehow became flaming, then extreme flaming and now nuclear-flaming or Flaming 2.0 as I’ve dubbed it.

Nowhere have I noticed this escalation in gamer interaction more than in team-oriented, objective-based games. Lately, Blacklight Retribution (F2P FPS), World of Tanks (F2P tank shooter) and Ghost Recon Online (F2P TPS in closed beta) have been taking up most of my time. Of these, the worst offender for poor online intra-player experience is, without question, World of Tanks. While all these games show the same trends, WoT is by far the worst of the bunch, mainly because of the fact that the game simply invites it. Flaming is just bound to happen when you set friendly-fire and dead-chat on. The slow pace of WoT also helps. There is plenty of time to type in the chat window, for instance. But while there is opportunity this doesn’t guarantee douche-like behavior in-game. Fortunately, the players of today provide that doucheness, in spades.

With a global fandom, the F2P WoT chat box is a double-rainbow occasion for English-as-a-second-language users with Tourette’s syndrome. For example, what used to be the “nuclear-bomb” of taunts, the “yo-momma come-back” has now become so commonplace, insult researchers around the world are busy working on ways to top it.  Lately, it’s commonplace to hear some dropped-on-head-at-birth player suggest that he had skull-****ed your saintly mother before lighting her on fire the night before.

While the use of the “mom-bomb” is somewhat similar to the fad of using the “N” word a few years ago (something that coincided with the election of a certain American president), I am nevertheless disappointed at the magnitude and continued rate of growth of such disrespect.

Loathing your teammates

Due to the nature of the game, WoT is probably one of the few games I’ve played where I end up loathing my teammates more than the competition. Hating your teammates is never a good thing and almost always results in a loss.

The World of Tanks chat rooms are not to be singled out for inventing random-pub-disrespect; however, WoT attracts this type of behavior due to the fact that failure results in significant economic pain for the losers. For example, if you lose a match you don’t get silver and you don’t get research points and as such you have just wasted the last fifteen minutes of gaming. Within the typical WoT pub match, it is now commonplace for players to start bitching and moaning seconds after their tank is declared dead. That moaning typically is directed, not at themselves nor at the enemy, but at whatever lucky teammate is still left alive. The higher Tiers get the most abuse and blame for whatever negative event has occurred.

For me, it has gotten to the point that I won’t even bother playing my Tier X E100 in-game anymore because I can guarantee that some thin-necked pussy in a French Tier III TD will flame me for the fact that he was charred in the fireball that ensued from being penetrated by a flanking T-50. Surely it was the inability of my slow behemoth of a tank to properly keep up with him and protect him from all the bad men on the server. When I do play my E100 I now ask everyone in the server to simply blame their death on me, beforehand, so as to save everyone’s time towards the end of the game.

Since when do teammates treat each other more like the enemy than they do the actual competition?

What have been the reasons for the shift towards online cruelty?

In my own experience, I rarely ever saw mean-spirited taunts back in the 90′s when I flew flight-sims; however, I do recall witnessing this behavior in Call of Duty servers regularly. Not so much in private, supervised pubs though. The real nasty behavior was left to the middle-teen kids playing competitive pro-mod CoD. Those guys had serious skills when it came to trash-talking people, but for the most part, they at least kept their flames for the opponents.

In retrospect, the CoD experience can now be viewed as a wistful bygone era that I wish gaming would return to.  What we now have is a prevalence of nasty, gutter-like dissmanship that has simply grown in exponential leaps and bounds.

Why?

Private servers and the lack of supervised play areas

When individual clans owned or leased servers, online activity was more timid and reserved. Most clans demanded cultured behavior in their playing field and enforced their rules by banning anyone that deviated from that behavior. These clans could enforce their rules because their servers were typically supervised. As game franchises moved away from dedicated, leased servers, supervision disappeared. Without supervision, the wild-west has set in.

The Lack of role models and goaded expectations

Without supervision you have few role models of behavior. But even worse, most game studios and marketing departments actually want you to behave badly. They have done this in a number of ways.

  • Some games actually want you to disrespect your fellow gamers and actually hard-wire taunts into the game under the guise of being “cool”. U4ia Games’ latest trailer for Offensive Combat is a lame example of a pervasive trend where being performing a flatulent act on your downed opponent is considered a unique part of the game.

  • Hiring community managers who embrace negative aspects of gaming as a way to make themselves look like they are in-tune with their audience. With all the swearing and dissing he did on his Twitter feed, Rob Bowling was a stereotype for the X-Box generation CM that left his youthful followers feeling that there was no one in charge of the asylum. Bowling aside, watching an Activision conducted, Modern Warfare marketing release always made one feel as though the main aim was specifically to turn CoD-aficionados into a bunch of whining, narcissistic prats.

The ex-X-Box Live Generation comes of age

As one of the first successful unsupervised electronic playing fields ages, some of its graduates are now actually in the work-force and now can afford their very own PC’s. These X-Box graduates are now making it into the PC online world and their effect has been palpable. I cannot help but think that some of the brutish behavior we experience today in-game is as a result of ex-console players polluting the PC culture of mutual-assistance and friendliness with the cold, e-thugishness that inhabits the X-Box live world.

The Internet

The anonymity of the Internet has created a flow of unconscious-thinking that can now, for the first time in human history, travel completely unimpeded and unfiltered directly from the amygdala of some neanderthal gamer’s frontal lobe right into the sight-lines and hearing of their colleagues. If you ever wondered what it would be like to read people’s private thoughts, wonder no more. Internet chat rooms and forums have now brought us this reality. The inability of having enough time to go back and censor behavior has led us to a culture of true inhumanity and ruthlessness.

Online reflects the Real World

Is anyone surprised to hear of those 7th graders who mouth-whipped that elderly bus-monitor in Greece, NY the other day? There was literally nothing I heard that came out of those young degenerate’s pie-holes that I had not seen or heard online from their peers. Kids feel like they can act with impunity nowadays without any retribution. Is it really any surprise that they feel that they can launch into a semi-coherent attack on someone nearly ten times their age? If some of these precious little cherubs act this way in a public space, how do you think they would behave in an anonymous online pub?

Solutions?

The technology that has brought us F2P gaming has actually solved some of the longstanding ills with PC gaming and has indeed brought the genre back into relevance. Piracy is down. Hacking has been stemmed somewhat. Revenue streams for many smaller studios are up. Yet, the unintended consequence of these solutions have brought us a situation where, more often than not, player interactions are random (common place in F2P games) and far from being friendly are in actual fact filled with hateful and mean-spirited dialog that tempts the gamer to simply leave, never to return.

How can we reverse this trend?

  • While only a few games still feature leasable private servers (Treyarch’s CoD for one), the only way to provide a supervised play area in the F2P universe is to allow folks to play and interact exclusively with their friends. WoT’s clan wars and Ghost Recon Online’s fireteams are examples of this, though the outside world can still intrude in the in-game dialog. Only by switching to an third-party chat/VOIP system (like Ventrilo or Teamspeak) can this be completely solved.
  • Games could add intelligent chat filters that don’t just look at “bad” words but review intent and actions. Bullies and/or verbal abusers should face in-game punishment.
  • Games should have the ability to modify their voice and text chat permissions to quickly allow the gamer to shut off discourse.
  • Rather than everyone being allowed to talk as the default condition, the ability to speak or chat should be earned.
  • Dead-chat should be on (no one should be allowed to talk once dead) within the in-game chat system.
  • A reporting system for verbal/text abusers should be created. Other players should be able to rank your behavior within the game. This ranking should be on display during the game.

Prospects

I don’t think things will get better until they get much worse. Game studios do not see excessive flaming or the general lack of respect that has been on exhibit recently within the online community as a problem. Those gamers who complain about the problem have simply uninstalled long ago and there are not enough of them to have made an economic difference.  I have not come to that point yet, though I am close. While I think that some flaming does have a role to play in gaming (it’s a head game after all), there are limits.

While I don’t think I ever thought I would have to complain publicly about online player behavior, there is definitely something wrong out there and I hope that this piece calls some attention to it. My gaming experience should be a lot better than it has been recently and I hope game studios pay some attention to what I have said here.

Finally, to those who have made my gaming a crappy experience through all your ridiculous and childish trash talk and general disrespect, let me just say that you should all check your smoke detectors, I really would regret it if you actually were to die in a fire — but don’t worry, after you are finally done with gaming and you’ve shuffled off your mortal coils…you’ll have plenty of time to deal with flames.

 

Links

Guide to Flaming 1

Guide to Flaming 2