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I'm enjoying this column. A definite favorite.

I think there is probably one other aspect that might not have been addressed (or that I might have interpreted differently) and that is that it's interesting to play the villain. In games like Mass Effect or Jade Empire et al, I tend to play through the "evil" way the first time. I bring back the little girl's dead cat and keep her lunch money as reward (to use Baldur's Gate as an example). This isn't because I like being evil in real life, or really need the 5 gold in game, but because it's interesting to see what the other side can be like. If you take the recent Batman movie for example, people aren't really interested in Batman (even though it's his movie) because his motivations are fairly simple: find bad guy, stop bad guy's evil plot, if possible send bad guy to prison (or if the situation necessitates, the morgue). The Joker stole the show because there was always a twist to his actions and his motivations were never quite what they seemed. He took half of the money owned by the criminal underworld and burned it, mostly just to watch it burn, and while a boat of criminals and a boat of civilians were deciding whether or not they should blow each other up, the Joker ultimately points out that his real concern is what Harvey Dent is deciding to do somewhere in one of Gotham's back alleys. So from strictly a storyline perspective, it's interesting to see what drives the villain and what the game developers will let you do in the context of the game.

From this perspective, I don't think playing evil is any more a symptom of a demented mind or even a social disorder than watching horror movies or reading murder mysteries. I try to restrict such play to my single player games though, and try to be nice (actually, nice may be a bit too strong of a word... let's go with "not a jerk") when playing something with other actual people. I realize that this may be the crux of the argument: where does that "socially acceptable" line get drawn? I'm willing to play the bad guy, but not if it will actually affect others even if it is "just over the internet." I've heard others say that they just can't bear to see the alien getting bullied by the two human kids in Knights of the Old Republic, even when they're planning to use dark force powers, and even though the game is strictly single-player. Others assume that even if you're playing with others, it's still "just a game" and nobody should get too upset about getting shot in the head, because it isn't real so team killing is just harmlessly blowing off steam. Others would further extend this line of thought to swearing, trash-talking, or using racial slurs, justifying that because the game world is fictional, their behavior within that world is likewise fictional. I may be off-base with that, but it's just what was running through my head at the time. I would however say that the reasons mentioned in the article were probably much more valid than this point, as most people aren't playing online competitive games for the storylines.

With regards to the "quest for the sex-scene" though, I would tend to group in-game relationships into my response for "playing the evil character," where really either is just meant for story purposes, and not usually intended to be demeaning of actual relationships or either gender (love and relationships make for interesting stories... just ask your wife/girlfriend). There are exceptions to this (I'm looking at you The Witcher [and Fable to a lesser extent]) where sex is just another fetch quest on the way to the bad guy, but if an in-game relationship can be weaved in with the in-game story, then it shouldn't be an issue so long as the game is rated appropriately.

Dr Mark

I wonder what level of raiding you may have done in WoW. I'm using that as an example cause that is something we have both played from what I have read in your columns. When I first played WoW it was with some friends who were part of a guild focused on fun and casual play, most were adults and very nice and respectful of eachother in fact many are still friends with me today through mediums like Facebook, e mail, or texting even though I don't play WoW anymore. While in this 1st guild people were nice and supportive of every little tast I accomplished and eventually I got to max level where I began to taste the end game content of raiding and learnin the different aspects of raiding which I seemed to grasp very well at since I didn't mind a bit of studying because it fascinated me. I quickly became the best in that 1st casual guild which was not very hard since many did not have much experience with raiding or did not raid that much and of course since I had a fascination with it and was good many other guilds were using me to fill spots they needed and eventually I joined one that promoted being a raiding guild as well as friendly. This 2nd guild was very friendly at first but when the frustration of raiding kicked in friendships quickly died or the moment as there was yelling at eachother vocally over ventrillo ( a voice chat program ) and via text in the game and the guild leaders spent many of their times outside of their raiding time trying to repair friendships as they spent raiding and from what I heard as rumor this is very "carebear" compared to other raiding guilds in how they handle eachother. My nitch in raiding seemed to stick with me and I even quickly excelled to one of the best and most wanted players in that guild for raiding and therefor I sought again what I thought were greener fields of higher raiding where I landed in a guild that was constantly battling for #2 spot on the server for raid progression. Here is where the real ugly began is in this 3rd guild where you saw every little mistake made by any player at any time if it was caught by the guildmaster or any of his officers deemed it's own 5 minute or more yell session not of constructive criticism but pointing out how making such a mistake was pure idiocy and can only be related to that of a 3 year old or a monkey or whatever colorful metaphor they wanted to use to help explain how stupid the person was. Funny thing is people sat there and took it cause of the desire to be in the guild in one of the top positions and to experience the latest content quickly and while someone was in the spotlight being chastised for their terrible mistake ( usually a mild mistake ) they were recieving whispers and being made fun of in raid chat it was amazing the level of disrespect one was willing to bear to hold this badge of honor being able to say "I'm number 2 raiding guild on X server" and fortunately I dodged the bullet for sometime but of coruse eventually I got hit with it too and when I stood up for myself the 5 minute yell session encompassed nearly an hour with constant backlashing the next few days as if testing my resilience seeing when I would break. This eventually led to me quitting the guild of course cause no game is worth that kind of harassment despite it's shiny loots.

I know that was a very long story there but I wanted it to be understood that there is also another level going on in MMOs I've found where people are also willing to change or sacrifice some of themselves they normally wouldn't to seek stronger rewards in the game and there are those who recognise this and will monopolize on it. We see some of this in real life but it happens even more oh for a lack of better words "in your face" in games as I found out this activity was very much the same on other servers and even other games. What is it about ourselves that makes us more willing to accept disrespect and harassment for virtual items that have no meaning to our lives in reality than the disrespect or harassment someone is willing to bear with in reality ?

I don't know why people are dicks i mean it's not difficult to be nice if you are going to be a dick
a. to it to the computer it doesn't care
b. only to it if you would be in a room with that person

I only get aggressive to wards another player if he was aggressive to me or was a dick to me.
talking about female gamers i was playing left 4 dead and a female gamer was playing zoey and she said "come guys" then another player said "we would if you would give out more" she then said "I would but the hunters tier me out" I laughed.

I've got a question:
why do so many gamers leave you to die when they could very easily rescue you? I mean there have been so many time when it was just me and one other guy and he just left me to get eaten by a hunter even if though he was right next to me after I just saved him from a tank.

It might be a much smaller part of the problem, but I think the lulz also have an effect. Offline, people are much less prone to aggravate each other for personal entertainment, as they would have to deal with very real consequences. Online, though, they are semi-anonymous and can avoid most of the negative repercussions.
This, at least, explains why griefers are much more prominent online than off.

I'm not really an avid online gamer save for two games, the original Dawn of war series of games (which is not relevant here) and the FPS Team Fortress 2, which I've developed quite an attachment to healthy or otherwise.

I bring this up because I found Dr Marks comment about a server for the drunk and otherwise inebriated interesting, specifically because I'm currently a member of "trashed gamers" a host of several servers on TF2 for people who are wasted, or people who just enjoy that sort of atmosphere.

Of which I am the second (not really being a big drinker myself), anyways I think that would be a great idea for blizzard to bring up a server for those who are less then 100% so to speak. I for one quite enjoy the half drunken banter, though overly coarse and offensive language is usually a banishable offense id the mods so see fit.. hate speech type stuff.

Wow there are a lot of longs posts here. Anyway, I have a friend who delights in griefing. He even enjoys watching videos on youtube of people doing it. Sometimes he even does it when we play local multiplayer (if I have to manually clean my pod in LBP one more time, I swear to God...). I don't play online that much though, so that's about the extent of my knowledge in that department. Personally, it makes me uncomfortable; I sympathize with the victims. Having someone ruin your game by spamming or cheating can be just as distressing and distracting as having someone walk into your living room and piss all over your tv while you try to play. I don't even find it that funny.

I really loved the article I found out a bit more about myself reading it. I actually might have discovered some issues in my own life that I use in the game world.

Average WoW ganker:
Anonymity.....Confirmed
Inhibitors....Released
DOUCHE-BAG MODE ACTIVATE!!

As far as people in WoW are concerned I haven't run into any really nasty folks, most people just disregard your existence (Although those damn Twinks farming the starting areas for honor are a pain in the ass)

Long story short: do a Google search for "Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory."

I agree with Root's theory.

The only thing I can add, which I hope he didn't and I forgot about it, is that much of the problem comes from immature adolescents who find it absolutely hilarious to behave antisocially since its so "taboo". That combined with general lack of the meaning of consequence becoming more common among youth (where I live).

What to do about it? Better age verification? Keyboards that refuse to type cursewords or leet cursewords? I'm not really sure.

This was my favorite Dr. Mark article yet.

khaimera:
I agree with Root's theory.

The only thing I can add, which I hope he didn't and I forgot about it, is that much of the problem comes from immature adolescents who find it absolutely hilarious to behave antisocially since its so "taboo". That combined with general lack of the meaning of consequence becoming more common among youth (where I live).

What to do about it? Better age verification? Keyboards that refuse to type cursewords or leet cursewords? I'm not really sure.

This was my favorite Dr. Mark article yet.

Generals (a Comand & Conquer forerunner) will not type words deemed "offensive" in player chat. Now my group of friends are all extremely well-behaved individuals, but of course, once we realised this, all our time on chatr is spent trying to work out just how far the chat blank system worked. (It's pretty far. "God" and "shit" are out, but so is "bottom" and "boobies", "heck" and "satan".) From this I have concluded censoring is not the key.

I really enjoy these articles. Thanks very much, Herr Doctor!

Doc... you ain't wrong about female players being able to be nasty over WoW, and it's funny how art mirrors life. I have found that in a guild setting there is a tendency for male players to get loud and abusive, much like many have a tendency to in real life. I've found the 'nasty' female players to be more underhanded and controlling, plotting guild politics and the like.

I think anonymity and the lack of consequence in a virtual world leads to an amplification of personalities, simple as that and the trend that I have seen in WoW is just an amplified version of what I see at work or in my personal life.

On the sexual harassment/sexuality in-game I think it is important to note that things go both ways. There are plenty of guys who behave like rabid dogs where even a sniff of a female player is enough to get 'em chasing some tail, but on the flipside I have seen my share of females who take advantage of it. I dread to think just how much gold a photo on the guild forums with a bit of cleavage on show can generate.

Although I hasten to add that in my time playing with my darling girlfriend she was never subject to any sexual harassment nor was she guilty of solicitation! In fact she was and still is (I don't play any more) one of the best and most respected players I know. I guess there are always exceptions.

I think it's more simple than that... even though part of this you mentioned.

People when acting anonymously have just another reason to let go and act absurdly. It's not that they can't control it, it's that they see no real consequences for their actions. Not all people do this however-- I mean, some people still care about how they're perceived on the internet. Additionally, there's no doubt that acting absurdly gives a somewhat reward feeling on the other end if the person isn't used to "being bad." It's also alot easier to do.

Then there's the issue of doing what it takes to fit in. I don't know. Some people pound fists; some people have a secret handshake; some people get together on a saturday night and brawl and DON'T EVER TALK ABOUT IT.

And there's a good portion of the internet population that troll. They use lewd behavior that nobody in their right mind would use to eachother and it works because it's taken with the lightest of heart. It's like a game, kinda, that never ends. And among trolls, the only way to lose the game with them is to react seriously. I guess that's why it's so popular; it's a judgment of social skills. It's the mentality that "if this person reacts seriously to me calling him a newfag, I don't want to hang out with him." In a sense, it's kind of sought as uncharismatic -or simply lacking of social skills- to not understand a troll is just trolling. And that's fine. It's harmless trolling until someone takes it too far and drags someone who isn't suspecting it into the game. Then again, most trolls exist in the 18-34 agerange, and I'd have to say the highest concentration of them are in the 16-22 age range. That. And they likely spend alot of time on the computer. As an example... I had a friend who was an awesome troll, lol. I didn't like it at first, but soon, we could carry an entire conversation off memes.

Likewise, when I say the population of trolls is small (it sure seems big on the internet, however), I mean it's small. Even people that know what the game is will usually call you a retard for bringing it up in real life, while probably 2 other people in a group of 30 (in this case, a classroom where the number should be none), will react with sarcastic frustration, deriving amusement from the old meme.

Read Full Article[/quote]

I have always wondered about this "Harassing women" is all about.

I am a guy myself, and I have several female friends in WoW, and yet I have hardly never heard them say they feel harassed in WoW. There might have been a few comments about how they sometime feel they get a lot of attention, but never have I felt they were uncomfortable.

So since I play on an European Role Playing server, I have to wonder these things:
-Do Europeans act different towards each otherP
-Do Europeans respond differently to "attention from others"?
-Is players on RP realms more polite than others?
-What exactly is it that girls feel to be harassment.

To me it seems that PvP realms, and people that mainly play PvP are the rudest people in wow. That is just how I feel, but I have a theory as of why this MIGHT be.

A PvPer generally likes to compete against other players, hence why he plays PvP. One reason for doing so is to feel superior to others. These people then feel the need to show their superiority, either through bad behavior towards others, or through the ancient art of ganking. They also seem to have a tendency towards being more egotistical and solo minded, something you can often see in Battle Grounds, where players run around alone and do not work together towards their goal. (Usually resulting in a loss ;))

In contrast Raiders seem more calm to me, and also more respectful. This I think has to do with the social aspect of being a Raider. You HAVE to play nice with others, or you will be kicked out of your group. But at the same time, people who like raiding seems to be more oriented around working WITH others towards a greater goal.

Of course NOT EVERY PvPer or Raider fit that description, but it does often seem that way.

I actually theorize that it is a form of bipolar disorder specific to gaming. The WOW universe encourages role-playing, the act of taking on a persona not your own and living it to the fullest. In these cases, the player subconsciously (or perhaps consciously) creates an alternate identity seperate from their own. There are, in fact, 2 different personalities within the same mind. This isn't limited to only the antagonistic personality. I theorize that there are a large number of people with this kind of selective bipolar disorder. It's just that the asshole-variety are the most well-known.

This is, of course, based on no research or any training in psychology. Just my overactive imagination.

Go to any bar on a friday night and you'll see even more shitty people. I actually theorize that it is less frequent in online play, but more annoying. There is usually little you can do about it and the people that encounter it usually don't go to the places in real-life where they encounter this type of behaviour.
So the actual behaviour has more impact both due to the nature of the receiver and the higher impact of the actions on your current goals (playing the game). The most important part of this, is that the anti-social or downright sociopathic people get a freedom they normally don't get; they really can hardly be stopped. For these people it really is about society repressing there urges and the absence of consequences in the game. But the misanthropic view of "the greater fuckwad theory", where all people are supposed to be asses that are barely controlled by or social systems and laws, is hardly relevant I think. These people are still a vast minority, they're power of disrupting your pleasure has simply been increased. With this in mind, think about the male teen in a group of male teens that encounter one female and I think you get the point...

Aurgelmir:

I have always wondered about this "Harassing women" is all about.

I am a guy myself, and I have several female friends in WoW, and yet I have hardly never heard them say they feel harassed in WoW. There might have been a few comments about how they sometime feel they get a lot of attention, but never have I felt they were uncomfortable.

So since I play on an European Role Playing server, I have to wonder these things:
-Do Europeans act different towards each otherP
-Do Europeans respond differently to "attention from others"?
-Is players on RP realms more polite than others?
-What exactly is it that girls feel to be harassment.

To me it seems that PvP realms, and people that mainly play PvP are the rudest people in wow. That is just how I feel, but I have a theory as of why this MIGHT be.

A PvPer generally likes to compete against other players, hence why he plays PvP. One reason for doing so is to feel superior to others. These people then feel the need to show their superiority, either through bad behavior towards others, or through the ancient art of ganking. They also seem to have a tendency towards being more egotistical and solo minded, something you can often see in Battle Grounds, where players run around alone and do not work together towards their goal. (Usually resulting in a loss ;))

In contrast Raiders seem more calm to me, and also more respectful. This I think has to do with the social aspect of being a Raider. You HAVE to play nice with others, or you will be kicked out of your group. But at the same time, people who like raiding seems to be more oriented around working WITH others towards a greater goal.

Of course NOT EVERY PvPer or Raider fit that description, but it does often seem that way.

I believe most of this harassing girl problem is due to the vocal minority effect. The few girls who do get harassed go on and on about it preaching everwhere, and a few white knight guys also jump at the chance to show their power and willingness to fight "unjust sexism". Because of all this, it seems like much more than actually is.

Why this is a problem has a lot of potential answers, but for my money, social interaction in games is as dismal as it is due to the lack of tone in text.

Whether you're happy, sad, angry, patient, impatient, or the big trouble causer, sarcastic, it's very difficult to get these emotions across in a text based system, because all we see are the words, we can't differ the tone.

Emoticons help a little, but when they're not there then it's very difficult to tell whether somebody seriously means what they are saying, or if they're just saying it as a joke, or out of spite from having a bad day, and so on.

One of my favourite games to play online is Team Fortress 2, because more often than not, I can talk to people through the mic, and they can respond with theirs; we're more likely to enjoy talking to each other because we can hear with our own ears, the tone of voice used by the other person; if they're kidding, they'll laugh, if they're sarcastic, we can pick up on it, if they're frustrated we can calm them down, and so on.

Of course, that's just the PC version; I don't game online with my PS3 or my 360, because I don't have a mic for my PS3 and I don't want to pay-to-play on my 360, so I'm unsure if this rule holds up under the pressure of the masses.

Jaredin:
MMO and People...they are alright (Usually) when not put together...but, with anything, you give someone an avatar to hide behind, and they dont feel they need to take any recourse for the actions they commit.

I think its quite sad how some people just use the mask as an excuse to be total, and complete idiots...I would like to see how they act when face to face with some of the people they try to demeen.

Brilliant article, and great to see an experts point of view on it

Unfortunately, you can't have an MMO without people. Just doesn't work that way.

Another thing is people may just be frustrated. I don't play WoW, but if someone killed me ten times in a row, I might be more prone to go murder some little low-level players, just to relieve the frustration.

Jiraiya72:

Aurgelmir:

I have always wondered about this "Harassing women" is all about.

I am a guy myself, and I have several female friends in WoW, and yet I have hardly never heard them say they feel harassed in WoW. There might have been a few comments about how they sometime feel they get a lot of attention, but never have I felt they were uncomfortable.

So since I play on an European Role Playing server, I have to wonder these things:
-Do Europeans act different towards each otherP
-Do Europeans respond differently to "attention from others"?
-Is players on RP realms more polite than others?
-What exactly is it that girls feel to be harassment.

To me it seems that PvP realms, and people that mainly play PvP are the rudest people in wow. That is just how I feel, but I have a theory as of why this MIGHT be.

A PvPer generally likes to compete against other players, hence why he plays PvP. One reason for doing so is to feel superior to others. These people then feel the need to show their superiority, either through bad behavior towards others, or through the ancient art of ganking. They also seem to have a tendency towards being more egotistical and solo minded, something you can often see in Battle Grounds, where players run around alone and do not work together towards their goal. (Usually resulting in a loss ;))

In contrast Raiders seem more calm to me, and also more respectful. This I think has to do with the social aspect of being a Raider. You HAVE to play nice with others, or you will be kicked out of your group. But at the same time, people who like raiding seems to be more oriented around working WITH others towards a greater goal.

Of course NOT EVERY PvPer or Raider fit that description, but it does often seem that way.

I believe most of this harassing girl problem is due to the vocal minority effect. The few girls who do get harassed go on and on about it preaching everwhere, and a few white knight guys also jump at the chance to show their power and willingness to fight "unjust sexism". Because of all this, it seems like much more than actually is.

I guess you are right, I but I do wonder if there is also a cultural difference in this between the US and Europe.

I bet this is a fun case for them Social Anthopologists.

I have as much trouble with male players as I do with female. There have been a few female players I once knew who thought I was "sexist". I wasn't. I just treated them like I would anyone else. Oddly enough, when such accusations would arise, I would ask my female friends and they would say, "No, you don't come across sexist".

Do you think that such predatory nature of annonymous males on the internet to prey on females gamers have caused some female gamers to be over paranoid and protective?

A personal observation. All the female players who find that I came across "Sexist" would act very flirtatiously to any male player. They would subconsciously abuse their femininity to get their way. It's quite a negative act as it adds to the negative stereotyping of the female player in MMO games where they'd "use their sexiness" to climb the ranks of power.

But yes, everyone has the potential to be a douche online. I know a few people who were "alright" in real life but were complete dicks in cyberspace. Cyberspace allows the darkerside of someone's personality out.

I've never had any issue about being openly female on WoW. Yeah, there were idiots, but they never bothered me for long at all, as they found it an unrewarding experience.
If people ask, or the fact becomes relevant to the conversation at hand, I will say I'm female. I don't really go out of my way to say "I'm female".

Most guild "wimminz" talk is done so in a joking fashion I found. Doesn't take long for it to die off, if you're not fussed over it. On the couple of guilds I used voicechat with, I've never had an issue with joining in the conversation. Had my fair share of ":O Didn't know you were a female". Probably something to do with my gaming habits and programming profession lol.

You want to know why people are "racist" online? Because in the real world we see the constant race baiting, the use of race and/or sex and/or ice cream flavor preference used to justify all kinds of stupid behavior. Because you're pretty much told all day long that you're racist/sexist, and that you're SO racist or sexist THAT YOU DON'T EVEN KNOW IT. So, with that in mind, and also keeping in mind that the single easiest way to upset someone these days is to make a "racist" comment, and is it any wonder people would act this way? One way to stop it is to stop wringing your hands about it, and get over it.

On a related topic, I find that a majority of people act as reasonable online as they do in real life. Granted, there are exceptions, but one does not make rules based on exceptions. Obviously, there are places where people who are mean congregate, but if you don't want to be called names, don't go to 4chan. What really bothers me about all this panic is the fact that most of, if not ALL forums, online games, social networking sites etc. have an "ignore" function; if all else fails most have a "report" function. If you can't be bothered to push a few buttons to ignore/report someone, why should anyone else put effort and money into regulating these things?

Epoetker:
snip

Citation needed. Your post sounds more like an attempt to justify your own actions, especially since politeness has resulted in survival and being a dick often got you killed (one way or another).

I think Dr Mark has hit some excellent points, but I also this a critical one has been overlooked; how humans interact.

As a general rule, we pick up 80% or so communication from non-verbal signals. Now, I don't know how much is lost when you only have vocal inflection, but I imagine a great deal is still left behind when you can't see someone's facial expressions/body language. The kind of ticks that might let you know when your trash talk has gone too far and instead of being playful is actually just mean. People can dish out a hell of a lot of teasing and so long as it's kept on a certain level, nobody takes much offense-even when the language used is really offensive.

But you take away the ability for someone to clearly make a joke-and clearly take one (or misunderstand) and I think you lose a lot, which makes people more 'thin skinned' online than in real life.

Finally, I think that we're only starting to understand that 'Who you are online is who you are anywhere.' If you're a dick online, you are a dick. There isn't some kind of "get out of jail" card that the internet provides when it comes to behaving badly. There will always be assholes-but hopefully as we become more experienced in online behaviors, there will be less.

Games are often by nature places where behaviour of the player is disconnected from consequences. Where else could you drive a tank down Main St, or shoot a dozen people and get away with it? Trolling and griefing are only extensions of behaviours that are often rewarded in many types of games. Unfortunately I believe (and I am no expert) that some griefers go too far, and the harmless intention of these comments can become harmful to some player's emotional health. Online gaming can (as Dr. Mark pointed out with the females & sexual advances example) be several magnitudes worse than experiences in player's actual lives. If a person experiences bigotry, sexism, etc. in their daily lives and seeks escape from that reality in online environments, the sheer increased magnitude of it online could make the person's emotional health situation worse. What I worry about more than the victim being overwhelmed with hate-speech is the bystanders and neutral observers of this behaviour. Rarely do people stand up and put an end to this behaviour online, this is why it has proliferated to the status-quo today. I believe the repeated observation and inaction to this type of behaviour could set a precedence when dealing with examples of hate-speech in real life. I worry about a civilization of complacent observers, not unwilling but unmoving as violations of human decency are being enacted around them. Most of us can recognize the difference between reality and fantasy, this is why we don't go on rampages down the street but something so deeply implanted could slip by since it does not create issues but only permits them.

In a follow-up I'd like to hear Dr. Mark's opinion on the psychological roots of mic-spamming in PC games such as TF2.

"This is bullshit. I am a pussy hunter in real life, of curse I will a virtual pussy hunter."

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You see, for some strange reasons jerks always get more attention on the internets. Certainly, some people will think: "If I get all that attention in the forums being a sucker, of course I gain attention in online games acting the same way."
This can also be one of the causes.

I've said this once and I'll say it again. It is not simple dis-inhibition, nor is it a return to our "natural states". The whole "natural state" thing is simply absurd. Human beings, and this is largely backed up by most of the findings in neuroscience, are more or less tabula rasas. For something to be biologically inherent it must be heavily genetically coded. The vast majority of Human behaviors are too complex to be encoded genetically, we can only associate very basic emotions with levels of certain neurochemicals, but it is likely that even these are heavily regulated by environment. The human mind is plastic, it adapts to its environment, that is what has made it successful. Thus the behaviors in video-games are every bit an adaptation as our behavior in real life. There may be some overflow of frustrated psychological drives from real life which can be explained as disinhibition, but the majority of the behaviors should be seen as positive adaptations.

Now, what I think causes the offensiveness of video game behaviors is not simply an outflowing of what the person secretly thought throughout the previous day. Rather, videogames, due to their lack of restriction on behavior bot only allow offensiveness, but create a juxtaposition with real life that causes a sense of absurdity. It is, I believe, largely this absurdity that people are enjoying when they are offensive. The more overt, random, out of context, and uncalled-for and offensive remark is, the more absurd it is and therefore the funnier it is. In fact, this theory would much better account for why even people who aren't racist and are mild-mannered engage in such activity, whereas the disinhibition theory must assume all such people have, (at least latent), racist attitudes.

If my theory is correct, then such behavior is often little more than liberating humor, although there certainly are those who are racist/sexist/homophobic. Since the anonymity of videogames means they do not have a direct impact upon one's social life, it would be pointless to try to regulate these peoples' behavior. And even if one were to do it, it would not change their nature and make them good people, it would simply make it to difficult for them to act bad.

As Nietzsche put it, "I often laugh at those who think themselves good because their claws are blunt."

You are incorrect, I feel, in your belief that "trash talk" is a default state and polite discourse (or manners, what have you) is learned behavior. I think there is ample evidence and a general consensus in psychology and sociology that both are learned behaviors. Aggressiveness itself is something innate to humans, yes, but how we express it (such as trash talking) is a symptom of learned behavior and very specific to culture.

Put another way, there are many different ways that we could express ourselves in aggressive behavior. Trash talking just happens to be a social norm in sports circles in western culture (and probably elsewhere), but it's something that is highly atypical in gaming culture until recently, thansk to the development of accessible multiplayer to the average Joe.

In other words, once nerds who were bad at trash talk on the PE field were no longer the exclusive players, the online world started to resemble the PE field, with all its grandstanding, showboating, and general gamesmanship?

Now those same freaks that I disliked in college down playing or watching football are in the online games I enjoy, imposing their default behavioral standard to them, and effectively crapping all over what was supposed to be a more different, socially cooperative and friendly medium.

You, like many other nerds, seemed to have missed the point of the whole trash-talking thing in the first place. It's not a HORRID EXCLUSIONARY ATMOSPHERE, it's a standard form of communication, a tactical handicap, and a rite of passage.

I don't think I'm alone in that feeling; I think the main point of conflict stems from an indigenous base with its expectations of normal behavior being afflicted by this "new" (because its been a few years now) subset that is imposing its own brash and crude expectations on behavior. Thus, the reason that most people seem to either be constantly bothered by the erratic actions of others, or oblivious.

He that does not remember the past is doomed to virtually repeat it, in other words.

Citation needed. Your post sounds more like an attempt to justify your own actions, especially since politeness has resulted in survival and being a dick often got you killed (one way or another).

And your reply sounds more like a ham-handed way to assuage your buried insecurities. I'm not justifying my own actions. I don't even play with a microphone. But I can understand the psychology of those who do. And you're getting it exactly backwards: Politeness may guarantee survival but not necessarily reproduction. Being an asshole is a high-risk behavior-but it also comes with high rewards, in that chicks, especially those of the younger, hotter variety, tend to go for jerks first. (Which is why there is no organizations called "Hot Chicks Against Drunk Driving," or "Hot Chicks For Responsible Social Behavior in Our Fellow Man-Persons.") A man who can be a jerk and get away with it is a man who must by definition have high social status, so out-jerking each other on an arena where there's no penalty (and often rewards) for assholery should simply be expected.

Because in real life:

If you're a jerk, you may die, but you're much more likely to reproduce.
If you're a nice guy, you'll most likely survive, but you're much less likely to reproduce. Or you may end up raising someone else's kids.

(Hey Dr. Mark-do you think that the husbands or male children of such statistically significant events as described in that last link are acting out any of their confusion, fear, or anger online? How would you deal with it, assuming you couldn't ban them? Discuss.)

I think Dr Mark has hit some excellent points, but I also this a critical one has been overlooked; how humans interact.

The 'how' was not the problem. The problem was in not effectively dividing the WHO and the WHERE.

As a general rule, we pick up 80% or so communication from non-verbal signals. Now, I don't know how much is lost when you only have vocal inflection, but I imagine a great deal is still left behind when you can't see someone's facial expressions/body language. The kind of ticks that might let you know when your trash talk has gone too far and instead of being playful is actually just mean. People can dish out a hell of a lot of teasing and so long as it's kept on a certain level, nobody takes much offense-even when the language used is really offensive.

So being able to effectively manipulate people through communication would probably be a sought-after trait, and people would probably practice it online among complete strangers, then?

But you take away the ability for someone to clearly make a joke-and clearly take one (or misunderstand) and I think you lose a lot, which makes people more 'thin skinned' online than in real life.

They're thin-skinned online because Insult Sword-Fighting is actually based on a real thing and words do affect people until they train themselves not to be affected by them.

Finally, I think that we're only starting to understand that 'Who you are online is who you are anywhere.'

WARNING! WARNING! WARNING! DUMB-ASS TOTALITARIAN INTERNET CONTROL JUSTIFICATION INCOMING!

If you're a dick online, you are a dick.

And if you kill people in Grand Theft Auto, you're a murderer IRL!

There isn't some kind of "get out of jail" card that the internet provides when it comes to behaving badly.

Are you planning on putting people IN jail for Internet asshattery of any type? I'm not sure we have the cells for it. Will the cells have Internet access?

There will always be assholes-but hopefully as we become more experienced in online behaviors, there will be less.

Hopefully, as you realize that online competition is, in fact, real life competition, with all of the mexican jew lizards notionally raping you till the end of time.

@Epoetker

Ahhhh... Evolutionary psychology. Mostly useless. Its problem directly relates to my comment above. But to put it more plainly it is this:

Premise 1) Most complex human behaviors cannot be encoded in genes, only general dispositions and even in those cases the environment usually overpowers them.

Premise 2) Natural Selection and Sexual Selection (i.e. what you refer to in your first paragraph) only apply to genes that are passed down.

Premise 3) Being a "dick" on the internet is a very specialized, social and complex kind of aggressive behavior.

Premise 4) Behaviors that are not genetic must be learned.

Conclusion 1) It follows by Hypothetical Syllogism from Premise 3 and Premise 1 that being a dick is not a genetic trait, although general aggression may be.

Conclusion 2) It follows by another Hypothetical Syllogism from Conclusion 1 and Premise 2 that being a dick cannot be selected for.

Final Conclusion) It follows once more from Syllogism from Conclusion 2 and Premise 4 that being a dick is a learned behavior.

Since this is a learned behavior it may be true that some people do it to pick up chicks, but this is an accidental property of dickishness. The fact of the matter is that evolutionary psychology at best offers possible explanations for behaviors. However, given that the basis for these behaviors must be genetic, evolutionary psychologists can only prove their theories with the physical brain. Unfortunately there is no supporting fossil record for human brains like there is for, say how whales evolved from ungulates. And unfortunately for evolutionary psychology the more we study neuroscience, the more we find the brain to be almost completely plastic, even for things that would at first seem to be genetic like say LEARNING HOW TO WALK. It turns out that everyone learns how to move differently based upon their natural strength. Some have over-activity in their muscles and learn to inhibit those impulses, others have to learn by volitioning movement. I suggest reading "Being There" by Andy Clarke as he explains how the human brain is primarily plastic and functions in coordination with its environment. This is actually a principle of evolutionary parsimony; why would organisms evolve to internalize processes that they can just as easily rely on the environment to provide. The environment in the case of humans is Society, and it is society that provides us the vast majority of our behaviors.

There are many different ways to be a dick. I can pretty much guarantee you that Bernie Madoff was not a Bully in high school. Each person learns to be a dick for different reasons, bullies may do it out of some insecurity they get from their home environment, or they may do it to get lunch money, or to establish dominance and keep others from messing with them, and Wall Street swindlers do it to get money. Indeed very different psychological types may underly the same behavior, so we should probably be suspicious of any sort of generalizing.

One final thing I might add is that you seem to be committing the descriptive/prescriptive fallacy. I may be wrong but your comment as a whole seems to argue that "online competition is, in fact, real life competition" in some sort of quasi social darwinist stance. While I am, for reasons I shall not elaborate here, not unsympathetic to social darwinism (sans the hard genetic determinism that early social darwinism assumed {social darwinism died out somewhat unsurprisingly after WWII due to its role in Nazism, and thus never had the chance to adapt to findings in neuroscience), it is a mistake to think that simply because natural selection occurs that it should be our guiding ethical principle. Even if all these behaviors ARE due to natural selection, (as I believe I have sufficiently proved that they, in fact, do not) it by no means follows that we should therefore endorse them. I would amend you stance by stating that it is by SOCIAL SELECTION that these behaviors occur. After all, the idea of natural selection really stems from the laws of thermodynamics, i.e. in any open system (closed systems burn off energy until they reach equilibrium, our source of perpetual energy is the sun) where there are limited resources, different self replicating forms will appear, the forms that use the same resources will compete, and the fittest form will be selected. This applies not only to nutrients in the environment but to the minds of individuals within society. Competing beliefs or value systems either drive each other to extinction or specialize by dividing individuals in a society into separate subgroups (equivalent to competing species developing different niches). And they are selected for based upon several different factors that may sometimes compete; i.e. psychological gratification (like belief in an afterlife or heavenly reward), or due to technological benefits (like the physicalism/naturalism that the scientific method assumes in its inquiry that holds that everything must have a cause that is in principle observable, which in turn emboldens curiosity). The question we must ask, then, is what selective processes cause dickery, and whether these processes have a benefit, or are necessary for the functioning of society. And even if they don't we may still abstain from trying to eliminate them as it may simply be a violation of free will. See; "Clockwork Orange".

But I will agree with you on one point. Dismissing dickish behavior on the basis that it is always an act of overcompensating by pathetic individuals seems to imply that the "truly strong" people are the passive polite ones. This is, itself, a laughably pathetic and mistaken view. A great man once said that Honor is having the power to abuse those weaker than you but instead showing restraint. This is because you do not GAIN power by using it on those weaker than you, the only benefit is to FEEL powerful, which is something that is done by someone who IS overcompensating. However, this also implies that the powerless are incapable of honor, which they are. Powerlessness is NOT something to be idealized. Cursed are the meek. And, as I already quoted in my comment above, "I often laugh at those who think themselves good because their claws are blunt." Those who were indoctrinated to be politically correct are no better people than Germans who were indoctrinated to be Anti-Semites by the Nazis. Indoctrination is indoctrination. Ethical judgment depends upon agency, and agency depends upon choice.

Premise 1) Most complex human behaviors cannot be encoded in genes, only general dispositions and even in those cases the environment usually overpowers them.

Rejoinder 1: Even if you don't know which particular gene codes for which particular trait, the discovery of commonalities among a large number of people in a large number of widely dispersed situations demands explanation anyway. "Science has not fully explained!" is not a valid argument and IRL, only a means for shutting down the debate.

Premise 2) Natural Selection and Sexual Selection (i.e. what you refer to in your first paragraph) only apply to genes that are passed down.

Rejoinder 2: And in history, 80% of the women have reproduced, but only 40% of the men have. Therefore men have been historically selected for a smaller variety of dickish traits that are more suited to impressing women.

Premise 3) Being a "dick" on the internet is a very specialized, social and complex kind of aggressive behavior.

Rejoinder 3: If by 'specialized' you mean "confined to only one half of humanity", then yes. From the previous link:

"Men are more aggressive when it comes to dealing with strangers, because they're more interested than women are in a wider network of shallow relationships."

Better premise: NOT being a dick on the Internet is confined to women and the male nerds who spent so much time doing boring stuff like building the Internet and designing the games that they were never taught how to effectively be a dick.

Premise 4) Behaviors that are not genetic must be learned.

Rejoinder 4: No learned behavior that does not fulfill some genetic drive will be remembered for long. Though certain learned behaviors may very definitely 'take' better in isolated genetic communities. There's a reason why Jews are something like 2-3% of the population yet 20-30% of the Nobel prizes, for example.

Conclusion 1) It follows by Hypothetical Syllogism from Premise 3 and Premise 1 that being a dick is not a genetic trait, although general aggression may be.

Rebuttal 1: Bad premises make for worse conclusions. Even when the conclusions are half right: The levels of dickishness at any given time may depend more on the current social environment than a particular overriding genetic destiny for that moment.

Conclusion 2) It follows by another Hypothetical Syllogism from Conclusion 1 and Premise 2 that being a dick cannot be selected for.

It follows from general and specialized experience that making such an absolute statement from such weak conclusions would get you laughed out of anywhere important.

Final Conclusion) It follows once more from Syllogism from Conclusion 2 and Premise 4 that being a dick is a learned behavior.

It follows from general experience and genetic study that there are certain people who will learn and remember how to be a dick much faster than others. No doubt women can be taught how to be dicks, just as they can be taught how to be lesbians. But just as women's nature causes the sex end of the relationship to dry up near-completely (Google 'lesbian bed death once in a while") the contra-natureishness of dickitude will mean that few women stay dicks for long.

Since this is a learned behavior it may be true that some people do it to pick up chicks, but this is an accidental property of dickishness.

Since the physics of the act of sex is a learned behavior some people may learn it to produce the good feeling, but this is an accidental property of putting tab A into slot B.

The fact of the matter is that evolutionary psychology at best offers possible explanations for behaviors. However, given that the basis for these behaviors must be genetic, evolutionary psychologists can only prove their theories with the physical brain.

Brains don't fossilize, silly.

Unfortunately there is no supporting fossil record for human brains like there is for, say how whales evolved from ungulates.

And if genetic studies show that whales did NOT evolve from ungulates, then I'll drop that theory no matter how many bones you show me.

And unfortunately for evolutionary psychology the more we study neuroscience, the more we find the brain to be almost completely plastic, even for things that would at first seem to be genetic like say LEARNING HOW TO WALK. It turns out that everyone learns how to move differently based upon their natural strength. Some have over-activity in their muscles and learn to inhibit those impulses, others have to learn by volitioning movement. I suggest reading "Being There" by Andy Clarke as he explains how the human brain is primarily plastic and functions in coordination with its environment. This is actually a principle of evolutionary parsimony; why would organisms evolve to internalize processes that they can just as easily rely on the environment to provide. The environment in the case of humans is Society, and it is society that provides us the vast majority of our behaviors.

The conclusion did not follow from the statement. Evolution is the study of how environment affects genetics. If the over-active musclers adapt faster and reproduce more than the volitioners in the current environment, then over-activity becomes genetic in the population. And if the brain is as plastic as you say it is, that makes it more of a slave to genes, not less!

There are many different ways to be a dick. I can pretty much guarantee you that Bernie Madoff was not a Bully in high school. Each person learns to be a dick for different reasons, bullies may do it out of some insecurity they get from their home environment, or they may do it to get lunch money, or to establish dominance and keep others from messing with them, and Wall Street swindlers do it to get money. Indeed very different psychological types may underly the same behavior, so we should probably be suspicious of any sort of generalizing.

Without generalizing there is no learning and no retention of pertinent knowledge. We can already eliminate one half of humanity from our examination of male dickishness, the rest is sorting and finding patterns among the dicks in the mist.

The question we must ask, then, is what selective processes cause dickery, and whether these processes have a benefit, or are necessary for the functioning of society. And even if they don't we may still abstain from trying to eliminate them as it may simply be a violation of free will. See; "Clockwork Orange".

My overly loquacious friend, I am not, unlike perhaps, our psychologist, trying to prescribe solutions at all. I am raising awareness of human nature. And you are extremely incorrect in assuming that your tabula rasa views are going to promote respect for free will. If anything, they give sociologists and politicians all the license they need to socially engineer humans in unnatural ways from cradle to grave. Especially now that the general trend in neuroscience is very much moving against the existence of free will. Free will is a dogmatic religious assertion, not a scientific conclusion.

But I will agree with you on one point. Dismissing dickish behavior on the basis that it is always an act of overcompensating by pathetic individuals seems to imply that the "truly strong" people are the passive polite ones. This is, itself, a laughably pathetic and mistaken view. A great man once said that Honor is having the power to abuse those weaker than you but instead showing restraint. This is because you do not GAIN power by using it on those weaker than you, the only benefit is to FEEL powerful, which is something that is done by someone who IS overcompensating. However, this also implies that the powerless are incapable of honor, which they are. Powerlessness is NOT something to be idealized. Cursed are the meek. And, as I already quoted in my comment above, "I often laugh at those who think themselves good because their claws are blunt." Those who were indoctrinated to be politically correct are no better people than Germans who were indoctrinated to be Anti-Semites by the Nazis. Indoctrination is indoctrination. Ethical judgment depends upon agency, and agency depends upon choice.

Ummm...no. No, no, no, no, no. My act of defending the traditions of an institution in no way means that everyone should, in fact, attend that institution. God or Nature or both have, in fact, produced people who have 'blunt claws,' including humanity itself. Not everyone can or should join the army. Nor should their ability to fight be any proof of an abstract morality they hold. And the person who did the most for actually fleshing out our theory of genetics was...a monk. Specifically, someone meant to live in poverty, raise arms against no man, have sex with no woman, and maintain an abstract moral universe against the outside world.

I think the reason that some gamers act like Dicks on the internet is because when they switch on the computer they become instantly detached from the norms and laws of society. This doesn't, of course, apply to every gamer. Some Gamers delight in joining Guilds which have their own sets of rules, with a kick as a punishment. Although I have seen Guilds that seem to delight in collecting Dicks.

I think the first reason why this detachment causes dick-ish behavior is because when you're on the internet you're effectively anonymous. When people realise they're anonymous, they realise that they can say anything without having to feel any real consequences (what I like to call the '4Chan Syndrome'). Let me give you an example. If you walk up to someone in the street and start verbally abusing them you know something bad is going to happen to you (probably ending in a few broken teeth) and this foresight keeps most people from doing it. Unless they're blind drunk. However in gaming there are no lasting consequences to being a dick (unless you are a massive dick and get banned but even that wont last as long as a broken nose) so people are more likely to express their dick-ish side.

The second reason, tying into the first, is that being a dick often helps release Adrenalin. When you're in real life you're constantly shaped by people's expectations, being told to say 'please' and 'thank you' for example. When you've grown up around these manners all your life, it can be a thrill to go against them. I like to think of myself as a nice person (mostly) but when I'm very bored I often think of ways to fight back against the rules of society that have put me in this place. I think that is why you find so many internet Trolls these days. It's the same thrill that people get when they graffiti the side of a brand-new building. People find it fun to be annoying. Not that I'm suggesting you do it. It often leads to worse consequences for you down the line.

There will, of course, be exceptions to my theory. For example people that are a dick in the real world and the virtual one. But I think it's the release from the Cause and Effect Laws of society that has caused the steady rise in dicks these days. There are millions of Players but only a few mods, so people can speak without using their brains and still get away with it. What's the (virtual) world coming to?

Only solution that I can think of for this problem is that people need to work more at being aware of their actions, the context for those actions, and the effect those actions have on others. Despite the remoteness and anonymity, when online, you are still interacting with other human beings. So, the requirements of civility, mutual respect, maturity, and social etiquette still apply. As for the problem of younger people online being jerks, realize that, being younger, they are simply imitating what they see and reflecting how they are treated. Thus, it falls upon the older crowd to establish the atmosphere of maturity in the virtual world and make it clear that particular behaviors are inappropriate.

At the bottom of it all, in my opinion, we just need to act like the human beings that we are. What separates us from wild animals and monkeys in the trees is not only our ability to reason but also our ability to directly choose and govern our behavior. We are capable of choosing our emotions, actions, and responses to various situations. We are capable of defeating our animalistic impulses to act more rationally to a given situation. Obtaining and developing this self-control, self-awareness, and the awareness of the nature, mechanics, and fullness of one's interaction with the reality outside oneself is what maturity is about. Philoosphers have struggled for years trying to determine the nature of man. In my opinion, the reason they haven't found it is because we don't necessarily have an inherent nature; we keep, by our own choice, changing it.

Thank you for enumerating the primary reasons behind this misbehavior so well, Doc.

I notice how consistent the content of much of the abusive verbiage people report is about the most politically correct hot-button issues; gay, ethnicity, male-female, etc.

I do think that game designers taking into account encouraging "our better angels" is a worthwhile goal. Encouraging isn't forcing, mind.

Last, I do agree that the really noxious content comes from a tiny, overly loud minority.

Time and again when playing RPG's like Mass Effect, people are drawn to playing the "Paragon" and have to consciously force themselves to play a "Renegade" type character. It is striking how common this is and how at odds with the abusiveness elsewhere.

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