I make no secret of the fact that I play League of Legends. A lot. When I’m not watching anime or playing games to review, I’m usually playing League of Legends. Well, that or Diablo 3, but that’s not the subject of this ran… err muses.
League of Legends gets a lot of criticism for the calibre of its community… and, to be fair, so do a lot of other games. I heard the same about StarCraft, the same about World of Warcraft, I hear it about Call of Duty, Xbox Live, and nearly every online game. Having been a part of several gaming communities for a long time, it really bothers me to hear all this negativity imposed upon them. It’s even gotten to such an extreme that people consider it justified that Blizzard removed chat from Hearthstone, a decision that has led to me refusing to support the game.
I’m going to contradict the majority here and say what I feel. The internet really isn’t that bad a place, gaming communities aren’t all that unfriendly, and trolls are not the majority. People, in general, are not that bad and while I do agree that there are bad apples out there, to number them among the majority is simply not realistic, not fair, and grossly exaggerated.
I’d like to start by giving credit to the video that motivated me to write this. A friend of mine discovered this video, entitled ‘Why I Love League of Legends But Hate Playing It’, and shared it with me stating that it was inspiring to him, that it had moved him deeply.
I went to watch the video… and I had to disagree. Not that the message isn’t worth listening to; it certainly is. The value of teammates, the devotion to improve, and most important of all: the message that we’re all a part of the community. These are all incredibly important messages, and I really hope that people listen to it. But I didn’t find the video inspiring because it made the same assumption I’ve been fighting for so long: the assumption that the community truly is that toxic, is that negative, is so horrible that it warrants the level of pessimism shown by the above video.
I don’t believe that. I don’t see it. I see people, ordinary people who just happen to be a little more expressive due to the power of anonymity. People who have trouble recognizing that the lines we don’t cross in life still apply to online interactions. I play online games probably a minimum of 20-25 hours a week, and I simply do not see the level of horrors people ascribe to it. I try very hard to always be nice, and while I’ve let myself slip into anger management territory before, I try hard to ensure it doesn’t happen often. But the majority of my experiences online are positive. I frequently have polite and intelligent discussions in Diablo 3’s general chat. I make friends in League of Legends on a regular basis, playing ranked games in Gold level. I made one of the closest friends I have over League of Legends in fact. When I played World of Warcraft, I regularly engaged in entertaining and lighthearted chat in general chat. I’m not going to claim I never run into negativity, that I never have to report anyone… I’m simply saying that my personal experiences are generally positive.
I can’t simply be lucky. It just doesn’t make any sense for me to have some magical golden horseshoe implanted firmly up my rear end ensuring I always run into nice people. There has to be something more to it. I mean, it simply doesn’t make sense to me that if every game contains trolls, I can be somehow getting so many normal, friendly situations.
As a society, as a people, we are instinctively inclined to remember the bad. Think to your past visits to restaurants? How often do you remember receiving good customer service? The average person cannot remember more than one or two events in their life of receiving good customer service, yet can remember dozens of negative experiences. It’s just the way it is… so why should we expect it to be any different online? It’s easy to remember a situation you were trolled, but just as easy to forget that nice guy who volunteered to do the role nobody wanted without complaining, the funny jokes a teammate made when she got kills, the random person who carried 4 undergeared players through an instance without a complain or the self-deprecating good humour of the dude who just happened to be having a bad game… it’s just how we are.
Let’s all be honest here, as much as we love to all claim ‘it’s just a game’… games can be stressful. Whether we’re talking a complicated instance in an MMORPG, a huge raid, ranked play in LoL or DotA, or a competitive match in a shooter… tensions are high. If we’re being absolutely honest with ourselves, that stress is a big part of what we like about them – gets the adrenaline going, makes it satisfying when we win. But stress also leads to frustration as well, especially when you have to rely on others. If you’re already under stress, then someone you’re forced to rely on who you don’t know screws up… it is oh so easy to make the jump to blame. And once one person makes that jump, it is almost natural for the entire team to get pulled into an argument or a shouting match.
To be clear, I’m not trying to excuse what happens, simply to explain it. Now, when one person starts to blame, that person is not toxic yet. They’re not a troll, they’re just frustrated. If a person says ‘wtf did you do that for’ once, they’re just expressing their frustration. They’re not expressing it in a healthy way… but they are simply frustrated. What transforms frustration into toxicity is adversity. When someone challenges them, it starts an argument that quickly spirals frustration into what can be more accurately described as toxicity. Why do I make this distinction? Because I think it’s important to understand where it starts if you want to try to find a way to avoid it. Incorrectly labeling something as toxic is just going to make it more likely that it actually becomes toxic.
To avoid overinflating my ego, I’m not going to try to claim I never get trolled. In fact, as I’ve been writing this article… my past few games of League of Legends have been relatively troll heavy – as if the world is trying to display its sense of irony. The important part for me is that this is a rarity, this is noteworthy. I have noticed that making a point of recognizing the difference between frustration and trolling, and trying hard to diffuse the frustration before it becomes toxicity, has led to me having a far more positive outlook on the community than most people I know… if you look around the forums for any of these games, it’s easy enough to see examples of the negative outlook. But why are we so happy to leave it at that?