trredskies

T.R. Red Skies

The Digital Frontier

Socially and culturally, video games occupy a portion of what I call the digital frontier, a place where the war for social justice is raging in the virtual space; where unfettered sexism, racism and other forms of group oppression and discrimination are entangled in a battle for greater games.

Leveling Up at XP Chronicles

As much as I love T.R. Red Skies and the history that comes with it, I think I’ve outgrown it’s purpose. T.R. Red Skies is being retired and XP Chronicles has been born. This website will remain online and I haven’t figured out exactly what I’ll do with it.

Talkback: Paying It Forward

A recent report on GamesIndustry.biz discusses how the console wars have resulted in more expensive games than last generation’s. The report mentions that games like Forza – a great example of a gaming replacing the intrinsic value of its features with monetization – are giving you.

Gamer Voices on Social Topics

I made this post strictly to say to fellow bloggers/vloggers/gamers: your voices matter, especially when it comes to the social issues that affect gaming.

I especially want to direct that statement at men in the community who brave the topic of sexism and sexualization in games, or who are interested but are hesitant.

The Sarkeesian Question

The Sarkeesian Question, as I’m calling it, is what many gamers and anti-feminists are asking everyone around them. It’s something we all ought to approach with care because everyone on all sides is very concerned with the implications of Anita Sarkeesian’s Tropes Vs. Women video series. The message itself? That sexism pervades our media.

Power Word: Blood of Heroes

Everyone who played vanilla and dared to cross the Plaguelands may have run into these little pools of blood by the roadside, or in a copse of trees or a ditch. And if you were curious enough, your story might have continued like so.

The Top 5 Raids in World of Warcraft

In commemoration of Blizzard for Blizzcon, I present this fun, totally unofficial, totally biased list of my Top 5 Raids (pre-Mists of Pandaria) in our beloved World of Warcraft.

Alright, so this might be surprising to some of you, but hopefully not most of you because Zul’Gurub was not only awesome.

Around the Sphere: A New Year

Well I’ve started off the new year silently at Red Skies. It’s nothing against my readers, but the new year has brought a ton of change into my life (good change) and I’ve just been occupied giving my attention to all of that. I haven’t forgotten about this place and I’ve definitely had a lot of things to write about it. Just not a lot of time to do it.

Still, I’ve kept an interested eye out as much as I can to see what’s going on around the sphere. Of course, we’re all still talking about guns and violence the world over. I think it’s great that the dialogue has been so constant for the past month. Here in America I can tell you there have been at least half a dozen more public shoot outs since the Sandy Hook incident. It’s making the news on average once or twice a week and that’s just from my personal browsing of the news. The most recent is a man who has taken a 6 year old hostage in an underground bunker. How did he get him? He walked onto a school bus armed with the intention of taking 2 children. The bus driver attempted to stop him and was shot 4 times, fatally. Some kid passed out from the scene and that was the unlucky boy to be kidnapped. As of tonight that kid is still with the shooter.

The debate on gun violence won’t be stopping any time soon in America and that’s for sure.

Spinks believes it’s worthwhile to do more research on violence in video games, though I agree with most in the community that it’s highly unlikely there’s causation in this kind of thing. No one wants to admit it’s the culture. That would be admitting there’s something wrong with the way we’re doing things here and we’re not having that!

The latest Cat Context also has an open discussion on the issue of gun violence and video games that’s worth a listen, especially for it’s diversity of opinion. We all love it when Canadians chime in 🙂 The most interesting question raised during the podcast was the one of responsibility. This is the heart of the matter: who is responsible? Obviously the gunmen are responsible, but this is happening all over society. These aren’t isolated one-offs. This is a recurring pattern of violent behavior spanning decades. We like to think it’s just a few people snapping here or there, but the frequency of gun violence just makes it a bit too obvious that it’s much more than that. We’ll see where the dialogue ends up in a month. In the U.S. we’re trying to pass legislation to limit access to automatic weapons and military style ammunition.

I have my own opinions of course but I’ll save them for a more thorough analysis. I need to let this all marinate a bit more. In the meantime, enjoy the upcoming holiday of love!

Toxicity: League of Legends Community

This is a response to two videos: Athene’s from a few days ago which asked a few serious questions about the toxicity League of Legends (LoL) community and Gbay99, Youtuber who puts out some really good and thoughtful strategy videos for LoL.

Athene asked (among other things) how many players turn off LoL less happy than when they began playing. And really, how many? It’d be interesting if Riot surveyed this and publicized the results. Athene’s commentary was on how toxic the community seems, how it feeds on itself, how players have a tendency to act really horribly towards each other despite knowing it decreases their odds of winning. I think lots of players have wondered at one point or another “wtf? why is this person raging?” while sitting in a LoL match. I’ve been in winning games where people literally afk’d out as we were taking down the enemy base while raging like a child about something that they didn’t like. I’ve also been in matches where a few kind or constructive words totally turned a losing situation into a winning one.

Gbay99 usually has some well thought out, well rationalized responses to why players behave so poorly in the game. He’s done videos about how it decreases their chances of winning, how their emotional reactions are a hinderance to their performance, and just generally trying to create videos which advise the community on how to be better players. I love his videos and he’s one of the voices for good and of reason in the community. He’s an example of one of the better personalities in the game. I think he’s very sympathetic to his own community.

However, I think Gbay99 rationalizes a bit too much and I found his response sort of meandered around the question, but toward the end he finally concludes that it’s just a damn hard problem and the best we can do is work on ourselves. In between though, he states we must tolerate the bad behavior, that they are malfunctions of biology. I don’t think this was what he set out to do, but that comes across very strongly in his response, that players are reacting in various circumstances, often under stress and some times under duress (dire life situations) and so the behavior in the end is something we must tolerate. Even though I know, as a fan of his, that he doesn’t believe this toxic behavior is acceptable, he failed to say so unequivocally. That’s key to the question Athene and he were responding to.

There’s two things I see as sort of dangerous about this response. First is the assumption that because we all make mistakes we must accept toxic trollery. Athene was referring explicitly to the awful trolling and behavior he sees regularly on the LoL forums, so he wasn’t at all questioning why people make mistakes or why they might get bothered during a match. Gbay99′s response went large around this portion of the question and focused instead on simple human mistakes which are 100 miles west of the behavior in question.

There’s no reason in the world to accept this kind of behavior. It’s not about being an almighty good example “come to save us”; it’s about sheer humanity and just being a decent human being. No one gets extra points for being a decent human being. That’s called the bare minimum.

I respect both Athene and Gbay99. I don’t believe there’s any *good* reason for a lot of the toxic behavior in the LoL community and I don’t think either of them believe any differently than I do on that. Both of them would say bad behavior is bad and we should stop it. But it’s so very disturbing at times that it deserves to be pointed out as often as possible, if only to air out the community. Keeping this kind of stuff in the dark just allows it to fester and become worse.

There are reasons players behave the way they do in games like LoL, but that doesn’t explain why MOBA’s seem to attract and even foster toxic communities. Gbay99 attributes it to the competitive environment, but this doesn’t seem to be a problem everywhere else. There are many competitive games and sports in which contenders do not act like players in the LoL community. So now we might blame anonymity, which is closer to the mark but still doesn’t explain the vitriol gushing out of these communities. I’d say the number of mature, non-toxic players is equal or greater to the number of immature toxic players. There are players who are extremely friendly and helpful …and they are also anonymous. So that doesn’t explain it all either. In fact, nothing explains it all. It’s a combination of many factors that feed into making a community like LoL. The fact that it’s a virtual/fantasy environment likely plays it’s part as people have trouble reconciling their virtual behavior from their “real” behavior. But the game seems to have a concentration of immature belligerents. I’m sure there are other factors, but my general experience as a member of the LoL community makes these four more obvious to me.

What’s unique is that MOBA’s *attract* this kind of behavior. What is it about the combination of anonymity, competition, fantasy, and immaturity in a gaming community that results in an overtly undesirable place to game? I don’t mean LoL as a game is undesirable, but where it takes place is undesirable, the community. What is it about those things?

Well I don’t believe biology is to blame. This kind of reasoning fails to distinguish humans from cows or bees, which we know there is a frontal lobe of difference and is quite a huge advantage. Having our brains emotionally malfunction isn’t supposed to be as great a problem for us as it is for deer or monkeys. It’s our ability to think twice which is to credit for our very existence on this planet thousands of years later. It’s not sufficient to say that players are being “normal” by acting out the way they do in LoL. I appreciate the sympathetic tones and the human sensitivity Gbay99 gives on the matter, but I’m afraid by leaving the explanation focused solely on competition and emotional behavior, he’s somewhat made it acceptable to behave this way. The line is extraordinarily thin between someone having a bad reaction and having that reaction accepted as “normal” and somehow to be expected. And as important as forgiveness is in reform, it’s a double edged sword; once statements are made to the community by a prominent voice that players act out because of XYZ and it’s to be expected, and many of those players are the immature belligerents, you’ve effectively validated their behavior even if that was not what was intended. We have to always strongly, unambigously condemn the toxicity even as we explain why some of us behave poorly. There’s a balance to strike between saying “well we’re all human, we all make mistakes, and sometimes we rage” and saying in the same sentence “but it’s not ok act like an asshole or berate other players or be unpleasant”. We have to always be sure to say that this is positively unacceptable in all it’s forms and while the community is open to forgiveness we’re going to make it known we don’t tolerate this.

But Gbay99 isn’t to blame for this and I think if he’d just gave 60 seconds longer a response he might have said this. But he didn’t. He didn’t even condemn the toxicity in question. I flinch whenever biology is given as a rationale for bad behavior. In the real world, when we lived in fields and caves surrounded by lions and tarpits that kind of bad behavior carried much more obvious and painful consequences. It was less necessary to explain to someone that doing certain things or acting certain ways was bad for not just them, but everyone. The same message just doesn’t carry the weight of consequences as it once did, but it must still be said. Part of the problem in cleaning up the toxic waste in the LoL community is realizing bad consequences in the moment in which bad behavior is committed. In other words, it’s a much more complex problem to solve than any of us would like. Yet LoL is a teenager in the game community; not quite young and not nearly old enough to have solutions to the problem …and yet again DOTA is over a decade old. Where are the solutions? We’ve seen this before, we know how players act …and where are the solutions?

To Riot’s great credit they have certainly tried to solve the problem in some ways, but in others they have fallen woefully short. For example, I don’t know any other MOBA or competitive game with a Tribunal System. The new Honor System is also a very good step forward for competitive gaming communities. Here’s a company that’s clearly thinking about the problem and expending resources to try to address it. Yet various forum posts from the developers show that they are wishy-washy, ambiguous at times. Sometimes even as they’re agreeing with the community, they’re not quite being open about their own thoughts on it. It shows that what many of us find problematic about their game, they potentially think it’s fine …just not at that moment. Part of their response exhibits a fear of losing certain kinds of personalities in the community, and that much seems clear to me. They don’t want to lose players who they believe give relevance to the game. Part of it is they just don’t see the damage it does yet. Part of it is cultural across all of gamerdom. There are problematic behaviors which developers find perfectly acceptable. I think Riot can be convinced to speak more boldly against toxic behavior and even convinced that some of their players aren’t worth keeping. I think we’ve actually seen this growth in attitude and maturity from them so I hold out some faith that they will yet come up with more solutions. Hell, they’re the only company in the MOBA community even trying right now.

Still, the genre itself is very old. That the problem persists shows that not enough development resources are spent on community policing. Ticket systems are seriously the least productive of the tools and should in no way be seen as “effort” in solving the problem. No one has the manpower to even comb through all tickets and give them the attention they might deserve. Instead, our games must become much, much smarter. Analyzing patterns is something computers already do better than humans. Now we have to channel our efforts into creating an engine smart enough to analyze player behavior and output results/consequences. I’m not suggesting this is simple, as stated earlier; this is a complex problem to solve and we might be looking at it wrong altogether. But it’s hard to believe anyone since Riot has been trying to solve it for MOBAs. I’m just not cynical enough to believe that our smartest, brightest programmers haven’t been able to come up with some solutions for a decade. I’m more inclined to think they haven’t been trying.

But I’ll gladly be wrong. Link any programs/engines/schemes which have been designed in the MOBA genre to help combat toxic player behavior!

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