Do Other People Spoil Multiplayer Games?
Despite its numerous flaws, I really like Friday the 13th: The Game. I enjoy the basic premise and have a great deal of love for the intellectual property. Sadly, like so many multiplayer games of this nature, its Achilles Heel is its player base. Every 20-minute round in Friday the 13th: The Game is a total lottery. Trouble often starts while waiting in the lobby for 8 people to join the game. By default, those with gaming headsets and mics are automatically “live”. Hence the garrulous inanities, trolling and abuse starts almost immediately. Thus, the first thing you have to do to make matters tolerable is to mute all those present. Once the game begins, again it’s a gamble as to whether anyone is interested in working collaboratively and actually achieving any of the in-game goals. If more than one player spawns near a building, it becomes a race to see who can plunder potential resources first. Use of the four-man vehicle can also be a bone of contention. It is not unusual to see one player abandon those that have contributed to repairing the car and just make off with it. Some players will subsequently runover their comrades just to steal their loot.
None of this is unique to just Friday the 13th: The Game. This sort of behaviour has existed for years in the FPS genre and is also common place in games such as PUBG and Overwatch. However, what concerns me is that this appears to be a growing problem. It’s a blight that spreads from game to game, forum to forum. It’s no longer something that can just be written off as a vocal minority who revel in the anonymity of the internet. Large swathes of gamers are happy to behave poorly when online so perhaps it is time to consider that “being nice” is not a universally held default position. If the politics of western society has taught us anything in recent years, it’s that the prevailing social conventions that exist are not unanimously upheld or believed in. The present backlash against the mainstream has shown that many do not want to be constrained by the status quo in other areas of their life. Emboldened and free from the “shackles” of last centuries manners, anger and distain have bled through into the mainstream. If politics, public debate and social etiquette are giving way to the lowest common denominator, why should gaming be any different?
The problem with gaming toxicity is that its seldom addressed, due to its associated cost. To effectively identify and investigate problem players in any genre of game, requires a human agency. It is time consuming and expensive. If it was something that could be administered efficiently via algorithms or cheap outsourced labour, then it would more than likely be done. It would possibly even be used as a selling point. However, at present we are just left with a problem that no one wishes to address. As a result, we have a choice to either cultivate a thick skin and endure trolls and abhorrent behaviour or rely upon what tools we have to circumnavigate such issues. Hence muting all other players by default and such like. However, rather than resolve the issue, it just normalises such behaviour. It’s a classic example of treat the symptoms, not the cause. It also fosters an attitude of distrust of others, which is paradoxical when many co-op games are dependent on other players to fulfil their remit. Furthermore, continuously encountering and enduring unpleasant players slowly leeches the enjoyment out of any game.
Unfortunately, I cannot end this post on a positive note or with a proposed solution. This problem is part of a wider change that has taken part within society. Some believe removing internet anonymity is the solution, but I think that may be a classic example of a knee-jerk solution and throwing the baby out with the bath water. Reducing rights and freedoms should always be a last resort, done under the auspices of the wise with numerous checks and balances. Sadly, the wise are ever growing minority in most western governments. Another “workaround” is to migrate to different genres of games. MMOs still have pockets of civilised players and have a reputation for cordial community relationships. But why should I have to limit myself to specific types of games, just to avoid malcontents and troublemakers? Or is there a kernel of truth in such advice.
My next point is purely a case of thinking out loud, but is there a relationship between toxicity and the kind of games that you gravitate to? I’ve heard cogent arguments that certain personality types thrive in certain professions. The morally unscrupulous and those lacking in empathy apparently do well in highly competitive business environments and the financial sector. Can the same be said about gaming? Are certain genres which revolve around competition, league tables and bragging rights effectively magnets for the emotionally maladjusted? It’s food for thought. Whatever the reasons, I do wonder if in the future, whether some games will eventually collapse under the weight of their own problem player base? Multiplayer games are dependent on social variation. A game filled exclusively with trolls does not strike me as a recipe for growth or financial success.