Streaking in MMORPGs

Social control is what keeps us from running down the street naked, even so we feel from time to time like we should just do that. All while having half a million reasons and none of them having to do with sex. Just to make it clear, this is not an article about streakers, it’s about social control. Even so there’s a half naked troll dancing in the streets of Ogrimmar in the feature image. But it is about trolls, and other not so welcome players in MMOs.

How often have you been annoyed by the behavior of another player in your game? How often does something similar happen in real life, for instance on the subway, in the nearest Wal-Mart, your neighborhood Starbucks or in your office? Since I ordered this list in a certain way, it happens online at the highest frequency and of course in your office with the lowest frequency. More often on the subway, less at Starbucks. Why? Because the consequences of us misbehaving are very different in each of the venues I’ve listed.

What happens if you mine a node in WOW while somebody else kills some mob that was guarding it? Nothing. Somebody calls you a jerk, and that’s usually all that happens. Unless you are on a PVP server. Rolling need on every single item that drops? Go right ahead, maybe somebody votes to kick you from the group after 3 need rolls. But the dungeon tool will get you into the next one after a short wait.

What happens if you play loud music in the subway? Not much. Maybe there’s a transportation cop around who’ll give you a warning. What happens if you behave like a jerk to the baristas at your Starbucks? You’ll be asked to stay away, and if not, you better check if they aren’t spitting into your beverage. And if you get out of line in your office, there’s a pink slip waiting for you pretty soon. The consequences of your doing are the harshest with people you know. They are the ones who care and speak up.

The wikipedia article about social control says that society is using shame, ridicule, sarcasm, criticism and disapproval as tools for social control. Discrimination and exclusion are the most extreme forms of social sanctions. And that’s a pretty common reaction to trolling or other forms of misbehavior online. The difference is, the perpetrator can avoid the social consequences so easily: He logs out and switches to another character. If he comes back the next day, he’s got most likely a new audience, who hasn’t heard his trolling, and the ones who’ve heard him might have him on their /ignore list. In extreme cases he just deletes the character, asks for a name change or a server transfer. No real consequences. And at no point in time he actually has to look his victim in the eyes.

Syl, over at Raging Monkeys talks about the consequences for raiders  because of the lack of social control. There she explains that it is so easy for players to acquire the gear necessary to raid without learning the skills to raid. Five man dungeons and heroics used to be gate keepers, where players trained the finer points of their class. But with the LFG tool nobody really bothers to interact with a newbie and to show them the ropes. The usual reaction is to call them newbs and kick them, without much consequence for the group, since the next player is 3 clicks away.

I don’t have any solutions to offer to fix the lack of social controls. PVP is not the answer, since it can lead to even worse behavior (griefer, corpse camping and the Jihad of EQ Sullon Zek days). One of my answers is usually to call them out earlier or leave groups where they are in and explaining why you are leaving. It won’t help much with the clinical cases, but occasionally you’ll get an in-game mail from somebody who feels sorry for his actions. Artificial measures like a social vote for a character are easily abused and therefore not very helpful.

In the end, the only way to improve this, is to make our virtual world look more and more like the real world. But who would want that?

© Disclaimer: World of Warcraft


  1. To me, keeping servers small and to themselves (no x-server features) is all it takes. sure, there’s always a degree of abuse and griefing, a player can still roll an alt or switch server. and that’s okay, because as you say, we don’t need real-world conditions in MMOs.however, in terms of community building, cross-server is just a huge detriment. “globalization” is not something any but a precious few benefit from; for everyone else it’s full of downsides.
    my ideal server is small or even self-hosted these days.

  2. The problem with small servers is the smaller chance to select friends to your liking. If there are only 100 players on a self hosted server, the people’s behavior needs to be pretty close to what you’d classify as tolerable to likable. And it’s harder to avoid the few you absolutely don’t like. For instance I am on a mailing list with one very ugly hairy troll who just won’t go away, because a handful of people find him funny and some don’t want to kick him because of “freedom-of-speech” principles.

    I guess we’d have to ask a sociologist what a larger pool of potential friends does to your chances to build up a group of friends, a guild or a tribe.

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