I’ve mentioned several times that games like WoW allow us to be the best version of ourselves. While it’s easy to lose yourself in a virtual world that can bring you great friendships, great relationships, and amazing accomplishments, at least you’re striving to be better; to do good and give back to the community that’s embraced you.

But the same isn’t true for everyone, is it?

I hate to be cynical about it, but I think for every one person who wants to leave a good impression there’s someone else out there who just wants to be a complete and utter dick, mostly because they can. John Gabriel of Penny Arcade lovingly dubbed this the Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory, basically stating that a normal, everyday person, when given complete anonymity and an audience via the internet, will turn into a total asshat.

In general, we tend to label these people as trolls; those ill-tempered, ugly creatures hurling insults from the shadowed safety of a bridge. They strive to bring out the worst in everyone around them, baiting gamers, forum-goers, and casual browsers alike. Usually they’ll go after the most passionate, adding in their inflammatory remarks that contribute absolutely nothing to the discussion as a whole, just in hopes of getting a rise.

So why do they do it?

Some people like to compare it to what happens when you’re in a car. There’s a huge hunk of steel between you and everyone else, so you feel comfortable doing and saying things you definitely wouldn’t try otherwise. But I don’t know how accurate this is. Road rage is caused more by stress than by a lack of consequences and a certain amount of anonymity, and I just don’t know how much stress contributes to the actions of your average gaming asshat.

To me, they’re more like schoolyard bullies. And they’re not even the punks that get up in your face and push you around. No, I’d probably compare them to the catty girls from high school. The ones that carefully plan their commentary. They talk about you just loud enough so you can hear, but obscurely enough that they can still make you look like an idiot if you confront them. They operate under the cover of being sickeningly sweet and inclusive; meanwhile every word is honed into a finely-crafted barb with some nefarious double meaning.

And worst of all, they’re protected. They’re protected by an administration that would rather turn its back on student disputes. They’re protected by rich daddies who make every problem their little princess stumbles into go away. They’re protected by fair-weather friends who surround them like a shield because they know they could just as easily be in your place.

But the thing about those girls…

They never seem to be all that happy. Their power is fragile and they’re always grasping at it, just to keep their head above water. I remember some girls who were just craving attention however they could get it. And of course the girls who had such a poor self image that they ripped everyone else to shreds because they saw the same flaws in themselves.

Maybe I’m thinking too deeply on it, but it seems like internet trolls and asshats aren’t that different from those manipulative bullies. They’re unhappy, so they enjoy tearing apart the happiness of others. They’re bored and lonely, so they do everything in their power to draw attention to themselves. And maybe some of them – like the ones in a Battleground who slam everyone else – are turning their frustrations into piss and vinegar because it’s easier than fixing their own mistakes.

And again, they’re protected by the system. Their privacy is usually left intact. If you’ve been to the official forums lately you’ll see that some of them are even revered, especially on server forums. Just like the army of ‘friends’ in high school, they congregate around the biggest dick possible because they know what will happen if they’re on the other side.

Of course, we’re told time and again not to feed the trolls, just like we were told to ignore the bullies in school. I just don’t know how much it helps in either case. While they may not get the attention they’re seeking, they’re still spurred on by anonymity and lack of consequences. Trolls will start new flamewars. Bullies will find a new victim to swarm.

I guess all we can really worry about is our own actions, and I think being the best version of ourselves in these games means not taking the bait from asshats, no matter how tempting it might be.

How have you dealt with trolls in the past? Do you think there’s any way to fight back against them, or is it really best to just walk away and let them talk themselves into a poor reputation?

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4 Responses
  1. Zaralynda says:

    I don’t think they’ll ever talk themselves into a poor reputation. There are enough likeminded folks out there to pat them on the backs and convince the trolls that they’re doing a good job.

    I don’t know what the solution is, but I’m tired of the assholes myself. I wish folks looked at the internet as a way to be the best version of themselves that they could be; I wish folks learned to have empathy for others; I wish a lot of things that aren’t happening.

  2. Shiftea says:

    Asshats/Trolls have been around since the start of the internet & MMO’s seem to be their new favorite hangout for all the reasons you mentioned above. None of them would dare spew the crap they do if confronted face to face. Especially if they knew my size, my past, and what I do for a living.

    But, that’s why they are Trolls. Little tards that can talk crap during the entire BG instead of helping on a winning strategy. More often than not, the ones complaining are the ones doing nothing. I very rarely que for random anythings anymore. When I do, and someone post a trolling post, I already know what the outcome of the BG, Dungeon, or Raid is going to be = FAIL.

    I disable BG chat for this reason. I know the strategies for each map and don’t need to read the chat, so I just disable it.

    Seems like when I played previous MMO’s it wasn’t as bad. Maybe I just didn’t pay attention back then. But I distinctly remember when I 1st started playing WoW how bad people were. And it’s only gotten worse since then.

    Thank God for Real ID friends and Guilds is all I can say!!!


  3. Erinys says:

    This really hit a note for me. Back in High School (from 15 onwards) and University, I was “one of the catty girls”, one of the “girls who had such a poor self image that they ripped everyone else to shreds because they saw the same flaws in themselves.”

    For reasons I went into on my blog recently, I hated myself for being me, for being a girl, for being pretty and I turned my hate outwards. I have both a quick temper and a quick tongue and as a teenage, I found keeping either of them under wraps hard or perhaps I just didn’t care. I drank a lot (from the age of 15) which made my bitchiness even worse. I didn’t care about myself and so I definitely didn’t care about anyone on the wounding end of my put-downs, didn’t care about the canned laughter from my “friends”, didn’t see the tears/the red faces. This is not an excuse, I know my behaviour was inexcusable but merely an explanation.

    As I grew up I started to realise how I was treating people which added to my self disgust and self loathing. At University I felt trapped in this superbitch persona and things came to ahead after I was asked to give the reply to the toast to the lassies at a Burns Supper. One which will always go down in University history because one guy was so upset by my words he punched a hole in the wall. One enforced chat with a tutor later, I began to see myself through other’s eyes. Not the hard-done by little girl, not the victim but the girl everyone else saw. I believe the word he used was “poisonous”. My first gut reaction was to go to my parents, to try and get him sacked but the more I thought about it, the more I saw the truth in it.

    Now, I’m still plagued with self hate but I’d like to think I’m a better person. When I see people being picked on in battleground chat/dungeon groups I stand up for them. Finally a better use for that quick mouth of mine, especially when it becomes obvious that the person being attacked is really upset by what is being said.

    ” I think being the best version of ourselves in these games means not taking the bait from asshats, no matter how tempting it might be.”

    I read a post recently about jokes about sexual violence and that by staying quiet, we’re giving the impression to those that make them, that this is normal, this is ok. I think the same principle can be applied to bullying/trolling too. Giving up on LFR/random battlegrounds is fine for people who have alternatives, who have guilds/friends but it’s not good for those who have no other option. By walking away because of a minority, we’re doing the whole community a disservice.

    (I nearly left out the start of this comment, after all this is the internet and we can present ourselves as we choose but somehow including it felt like the right thing to do.)

  4. Matticus says:

    Ignore them and report them.

    Nice seeing them get hit with 30 day bans.

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