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?