A couple of new studies concerning player behavior in massively multilayer online games are making the rounds, stating that cheating and troll-like behavior is often a result of the online community itself, not necessarily the freedom and lack of consequences typically associated with anonymous gaming.
These studies made their way to us via the Taylor & Francis Group, one focusing on cheating in online games (primarily MMOs) and the role of the game’s community in regards to said behavior, the other having a more direct focus on the reasons behind unsavory online manners.
The first of these two studies comes from students at the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore and shanghai Jiao Tong University in China. In short, this study sampled 900 teen gamers (13-18 years of age) and followed their online behaviors in regards to cheating, as well as the community of gamers they were interacting with.
In short, playing as an anonymous avatar means that people are more likely to cheat, something that pretty much comes as a no-brainer to anyone who has been gaming online for a couple of hours. The interesting portion of the findings is that “their behavior is significantly tempered by the culture and dynamics of the group of players” they’re gaming with. In other words, if players are under the assumption that others (especially those in their closer-knit group of online friends) are cheating, then they are more likely to engage in that type of behavior, too. They believe that cheating is acceptable, and thus their usual moral compass of right and wrong in meatspace no longer applies.
As a result, the study suggests that bad behavior, such as cheating, flaming and trolling, can be modified in online communities by the behavior of said community. In other words, crack down on the rotten apples and make it understood that unacceptable behavior in the real world remains unacceptable in the cyber world, and you might notice a dramatic shift in the general behavior of players.
Once again, these are the types of lessons we all learned in grade school IRL but, in games like World of Warcraft, League of Legends or Call of Duty online, communities have been allowed to take form and mature (or not mature, as the case may be) on their own. If everyone goes into a round of CoD assuming it’ll be filled with foul-mouthed hate-mongers and then experiences exactly that, then they are themselves more likely to behave in such a manner.
The second study, by Vivian Hsueh-Hua Chen and Yuehua Wu, recently appeared in Behavior & Information Technology and argues that Social Identity Model of Deindividuation Effects (SIDE) plays a role in online gaming.
That last bit was a mouthful, I know, but basically the SIDE theory states that anonymity “does not necessarily lead to the loss of self-awareness or weakened internalized behavior controls.” Instead, this research states that it is the social/group identity that creates these behaviors, bolstering the previously-mentioned study’s argument that people are going to act how they perceive the group to act in an online game.
For those with a bit of time to kill, you can read the full story here.