I recently had the pleasure of reading Alexander Germain’s article on League of Legends, about the insights the competitive game gave him on human behaviour. Now I don’t play LOL but I used to devote a fair whack of time to Dota2 an extremely similar game (I think the correct term is MOBA but I am getting on in my lingo these days) and promised Alexander to share my thoughts on why these games show so much toxicity especially between team-mates.
Now for any newbies out there it may be useful to explain some parts of the game to put some context to my theories
The first point of Dota is that you are placed in a team of 5 heroes placed against another 5 in the opposing team. In order to win, by destroying the enemy’s ancient, you typically have to not only perform well on your own but also co-operate well with the other 4 comrades on your side. I will drip feed game basics as I go hopefully in a way that makes sense without just turning this post into a lengthy description of game mechanics.
Something that seems to set MOBA’s apart from other online games is the level of toxicity, bad-mouthing and general ill feeling between players. While I’m not saying they are definitively the worst (because that is a rather huge statement to make regarding online gaming) but in mine and many other’s experience the shade can get pretty dark, and what I want to talk about is the odd fact that much of the abuse seems to happen between team member. I say this is odd because social psychology would usually predict animosity between groups put into competition with each other, especially when in a co-operative situation with direct communication between team members, and less between teams.
Don’t get me wrong there is plenty of trash talk between teams – also its worth noting that hating is not 100% common, but certainly frequent enough to ruin a good evening.
So why is there hate between squaddies? (and what relevance does it have to anyone who doesn’t play?) Well to address the latter I believe that the game does actually provide some tips to providing insight into people’s real behaviour, especially in say politics, workplaces and even families.
Now to the former
Key Point: there is actually more competition between your own team than the enemy
This is where I need to explain some more game mechanics. There are a range of heroes to choose from, and only one of each hero can be in the game each time. Now this might seem a petty reason to hate, but one of the first conflicts is choosing a hero. Now obviously an opposing team member might choose a hero you want, but your own team-mates choice effects you more directly. To add another point each hero has a particular role, I don’t want to bore with too much detail, but as a general rule people are attracted to ‘Carrys’ which are characters which become very strong later in the game (and are thus very satisfying to play) and tend to avoid playing ‘Support’ which are characters which are good for supporting other teammates and helping said carry’s git gud.
Its this role choice which probably causes more conflict than any specific hero (although that does happen) the core problem is, people have their own personal playing needs, i.e., to get super powerful and look like a bad-ass in game and don’t prioritize building a balanced team over their individual wants.
I say this is relevant to real life because this kind of prioritizing can be seen all the time: spouses want to win arguments more than maintain relationships, workers want to be seen positively as an individual more than meet the companies goals, politicians fight for power rather than to run their countries.
The other interesting thing about competition is that the game actually puts your team in a position where you are competing more against each other for limited resources, than the enemy. It’s a weird system to explain but the basic principle is that for every enemy you kill the loot and bonus’ is divided between nearby allies, hence solo kills = all the more resources, and sharing means less. What’s interesting about this again is that while technically you are 5 teammates being thrown against an enemy, your real focus is getting more gold and experience and the main people holding you back are your own team.
So to summarize that point – people in competition with each other are more likely to dehumanize and demonize each other. Even if there is some overarching goal, people respond to immediate pressures.
A second point is something psychologists like to call the fundamental attribution error, which in a nutshell means that you attribute other’s mistakes to their loser personality, and your own to the unfair circumstances around you. So when Dota players see their team mate get trounced or make a bad play they assume the worst, when they themselves slip up, ‘IMBA, WTF potato team?, I’m tilting today’
Finally I suspect there is an intolerance against lack of control in a dependent relationship. There is something inherently frustrating about being dependent on other people, whether in Dota or life. There is a strange part of human psychology where if you want to see people lose their wick, just put them in situations where they can communicate with other people, but cannot exert much control over them.
My child has just awoken and I’m afraid my resources are being competed for now, so I will leave you there…