15 April 2013

Gaming: Where Trolling Began

The phenomenon of online ‘trolling’ is a fairly new one, with its roots dating back to the early 2000s. The origin of Internet trolling can be found in the first instant messaging services, such as MSN Messenger, where – unfortunately – school playground bullies could now take their daily activities online and into the evenings and weekends as well.

But the real foundation of trolling can be found in technological advances such as faster Internet connections and Xbox Live, both of which facilitated online gaming and made it more accessible to a greater number of people. What started as a fun way to meet new friends online quickly became a bit of a nightmare.

In the beginning there was Halo
The first big online game of note was released back in 2004: the multi-award-winning Halo 2. Here players could work alone or in teams in game modes such as ‘Death Match’ and ‘Capture the Flag’. Trolling at first was generally good-natured, perhaps a light-hearted comment on the skill of other players or their apparent lack of team work.

As with anything in life, the minority was soon to spoil it for the majority. Racist, sexist and anti-Semitic vitriol would become commonplace, a problem exacerbated by first-person shooters such as Halo 2 and Call of Duty. The language used is hurtful, spiteful, and often threatening, and there have even been instances of girls changing their usernames in order to evade trolling.

Another form of trolling is griefing’ players with specific in-game behaviours, such as killing team mates or one particular individual to ruin their enjoyment of the game.

What is interesting is that other forms of online gaming, such as role playing and fantasy games, are by and large ‘troll’ free. This is because of the sense of community created, in which unwritten rules exist which outlaw any kind of trolling.

Why it has become so widespread in online gaming is perhaps due to a lack of moderation, and the ability to play under an anonymous alias. So what happens when a troll cannot post anonymously?

Social media and the development of trolling
If we look at the use of social media, we find that trolling is not exclusive to people with the safety of anonymity. Whilst a Facebook profile can be ‘managed’ in terms of who the user befriends, Twitter is more of an open book in terms of communications. And it seems nobody is safe from obscene comments and vitriolic abuse.

Celebrities and people in the public eye are no different either. Whether it is comments regarding their weight, sexuality or race, social media networks have opened up communication channels between a celebrity and the public that previously hadn’t existed.

Perhaps the most vivid example this is Tom Daley. After missing out on a medal in the synchronised diving at the London Olympics, Daley was sent a tweet by a follower that read:

'You let your dad down I hope you know that. Hope your (sic) crying now you should be.

Daley’s father had recently died from brain cancer. The culprit was 17-year-old Reece Messer, who was eventually arrested on suspicion of sending ‘malicious communications’, and this whole episode highlights how far a troll is willing to go in order to gain notoriety.

So why do people become trolls?
Whether it’s a throwaway comment on an online gaming site, or a violent threat posted on a social network, the motivation behind trolling is hard to determine. Whether it’s an emotional reaction or a pre-meditated ‘attack’, trolling should be treated in the same way as ‘real life’ bullying.

The case of Reece Messer could set the precedent for the way trolling is punished. But it is the everyday abusive comments that need to be dealt with, to ensure that we can all enjoy our online lifestyles without fear of mockery or antagonism.

Featured image:
License: Creative Commons image source 

About Today's Guest Writer: 
Alexandra James is a blogger interested in online safety and online education.

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