How Riot Games Cut Down Online Harassment in League of Legends

Video game communities really are interesting microcosms; small societies that have their own ways of life and governance.  A major part of sociology is examining how social institutions(Religion, Government, Law Enforcement, Social Clubs, etc.) reproduce societal beliefs. Video games are a relatively new social institution, as for a long time their social components were reliant on other forms of society, such as the creation of social clubs or social ties with others. With the advent of the internet and online communities, video games have arose as a social institution of their own; a formative social structure that brings people together  and replicates what it means to be apart of society. For example, if a person had no outside knowledge of the world, video games may be able to give that person a sense of the morals and beliefs of the greater society.

Even games like Grand Theft Auto can teach about what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior in a society, as if you break the law in the game cops and bystanders will react to your actions. There’s morals and lessons to learn in about any game, but where sociology really finds its footing is in the online communities that have formed in and around specific games.

Why do I bring up all of this nonsense? It’s because the development staff over at Riot Games have created a governing system in their insanely popular game, League of Legends, that exemplifies this idea of video games as a social institution.  Jeffery Lin, a lead game designer for the team, wrote a really insightful piece  for Recode.net.

Let’s go over some of it.

But that led to a big question: How do you introduce structure and governance into a society that didn’t have one before? The answer wasn’t as simple as abolishing anonymity. Privacy has become increasingly important online as data becomes more widely available, and numerous studies have shown that anonymity is not the strongest cause of online toxicity. While anonymity can be a catalyst for online toxicity, we focused on the more powerful factor of whether or not there are consequences (both negative and positive) for behaviors.

The team had been seeing a problem of online harassment for sometime; problems of racism, sexism, and homophobia were among the community’s issues. To curve the amount of harassment, the team at Riot created something called the Tribunal System. The system effectively creates  case files for the community to view and judge whether they deem them acceptable or unacceptable. If an action is deemed unacceptable by the majority of members, then players will be given warnings and then an eventual ban if they persist.

As a result of these governance systems changing online cultural norms, incidences of homophobia, sexism and racism in League of Legends have fallen to a combined 2 percent of all games. Verbal abuse has dropped by more than 40 percent, and 91.6 percent of negative players change their act and never commit another offense after just one reported penalty.

That’s pretty remarkable, and a clear indicator that online communities can benefit from a form of organized structure. By putting it up to the majority of gamers, you’re probably not going to see bans given out for trivial things like gloating or leaving a game early.

However, the system isn’t just to penalize people, as there is also a system in place for rewarding gamers who effect the game positively.

In League of Legends, we’re now able to deliver feedback to players in near-real-time. Every single time a player “reports” another player in the game for a negative act, it informs the machine-learning system. Every time a player “honors” another player in the game for a positive act, it also trains the machine-learning system. As soon as we detect these behaviors in-game, we can deliver the appropriate consequence, whether it is a customized penalty or an incentive. Critically, players in the society are driving the decisions behind the machine-learning feedback system — their votes determine what is considered acceptable behavior in this online society.

I’m just going over what you can read in the article itself, but I think it’s important to point out how meaningful this is to the study of video games as social institutions.  Games can now have their own system of government, penal systems, and other facets of society that we probably would have never guessed would appear in a video games. They’re mirroring society, yes, but they’re also expanding and changing what it means to live in society. Video games have the unique ability to augment the parts of society that we deem  important or interesting; we can potentially create more dynamic and interesting societies than even our own.

League of Legends Players Write Open letter to Parents

A few days ago a forum post appeared on The League of Legends Official forums stating that is was “Open Letter to Parents of League of Legends Players”. In the letter the author urges parents to think about their effect on other players when they force their children to stop playing due to playtime restrictions, bedtimes, etc. Kotaku later reposted the forum post, calling it sensible reading.

Some quotes from the post:

This is an online game. In most cases, your child is playing with real people.Please take a moment to understand how this game’s person-to-person interaction functions. In the past, I have seen numerous stories of children who routinely disconnect mid-game because it’s bedtime, or their parents decide that they’ve played enough for the day. Some of these stories have come from parents themselves, proudly stating that they are firm about making their children stop playing at a specific time.

If a game is in progress, do not interrupt it unless it is an emergency. You are affecting up to 10 people, not just your child.Feel like checking your e-mail on the same computer? Please wait until the game is over so you don’t completely ruin things for the real people on your child’s teamIs a game that started 90 minutes before bedtime somehow still in progress at 87 minutes? Please allow him to finish the match so you don’t completely ruin things for the real people on your child’s team. Games almost never last that long, and if people lose due to a teammate quitting after spending that much time on a match, they are likely to be more upset than usual.

It’s not the most insane thing to write: people are tired of their League of Legends games being disrupted and ended when people drop out. However, when should a video game be prioritized over the desires of parents or guardians? Probably an uphill battle you’ll be fighting there LOL players. I’ll admit, it is a cordial way of writing about an issue plaguing many LOL players, but should parents really have to amend their parenting to adapt for a child’s gaming habits? That’s a hard to thing to push for. I haven’t personally played League of Legends, but I can’t imagine the problem is great enough to declare that parents need to amend their parenting to accommodate players.

Parents have a hard enough time raising their children without having to worry about the schedule and feelings of their children’s online friends and groups.  Believe it or not, something are more important in the long run than a League of Legends ranked matched. A parent has the right to enforce the rules that they put forth.

The forum post points out that it is the responsibility of the parent to teach their children proper etiquette when it comes to having responsibilities to others and scheduling game sessions for when they know they can complete them, but there’s only so much a parent can do; there’s not much stopping a child from starting a game, even if they know the potential consequences. Life happens and sometimes a League of Legends match may be stopped midway because someone dropped out. Worse things can happen than your ranking suffering.  The post then comes off somewhat ignorant and bossy to parents, since it’s assuming that something in their parenting is causing the problem. In the end it’s probably a deceleration to no one, as it’s highly unlikely that the post will ever reach the ears of parents.

I find this issue really interesting, as seeing gaming and parenting conflict in such a way  really goes to show how much games have developed in the last 10 years. Years ago you would hear kids scream “I can’t save yet!” or “I’m in the middle of a level”, situations in which the consequences only really effect the child, but now parenting and turning off games can effect people thousands of miles away. An action in one’s video game has much bigger social ripples than it has in the past.

Who knows how the next generation of parents will be changed having grown up with similar scenarios; will they be more receptive to dilemmas facing online gaming communities?

University Recognizes Video Games as a Varsity Sports

Robert Morris University has become the first University to recognize  competitive video games as a varsity sports. Does this mean we’ll soon see stadiums full of crowds cheering on a game of “Blades of Steel”?

FINISH HIM!

Probably not. Robert Morris University, a non-profit university in Chicago, is offering a scholarship under their athletic division for competitive “League of Legends” players. The scholarship, which cover roughly half the cost of tuition and board, is being offered to potential students.  The team will play other competitive teams from around the country in hopes of making it to the North American Collegiate Championship, where participants can earn up to 30,000 in scholarships. This isn’t the first team we’ve seen come out of a University, as many big name university have teams, but it’s the first time we’re seeing scholarship money and athletic recognition given to a competitive gaming team. While the scholarship is currently only for competitive League of Legends players, it’s not unreasonable that one day we’ll see that expanded out to other games and genres. Although don’t hold your breath, competitive “Diddy Kong Racing” players.

The competitive gaming scene has been widely developing in the past years, and it’s no longer just introverted gamers watching on Twitch at home. Competitive gaming even has its own structured league with  Major League Gaming (MLG). Competitive video game sports athletes have made entire living off their game playing, including by getting sponsorships from companies. It’s big stuff, and if this recognition of gaming as an athletic sport is any indication of the scene’s trajectory it’s likely to keep on growing. Of course the scene also has its naysayers, including ESPN’s president John Skipper who said video games weren’t a sport.

It’s a competition, right? I mean, chess is a competition, and checkers is a competition. … I’m mostly interested in doing real sports.

Thanks for your insight, Skipper!

He went onto say that he didn’t think a hoagie was a sandwich, frozen yogurt isn’t ice cream, and margarine isn’t butter.

Who knows where we’ll see competitive gaming go from here. Unlike traditional sports, it’s not a singular activity; with so many types of games out there that range in how you play who knows how video games will fall into the ranks of competitive gaming. Nevertheless,  video games are developing as a social activity in new ways and becoming a bigger part of our society.