Thoughts of a Zombie Monkey – Social Gaming


With the release of so many online multiplayer games recently I have decided to take a look at social gaming, the hostile environment it produces and how it affects users.

If you own a modern day console and have used it to play games online which have in-game chat functions, then I’m sure by now you have noticed a trend where some, or even many gamers, will become abusive and insulting with/towards the people they are playing against or even with.

I think it would be fair place to also add that many gamers often find themselves sending an abusive message, becoming abusive or insulting during online gaming. Whilst this seems to have become widely accepted as a side product of online gaming I couldn’t help but wonder, why?

It was only recently whilst watching a program called Derren Brown: The Experiments that I realised some of the reasons that this takes place, and I thought it was an interesting subject to discuss.

So what is it that causes people of a good nature to shout abuse or insult other gamers when playing online? Well, many say that it is because when playing online games you do not come face to face with the people you are playing with, and whilst there is some validity in this it is not the whole reason, it’s just a part of what causes it.

The full term for what essentially changes peoples habits, and even their very nature when gaming is something called deindividuation. To quote Wikipedia, it’s “a concept in social psychology regarding the loosening of social norms in groups”. Essentially it is a case of people in a crowd acting in a different manner due to feeling anonymous, and this anonymity leads to a decrease in responsibility and loss of inhibitions.

In Derren Brown’s TV show The Experiments he made one show named “The Gameshow”, in which a crowd of masked every day people were allowed to vote on the outcome of one individuals life. Whilst it started out as a bit of fun, Brown showed as the gameshow progressed how the crowd would become more like a mob, with it reaching a point where members of the masked crowd were shouting “smash his TV” and voting that the “contestant” should be kidnapped, then taken to an abandoned warehouse.

So how does this translate to online gaming? Well, when gaming online a player obviously has a strong degree of anonymity as they play in their own home, with no actual social contact with the people they play with. That same player will almost always be a part of a team or a group within the game and when someone becomes frustrated through losing or being wound up via some harmless banter, it can often turn to abusive name calling or threats between teams/groups.

This is where deindividuation generally begins with one person becoming abusive, and due to the anonymity within the crowd, others join in. What starts as a bit of name calling will often escalate into a large scale argument full of abuse and threats. Essentially the people playing the game become more like a mob with “unacceptable behaviour” becoming the “norm”.

Brown summed up deindivuation as having been “used to explain all kinds of anti-social behaviour, from the lynchings carried out by hooded groups such as the Ku Klux Klan to the genocide and torture that take place during war. It might also explain how cults operate and why people are prone to extreme behaviour on the internet that is at odds with their offline personality.

I have to admit on a personal level I have resulted to becoming abusive to others, and I think it’s safe to say my family and friends will agree that despite being a bit of a joker, I am a kind natured person. It is only when playing games my personality can change dramatically, but never permanently, which is a case of the phenomenon of deindividuation at its strongest.

You may have read this article and thought, “so what does this have to do with me?” and the point is, if you play online games I strongly suggest you pay attention to your own characteristics whilst gaming as I am yet to find someone who has not been affected by deindividuation, myself (as mentioned) included. So think carefully before you reply to someone who is being abusive, or think twice before replying to an aggressive or insulting message as you could find yourself becoming part of a mob mentality that can have a negative effect on the gaming community.

What is your view on online gaming and the hostile nature that seems to be on the constant increase? Is it something you think comes with the territory? Is it unnecessary? And more importantly, should it be excepted or should service providers such as Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo be taking more action to try and battle this online phenomenon?

If you would like to see Derren Brown’s show on deindividuation, it is available on 4OD here.


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