Saturday, January 18, 2014

Competative online games as a species of hazing?

Hazing is an 'unauthorised' practice in the military and other areas where various tribes within destroy the dignity of an individual before incorporating them into their tribe, so as to better reform their diginity as the tribe will.

Actually that's probably a contentious enough description by itself! But I'll still go one further.

After playing a certain first person shooter (not one of the main stream ones) for a long time, and having played GTA 5 online for a brief time - with the senseless snuff movie killings, what are these things but a kind of phone book to the ego. So many deaths which follow no particular solveable formula, or even have a solution in terms of mitigation (ie, gaining something even as you lose).

It's not about gameplay and working out a solution or even reflex - it's about being crushed down by someone else and wanting revenge or payback for that - which keeps you at the game. But do you get it near the start? Not if it uses any RPG mechanics, hell no - they'll all have the best stuff.

But even asking that, I'm dipping into the haze/revenge cycle. Even if you can get them back, what is the point of getting them back?

It's like when Bart and Milhouse sit bored, on the kurb, punching each others shoulders.


  1. I think it depends strongly on whether hazing has to be a conscious act, or whether it can be something engaged in reflexively. I've definitely encountered online PVP environments where there seemed to be a tremendous exuberance in treating new players with excessive hostility, sometimes to a bizarre and frankly horrifying extent. And, in some of these environments, there's definitely been an element of inculcating local norms into the new players; "play like us, act like us, talk like us, or suffer."

    But there's no hint it's organized; after much thought, what I decided was going on was just a natural extension of a game design that inherently incentivized cruelty, and what these players were doing was each choosing individually, without cooperative planning, to inflict excess pain upon new players in order to create a warped justification for the way these veteran players chose to play- or rather that they chose to play at all, after at least unconsciously realizing what sort of behavior the game was going to demand of them in order to maximize their wins. The justification follows essentially as A) these newbies have to learn how the game is really played some time, so by griefing them you're actually helping them improve, and showing by example how it is appropriate to act and B) showing mercy to the newbie simply leaves the veteran on weaker footing when confronting other, equally vicious veteran players, who will certainly not refrain from punishing the newbie just because some else has chosen too; thus the newbie cannot truly appreciate mercy shown, and the mercy comes as an inordinate price to the veteran, who will never see it repaid.

    What, in my experience, is truly twisted about these norms, is their Randian asperations. I don't mean they are adopted politically; the players may consider themselves libertarian, but they don't see their play as being political in the least. What I mean is that the ideal these norms propogate is analogous to the most extreme interpretations of the Objectivist philosophy: "If you want to join in the playing of this game with us, you have to be good enough to be able play in spite of our attempts to stop you from participating at all." My experience has been that what you are postulating as a form of hazing, is these veteran players testing new players to see if they can be excluded from playing outright. These veteran players do not have a coherent culture that they benefit from adopting new members into; they are not like senior students at a university who must pass on legacy to new students when they leave. The ideal, as they see it, is for the metaphorical "school" to have no students but themselves, and a selection of plebes for them to wail upon. They are not going to be moving on and up; there are no positions they are vacating that need to be filled; they are not building relationships with their hazed peers which will potentially last for many years.

    Again, where I have seen this phenomenon, I believe its entire cause has always been that the game design incentivises it, at least over the span of individual game sessions- this behavior being toxic to the long term viability of the game is not a concern to those who practice it.

  2. Hi Strain of Thought,

    I agree on the pattern you're talking about - it's kind of an agent Smith effect, where a bunch of them bully someone into being like them, then that person contributes toward bullying someone else to being like them and so it repeats and expands that way.

    But I was thinking more about the actual designers of the game doing the hazing through their design - they design something that will neg you - just keep lowering your self esteem as you get killed over and over and 'want to get back at them'. With no sense of humour or comraderie behind it - just repeated negging over and over. It's specifically a creation of the game designer - they are making this happen. The players aren't really relevant in this case - they are just going to fall into patterns that the designer determined in how they play, and those patterns are ones that are designed to beat at self esteem.

    To a degree I don't mind some of that in a game where the designers care about you as a player. How one defines that exactly, I don't know. But in dust 514, with the clinical, nihilistic environment you're put into and the many pathetic deaths you'll face, there doesn't seem to be any designer sympathy there.

    But your run down of gamer culture and along with the online disinhibition effect get so nasty, is really spot on!