How Trolls are Born: A Beta-Tester’s Notes

Trigger warning: As you might guess, this post is about trolls! It includes re-creations of inflammatory comments and events. It also includes words and sentiments (not the author’s!!) which German and USA readers might find offensive. Read at your own risk.

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Huzzah! The long-suffered gag-order which was the NDA has been (partially) lifted and I can finally share my beta-testing experience with you all.

Well… not precisely…

I could share my experiences of the game with you, but that wouldn’t be very interesting, now would it? It would go something like this: “The game is an MMO. You click stuff and press buttons. Sometimes you die, other times the thing dies and you get loot. Also, there are levels and crafting.”

If you know me, or my research, then you know I play games for the social experience. I wouldn’t call myself a social gamer, but I do enjoy watching- and participating- in interactions with the community of players. This is also what I study. Now, whilst I didn’t set out to study this beta, some observations naturally emerged about the social experience of beta testing. Namely, my shock that it took about 3 hours for the first trolls to emerge from under their bridges.

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Nej,_sicken_liten_puttefnasker!_Ropade_trollet.jpg
The beloved troll as it ventures out.

So, lets begin this story and find out how trolls are born in beta tests!

Fuelled by neon energy drinks and frozen taquitos, I began my journey into the newly nascent virtual world much like other players. After my excitement at the character customisation options, I named myself, and was tossed out into a new virtual world. Well, a rather long loading screen happened first, but you get the idea.

With senses on overload, I looked around at the blue-black cavern I had been spat into. Like a newborn, I stumbled as I tentatively tried out the WASD keys (ignoring a helpful ‘hint’ which popped up in the right corner of the screen asking me to do precisely that). Characters popped up all around me as I took my first few steps. Unsure whether they were player-characters (PCs) or non-player characters (NPCs), I ignored them. Heart thrumming in my throat, I felt a sudden competitive urge rising. I needed to be the first to clear the zone. Forgoing tutorials teaching me how to control my little lizard, I pressed and clicked, spamming and spasming my way to learning movement. I had learned to walk, I had learned to hit. In MMO terms, that means I had passed infancy well ahead of my peer-group and was quickly on my way to toddlerhood.

Figuring out shift allowed me to sprint, I ran past the recently-spawned army of n00bs and towards glory. Although I chose to listen to every voice-acted quest text in an attempt to immerse myself in the lore, I sped through objectives like no-body’s business, all the while I looted everything in sight. There wasn’t so much as a /hail toward any of my sisters-in-arms. My toddlerhood turned out to be an antisocial one, with me more focused on getting to the ‘real’ game as soon as I possibly could.

Escaping the beginning caverns, I was transported to an island in the actual game world. Although I consciously knew this was just another newbie zone, it didn’t feel like it. It felt huge, like a sandbox. I, like the other children in this virtual primary school, had finally emerged onto the playground and was ready to build some sandcastles!

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Chateau_de_sable.png
How long before someone jumps on my sandcastle, though?

The bottom left corner of my screen jumped with a tentative yellow line of text. “Hello,” it read, “how is everyone enjoying the game so far?”*

So polite… Is that a game master or moderator talking? I thought about crafting a response, but /1 didn’t work. Nor did /general. After a minute ticked by, more yellow text appeared.

“Oh, if you type /zone, you can chat to everyone in the zone.”

Polite and helpful. Huh. About an hour and a half into the beta and the community was shaping up to be shockingly human. Fantastic, I thought to myself, I won’t have to deal with the typical sexist/racist/homophobic/transphobic general chat this beta. A true blessing.

Having gained a naive faith in the community, I decided to test the waters (and my luck), by asking for help. Hey, I typed, has anyone found this quest giver? Either the marker on my map is wrong or I’m glitched. Fingers hovered over keys as I nervously waited for a response.

Yellow text appeared. “Yeah, you need to go back to the big building, the one to the right of where the quest marker is telling you to go.”

Trying out this advice, I ran to the suggested location and, sure enough, the quest giver was there.

Thanks, I typed, much appreciated.

“YW,” or ‘you’re welcome’ was the response. Helpful and good manners. I was speechless.

Quest completed, off I ran out of one zone and into another. Preoccupation with some wild mudcrabs combined with a disconnect resulted in an unexpected hour-long break (during which I managed to feed myself, write a short blog post, and top up my neon energy beverage). When I managed to log back in, I found my character back in the previous zone with the misplaced quest-giver.

Two and a half hours into beta now, the chat box was exploding.

“Can’t find quest giver. Game is broken.”

“Anyone know level cap for this beta?”

“How do you craft? Where are the trainers?”

“This guild is recruiting. PM me to join.”

Each of these statements/questions was met by 2-3 responses. The community was alive and talkin’. More importantly, the community was about to experience a preliminary trolling:

“The quest giver for that quest is hidden in the mountain behind the house the quest marker tells you to go to. You need to run up the side of the hill next to the house. There’s a hidden door which will drop you into a cavern. Giver is in there.”

That’s right, my helpful and kind community had shown its first troll-streak: lying to inconvenience other players and waste their time for the sin of asking for help. The child wandered lost in the woods and the troll pounced.

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Theodor_Kittelsen,_Askeladden.jpg
A wild troll has appeared!

A few minutes later the poor victim responded again:

“I still can’t find the quest giver. There is NOTHING on the mountain. ARGH!!!!”

And was promptly trolled again:

“I isn’t *on* the mountain, stupid, its *in* it, lol n00b.”

Shaking my head with a small smile I jumped in to rescue the poor beguiled player. Paying forward the kindness which was shown to me, I explained the issue. Presumably pushed to the point of frustration, the troll-ee either assumed I was also a troll or wasn’t in the mood to give thanks as I received no gratitude for my efforts. Shortly after, I left the zone making a note at the role mastery, or perceptions of self-efficacy, play in creating the troll.

The new zone was it. This was the actual world. This was the main meal of the beta, and I was super excited to be dining there. Ignoring chat and focusing instead on questing, my gaze flickered only to the bottom-left of the screen when a particularly large block of yellow text popped up. Glancing over it, I noted it was in a language I couldn’t read (possibly German?) but a few words stood out. ‘150’ ‘Mumble Server’ ‘PST’. It was a guild advert, and it was being spammed about once every 5 minutes. Reasonable then that it would have 150 members already, especially if the players had been organising themselves beforehand.

I found their dedication interesting, the spamming slightly annoying, but otherwise carried on poking lava-bugs with daggers and collecting their hides, as an NPC with pointy ears had so kindly asked me to do. Then something interesting, and unexpected, happened.

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Trollgarten.jpg

The troll garden is officially open for business!

Someone responded to the guild-spam with the most offensive comment I could imagine given the circumstances:

“Stop speaking Nazi.”

As I read and re-read the comment, my breath caught in my throat and I released the ‘W’ key. I paused, I hesitated.

The yellow-text in the box paused too- the quiet before the storm, the deep breath before the plunge. The entire zone all drew a collective breath and exhaled before the floodgates opened. Someone had just rung the dinner bell for lurking trolls everywhere, and a feeding frenzy was about to commence. Ladies and gents, keep your arms and legs inside the vehicle, the ride is about to get rough and we’re going to need a bigger boat.

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Theodor_Kittelsen_-_Sj%C3%B8trollet,_1887_(The_Sea_Troll).jpg
This picture pretty well encapsulates the moment before an unholy shit-storm with a particularly vicious troll at its epicentre breaks loose.

The guild-spammer promptly responded (in perfect English):

“Fucking American piece of shit, shut up.”

The chessboard now set, newcomers to the Game of Trolls began to enter. Offended by the guild-spammer’s slur, one spoke up:

“How do you know they’re American, huh?”

This was echoed by several others saying comments such as: “Don’t make such harsh judgements,” or, “You’re ignorant!”

Unfortunately for our poor guild-spammer, the chat was dominated by players from the Americas who didn’t take kindly to their rage-induced comment. Nevermind that Han shot first…

The guild-spammer, undaunted, responded, “They have to be American. Only Americans are so ignorant.”

Fortunately for our guild-spammer, this comment was relateable. Several newcomers on their side joined the ‘debate’ now echoing that Americans are, in fact, ignorant and undeserving of a seat at Europe’s gaming table.

From a dual to a melee free-for-all, it seemed as though everyone in the zone jumped into the fracas. Punches were thrown here, kicks below-the-belt there, insults and stereotypes ran rampant polluting the zone chat as far as the eye could read.

As interesting as this outburst was from an academic, objective standpoint, I couldn’t personally and subjectively stand to read any more of it. I took out my daggers and resumed the slaughter of the lava-critters. It was only half an hour later that chat resumed a sense of normalcy with players looking for groups, asking for quest help, and chatting about the (neutral) game.

I had all but lost interest until a familiar block of text appeared- the original German guild advertisement which sparked Troll-Fest ’14. The next comment was from the master of ceremonies- the original troll. They said something to the effect of “Wie kann ich mitmachen?” (if Google translate tells it true).

Apparently impressed by the German response, the guild-spammer followed in English:

“You speak German?”

“Yeah, I am German. I live in Germany as well.”

The entire chat burst into a flurry of ‘lmaos’ and ‘lols’ as we all realised we had collectively taken the bait and fed the troll. The person who curtly informed the guild-advertiser to ‘stop speaking Nazi’ was German themselves- or at least was able to write enough German to convince the beta’s German population that they were a native speaker.

I sat at my computer with a smirk on my face, amused and bemused at the amount of work and effort that goes in to being an asshole, but also smiling at the fact this random, faceless asshole had somehow endeared themselves to me. I felt disgusted that a part of me felt a respect for the rabble-rouser. The mischief-maker, the Loki, the agent of chaos, the little devil had put on a performance for all of us to watch. They performed a self-referential role of the asshole who embodies historical, cultural debates which have spanned the past 70 years of living memory and made us all laugh about it. This left me a bit stumped as to the role of the troll, or ‘asshole’ (a phrase borrowed from Jaakko Stenros who borrowed it from someone else). By pointing out what we consider most profane, they also point out our value systems.

So, in closing, I can report that Godwin’s Law for this beta took about 4 hours. Until next time, enjoy yourselves and remember:

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Trolls.jpg

*Note: I did not record data during this beta test. Not only is it against the NDA, but I thought it would be unethical as: 1. This is not an official study, 2. If it were an official study it would have been covert which has messy ethical implications. The ‘quotes’ I use in this post are pure summaries/conjecture based on my memory and experience of the beta test.

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