Technoculture, Art and Games (TAG) is an interdisciplinary centre for research/ creation in game studies and design, digital culture and interactive art


  back to blog

Socializing Anonymous

Posted by wbarobinson

I have been playing the DotA 2 Beta for 4 months now. I went in with skills and knowledge developed some 7 years earlier when I played its predecessors, Age of Strife and DotA on Warcraft 3: The Frozen Throne’s custom maps. Let me tell you, I was pretty good back then. However, the game matured and became an e-sport, while I went on to seek greener pastures (infatuated with WoW for ~2300 hours). Coming back to DotA 2, I did not know what to expect, other than my immediate and frequent death. I had heard that the community was unwelcoming, but I had not understood just how bad it had gotten.

The first shock was in learning how easy it is to be killed in DotA if you are not careful. And the second was with how angry your team gets when you die needlessly. You see, in DotA there are two resources to be aware of. The first is experience points. If your hero levels faster because she assists in more kills, you will have a powerful advantage. The second is gold. If your hero lands the final blow on an enemy, an amount of gold commensurate with the power of the killed enemy is deposited in your account. Gold can be spent on a variety of tools which will help you win the game. When you die, not only do you level up your opponents heroes, but a large amount of gold is deposited in their account. Do it three times in a row, and a snowball effect is created where you can almost never catch up. Their added gold and experience will make them more durable and hit harder.

People told me to delete the game from my computer. They called me stupid, an idiot, a retard, etc. They told me I was a fucking noob. You see, because DotA is cooperative, and because you are stuck with the teammates you get, and because you are subject to their poor play, you are liable to get upset when you find yourself in a hopeless position after 5 minutes in a 30 minute game. This is a unique design flaw which is at the core of DotA and cannot really be repaired without irreparably damaging the game. Proper player matching is the way to fix this. It is however unclear whether Valve is doing so in the Beta.

Now, in order to make DotA a more hospitable place, Valve offered the opportunity to report players. With a couple quick clicks, you can send a message to Valve explaining that someone was a) Abusing Voice Chat b) Abusing Text Chat c) Abusing their abilities d) Feeding. The first two are easy to explain, if someone is unfair to you aurally or textually, you can report them. You get 10 reports to start, and this is where I spent all of mine. Whenever someone violently uses the word “fag” or “rape” I report them, regardless of them being on my team or not. When someone is reported, they are put on a low priority list for 24 hours and are less likely to find a game. The third and fourth are more complicated. Ability abuse is rare; it is when players do things that break the game because Valve didn’t anticipate some combination (such as legally creating an illusion of yourself and then selling your illusion’s items). The fourth report is for those players who find different ways to give the victory to the opponent, by feeding them gold and experience through kills (buying couriers and sending them to their death is one way for instance).

This strategy on Valve’s part was quite interesting to me. Misbehaviour leads to punishment, which in turn is supposed to curb bad behavior. However, you might never find out why. You see, when I report players for their aggressive homophobia, I sometimes fail to tell them why they are being reported. This means that they will not learn how to make DotA a safer place. At the same time, anonymity is important in the reporting process because you could be counter reported. For instance, it has happened that I have told someone that I was going to report them for their behaviour and they have in return reported me. I enjoy playing DotA and do not like to suffer the penalties of being reported. The system, while interesting, has serious flaws. People are not trained police and self-policed communities have issues that they need to deal with.

Simultaneously and contrastingly, Valve implemented a commendation system where you could praise players. You can do this for their a) Friendliness b) Leadership c) Teaching d) Forgiveness. I never bothered to use this system until their last patch came out. With its release, a stat page was made available to me, which not only showed my proficiency with the game, but also offered a record of all the commendations I had received previously. I felt really proud and loved the idea of being anonymously praised. My good deeds had not gone unnoticed, and this in turn prompted me to be friendlier, more forgiving and more likely to teach players how to better play (I can now do so because I have played for 210+ hours). What is more, I started to notice good deeds and began to commend those players. In some ways it feels artificial, I am gaming a new points system where I am nice because it gives me prizes. On the other hand, I genuinely like being nice and given that the system can now account for it, I do not feel like a patsy trying to bring happiness to such a dark place.

My question now is whether there is a way to implement behaviour recognition in play. If you are reported, you get to play less games, but you are not hindered during play. If you are commended, you do not get to join more games, but you do have a page displaying your good deeds. Imagine if instead of using meta-game elements to recognize behaviour, we changed people’s game play… For instance, if you are reported, you start the next game with 10% less gold. If you are commended, you start the game with 10% more gold. This system of course breaks if you give people unlimited commendations and if you let people commend their partners that they came in the game with as it would give them advantages in every subsequent match. You could of course get some good workarounds: you can only commend people who did not join the game with you in a party, you cannot get bonuses for being commended in the lobby chat, etc. I am also interested in the ethics of all of this…