internet tough guy

I’m a really nice guy, in the real world. If you met me, you’d think I was friendly and outgoing. You’d share a beer with me; we’d laugh. You’d let me date your sister because you know I’d treat her right, and you’d let me look after your kids, because they just love Uncle Chris and his crazy shenanigans.

That is, of course, unless you’ve played an online game with me. While I’m spewing poisonous rage over a keyboard at that idiot that’s costing us the game, there’s always this niggling thought in the back of my mind that were we outside the game, sharing a beer and swapping stories over the braai, we’d probably get along rather well. We may even be friends. The internet does something to us all, it changes us, and the first step to fixing a problem is admitting you have one. Hi, I’m Chris Kemp, and I’m an internet douchebag.

I lost a lot of games of DotA 2 today. It was a relentless barrage of stompery, and by the end of the day I don’t even think Hansie Cronje with meth withdrawal could have organised me a win. I made blood pacts with every deity I could find on Google, I spent some time at the bottom of my shower in the foetal position, I did a naked rain dance through my complex and after the cops let me off with a warning, I jumped back into the next game. And promptly lost.

No one could have prepared that poor, poor man playing the Weaver for the text onslaught that would ensue. Weaver dude, if you’re reading this, I’m sorry man. You were really bad, but you didn’t deserve that. No one does.

Don't give me that look, Weaver. You know what you did.

Don’t give me that look, Weaver. You know what you did.

In Psychology there is something called an actor-observer bias. Basically, if that guy at the bank is rude to you, he’s just an asshole. If you’re rude, however, it’s because you’ve had the day from hell and surely people can see that. Weaver Man was simply the apex of a really bad day, but of course he had no way of knowing that – he probably thinks, and rightly so, that I am a horrible, horrible person.

It wouldn’t be fair to blame my behaviour solely on my terrible day though. The truth is, internet arguments escalate at the speed of light. A typical DotA 2 interaction may go something like this:

Player A: “Mid plz”

Player B: “LOL NO”

Player A: “Dude, F**KOFF I CALLED MID”

Player B: “stfu stupid noob me and your mom are on a first name basis”

It’s even worse on something like Call of Duty:

Player A has killed Player B.

Player A: “WTF F**KING HACKER NOOB GTFO SERVER”

Player B: “lol your mother hacked MY PENIS”

morpheus boom roasted

Something about the internet makes all of us, myself included, completely discard normal social etiquette. It’s a problem that perpetuates itself, because you go into every interaction basically expecting an argument. Going back to Psychology again (bear with me), these are called a symmetrical interactions; it’s mirrored behaviour. I shout, you shout, and things quickly escalate out of control.

On the flip side of this is a complementary interaction – I shout, you concede. There are few things that shut down a potential internet conflict faster than one person readily admitting they’re wrong.

Player A: “wtf r u doing noob”

Player B: “Yeah, that was dumb, sorry”

Player A: “No worries man, it happens”

When someone responds calmly and rationally, it takes you so off guard that you immediately feel guilty about being such a douche. I’ve tried this tactic myself, but unfortunately it doesn’t always quite work that way – some people are assholes in real life, too.

This isn’t confined to online gaming either – jump into any forum (or that most unholy of places, the comments section of any YouTube video) and you’ll see these kinds of petty fights. Just mention that one gaming platform is better than the other or your dislike of <insert any game here> and all bets are off. Your sexual orientation, intellect, gaming proficiency and whereabouts of your mother the previous evening will all be called into question, as it’s all somehow relevant to your belief that the Xbox 360 is the best way to play video games.

The Xbox One, however, almost certainly isn't.

The Xbox One, however, almost certainly isn’t.

How do we combat this? Honestly, we can’t. As long as the internet is a safe place for anonymous keyboard warriors, people are going to be big irrational babies. But there are some things YOU (and me) can do.

Next time you find yourself in one of these ridiculous internet conflicts, stop. Take a hard look at the situation, take a deep breath, and be the bigger person. It’s literally never worth the frustration and misery it will bring.

No one responds well to naked criticism. No one has ever played better because you berated them and called them a noob. If you feel someone can benefit from constructive criticism, give it, but do so politely.

And if you’ve been losing all day? Had enough of all these noobs ruining your games? I’ll leave you with a quote from one of my favourite movies, Rounders, which says it better than I can.

“Listen, here’s the thing. If you can’t spot the sucker in the first half hour at the table, then you ARE the sucker.”

More stuff like this: