A Tale of Two Online Communities

 In Online Safety

What happens when two games with similar communities take two very different approaches to chat?

Welcome to the end of the world. We have robots!

Picture this:

It’s dark. The faint green glow of a computer screen lights your field of vision. You swipe left, right, up, down, tracing the outline of a floating brain, refining a neural network, making connections. Now, an LED counter flashes red to your right, counting down from ten. You hear clanking machinery and grinding cogs in the distance. To your left, a new screen appears: a scrap yard, miles of twisted, rusty metal. The metal begins to move, slowly. It shakes itself like a wet dog. The counter is closer to zero. Urgent voices, behind, below, above you:

“NOW.”

“YOUR TURN.”

“DON’T MESS IT UP!”

“LET’S DO THIS!”

“YOU GOT THIS!”

Welcome to AI Warzone, a highly immersive, choice-driven game in which players create machines that slowly gain self-awareness, based on user’s key moral decisions. Set in 3030, machines battle each other in the industrial ruins of Earth. You create and join factions with other users that can help or hinder their progress, leading to — as we see above — a tense atmosphere rife with competition. A complex game with a steep learning curve, AI Warzone is not for the faint of heart.

Welcome to the past. We have dragons!

Now, imagine this:

You stand atop a great rocky crag, looking down on a small village consisting of a few thatch-roofed cottages. A motley crew stands behind you; several slope-browed goblins, the towering figure of a hooded female Mage, and two small dragons outfitted with rough-hewn leather saddles.

You hold a gleaming silver sword in your hand. A group of black-robed men and women, accompanied by trolls and Mages, approach the village, some on dragon-back, others atop snarling wolves. Some of them shout, their voices ringing across the bleak landscape. Almost time, you whisper, lifting your broadsword in the air and swinging it, so it shines in the pale sun. Almost time

“FUCK YOU FAGGOT,” you hear from far below.

“kill yurself,” a goblin behind you says.

“Show us yr tits!” yells one of the black-robed warriors in the village.

“Oh fuck this,” says the hooded female Mage. She disappears abruptly.

This is life in Trials of Serathian, an MMO set in the Medieval world of Haean. Users can play on the Dawn or Dusk side. On the Dawn side, they can choose to be descendants of the famed warrior Serathian, Sun Mages, or goblins; on the Dusk side, they can play as descendants of the infamous warrior Lord Warelind, Moon Mages, or trolls. Dawn and Dusk clans battle for the ultimate goal — control of Haean.

Two Communities, Two Approaches to Chat

Spoiler alert: AI Warzone and Trials of Serathian aren’t real games. We cobbled together elements from existing games to create two typical gaming communities.

Like most products with social components, both AI Warzone and Trials of Serathian struggle with trolls. And not the mythical, Tolkien-esque kind — the humans-behaving-badly-online kind.

In both games, players create intense bonds with their clan or faction, since they are dependent on fellow players to complete challenges. When players make mistakes, both games have seen incidents of ongoing harassment in retaliation. Challenges are complex, and new users are subject to intense harassment if they don’t catch on immediately.

Second spoiler alert: Only one of these games avoids excessive user churn. Only one of these games has to spend more and more out of their advertising budget to attract new users. And only one of these games nurtures a healthy, growing community that is willing to follow the creators — that’s you — to their next game. The difference? One of these games took steps to deal with toxicity, and the other did nothing.

In tomorrow’s post, we take a deep dive into the math. Remember our “math magic” from The Other Reason You Should Care About Online Toxicity? We’re going to put it to the test.

Originally published on Medium

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