Good Behavior: How Riot Games is Using Psychology to Stop Online Harassment 

Gentle Readers,

I don’t know if any of you play League of Legends, a game I insist on calling “lol”, much to my older brother’s chagrin. I’m sure that by now, though, you’ve at least heard of it. League is a MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) published by Riot Games, wherein teams composed of five people choose characters with specific abilities, called “champions”, and do battle against other teams. League of Legends is a community of millions of players, with as many as 7.5 million playing at any one time. For perspective, that’s more people than live in Massachusetts, or in all of Bulgaria.  And daily counts are in the high twenty millions. It is a truly massive collection of people interacting, often as strangers to one another. With any community of a reasonable size, some portion thereof are assholes.

The Champion Select screen.

The Champion Select screen.

While I’m not incredibly invested in the game itself—I played for a while, found it to be a lot like the WoW mod Defense of the Ancients that inspired it, and moved on—attempts to corral, quarantine, or reform these assholes are compelling object lessons in how one might manage a massive digital community. Over the past year, Riot Games has made well-publicized efforts to bring some of this behavior under control, considering their previous systems too lenient. As Jeffrey Lin, lead social systems designer for Riot, put it:

By giving the worst 2% so many chances, we’re actually letting them ruin a lot more games and players’ experiences and that’s something we want to try to reduce… we’re hoping to address with our systems is that some players understand what’s crossing the line and believe it’s ok, because other games never punished it in the past.”

Riot acknowledges that what it has is a relatively small problem, but considers that among the sheer number of games and reports of negative experiences,  even these are unacceptable. Thus, they are taking proactive steps to make their corner of the internet a little less like Lord of the Flies.

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