Siobhan Keogh is the NZ Herald's gaming blogger.

Siobhan Keogh: Why does gaming attract trolls?

Siobhan Keogh investigates the link between trolling and gaming after the flap over Flappy Bird.
Game developer Nguyen Ha Dong took 'Flappy Bird' offline because of all the hate he was receiving. Photo / AFP
Game developer Nguyen Ha Dong took 'Flappy Bird' offline because of all the hate he was receiving. Photo / AFP

If you spend any time at all on forums or games websites, you'll start to notice a certain kind of story routinely pops up. Someone has said something, or done something, or not said or done something.

And that doing, or not doing, has whipped a group of people up into enough of a frenzy that they've started bombarding that someone with messages berating them, calling them names, even sometimes sending death threats.

The latest case is that of Dong Nguyen, the creator of smash-hit mobile game Flappy Bird. In Flappy Bird, a little cartoon bird flaps his way through obstacles that very closely resemble the green pipes in the Super Mario platformers. The game is infuriatingly difficult, but captured the hearts and minds of people all over the world.

For a couple of weeks, my Facebook feed was full of people posting their scores and trying to one-up each other.

The game developer, from Hanoi, Vietnam, has been the recipient of death threats and insults at almost every stage of Flappy Bird's rise and fall. When the game started to gain in popularity, Nguyen was threatened for creating such a difficult, yet addictive, game. Then he was accused of ripping off artwork.

When the attention became too much for him, he decided to remove the game from the App Store. And what did that get him? You guessed it - more harassment.

The gaming community has a history of harassment. And for those of us who believe that gaming isn't just a hobby for petulant children, it's not a good look.

There's Adam Orth, who - admittedly in a moment of snobbery - worked for Microsoft of told gamers to "deal with it", with regards to always-online gaming. The torrent of abuse that Orth endured lasted until he essentially disappeared from the internet. (As an aside, his experience with this harassment inspired a new game he's been developing, called >Adr1ft.)

And then there's Zoe Quinn, a female game developer who submitted a game called Depression Quest, a text adventure about struggling with clinical depression, for consideration in Steam's Greenlight programme, which helps indie developers get their games published on the massively popular Steam platform.

Quinn had to change her phone number because she was getting sexually harassed by people who'd tracked down her personal details. Why was she harassed? Because a group of gamers didn't believe that she, as a woman, could possibly understand what it feels like to be depressed.

None of these people did anything worthy of such persistent and vitriolic campaigns against them. I understand that people are passionate about games. I understand that it can be frustrating when you feel like someone is ruining something you really enjoy. But while criticism is okay - even healthy - no one deserves to be sexually harassed, or threatened, or be subjected to a constant barrage of hateful material. Regardless of how much you hate a developer.

I know this kind of behaviour is enacted by the minority, and I know it happens in other mediums, too - not like the Nicole Kidmans of the world haven't been stalked or threatened - but it seems like very minor things will get that particularly angry group of gamers' mouths frothing.

Often, you tend to hear the words "don't feed the trolls" bandied around. I think combating this kind of abuse means you do need to feed them. You need to expose them so that normal, everyday, nice people can see what they're up to and what people who endure this kind of harassment are up against.

But I don't blame people when they have to take a step back from all the nasty emails and threatening tweets. I've been the target of gamers' hatred more than once although thankfully on a smaller scale than any of the above examples - and it's an incredibly draining thing.

Play video games. Have fun. Be good to each other.

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Siobhan Keogh is the NZ Herald's gaming blogger.

Siobhan Keogh has been playing video games for almost as long as she's been able to read. Her passion for games started with Sonic the Hedgehog and Alex Kidd in Miracle World, grew when she discovered the Final Fantasy series as a teenager, and became near-obsessive when she worked as games editor for PC World magazine. She'll play almost every kind of game there is, from shooters to strategies to adventure games to Peggle, on any platform she can get her hands on. Her love of games isn't limited to the screen - she also plays both board and card games on the tabletop. When she's not gaming, she's tweeting lame jokes about games on Twitter. Occasionally she takes a breather from that and talks about running and fitness instead. Siobhan works as community manager for New Zealand's largest locally-owned technology company, but her views on gaming are her own.

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