Can Player Tribunals Save Online Games?

Can Player Tribunals Save Online Games?

Everybody who’s been online has seen what Internet-granted anonymity does to people. It’s not pretty. Worse, none of us can claim total innocence: We’ve all slipped behind an alias at least once and, to varying degrees, acted in a rough manner that we wouldn’t even consider in our daily face-to-face interactions with people. What the heck is our problem? Are we all just really terrible people?

Whatever it is about the Internet that leads us to recede to our baser instincts, the moderators of online games have had a hard time time dealing with what can crudely be described as a constant avalanche of douchebaggery. The small staff behind League of Legends, an online multiplayer real-time strategy game, found itself nearly overwhelmed by the deluge of complaints from its millions-strong player base. Thus, it opted to try something different: A tribunal staffed not by customer service reps, but by other players.

Riot, the company behind League of Legends, told Kotaku that the tribunal will handle everything from complaints about bad language to cases that deal with bullying and harassment (Riot also reminded the site that in any instance where a player feels truly unsafe, that player should contact local authorities). Tribunal members will have the power to dole out punishments or pardons to players, and will receive points based on consistently wise judgments.

Of course, not every player in League of Legends will be fit to sling around the word of the law. Only top-ranking players–in League of Legends’ case, “Summoners” who have reached Level 30–will be considered for the position. Essentially, these are ladies and gentlemen who have been with the game a long time and know it inside out, therefore making them ideal candidates to police the virtual land they love.

But the concept of a player-based tribunal still has some League of Legends fans a little nervous, and players of other online games wonder what it entails for their own haunts. A staff member is hired and trained to handle a conflict on neutral ground, but is a long-time player capable of doing the same thing? What if he or she launches a witch hunt, or becomes especially upset when dealing with a case that personally affected him or her sometime in the past–accusations of sexism, for instance, or racism, or the endless, obnoxious name-calling that emanates from the online world? Their desire for vengeance is justified, but a clear head will be necessary to evaluate the evidence before them.

Finally, some ask, why do we even need someone to hold our hands? We’re adults. Can’t we just say what’s on our minds?

There’s a rumor going around that Freedom of Speech legally entitles us to push around our fellow man with no fear of consequences. That’s all well and good if you want to preach your hatred for the government, certain races, or pants in a public area without facing arrest. However, it’s not something anyone should have to put up with over and over again in a private space–which includes an online world like League of Legends.

We talk a lot about bullying and what must be done to stem the tide of nastiness from both the real world and online, and Riot’s tribunal solution is based on the first and best solution for averting harassment: We must stick up for each other. We also have to keep each other in check when necessary. Few of us are genuine monsters, but we have a way of forgetting ourselves when we’re online.

Riot’s tribunal won’t be perfect, nor will it be immune from human error or emotion. It won’t even be immune from corruption. But it’s far better than the alternative, which is a world that’s so bogged down by complaints that none are addressed. Most folks just want to wind down and have fun online. We deal with enough garbage in our day-to-day lives that being told “Just get over it” or “Don’t take it personally” doesn’t always cut it when the Internet cussing rolls in.

About Nadia Oxford
Nadia is a freelance writer living in Toronto. She played her first game at four, decided games were awesome, and has maintained her position since. She writes for 1UP.com, Slide to Play, GamePro and other publications, and is About.com’s Guide to the Nintendo DS.

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