Monday, December 29, 2014

How To Deal With Toxicity in League of Legends

What is Toxicity?

Toxicity is any in-game behavior that negatively affects other players. That means your average toxic player could be doing anything from intentionally throwing the game, to simply being a jerk in chat. Here are a few quick examples from the League of Legends tribunal, as read by Stephen Hawking:
The phrase "toxic" was carefully chosen, since players exposed to toxic behavior, will often become toxic themselves. This can lead to a huge positive feedback loop (for negative activity) where the toxicity flame can literally (and figuratively) rage out of control. That is, unless you stop it early.

More often than not, the toxic player is simply upset and not trying to be a complete scumbag. In this post, we'll go into detail about how to defuse toxic situations and optimally work with difficult teammates. Now trolls do exist, and we won't always be able to stop everyone, but more often than not these tactics work. The same methods we talk about are used by hostage negotiators and behavioral psychologists, so feel free to use them outside of video games (I know I do every day!).

Why you should care about this

Dealing with toxicity is a pretty common problem that most players feel powerless about. This is the wrong way to think about it. If Riot can influence how players behave by changing the color of a font, then we can definitely change the behavior of our teammates with our words and actions.

I'm not playing games with you. You're playing games with ME.

Here's a thought experiment showing why this is useful. Riot recently mentioned that 95% of active players in 2014 never received a punishment (for behavior) of any kind. Which is great! Most players you play with aren't scumbags! But if you do some math...

95% of players never punished for toxicity.
That means 5% of players were punished for toxicity.
5% means 1/20 players were toxic in 2014.
With 10 players per game of league of legends, then 50% of your games have a toxic player.
With 5 players per team, then 25% of the time the toxic player is on your team!

We're going to run into difficult players in 1/4 of our games. I'd be willing to bet that the 1/20 ratio holds up when applied to real life as well. Definitely worth knowing how to deal with toxic people since they're all around us.

Okay, so how do we deal with toxicity?

Most of this I'm going to paraphrase from Eric Barker's very excellent blog (which I highly recommend). I've applied his ideas to a team setting with a League of Legends focus. Here's how you deal with a toxic player.

Step 1: Keep calm. 

One person is freaking out and going toxic. Two people freaking out is even worse. Dr. Albert J Bernstein refers to the toxic state as "dinosaur brain", which is very fitting:

…the basic idea is that in many situations, you’re reacting with instincts programmed into your dinosaur brain, rather than thinking through a situation. If you’re in your dinosaur brain, you’re going to play out a 6 million-year-old program, and nothing good is going to happen. In that case, the dinosaur brain of the other person is going to understand that they are being attacked, and then you’re responding with fighting back or running away, and either one is going to escalate the situation into what I like to call the “Godzilla meets Rodan” effect. There’s a lot of screaming and yelling, and buildings fall down, but not much is accomplished.

Never panic, always keep a level head and think through the situation.

Step 2: Ignore the toxicity (don't get baited).

Dr. Bernstein recommends treating the toxic individual like a child. When they're throwing a tantrum, do you argue with them about why they're being a baby? Of course not! Dismiss their actions and focus on the underlying problem. Do not drop to their level. Ignore the toxicity, and zero in on what's causing it.

Step 3: Slow down the situation and make them think.

We want the toxic player to slow down and start thinking. We need to say things like:
"Please help us understand, we'd like to help."
"Why is this happening and how can we fix it?"
"What can we do to help?"

Notice that all of these can't be responded to with a simple yes/no one-word answer. We're trying to switch the toxic player from dinosaur brain mode to thinking mode. This will force them to start answering open ended questions that require a lot of typing. We want to avoid any criticisms that could put them on the defensive. So stay away from "You" and focus on "We" statements. This makes the toxic player feel like they're still part of the team, and stops them from feeling attacked.

I'll often offer criticisms for a single player in the form of an open ended question. If a player is dying a lot (due to mistakes), I could say:
"You need to stop overextending and dying, it's costing us the game!"
But that will turn on the player's dinosaur brain and put them on the defensive. Instead I prefer to say:
"What can we do to stop dying so much and win the game?"
I'm saying the exact same thing, but now it's constructive and inclusive versus negative and alienating. The open ended nature of the question also appeals to the thinking brain instead of the dinosaur brain.

Slow down the conversation with questions like this to calm down a toxic player before they go beyond saving.

Step 4: Let them have the last word.

Leave your ego at the door. Your goal is to stop the toxicity and win the game, not proving that you are right and the toxic player is wrong. Give them the last word and stomach any of their crap until you've claimed victory.

As a jungler, you'll often be blamed for every single thing that goes wrong in a lane. There are a lot of players out there that need to blame something besides their own incompetence (or poor luck) when things turn for the worse. These are the same players who will push up in lane without wards and then cry at their jungler for not anticipating that they were going to get ganked. Sky sums this up nicely in one of his videos:

Now a win or a loss is shared amongst a 5 person team, and there are always improvements to be made and mistakes to avoid. That said, raging at your teammate WHEN YOU F*CK UP, is one of the worst things you can do for your team. More often than not, you piss off the entire team (they will probably mute you) making them play slightly worse with their dinosaur brains on. Sometimes you'll start a chat battle and then one of your teammates will type "Stop being an assho" right before they die (you can't move or do other actions while typing in league). Raging, nitpicking, or complaining about teammates does nothing to help your team win. Nothing.

So how do you stop it? Lie.

"You're right, it's my fault. What can we do differently so we do to turn this around?  Where should we focus on the map since they're ahead now? How can I help us win?"

This will usually calm the rager (and your team) down and switch the conversation back to team strategy. They will probably continue being a jackass. Hold your tongue (errr typing), and let them get it all out. Good players have enough EQ to suck up their pride and win games. Part of being a leader in league (and in life) is knowing how to stomach the special players that grace our games from time to time long enough to get a victory on the board.

The ends justify the means. Let the toxic player have the last word if it means victory.

Final Words

Sometimes the player that can control his teammates best is the one who will win the game. Here are the 4 steps necessary for fighting toxicity and pushing players towards teamwork:

Step 1: Keep calm.
Losing your cool will create two toxic players instead of only one.

Step 2: Ignore the toxicity (don't get baited).
Do you argue with a screaming toddler? Don't validate the toxicity.

Step 3: Slow down the situation and make them think.
Ask open ended questions.
Avoid statements that put the toxic player on the defensive.
Use "We" instead of "You".
Words matter. Choose them wisely to disarm your teammate's toxicity.

Step 4: Let them have the last word.
Suppress your urge to be right if it means winning the game.

And remember, after the game you are free to do whatever you want. Best of luck everybody!

Want to see these tactics in action? Want to learn how to jungle? Follow me on Twitch.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014


Today I want to talk about and a recent decision they made that could have been executed better. If you're not familiar, Twitch is an amazing platform designed for gamers to broadcast themselves playing games out to a pretty avid audience. The tools are extremely mature, the community growing, and Twitch was recently bought by Amazon for 970 million dollars.

Twitch - Making it possible to live in your mom's basement WHILE following your dreams. Kappa

And it deserves every penny. Twitch created a way to make professional gaming financially feasible. There are gamers out there making around a million dollars in annual salary. If you're good enough, and entertaining enough, it's feasible that you can bring in ~$8k per month just from streaming yourself playing games (Like Aphromoo in the video below).

Remember how I was complaining about certain players being ranked higher than me in League of Legends? A couple months ago, I finally hit my goal of reaching the top 1% of the 67 Million+ playerbase (old data, probably bigger now). That's kind of a big deal. I used to be ranked 27th in the world at Dr. Mario for the Wii, but that game probably had less than 10k players, and being a top player was like being an honors student in special ed. With League, being better (or at least ranked higher) than MILLIONS of other hyper-competitive players is a pretty solid accomplishment. My team recently won the League of Legends tournament at Youmacon against top Michigan players too. Long story short, I'm pretty confident that I'm good enough at this game to stream on Twitch and actually have at least a handful of people pay attention to me.

So I started streaming this week. I built a gaming computer from scratch, configured my stream via Xsplit, and cleaned up my channel so it's all pretty and welcoming. Even messed around with some Twitch Bots to answer questions in my stream automatically. I still have no idea what I'm doing, but so far it's been a lot of fun!

After two nights of streaming, I used the Twitch "Highlights" feature to make some video clips of me and my team making the top 1% of the player base look silly. I main the pig-rider champion (naturally), which makes this even more fun since the vast majority of the playerbase thinks that she isn't very good (I think they play her wrong). Anyway, Twitch has a nifty feature which lets you export these clips directly to youtube so you can make things like this:

So I was surprised this morning when I went into my broadcast file from the night before and noticed that ~half of it had been muted by Twitch. Apparently they have a new service which scans stream videos for copyrighted music, and then mutes a 30 minute block of audio around whatever track they've found.

Even worse, this service is terrible with false positives. It gets confused and will mute music from the game being streamed. It mutes music made by the artist in their own streams! It even (incorrectly) muted a few official twitch videos! There isn't any feedback mechanism explaining why your audio got muted either. So I have no clue what songs to remove from my playlist to fix the problem! People aren't happy.

As a n00bie streamer and amateur musician, this decision makes zero sense from either perspective. As a streamer, this is going to make me hate and stop using any music that mutes my audio. As an artist, I would never want my music to be blocked for any reason. Streamers listening to my tracks are supplying free advertising for me, similar to how League of Legends became the most popular game in the world driven largely by free streamer word of mouth (or broadcast) hype. Sure the music industry folks won't like that, but there are MUCH smarter ways to solve the problem of getting paid.

It's not the easiest task to make money online as an artist.

This is especially true since most stream viewers aren't tuning in to listen to background music. They are there to watch the player pull off some highly skilled gameplay, or hear the player's thought process, or interact with a community of like minded peers. The background music is just there to set the stage, and it makes no sense to censor the entire production if the music sounds similar enough for a faulty algorithm to flag it as copyrighted content.

"BUT WHAT ABOUT FIGHTING PIRACY??!??" the music industry cries!

No, stop right there. I'm one of the few people who still buys music. I think pirates are f*cking scumbags and am not shy about sharing this opinion openly. Every song I played on my stream is from a CD that I purchased directly from the artist at one of their shows or from their official online store. So it's comical to me that my videos (which less than 50 people have actually watched) are being censored due to background music that I already paid for.

You can always build a better system.

So what's a better way to do this?

Making the censoring process Opt IN instead of Opt OUT would be a great start. Currently artists (who do not want their music censored) cannot turn the censoring off because their music is automatically included in the list to block. Sure you'll have a handful of Nicklebacks that will want their money, but I would want that crap censored anyway. Creating transparency over what can and can't be played would be amazing too. If a Spotify or iTunes or Pandora were to make a filter for Twitch approved music, they would gain A LOT of business. Another thing Twitch could do is simply pay out a fraction of any revenue to artists as royalties. You'd want to make it proportional to their time on the stream, and this would likely be far less $ than the artist would get for being included in the soundtrack of a movie or tv show since it's only background music. This again would only be for the Opt IN scumbags.

Please give me the opportunity to promote and pay my favorite artists instead of censoring them.

Or even better, set it up so streamers can choose to donate a fraction of their ad earnings to the artists they listen to. I would do this. I would love for the Tally Halls and the Aquabats and the Mustard Plugs of the world to make some extra cash so they can make more music for me to enjoy every day. By opting in (as a streamer) to this system, you unlock the ability to have those artists' songs unmuted from your stream.

BOOM everyone's happy.

This wouldn't be a lot of money either. Probably ~$10 out of a $10k monthly paycheck judging from Spotify artist revenue. Personally, I would love the option to give more to my favorite artists out of my streaming revenue (maybe a flat % of whatever I make?). That would create a feedback loop where the music industry would want to support streamers and streamers would want to support the music industry. I'm inclined to believe that most people will opt into a system like this, given the chance.

So that's my two cents on how to fix a system to make all parties happy, instead of most parties miserable and angry. What do you think? Is there an even BETTER way to do this? Let me know in the comments below. Honestly curious what others think!

Give me a follow on Twitch if you want to watch me ride a pig and throw ice bolas in a virtual world against other really good players. Also, feel free to ask questions in the comments below if you'd like to try Twitch for yourself and want some help setting up. Took me about a month to figure out and I'm more than happy to spare you from a couple setup headaches!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

How To Piss Off Your Clients And Ruin Your Business

Today I am being extorted by a psychic for ~$30. It's been a weird week.

Bridal Party became zombies after the ceremony.

Let me back up. I got married last month. We did a fun Halloween wedding where everyone dressed up, drank a ton, and danced the night away. We had a lot of Halloween themed things to do ranging from trick or treat stations to a psychic who would read your palm to see into your future.

Obligatory Zombie Thriller Dance

Everyone had a great time. The DJ had the dance floor moving all night, the food was fantastic, and everything looked amazing. Wedding was perfect and my wife and I were super happy. We tipped everyone involved handsomely and went into our post-wedding lives. About a month later, I get a string of poorly written text messages sent to my private cell phone number from our wedding psychic saying that I owed her an additional $100 for her staying until 1am. Which was interesting to me, since our wedding ended at midnight and my new wife and I were in our hotel shortly after.

"Wait, you want money you didn't earn?"

She was adamant about me owing her $100 in addition to the $400 we had paid her for doing psychic readings from 8pm-midnight since an un-named guest had asked her to stay until 1am, and threatened legal action if I did not mail her a check. To put this in perspective, we also tipped this lady $50 (I thought she did a great job). She gave a few guests that missed the last shuttle a ride back to the hotel ~12:15. This was a ~10 minute trip, and one of the guests gave her $20 to cover her gas. So total, she got ~$470 for maybe 4.5 hours of work. I bring this up to show that she wasn't paid poorly, and that we even gave her extra cash on top of what our contract agreed to. What's the world coming to when you can't trust a psychic?

I see... A lot of misspelled text messages from me in your phone until you pay me more money!

I've explained to her that she will not be getting any extra money since I (the person who signed her contract) did not ask her to stay an extra hour after the party ended for no reason. I also expressed that I hoped there were no hard feelings since we tipped her an extra $70.

Stephen King taught me that it's generally not a good call to piss off psychics.

I did this politely in case she was a psychopath who might stalk me outside of my house over an imagined $30.

My lawyer uncle said that her claim was laughable. He mentioned (sarcastically) that I had grounds to sue her for being a fraud, since she didn't see into the future that I wasn't going to pay her for no reason.

But how freaking stupid could you be! She keeps texting and calling and leaving voicemails and threatening to see me in court. All over $30 that she didn't earn (I'm calling it $30 since she got $70 in tips).

We had multiple friends that were excited about going to her for readings. They had appointments and would have paid $100 each. Not any more! Made sure very quickly to let them know what was happening with her harassment. By rudely demanding an unearned $100, she lost herself at least $500 in business, and pissed off our event planner, potentially blacklisting her from future events in Michigan. Not the smartest way to grow your business.

And this is absolutely the worst thing you can do. Lie to your clients. We do not owe her a dime, and she has completely undermined every good thing she ever did by lying and saying we do. Until the day I die, I will associate her with supreme scumbaggery and vociferate her flaws to anyone mentioning her name. All this over $30.

So next time you're thinking about harassing a client for extra unearned cash, don't. No reason to extort money via harassment, and turn your biggest fans into extremely vocal die-hard enemies.

Okay, rant over. Usually don't get angry about anything, but this psychotic psychic rubbed me the wrong way so thoroughly that I needed to vent my frustration out into the interwebs. Thanks for reading my therapy session and don't go to Laura if you need psychic stuff done!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Tsu and the Art of Social Media

Have you heard of Tsu? It's a new social media platform with the revolutionary idea that users should be paid fairly for the content they produce. Tsu also makes use of a very smart referral system to incentivize users to sign up. You can join Tsu via my profile page if you'd like to check it out while you read (and hook me up with a referral bonus).

What it is

Tsu is a social network combining features from sites like Facebook and Twitter. It's like Victor Frankenstein hacked off the best pieces of existing social media and amalgamated them into one being sewn up with a very pretty user interface. All of your favorite features are here. I can "like" posts that show up in my feed. I can choose to follow or friend other users, which allows varying levels of privacy with post visibility. Topics can #trend, and every post has an option to share to my other social media sites (which I can connect to my profile) with a simple click. The site is very mature for how young it is.

My profile page with all the functionality of standard social sites.

That said, there is still a lot of room for growth. Standard features, like being able to block users, are still being developed. The site loads a little slowly on servers powered by startup dollars. Groups and events don't exist (yet). Concepts like pages for businesses or celebrities aren't differentiated from regular users. Some of the embed functionality isn't as pretty as it is on legacy social media sites with a few years of coding under their belts (granted most of it is still pretty passable). There's room for improvement, but I'm still extremely impressed with what I'm seeing in the early stages. That said, Tsu also utilizes some revolutionary features which are the main reason you should pay attention (and also why I'm writing this post).

Tsu pays users 90% of the money they make. I haven't made anything yet.

Tsu pays out up to 90% of the money they make back to the user. They take 10% to keep the site and servers up and running, but then give back the rest to both the person creating/sharing/interacting with the content, as well as the group of users who referred them into the network. This is huge.

Pretty clear breakdown of how this works. Courtesy of the Tsu FAQ page.

Facebook expects you to do all this for free. You get to plug in to their excellent product while they milk advertising and insight dollars from the data you provide them. Tsu offers all the same functionality of Facebook, but pays you to use it.

I want Stephen Colbert to click my Tsu link and share things to his 7 million followers.

Notice how Tsu also pays based on how you refer people into the site. If you're three connections away from a Stephen Colbert, then you are making 3% of the revenue he generates for the site. The only way you can join the site is to enter from someone else's profile page, so this referral tree is automatically generated, tracked, and accounted for in the revenue sharing. This is very, very smart.

Why it's smart

The referral system Tsu is using is based on a very smart technique that MIT students developed and used to win a national DARPA contest back in 2009. The technical name is called the recursive incentive mechanism, and was first used to locate 10 red weather balloons placed in random locations around the united states in ~9 hours using only social media. The basic idea, is that you pay the people, that recruit the people that make you money, in a chain that goes back a few links. This incentivizes people to share your new social media site (or red balloon mission) to the most people possible so they optimize the amount of $$$ they bring in. The system is also set up in a way where people won't mind being shared too, since it doesn't hurt them.

Social networks can quickly grow out of control with a single share.

The only real way to game the system is to refer yourself via two fake accounts before you share to everyone you know (that way you can multiply your income out), but that would take a lot of effort since you need to deposit money into real bank accounts which would be tricky to fake and easy to detect dupes. This is a very well-designed system utilized by the Tsu social network.

Why Tsu will work

Tsu is taking an "All Killer, No Filler" approach with creating their social network. They're taking all the good parts from facebook and similar sites, and then combining them into one super network. I don't have an algorithm deciding what I can (and can't) see. I don't have content that I didn't choose to follow forced upon me. Oh, and Tsu will pay me for what I contribute as well as give me a bonus for the efforts of people I recruit. Paying people for their content and influence is a radical change, and like Tsu says, "The right thing to do". This is dramatically different from the status quo, and will catch on and grow by design.

Check it out for yourself and be an early adopter here:
(and give me a follow if you want to be internet pals)

Monday, October 20, 2014

Why you shouldn't worry about Ebola

Everyone and their mother is worried about Ebola right now. They shouldn't be. Writing this post to lay down some facts and let a few of my more hysterically inclined friends sleep easier at night.

My Credentials

Hi! My name's Matt and I have a Master's degree from the University of Michigan School of Public Health for Hospital and Molecular Epidemiology. That means I dedicated 2 years of my life learning about the math and biology behind diseases like Ebola, and was competent enough to pass all my exams and graduate. Being taught by infectious disease experts means I know a little more about diseases and how they spread compared to your friend Larry on facebook. Wanted to share some knowledge so you know how to protect yourself and impress your friends at the cool kid parties with your newfound Ebola wisdom.

Ebola basics

First off, everything you could ever want to know about Ebola can be found on the CDC website. Most of what I'm going to say is copy/pasted from there. For me, I understand a virus better once I break down how it works at a micro level. Check out this great video which explains the inner workings of Ebola:

(Skip to ~1:43 if you don't want to watch the entire video)

Let's simplify that a little further. Think of your body's cells like exclusive nightclubs. They have bouncers standing guard (glycoprotein receptors) at the entrances to make sure only VIPs can enter. The Ebola virus has a bunch of fake IDs (glycoproteins) that it uses to trick your cells' bouncers into letting it get inside the club. Once it's in there, the Ebola virus shoots out its RNA (viral blueprints) and hijacks your cell's replication machinery to create more Ebola viruses (Punches out the bartender and starts making drinks? I'm done with this metaphor...). Ebola specifically targets your liver cells, cells lining blood vessels, and certain cells in the immune system. So when immune cells go to fight the virus on blood vessels, they will often get infected and compromised into virus factories. This is one of the reasons that the virus has such a long incubation period (time it takes to show symptoms), since your immune cells can take 2-21 days (7-8 days is the average amount of time) before they can raise the alarms and start responding to the virus in force.

Your immune system work has to work extra hard against Ebola.

Symptoms and Transmission

Ebola causes the following symptoms once it has had time to incubate:

  • Fever
  • Severe headache
  • Muscle pain
  • Weakness
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal (stomach) pain
  • Unexplained hemorrhage (bleeding or bruising)
The virus is often hard to spot since most of these symptoms are shared by common viruses like influenza (the flu). This similarity to other diseases leads health officials to worry about hysteria. However, unlike the flu which can spread a few days before symptoms, Ebola is not contagious until symptoms present themselves, and you can only get Ebola by exposing your mucous membranes (eyes, mouth, nose, genitals, open cuts, etc.) to an infected person's bodily fluids. Here's a quick video created by some of my former teachers explaining how Ebola spreads from person to person:

The U of M Epidemiology team has prepared more videos like the above which can be found here.
(If you're curious)


Kind of mean, but the right way to think about Ebola.

So to sum up, don't come in contact with the bodily fluids of an Ebola-infected individual. Here's every way the disease can be transmitted, copy/pasted from the CDC:

When an infection does occur in humans, the virus can be spread in several ways to others. Ebola is spread through direct contact (through broken skin or mucous membranes in, for example, the eyes, nose, or mouth) with...
  • Blood or body fluids (including but not limited to urine, saliva, sweat, feces, vomit, breast milk, and semen) of a person who is sick with Ebola
  • Objects (like needles and syringes) that have been contaminated with the virus
  • Infected animals
  • Once someone recovers from Ebola, they can no longer spread the virus. However, Ebola virus has been found in semen for up to 3 months. Abstinence from sex (including oral sex) is recommended for at least 3 months. If abstinence is not possible, condoms may help prevent the spread of disease.

So Why Is Ebola So Scary?

Once you get Ebola, it's a very nasty disease with a very high mortality rate. Looking at past outbreaks, on average ~50% of infected persons die. At the same time, you should consider that the disease has never been in the United States until a month ago, and that medical care in Africa is DRAMATICALLY worse than what we have in America. The CDC is also aggressively tracking and controlling the spread of the virus to nip it in the bud before it can grow out of hand.

Hans Rosling is correct that we need to spend our resources stopping the spread of Ebola before it snowballs out of control. This is why the world is infuriated by the incompetence of the healthcare workers handling the first US Ebola patient. One of them even took a plane trip after exposing herself, endangering the lives of 132 other passengers (the CDC has isolated these people and is closely monitoring them). These are the kinds of mistakes that will allow the disease to spread, and they must be eliminated.

We can't be too mad at the Texas healthcare workers though. The disease has never before been on US soil and you would be hard pressed to find anyone who routinely recognizes and treats Ebola patients. An honest mistake was made during the initial triage. But any mistake that leads to anal bleeding is a painful lesson to learn.

All eyes are on Ebola now.
Thankfully, all known cases of Ebola are being closely tracked and monitored. Any contact or at risk individual is being closely watched as well. Now that we're aware of the disease, the threat is isolated, and proper precautions are in place to ensure that the disease will not spread beyond Texas. Only 3 people are infected so far, and hopefully no one else will contract the disease.

If you want to avoid Ebola, avoid contact with infected bodily fluids. Infected persons should be easy to spot since they are probably bedridden and bleeding out of every orifice. If you're sick, avoid contacting other people so you don't spread the disease. It's that simple.

I'm not worried about Ebola, and you shouldn't worry either.

Have a question? Leave me a comment below or ask me on twitter. Feel free to share this if you feel others will benefit from some Ebola truth.

Friday, September 26, 2014

A Game Of Inches on GameSync

Today my first guest post went live over on GameSync talking about how little advantages add up and differentiate player skill. Focus is on League of Legends, but still might be interesting if you can apply the general concept and enjoy Al Pacino hype speeches. Give it a read here:

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Nicer Car Always Blinks First

My friend was recently venting/complaining about certain Detroit drivers that are below average in driving skill and common courtesy. She gets cut off a lot. Drivers will almost hit her and then roll down their windows to flip her the bird or scream at her. I work in Detroit and get this from time to time (granted Detroit is far tamer than the Chicago streets I learned to drive on).

But then I realized that I hadn't encountered any terrible or super aggressive Detroit driver over the past month or so. Usually I'll run into (or avoid running into) a handful every week along my commute into and out of Detroit. Over the past month, zero.

Thought for a little while, and think I found the answer. Check out my back bumper:

About a month ago, a visitor decided to drive forward into my car instead of backward into the street when leaving my driveway. My car received a love tap and a cracked back bumper. The damage is only cosmetic, so I've taken my time getting it fixed until I have some extra cash available for repairs.

How does this relate to a dramatic decrease in scumbag-driver encounters? Let me share one of my high school friend's favorite sayings to explain:

The nicer car always blinks first.

My friend was a wild driver who thought speed limits and stop signs were for other people without important things to do. If he lived around Detroit, he would probably be one of the drivers my friend from the beginning of this post regularly complains about. He is also 100% correct with his statement.

If you're driving a Ferrari, you're always going to yield the lane when a broken down station wagon tries to merge into you. In a game of chicken, the person with the more expensive ride will back down first. When my back bumper cracked, my car's status changed to not-nice, and I now have a subliminally protective force field around my car.

Let this guy pass.
The crazy drivers that cut everyone off without a second thought, were suddenly thinking twice about me. With a crack in my bumper, I have less to worry about than they do if I bump into them. I *obviously* don't care very much for my car since I haven't gotten it fixed, so I probably drive a little more recklessly than the average driver. I also have visible proof hammered into my bumper showing that I'm not afraid of a little contact.

They see this, they think this, they yield the right of way.

This is what I've become.
Counter intuitive to think about, but getting hit by a car, has stopped other cars from hitting me. Similar to the phenomenon where a bachelor will complain about how hard it is to find a girl, but will then be fighting off female attention and offers of dates left and right after acquiring a girlfriend. The bachelor's status changes when he gets a girlfriend. He carries himself differently, and the opposite sex picks up on this. I still drive exactly the same way, but now my cracked outer appearance has artificially changed my status to something like "Crazy driver to avoid". Now the other crazy drivers avoid me.
(No complaints here)

Thinking Further About Perceived Status

This made me think about how perceptions can be artificially tweaked or modified to reflect an inaccurate reality.

Body language is an obvious one. If you carry yourself with confidence and swagger, other people will assume you have both (even if you don't have either). Amy Cuddy gives a great talk around this if you're curious (See above video).

You can do the same thing online if looking for a date or a job. One of my favorite blogs is called OkTrends (NSFW) and showcases data analysis around the OkCupid dating site. Some of the posts are a little (okay A LOT) risque, but they are FASCINATING. I've learned that a camera flash adds 7 years to your perceived age/attractiveness and people that like the taste of beer are more likely to go home with you after a first date. Definitely worth an afternoon of reading if you're single :-)

These will be in the thousands when I need a job...
You can do the exact same thing with your resume and online persona. LinkedIn has a feature where other people can vouch for your skills. This isn't policed or double-checked. If I ever need to find another gig, I am having all of my friends and pals +1 my scores on everything to make me look more attractive for recruiters and potential employers. I can (and have) applied all the same tricks OkCupid recommends to my LinkedIn profile as well (It's really the same thing if you think about it). Check out my profile if you're curious.

Since I followed OkCupid's advice and optimized my profile, I've consistently gotten 10+ job offers per week. Before I made any changes, I was getting maybe 2 in a month. Modifying perception works. Anyway, here's my point:

You could be awesome.
You could completely suck.
None of that matters when you are perceived differently in the eye of the beholder.

There are benefits to tweaking how other people see you. If you can control their perception, then you can use it to your advantage. Might as well make this perception work for you, instead of against you. At the very least, this is how I justify not fixing my bumper for another month.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Art of Counter-Trolling

Today I want to talk about trolling. What it is, why people do it, and how to counter it.

I highly recommend listening to this aural masterpiece in the background while you read to set the mood.

What is Trolling?

Trolling is the art of playing with the emotions of other people for personal gain. There are many variations of this definition, but that's pretty much the gist of it. Messing with people to anger them.

This is especially frustrating in games where teamwork is required. When playing a game, (most) players agree to enter into a magic circle and abide by the rules of the game world. This allows them to compete and have a good time. Trolls enter the same magic circle but will often ignore the rules on purpose to piss people off for their own personal glee.

If you wanted to categorize the troll into a type of player, you could use Richard Bartle's character theory chart:

Bartle postulates that every player can be categorized into one of 4 roles based on how they play the game. Here's some working definitions copy/pasted from a great Gamasutra article:
  • Killers: Interfere with the functioning of the game world or the play experience of other players.
  • Achievers: Accumulate status tokens by beating the rules-based challenges of the game world.
  • Explorers: Discover the systems governing the operation of the game world.
  • Socializers: Form relationships with other players by telling stories within the game world.
You can open all kinds of worm cans and jump through all different forms of rabbit holes trying to categorize players, but let's keep it simple with these four for our purposes. Trolls fit into the killer type.

Not a troll

There are some killer types that live to show superiority over other players through superior play. These are not trolls. This is the basketball player playfully talking trash after a big play. This is the poker player that would rather bluff every hand and outplay his opponent instead of running the numbers and relying on statistics to win.

This is very scary trolling

Trolls act against other players with the sole purpose of ruining their game experience. They win when other players get upset. Their trash talk is a lot scarier. The hate mail Jackie Robinson got from other players and "fans" is an extreme example of trolling. This type of garbage erases all fun from a game. This is what trolls do, in varying levels of severity.

Why Troll?
So what makes a troll tick? Well, they want something.
Could be attention.
Could be the outrage and tears of other players.
Could be anything. Generally, it isn't what the other players in the game desire.

By understanding what the troll wants, we can tap into the best ways to stop them. Here are a few trolling examples I grabbed from youtube to show differences:

MacLaren's Pro Player Anivia Pro Guide Pro

This is a satire guide made by a professional league of legends player making fun of popular shoutcasters as he plays his champion incorrectly and stops his team from doing anything useful. This was done for fame and internet glory, but backfired when the player was blacklisted from the professional gaming scene.

Here's another example from Minecraft where the troll digs an elaborate tunnel system under a house to steal other players' hard earned loot. He then shifts the blame on a friendly player for everything that happened. This troll is driven by the desire to piss other people off while outsmarting them.

Trolls come in all shapes and sizes, but become easier to understand once you can zero in on their motivation. When you figure out what their goal is, then you can figure out how to shut them down.

Countering the Trolls
Here are some surefire ways to stop trolls in their tracks and even take advantage of them.

Tactic #1: Ignore them. This works 100% of the time and is the best way to make a troll impotent. Mute buttons and block buttons exist for a reason. Use them. If the troll can't get a reaction out of you, they will get bored, lose hope, and eventually stop. Think back to those two video examples. What % of the footage was composed of other people REACTING? Would they be funny if no one reacted? Would I even be using them as examples? I'm pretty sure no one would care or even give them the time of day. Ignoring a troll deprives them of the attention and reactions they crave, and takes away all of their power.

My password is usually "<InsertTrollName>IsADumbTroll" for these.

Tactic #2: Do the opposite of what the troll wants. This one is fun. Figure out the troll's game and give them the exact opposite of their goal. In that Minecraft game, maybe instead of being angry and freaking out they could have filled their chests with some pixelated crap and thanked the troll repeatedly for being a good garbage man. Similarly, maybe they set a bunch of traps in his tunnel system and laugh when he gets caught (Especially since this troll wanted to show how smart he was).

If they're looking for malice, give them compliments. Anger, give them jokes. Outrage, give them indifference. Nothing is more infuriating for a troll than to be proven ineffective. Just be careful and don't take it too seriously. At the end of the day there is a real person behind the troll, and they may be going through some serious crap. Never turn into a troll when dealing with one.

Sometimes you can fight fire with fire.

Tactic #3: Manipulate the troll to work for you. This one is my favorite. Here you essentially weaponize the troll for your own use. There are a couple of ways to do this, but you basically play along and bait the troll to do something you want.

For example, I wanted an example for this blog post, so I responded to a troll on twitter (normally I ignore these kind of jerks). Check out my conversation here. Now, I'll agree that I egged them on a little, but I wanted to showcase a few different characteristics of the common troll and only stopped once I got them.

Here's the start of it all. I'm interested in having a conversation and some random rudely jumps in and exclaims the opposite. Usually, I'd ignore something like this since his sentiment isn't very polite, but decided to engage for the sake of your enlightenment, dearest reader. :-)

I'm not sure if this is a real troll or not yet, so I check. I offer up some supporting evidence to my statement, and see what he does with it. Another account bumps in and then calls me a troll. At this point, I think I have a bite, so I play along.

I offer up hard evidence that what I say is true, and then do something important. I put the impetus on the two troll accounts to reveal who they are (their twitters have no identifying information tied to them) and ask for a conversation. Trolls lurk in the shadows, they have no power once they're pulled out into the light, so this is a fantastic tactic for taking away their leverage. In this case, the troll wanted to get people all riled up by saying the opposite of the original post. My focus was to play with that motivation and see if I could get them to troll me.

This is paraphrased a little, but pretty much the troll wouldn't reveal themselves, and kept trying to back pedal into their flawed argument that "the opposite of reality is true". They blabbered on for a while trying to bait me back into a meaningless argument. I didn't bite.

Here, I responded and said that I wasn't going to play their game anymore. At this point, I blocked both of these accounts from my twitter so I wouldn't have to see any more of their messages. The two accounts spammed more meaningless crap at me for a while after this and then gave up since I ignored them. Check and mate.

For some context, the two accounts are probably the same guy (they both responded simultaneously to everything), and they are probably a mean player that recently got banned from playing League of Legends for being a complete scumbag to others. @RiotLyte is the head behavioral design guy at Riot and has the impossibly fun job of making strangers play nice together on the internet. Lots of disgruntled trolls like to complain at him on twitter. Check out his team's work here and here if you're interested (I think it's pretty fascinating).

So in this example, the troll(s) were playing one game, I was playing another. By manipulating their motivation a little, I ended up getting what I wanted (a good personal troll example for this blog). If you can figure out how a troll works and what makes them tick, you can then use their motivation like a carrot on the end of a stick to make them play by your rules. This is what I call counter-trolling.

Even trolls come with instruction manuals.


The next time you're being trolled, take a step back and evaluate the situation. Trolling is a system just like everything else, and if you understand the rules you can pull the strings and influence the outcome in a more favorable way. Figure out what they're after, then figure out the best way to deal with them. Take their goal off the table by ignoring them or providing the exact opposite. Or if you're feeling dangerous, see if you can have some fun and use that motivation against them.

That said, always be aware that there is a real person behind the troll facade. They could be a complete psychopath stalking their next victim. They could also be a little kid that was bullied at school trying to re-inflate their self esteem. On the internet, you're never really sure who you're dealing with, so assume it's the little kid and treat them accordingly. I always prefer to think of people at their best, even when they're behaving at their worst.

So hopefully now you know the basics of trolling and how to deal with it. Good luck!

Wanted to thank @The_Mormonator for suggesting this week's post!