Right, so this is going to be a very long post. So give up now if you can’t muster up the strength to read it all.
I’ll be writing mostly in absolutes, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s meant as an absolute. It just takes up more space to phrase it differently, so don’t nitpick on the grammar, please.
There’s something called the proximity principle and the mere-exposure effect or familiarity principle.
The proximity principle is basically about how we are more likely to develop a relationship (interpersonal, not necessarily romantic) with people we meet often. What it means is that we’re more likely to talk to a person the more we meet that person.
The familiarity principle is about how we develop a sense of familiarity with things we are exposed to repeatedly, even if we aren’t consciously aware of it.
These two things can be extrapolated to explain why we typically care more about an old person we often see in our commute to work who tends to struggle a lot with getting on the bus or subway or whatever, compared to war crimes and huge casualty numbers across the world.
Why this is relevant to this topic, is because there are examples of this in the game’s history itself. Some of you may have heard stories of people sharing a more amicable atmosphere in the game in the past, but now it’s pretty well-known to have deteriorated quite a lot.
This can be explained by those two principles.
In vanilla for example, before cross-realm battlegrounds, people faced the opposite faction inside battlegrounds, and every single player was always from the same server. You would often come across people you had played with and against before, and this kept repeating over and over again. So people subconsciously created rivalries, they created social hierarchies, and all of this fed into the reward scheme and creation of envy and emotional investment.
As for the reward scheme, there’s also the ironclad rule of market value that what’s rare and hard to get is typically seen as more valuable than something you can buy at almost every corner store for 10 pence.
But that’s enough about the BGs, reward schemes, and for now about the principles.
So our brains also have conditioned mechanisms in place for social interactions. We treat strangers in a certain way, and we get to know strangers in certain ways.
But in “real life”, we have different procedures than we do in digital environments. This is because there are more factors in “real life”, and our awareness of the social space is much more tangible.
So in real life, we go through subconscious mechanisms, like giving consent to talk to a person even if you aren’t aware of it, and we feel each other out as we get used to a stranger.
This also creates a stronger emotional investment for a lot of people. Which is why we often care more about the opinion of people we know than of strangers, because it’s met with a stronger emotional response when it’s an opinion by a person we know.
So with all of that said, we also have different tolerance levels.
We tolerate a lot of mistakes done by family, for obvious reasons.
We tolerate mistakes by friends, as long as it doesn’t cross a line.
We do NOT however tolerate the mistakes of strangers that carries demerits for us.
An example of this is you sitting in a coffee shop. The social norm is that we shouldn’t expect to get a hot cup of coffee dumped over us as we sit and mind our own business. So when the hot cup of coffee hurts you, and let’s say it messes up your hair, it messes up the clothes you liked so much to wear to a crowded social environment like a coffee shop, and let’s say you have a big business meeting shortly after that.
In this situation, it’s normal to feel entitled to get very upset. Even if the stranger who did it, did it purely by accident. If it was done by, let’s say, your father, you’d still get upset but you wouldn’t react in the same way. And you wouldn’t necessarily hold a grudge. But against a stranger who did it, you’d just like to get the expected compensation and never meet the person ever again.
There’s also a whole other wall of text to explain the effects of perceived anonymity and the perception of enforcement of rules and so on, but I’m tired of this now so I’ll leave it at this.
Take these things into consideration and imagine deconstructing the design of social interactions in the game, and see for yourself where it correlates.
It’s an endemic problem, and toxicity is a symptom. It’s not something that can be reduced by treating it with animosity, because that’s how you end up with a “us vs. them” kind of rhetoric, while “they” keep increasing due to the causes not being dealt with.
Oh right, I forgot to mention personality types. If you check out
and then their very detailed explanations of the different types, you can get a better understanding of why not everyone can easily get along with each other, on top of things covered in this post already.
There are many more factors that are relevant which I haven’t mentioned in this thread, but these are the more pertinent ones.
The reason I’m posting this here, is because I encourage people to reflect on their own negative experiences in the game, and to write how you think it could be explained by the things mentioned in this post.
I know there’s a lot to read. I know there’s much more to read when you check out the link to the personality types. But it’ll help you understand more about the mechanisms many of you are likely unaware of, that conditions people to act asocially.
After all of this, if you then write down your own experiences in this thread, I’m hoping it’ll serve as a good source of feedback for how Blizzard can steer the ship in a more socially immersive direction again.
But the things mentioned in this post isn’t limited to just WoW.
Bellular did a video about the differences between intrinsic and extrinsic rewards, which is basically about how reward schemes stimulates emotional investment, which is also a relevant factor.