19.2.14

Destruction

Bulldozing a house makes room for something else. It can be entirely utilitarian. But I’m willing to bet that there are more than a few construction workers who fucking relish the days they get to drive the dozer. Breaking things can be fun.

Even if it’s just the simple satisfaction of blowing up brightly-colored blocks, or mindless phone game you’re playing at the dentist’s, destruction can be both fun and necessary. It gets trickier when our fellow humans are involved. Richard Bartle’s Players Who Suit MUDs tracks a survey of players in the earliest online game, the text-based MUD worlds. As early as the 1970s and 80s, one of the key types of players were those who, “…use the tools provided by the game to cause distress to (or, in rare circumstances, to help) other players. Where permitted, this usually involves acquiring some weapon and applying it enthusiastically to the persona of another player in the game world." Bartle dubbed these players, “killers,” a title that – at least in the game development community – stuck.

For the easily concerned, it’s not that these were the types to stroll into a St. Louis bank with a Thompson machinegun in each hand, wearing a big black fedora. It’s not that they were “evil.” To Bartle, making those kinds of assumptions presupposed, “that those who attack other players are the only example of nasty people in a MUD. In fact, there is plenty of opportunity for players of all persuasions to behave obnoxiously to one another; killers merely do it more openly, and (if allowed) in the context of the game world.” He went on to say that games which, “allow player-killing tend to do so in the belief that in small measure it is good for the game: it promotes camaraderie, excitement and intensity of experience (and it's the only method that players will accept to ensure that complete idiots don't plod inexorably through the ranks to acquire a degree of power which they aren't really qualified to wield).”

Destruction, obviously, isn’t fun for everyone. Nor is it always simple. Take “trolling.” Whether you pull from the mythical root of the word: some cranky nerd who never ventures far from under his bridge; or from the fishing lingo: the lonely geek dragging his crusty nets across Reddit, Pinterest, Twitter, and whatever else may produce a bountiful crop, trolls relish the causing of distress. The notorious troll Jason Fortuny told the New York Times that he saw trolling as a public service. You show the world that they need to be on guard, by hitting a few people with a baseball bat.

Once someone really, truly gets under your skin on the internet, once someone steals your identity or reveals your sex life (Fortuny notoriously did the latter, with his “Craigslist Experiment”) you’re going to be better prepared. It’s really for your own good. It didn’t wind up being good for Fortuny, who posted graphic Craigslist responses of over 100 men, to his ad which read, “str8 brutal dom muscular male.” Fortuny blogged their names and pictures, even their private emails and phone numbers. Some lost jobs, spouses, and significant parts of their lives.

Trolling has huge implications for sexist bullshit online, a topic which gets more extended treatment later in this book. It’s also difficult for online games of all shape and size. One of the fastest-growing games in the world, League of Legends, built advanced player rating systems into their game to mitigate the effects of players whose only reason for logging on was ruining the next 20-50 minutes of a few people’s lives. The more spectacular your suffering, wrote Richard Bartle, the happier you make a Killer.

If only we could get anti-troll systems installed on interstate highways. Or elsewhere in life.

Destruction runs the gamut. We haven’t seen the last of games where we explode brightly-colored boxes. Nor does trolling, or even extreme player killing, seem to be on the wane. To some extent, we can learn to be more resilient to certain kinds of baseball bats. To dodge the killer’s sneak attack, and kill them right back.

Or we just turn off the game, and go take out some brightly-colored boxes.

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