The Trouble with Trolls in GTA Online

So previously I’ve spoken about the problems with the GTA Online. While previously I spoke about how hacking and griefing can make the game un-fun at times, I didn’t really examine why individuals do these things. I looked at how the system doesn’t really disincentivise this behaviour, but I didn’t look at the psychological profile of the trolls. So what are the reasons for a person to act this way?

First, as I mentioned previously is the anonymity and the lack of punishment. Those are cultural aspects that feed into this behaviour. I have some suspicions about other motives that I’ll explain now. So, GTA Online has been around for roughly five years. If you were an individual who played this game often during that five-year period, you might have accrued a decent amount of cash. You buy as much as you can and now find yourself with access to a massive arsenal and besides going on the same missions over and over again, you decide to have a little fun with your money. You do this by blasting other players with your arsenal of tanks and hovercars. Maybe you spend a million dollars to blast them from space with an Orbital Cannon (that price is per shot).

The person you’re targeting might not have the same access to equipment as you and then gets incredibly frustrated. You can’t understand their frustration though. It’s only a game. Yeah, it is only a game. A game that people play to engage in escapism, to have a chill time. Now, the player who is being targeted has a few options. They can go into passive mode, which you can’t do if you’re a VIP. They can leave the session and find a new one. They can fight back, but only if they have the resources to do so. They can report the player for griefing, with the report function hidden in a deep sub-menu that can’t be accessed if you’re dead in-game. Each of these feel like admitting defeat and playing into the troll’s hands. The one who is harassing the other player feels victorious in their ‘defeat’ of the other player. It is a cheap thrill that leaves a bad taste in the retreating player’s mouth. Leading back into the anonymity, you will probably never see that player again or deal with the consequences.

This whole griefing loop is only heightened when hackers enter the mix. A hacker can make your day a pain without having the blame laid at their feet. They can set you on fire from a distance, leaving no evidence on your end over who targeted you.

The second aspect of this is that the most aggressive players to other players are often younger. Younger players have fewer funds to explore multiple games and more time to devote to single games. The first Nintendo consoles had games ported from arcades that younger gamers fought ferociously to finish because they had more free time and a higher tolerance for tedium. This maelstrom means that younger gamers can engage in the above gameplay loop, accrue funds, and find themselves with an itchy trigger finger. Younger gamers are still learning social etiquette and are more likely to engage in a faux pas. In reality, this results in the awkward years where things like ‘Freddie told Sam who told Anna who told Beth who told Janine that Hannah likes Seth’ happen. In games, it means that players are afforded the same low respect that NPCs (non-player characters) are afforded, which in GTA is not much.

If younger gamers are also being taught by the characters of GTA V and GTA Online’s story then that doesn’t fare better. These characters are deeply unlikeable and frequently socially uncomfortable, especially Trevor. Once again, I offer no grand solutions but if we examine the causes of this activity, then perhaps we target the causes of the bad actors. Through that, we can find a way to punish those who act badly in the system.


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