Online harassment and nasty behavior in video games has been a hot button issue of late, and now it looks as though League of Legends developer Riot Games is stepping up to the plate. By using a mix of science and psychology, Riot Games is addressing the problem of toxic online environments and appears to be getting results.
Six months ago, Riot Games founded Team Player Behavior, a new division that was designed to tackle the issues of negative online chat, verbal abuse, and offensive language. The approach was unique in that the Team isn’t interested so much in punishing offensive players as much as they want to focus on a fun and positive gaming environment for everyone.
The new initiatives began a few weeks ago with the introduction of the Honor system. Here, developers have put the power in the hands of the community, allowing them to reward positive players with points.
Players are given a generous but limited amount of Honor to distribute to others, based on how Helpful, Friendly, Honorable, or how much of a Team Player they are. These points in turn raise their overall score, as well as possible future rewards.
LoL‘s Honor system relies on the psychology of behavior modification, specifically operant conditioning. Pioneered by B.F. Skinner, operant conditioning is an arm of behavior modification that deals with voluntary behavior, such as calling someone a butt licker in a video game.
In operant conditioning, there are three types of response to voluntary behavior: reinforcement, punishment, and extinction. A reinforcement response to a behavior causes it to occur more frequently, punishment less frequently, and extinction is no response to the behavior at all.
The Honor system brings us into the Skinner box. We, as gamers, are already very conditioned to the Skinner box. If we pull the level of “being helpful,” we’re rewarded with positive reinforcement in the form of points. In the future, Riot Games may yet create in-game rewards for players with a high Honor score.
In combating negative voluntary behavior, LoL has a Tribunal system, which uses the punishment response. Here, negative behavior is met with bans and warnings, while simultaneously rewarding the positive behavior in the Honor system. According to Riot Games, “Getting punished by the Tribunal will knock your Honor back down to zero. However you can still accrue new Honor once your punishment has expired.”
It’s very important to have responses for both positive and negative behaviors, and this is known as the law of effect. Simply put by Wikipedia, “responses that produce a satisfying effect in a particular situation become more likely to occur again in that situation, and responses that produce a discomforting effect become less likely to occur again in that situation.”
What’s really cool about operant conditioning is what it does to our brains. Not only do reinforcement and punishment release dopamine and a stress relieving neurotransmitter, but these, in turn, benefit our brains’ plasticity in the cerebral cortex. That’s the part of the brain that controls memory, attention, thought, and language.
So while League of Legends is encouraging us to use better language, the psychology involved is also tricking our brains into improving our ability to both receive and use it. Mind blown.