Funsuckers, Griefers, Bullies: Who’s got the Conch now

We see griefers of all ages in the MMOs we play and the kids games are no exception. We’ve discussed before how games like Toontown Online take steps to prevent griefing with canned chat phrases and passworded friend features. The worst thing a toon in Toontown can say to you is “You stink!” which is really not very hurtful. But it is rather bothersome when it is spammed at you until you are able to escape the griefer, say by going home and gardening. .
Disney has taken steps, however, to help with the Toontown griefing problem. You can now turn off Friend Invites in the Options screen so that you can’t be spammed with them. There are also new options when looking at another toon to Ignore griefers and even Report them.

Funsuckers will always find a way, of course. They’ll get on the elevator in a building and then jump off just before the doors close so that you end up going in with less people than you need to be successful. Or they’ll jump off the trolley just before it goes in, so that you won’t have a full group to play the trolley games. Or they’ll join groups and then not attack so they don’t get aggro, but can still complete their Toontask (quest). No matter, what Disney does, they can’t stop the need of all Funsuckers to suck your fun. But at least they are trying and we are grateful

Toontown Online makes it harder for griefers – Massively

Ignore & Block & Reporting functions are becoming 101 for youth in virtual worlds, and that’s great.  Tattling & mods-o-mordor help police, sure, but how do we help give kids the tools to take care of problems themselves? 

“Funsuckers” and Massively puts it, do indeed suck.  And, really, there is no pure definition in profiling funsuckers – they are a diverse group.  Why?  Because you have a diverse group of citizens in a community, each with different tolerance levels.  So, of course you’re going to have a percentage that are straight up horrible on everyone’s scale, but you also have other versions of annoyances & bullies & peer-dangers in the virtual community.

Last week everyone passed around the LA Times article about peer-dangers in online communities:

On the playground, kids pilfer lunch money and push each other around. But in the cyber clubhouses they’re filling by the millions, kids rig elections, sell fake products and scam each other out of every virtual-worldly possession.

Sophia Stebbins recently joined one such online community, Webkinz, which lets its young members create avatars, play games and hang out. The 9-year-old from Irvine worked in a virtual hamburger shop, earned virtual cash and bought a virtual bed, couch and TV for her virtual house.

Then one day, she logged in to her account to discover that all of her gear and money were gone. She suspects that another kid swiped her password and sold her things. “I was a little scared,” she said. “Sometimes now, I hesitate to go online.”

An estimated 12 million children and teens will visit virtual worlds this year, according to research firm EMarketer Inc. So it’s no wonder that such sites have become big business.

In the last two years, Walt Disney Co. acquired Club Penguin in a deal worth as much as $700 million, and media giant Viacom Inc. bought Neopets for $160 million.

The sites get the parental stamp of approval by closely monitoring their users and trying to keep out grown-ups with bad intentions. They offer children a place to play online without fear of being approached by pedophiles and other preying adults.

But it’s turned out to be hard work protecting the kids from one another.

To keep these worlds from turning into a virtual “Lord of the Flies,” websites are monitoring every word children type, limiting them to only preapproved dialogue and patrolling the websites with employees undercover as kids. Some also are giving kids the equivalent of a 911 call, so they can holler for help.

In Virtual Worlds, Child Avatars Need Protecting — From Each Other

Lord of the Flies is so appropriate to compare this to – kids trying to find their own empowerment in a world built for them.  Some kids seek power, some popularity, some self-gratification, some respect (or a weird dominant form of imposed respect), some attention, some revenge, some drama, some escapism, and some acceptance. 

They are the big dogs in their own world, but how do they get to interact collectively without in-your-face parent policing?  It’s the same as interactivity in the classroom versus interactivity on the playground. 

It’s a lot like the Idle Hand syndrome. 

Now, for the most part – kids in these words have the best intentions.  They want to play, hang out, have a good time.  Things change when they are denied something they’re looking to achieve. 

Back in the day, I broke these kids into several different groups:  The Drama Queen/King (pot stirrers), the Fett(s) (the lone annoying kid who ignores social norms), the Alpha Dog (Obsessive pack leader), lover bird (hormone up & downs), the hoodlum (retaliates at real-world issues by stealth attacking community/environment), the Dictionary kid (know-it-all who cannot handle/tolerate any opposition in the slightest), and the Lonely Dove (pouts until they achieve attention).

You also have other groups, who are mostly happy doing their “thang”, but if their experience is challenged, they get their feathers ruffled:
Noobs (young, sensitive birds who aren’t quite sure what’s exactly going on, but tend to get picked on if entering an established community), Regs (regulars who feel empowerment for their established existence), Wannabes (the celeb-obsessed role players), Tattlers (self-imposed policers), and Battledome Warriors (just-for-fun roaming bands of battlers).

No community – real or virtual – is ever perfect.  Humans will be humans, that’s what’s the exciting part of it. 

I’ve said it before, I’m a HUGE proponent for moderation & live screeners, but as I’ve learned – more like swallowed a large lump of reality – it’s far too difficult to have an environment that appeals en masse and STILL be scalable for staffing.  I used to shake my fist saying things like “Then don’t open a site if you can’t staff it proper.”  Oh, what a wonderful wee duck I was, and oh, how my bubble was popped mightily.

Although I miss the old “I shake my fist at you” izzy, I do have a new understand of safety as well.  Yes, yes, yes the biz behind the world NEEDS to claim the responsibility over all, but you know who needs to claim some of that pie too?  a) Parents, b) KIDS THEMSELVES.

A – how do we offer a full understanding to folks about their tater tots & their tater tot online life styles?  How do we engage parents without cramping kids?  How do we help families guide and not expect everyone else to do the parenting?

B – how do we give kids the tools to make the online world safe & hospitable for all?  What tools do we need to help them find the power to stand up for themselves and the good of the community?  How do we allow them to achieve the respect they deserve in positive role modeling? 

There are many worlds out there trying everything from – canned chat (limited sentences pre-chosen so the kid has no free will over conversation, effective? Yes. Empowering? Meh. Fun? Not really), reporting tools (flags kids can throw to tattle on others so that mods become aware of situations.  Effective? Yes-ish. Empowering? Temporarily. Fun? Meh), Invisible Moderators (adults who police the site behind the scenes.  Effective? Yes & No.  Empowering? Depends on situation. Fun? Lack of visible adults? Yes), Visible mods (adults who are visible to all members of room.  Effective? Yes. Empowering? Not really. Fun? Meh).  Filtered chat (filters of approved words/phrases and filters to block words/phrases.  Effective? Yes. Empowering? Sure.  Fun? Yes – ish).

Really, as most virtual worlds operate, it’s a combo pack of routes.  Kids are going to be kids.  There will always be the teacher in the gym at school dances who separates slow-dancers to “make way for the holy spirit” and those same slow-dancers are always going to go right back to suction-hugging (while pathetically swaying from one foot to the next) once the teacher passes by.  And there will always be the “fetts” roaming around in their own personal fantasy land, ignorantly annoying the kids around them by breaking established “cool” social norms.  And there will always be the bullies who have to push others down feel higher.

The best way to combat human nature is to teach kids how to appreciate others for their differences, then promptly teach them how to ignore-said-differences-if-differences-cross-the-line-of-tolerance. 

And the strange part of all of this is – I actually like these nare-do-wells.  Even tho it’s my job to protect & keep the status quo… the norm… the happy medium in a virtual world – it’s these kids that push us forward, make ME better, make my STAFF better.  They teach us about human nature, they teach us about our own limits, and they continually keep the community churning. 

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