Giant Bomb News

183 Comments

The Emo Kid, Troll, and Hacker in All of Us

Forumwarz writer and producer Mike Drach reflects on a game that turned into a massive critique of the Internet, even if nobody who plays it seems to care.

Filmmaker Joss Whedon conducted an Ask Me Anything yesterday on Reddit, and was asked about fandom.

“All worthy work is open to interpretations the author did not intend,” he said. “Art isn't your pet--it's your kid. It grows up and talks back to you.”

When Mike Drach started Forumwarz with Robin Ward and Jason Kogan, conceptualized and developed in 2007 but launched in February 2008, they weren’t quite sure what they were making. It was, and still mostly is, an online video game about participating in online message boards. It's a concept that still makes me cross-eyed thinking about it.

Drach, writer and producer on Forumwarz, gave a talk at the Game Developers Conference this year called “Like Herding LOLcats: Managing the Internet's Most Unruly Gaming Communities.” After my experience with the fighting game community, I was curious. His talk suggested a man who was beaten and bruised from the last few years.

My barely played character, who just so happens to have my original Internet screen name. Ugh.

Forumwarz is currently in what Drach calls “maintenance mode.” The game hasn’t received any content updates since early 2011, and nobody works on Forumwarz full-time anymore. The servers are still running, though, which means people can still play the game and participate in the forums for the time being.

Every few weeks, Drach logs into his creation and, well, sighs.

“It's something nobody could prepare for career wise, you know?” he said. “Especially if they turn against you.”

Drach was recently monitoring a situation where one forum moderator banned a user for a series of inappropriate comments--standard procedure. One day later, another moderator unceremoniously unbanned them. Drama ensues. It's a familiar story.

“It's like a police force,” he said. "You are the commissioner in Batman or something, and this is all for things that, when you really break it down, seem really inconsequential."

The message boards are just one piece of Forumwarz, and a small one, too. The vast majority visit the Forumwarz website to play the game, then leave. Only a small percentage venture to the boards, and an even smaller number posts regularly. Those that do, however, post all the time. The moment a new thread pops up, it’s the same names.

Even though Forumwarz is in “maintenance mode,” someone has to maintain it. At times, that's Drach.

“It's still like being the mayor of a very small village,” said Drach. “The things I identify in my talk--they were kind of shallow. I didn't have much more than ‘this is how we coped.’ I didn't come up to any solutions to what's wrong with the culture itself, though I think that's a much bigger talk.”

I'll come back to that in a minute.

Forumwarz is surreal. The game is structured like any traditional message board, though Drach said his team’s specific influence was Something Awful’s infamous forums. On Something Awful, when you’re banned, you can come back but you have to pay. Users can even fork over cash to have your tagline changed. It’s a rough and tumble place, but Something Awful continues to exist, despite the harsh treatment, because it’s a good forum.

Drach believes Forumwarz resonates because parts of the game's "classes" are in all of us.

Players choose from one of four classes--Emo Kid, Troll, Camwhore, Hacker--and engage with fake instant message clients, boards, and shopping sites. The influence of traditional role-playing-games is immediately evident, as players earn experience points, gain levels, and employ different tactics in order to progress.

All the while, it’s incredibly easy, seemingly too easy, to be a troll.

The people aren’t real, so...why not? The game feels rigged to push people into trolling. Maybe that’s because of what happened halfway through development, when Drach realized he had a chance to try and say something with Forumwarz.

“What a lot of people don't get about Forumwarz,” said Drach, “is [thinking] ‘This is a game about trolling, I can't believe you're banning me for being a troll lol that's so stupid.’ Actually, when it's all said and done, this is a statement about Internet culture, and it's a critique.”

We’ve all been there once. Or twice. We’ve all been that guy (or girl!), and I can’t help but be thankful the current Internet didn’t exist when I was young enough to not really know any better. I’d like to think I wouldn’t be as bad as some of the people on the Internet that I encounter on a daily basis, but who’s to say? It seems like I dodged a bullet.

“We're giving people an outlet to virtually [troll],” he said, “but in the end, we're trying to say that this is something that all of us have done and all of us have witnessed or some of us have subjected to, but I think it's something that people should try to keep under wraps or maybe think twice about.”

There is an ending to Forumwarz, too, unlike arguments on the Internet. There are nine endings, and Drach admitted most players have not and will not see them. The endings are blocks of text, and much of the community doesn’t care for their inclusion. Users might roll their eyes at the chunk of moralistic script, but it’s part of Drach's vision.

“I knew people [that] would use the game in a certain way are more likely to do the evil thing,” he said, “but as a result, their ending was vicious. That was me trying to get the message across.”

Here’s the kind of vicious Drach is talking about, an excerpt from one of the game’s “evil” endings:

You become destitute, suicidal. In your depressed state, you start wondering if any of this really happened. You try to do some research, but all the records are gone. You post about your experience on message boards. People just think you're insane.

And perhaps you are. You start to commit petty crimes just to get attention. You damage property at random. You assault people on the street, shaking them, yelling about "the machine." Somehow, you can't help yourself.

You're arrested and tried, but found not guilty by reason of insanity.

You're eventually taken to a mental institution and kept on a steady regimen of pills, gradually losing what's left of your individuality as you absorb the debilitating insanity of the empty shells living--if you could call it that--in this sterile habitat. No more internet access for you; you're far too dangerous for that.

You lose all contact with the outside world, other than the occasional visit from your long-suffering mother, who just cries when she sees you.

Maybe it's for the best.

Drach figures (hopes) the Internet's problems get better with time. As a culture, we’re basically new to the Internet, and coming to grips with how to act around one another is a process. When we start to figure out how that works, maybe we'll teach our children how to be civilized, and everyone benefits. There is that whole anonymity thing, though, and Forumwarz is a clever encapsulation of that touchy issue, a trap that can get even the best of us.

“We took a snapshot of Internet culture when we started doing this in 2007,” he said. “Things have changed a little bit, but not entirely.”

Because let's face it, it’s still easier to be a troll.

Patrick Klepek on Google+
183 Comments
  • 183 results
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
Posted by patrickklepek

Filmmaker Joss Whedon conducted an Ask Me Anything yesterday on Reddit, and was asked about fandom.

“All worthy work is open to interpretations the author did not intend,” he said. “Art isn't your pet--it's your kid. It grows up and talks back to you.”

When Mike Drach started Forumwarz with Robin Ward and Jason Kogan, conceptualized and developed in 2007 but launched in February 2008, they weren’t quite sure what they were making. It was, and still mostly is, an online video game about participating in online message boards. It's a concept that still makes me cross-eyed thinking about it.

Drach, writer and producer on Forumwarz, gave a talk at the Game Developers Conference this year called “Like Herding LOLcats: Managing the Internet's Most Unruly Gaming Communities.” After my experience with the fighting game community, I was curious. His talk suggested a man who was beaten and bruised from the last few years.

My barely played character, who just so happens to have my original Internet screen name. Ugh.

Forumwarz is currently in what Drach calls “maintenance mode.” The game hasn’t received any content updates since early 2011, and nobody works on Forumwarz full-time anymore. The servers are still running, though, which means people can still play the game and participate in the forums for the time being.

Every few weeks, Drach logs into his creation and, well, sighs.

“It's something nobody could prepare for career wise, you know?” he said. “Especially if they turn against you.”

Drach was recently monitoring a situation where one forum moderator banned a user for a series of inappropriate comments--standard procedure. One day later, another moderator unceremoniously unbanned them. Drama ensues. It's a familiar story.

“It's like a police force,” he said. "You are the commissioner in Batman or something, and this is all for things that, when you really break it down, seem really inconsequential."

The message boards are just one piece of Forumwarz, and a small one, too. The vast majority visit the Forumwarz website to play the game, then leave. Only a small percentage venture to the boards, and an even smaller number posts regularly. Those that do, however, post all the time. The moment a new thread pops up, it’s the same names.

Even though Forumwarz is in “maintenance mode,” someone has to maintain it. At times, that's Drach.

“It's still like being the mayor of a very small village,” said Drach. “The things I identify in my talk--they were kind of shallow. I didn't have much more than ‘this is how we coped.’ I didn't come up to any solutions to what's wrong with the culture itself, though I think that's a much bigger talk.”

I'll come back to that in a minute.

Forumwarz is surreal. The game is structured like any traditional message board, though Drach said his team’s specific influence was Something Awful’s infamous forums. On Something Awful, when you’re banned, you can come back but you have to pay. Users can even fork over cash to have your tagline changed. It’s a rough and tumble place, but Something Awful continues to exist, despite the harsh treatment, because it’s a good forum.

Drach believes Forumwarz resonates because parts of the game's "classes" are in all of us.

Players choose from one of four classes--Emo Kid, Troll, Camwhore, Hacker--and engage with fake instant message clients, boards, and shopping sites. The influence of traditional role-playing-games is immediately evident, as players earn experience points, gain levels, and employ different tactics in order to progress.

All the while, it’s incredibly easy, seemingly too easy, to be a troll.

The people aren’t real, so...why not? The game feels rigged to push people into trolling. Maybe that’s because of what happened halfway through development, when Drach realized he had a chance to try and say something with Forumwarz.

“What a lot of people don't get about Forumwarz,” said Drach, “is [thinking] ‘This is a game about trolling, I can't believe you're banning me for being a troll lol that's so stupid.’ Actually, when it's all said and done, this is a statement about Internet culture, and it's a critique.”

We’ve all been there once. Or twice. We’ve all been that guy (or girl!), and I can’t help but be thankful the current Internet didn’t exist when I was young enough to not really know any better. I’d like to think I wouldn’t be as bad as some of the people on the Internet that I encounter on a daily basis, but who’s to say? It seems like I dodged a bullet.

“We're giving people an outlet to virtually [troll],” he said, “but in the end, we're trying to say that this is something that all of us have done and all of us have witnessed or some of us have subjected to, but I think it's something that people should try to keep under wraps or maybe think twice about.”

There is an ending to Forumwarz, too, unlike arguments on the Internet. There are nine endings, and Drach admitted most players have not and will not see them. The endings are blocks of text, and much of the community doesn’t care for their inclusion. Users might roll their eyes at the chunk of moralistic script, but it’s part of Drach's vision.

“I knew people [that] would use the game in a certain way are more likely to do the evil thing,” he said, “but as a result, their ending was vicious. That was me trying to get the message across.”

Here’s the kind of vicious Drach is talking about, an excerpt from one of the game’s “evil” endings:

You become destitute, suicidal. In your depressed state, you start wondering if any of this really happened. You try to do some research, but all the records are gone. You post about your experience on message boards. People just think you're insane.

And perhaps you are. You start to commit petty crimes just to get attention. You damage property at random. You assault people on the street, shaking them, yelling about "the machine." Somehow, you can't help yourself.

You're arrested and tried, but found not guilty by reason of insanity.

You're eventually taken to a mental institution and kept on a steady regimen of pills, gradually losing what's left of your individuality as you absorb the debilitating insanity of the empty shells living--if you could call it that--in this sterile habitat. No more internet access for you; you're far too dangerous for that.

You lose all contact with the outside world, other than the occasional visit from your long-suffering mother, who just cries when she sees you.

Maybe it's for the best.

Drach figures (hopes) the Internet's problems get better with time. As a culture, we’re basically new to the Internet, and coming to grips with how to act around one another is a process. When we start to figure out how that works, maybe we'll teach our children how to be civilized, and everyone benefits. There is that whole anonymity thing, though, and Forumwarz is a clever encapsulation of that touchy issue, a trap that can get even the best of us.

“We took a snapshot of Internet culture when we started doing this in 2007,” he said. “Things have changed a little bit, but not entirely.”

Because let's face it, it’s still easier to be a troll.

Staff
Posted by Rafaelfc

Cool

Posted by Xeirus

The only one of those I would admit to is a partial troll

Edited by Silver-Streak

New content from Tricky, Always good.

Edited by akbladez

ner, that's kinda sad that game is still around

Posted by Salarn

Wow I played the first version of this, it's gone a long way.

Posted by Winternet

Tricky "eXtremer" Klepek.

Posted by Fasckira

Never heard of this, had a go now and all I can say is lol. Thanks for this, GB :D

Posted by Krakn3Dfx

That cartoon girl is grabbin' her boobzzzz!

right click - Save Image as

Posted by Make_Me_Mad

As far as I'm concerned, the Internet doesn't have problems. It's one of the only places where people can actually be honest, even if that honesty is just you telling someone that disagrees with you that you want an hour long tape of them dying in a fire, with strategic slow motion zooms to really capture their agony.

Online
Posted by Linkster7

Hell yeah start the article with a Joss Whedon quote. Great Stuff Tricky!

Posted by DaveC524

Why use the word "whore" Patrick? Phh... misogynistic male privilege.

Posted by Jace

@DaveC524 said:

Why use the word "whore" Patrick? Phh... misogynistic male privilege.

I hope you're ironically trolling me.

Posted by sephirm87

@Make_Me_Mad:

In a way, you're right, but the anonymity of the internet allows people to see how shitty people really are at their core. It is more honest, but it is also more shitty, which says very bad things about our culture.

Posted by AlexanderSheen

I love that picture!

Posted by Klaimore

Nice story but in the end trolls will never die.

Posted by JackSukeru

Damn kids should stop playing their darn vidjagames all day long and go out on some real internet forums.

Posted by Make_Me_Mad

@sephirm87 said:

@Make_Me_Mad:

In a way, you're right, but the anonymity of the internet allows people to see how shitty people really are at their core. It is more honest, but it is also more shitty, which says very bad things about our culture.

Exactly. If we're all this shitty and displeased and downright angry with each other when we can be honest, why do we keep up the facade that we're all civil and reasonable?

Online
Posted by MarkWahlberg

@Klaimore said:

Nice story but in the end trolls will never die.

"Heroes get remembered, but trolls never die." -- Babe Ruth

Posted by Pixel_Kaiser

I was an admin for a big Smash Bros forum for several years and yeah, this all sounds pretty familiar. Our community was huge, but it was always the same small group of regulars that stayed consistent throughout the years. As a result, it got to be an exclusive little clubhouse, and having to observe and monitor their shenanigans got pretty dark. Running that scene was surreal and terrible, and was totally more than I bargained for.

As hamfisted as it might seem, that ending text would probably help a lot of the people from those kinds of communities.

Posted by Animasta

so you said Somethingawful was good, but have you checked their GB thread? so much tricky hate :(

Posted by bassman2112

I really, really love that ending.

Thank you for the stellar article, Patrick. I've definitely had the same thoughts of "man, I started using the internet at just the right time." There seems to be a lot of vitriol and racism/sexism/hate here now, a lot of it spewing from youth. Maybe it's a healthier outlet than joining a gang or something, but when thousands of others are doing it at the same time, that seems like a feedback loop waiting to happen. Thanks again for holding a mirror to internet culture.

Posted by dudeglove

FUCK YEAH TROLLING

Edited by Mustachio

Patrick Tricky EXtremer Kleptok McScoopz.

Posted by Tamaster92

Great read tricky, your articles are amazing

Posted by Philzpilz

Thanks for the article patrick, I've always found this game fascinating.

To the people above saying that somehow this annonymity reveals the true nature of mankind; maybe, but at the end of the day we're all pretty nice people to our neighbours, and we help out friends in need etc. I don't think that the interent reveals our true selves, it just lets us be a different side of ourselves.

And I'll bet the overwhelming majority of people aren't internet trolls, but lurkers who observe and consume and shake their heads that they don't have to deal with proper idiots in real life like this

Posted by GunnBjorn

Internet gives people a false sense of ascendance. Like they're ruling the world. Games have the same appeal. For a brief while you're in controll, you're the hero who has the final say. I guess that's what so addictive about it.
Posted by Kixxi

@DaveC524 said:

Why use the word "whore" Patrick? Phh... misogynistic male privilege.

Really inappropriate for a front page headline, at least to anyone not knowing what the article is about. Felt insulting.

Posted by ajamafalous
@Make_Me_Mad said:

As far as I'm concerned, the Internet doesn't have problems. It's one of the only places where people can actually be honest, even if that honesty is just you telling someone that disagrees with you that you want an hour long tape of them dying in a fire, with strategic slow motion zooms to really capture their agony.

I agree.
Posted by Gyoru

Shoutouts to Something Awful.

Posted by BasketSnake

Snas wins at this game. :)

Posted by Fuga

Why use the word "whore" Patrick? Phh... misogynistic male privilege.

Posted by Lokishot

People are insulted by the word "whore"? Are you new to the internet or just a home schooled kid?

Posted by bybeach

@Kixxi said:

@DaveC524 said:

Why use the word "whore" Patrick? Phh... misogynistic male privilege.

Really inappropriate for a front page headline, at least to anyone not knowing what the article is about. Felt insulting.

As perhaps it should as a general term and not pointed at you. i don't use MS messenger, and rarely look at it even front page. but somewhere somehow in real internet life I got picked up by this lady..I assume her thunbnail is what I would see if I ever visited..honey or something . She about every other day is always invited me 'personally' to view her cam of undresssing, this and that. Sometimes she says she has friends. I'm pretty ignorant in some ways..I've tried cutting her off, but not well enough. She comes back. It used to crack me up on my old PC (Messenger was on start-up} to read her messages of viewing her and having sex, but it got old and wierd. And I'm sure money was involved but I never checked it out. Not looking at messenger, and deleting messages on X-box 360 of all things aleviatted all that.

Posted by martyarf

@Lokishot said:

People are insulted by the word "whore"? Are you new to the internet or just a home schooled kid?

Or maybe you're a woman who doesn't like to see gendered insults in a totally inappropriate context?

Posted by mbr2

@Kixxi said:

@DaveC524 said:

Why use the word "whore" Patrick? Phh... misogynistic male privilege.

Really inappropriate for a front page headline, at least to anyone not knowing what the article is about. Felt insulting.

Get over yourselves. Jesus fucking christ.

Edited by Tennmuerti

As a regular forum dweller all i can really say is:  So ... ?

I normally enjoy Patricks articles, maybe i'm really missing something here, but don't really see a point or much value, or even anything to think about or mull over here.Our inner nature, anonymity, social feedback loops, moderation issues, trolling. It''s all just par for the course, maybe if you don't look at the internet of forums often or at peoples behaviors someone needs to hold up a mirror to it for you. Even the closing paragraphs are just normal logical thinking /shrug
 
Is it that Forumwarz is reflective of these things?
Well so are MMO's, XboxLive, Youtube, or any regular old forums.
 
Maybe there is value here for people new to the internet or something?
And it sure as shit ain't gonna make the ugly parts of the internet/forums give it a second of though.
 
Then again maybe i'm just being an old dick that thinks he has seen too much and is blinded by false belief in his own knowledge and am just wallowing in self importance thinking like a douchce: "well no shit"
 
Maybe it would have been wiser for me to just not post enything and just pass this article by since it's not for me?
Yea that would have probably been the smarter thing to do.
Can I blame alcohol?
Hmmm.

Posted by Little_Socrates

@Kixxi said:

@DaveC524 said:

Why use the word "whore" Patrick? Phh... misogynistic male privilege.

Really inappropriate for a front page headline, at least to anyone not knowing what the article is about. Felt insulting.

To be fair, he was quoting the name of a class in the game. "Camwhore" in this context is actually a different word and completely different definition from the word "whore." I understand the complaint, but Patrick used the name simply because he was quoting the four class names that are the crux of this article. There is a larger complaint to the Forumwarz dev that he made only the Camwhore class a female, of course; that's not so cool, but that's not Tricky's fault.

Posted by colinjw

@Make_Me_Mad: @sephirm87: Maybe you two feel this way but don't lump the rest of the internet in with your idea of what people are like. I have talked with people and had regular conversions online. I am not anonymous, I say what I want to say and live with the consequences. If you have to hide behind anonymity then its not that you want to say what you really feel, its that you are afraid that others know its you that said it. That's the cultural problem.

Posted by UltimAXE
@Kixxi said:

@DaveC524 said:

Why use the word "whore" Patrick? Phh... misogynistic male privilege.

Really inappropriate for a front page headline, at least to anyone not knowing what the article is about. Felt insulting.

Are you one of those people who thinks that the word "bitch" is one of the most terrible words in the history of the universe?
Posted by TyCobb

@Kixxi said:

@DaveC524 said:

Why use the word "whore" Patrick? Phh... misogynistic male privilege.

Really inappropriate for a front page headline, at least to anyone not knowing what the article is about. Felt insulting.

I agree "whore" is a horrible word and should never be used. There are much better words like "slut", "bitch", "twat", and every woman's favorite, "cunt".

Posted by Tennmuerti

There are currently already several layers of trolling going on in these comments.
Kind of funny, considering :)

Edited by Lokishot

Fun fact: whore is for man and woman.

whore (hôr, hr)

n.1. A prostitute.

2. A person considered sexually promiscuous.

3. A person considered as having compromised principles for personal gain.

Ex: Don't get your panties in a bunch. Whore!

Posted by Satsugai

I had a pre-nerf defamed Mona Lisa! That's about what I remember of Forumwarz.

Edited by yyZiggurat

@DaveC524 said:

Why use the word "whore" Patrick? Phh... misogynistic male privilege.

"Cam Whore" is the established term for some people on the internet. It can be applied to a male or female that excessively post pictures of themselves online. Would you have preferred he used "amateur models"?

Posted by Phished0ne

@TyCobb said:

@Kixxi said:

@DaveC524 said:

Why use the word "whore" Patrick? Phh... misogynistic male privilege.

Really inappropriate for a front page headline, at least to anyone not knowing what the article is about. Felt insulting.

I agree "whore" is a horrible word and should never be used. There are much better words like "slut", "bitch", "twat", and every woman's favorite, "cunt".

shut up. The character class is called "the camwhore" and this is an adult website. Ugh.

Posted by Animasta

@HomemadeZiggurat said:

@DaveC524 said:

Why use the word "whore" Patrick? Phh... misogynistic male privilege.

"Cam Whore" is the established term for some people on the internet. It can be applied to a male or female that excessively posts pictures of themselves online. Would you have preferred he used "amateur models"?

it is very rarely used for men don't be disingenuous

Posted by xbob42

I see all the camwhores are up in arms.

Posted by Make_Me_Mad

@colinjw: The way I talk to people in person is pretty much exactly the way I do online, except that in person I'm quicker to use sarcasm and swear, because certain things don't translate as well in text as they do with a voice. What I'm saying is that the conversations people can have with each other on the Internet now, with all the swearing, all the hate, all the vitriol, it's healthy. It's an unrestrained look at how people interact, and the good goes with that.

Plenty of people have calm, rational, reasonable discussions online, too, and it's nice when that happens, but I think it's also nice when two people drop everything and really get into a nasty argument. The Internet has, in my opinion, made people much more honest, much more expressive and creative, and bolder, more willing to put their thoughts out there for people to hear, for better or worse. I consider it a good thing.

Online
  • 183 results
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4