Data Mining May Make You Less Troll-Like (In-Game and Out)

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Any excuse for League of Legends cosplay...Image: Flickr/artubr cc license
Any excuse for League of Legends cosplay…Image: Flickr/artubr cc license

There are over 27 million registered usernames for the massive online battle arena (MOBA) game League of Legends. While online, the people behind these usernames pat other players on the back by sending “honor” and chastise other players in “reports”. This is the kind of data that makes miners drool: millions of names acting kindly or unkindly toward each other. What can we learn from this massive data set? According to a paper scheduled for publication in the February 2016 issue of the journal Computers in Human Behavior, lots.

Let’s take a look at two common username constructions, those that include a player’s birth year (e.g. radguy1987) and those that are intentionally antisocial (those that the researchers’ mighty algorithms detect as containing “blatant racial, sexual or scatological epithets”). The first finding is pretty obvious: Players with antisocial names send and receive more reports and less honor; basically, people with antisocial names play antisocially. Second, kids are mean: Older players are far more likely to send and receive honor than younger players. (The researchers take a bit of a tangent to blame this on the delayed development of the brain’s frontal lobe, which makes adolescents “react to emotionally salient situations/stimuli even when their logical reasoning is intact.”)

Taken at face value, this is all well and good and, in my opinion, not especially earth-shattering. It’s in the paper’s discussion section that things start to heat up, with the researchers pointing out that “psychologically interesting information could be obtained purely from a large, anonymized gaming dataset.”

Yes, your League of Legends username and gameplay can hint at your personality and by compiling millions and millions of these data points, the researchers point out that they can guess at “psychological traits across global populations.”

“It is intriguing to ask if other clinical psychiatric disorders such as autism, sociopathy or addictive personality traits might be evident in these types of data,” they write. “Conversely, it is also possible that positive in-game behavior such as rapid learning, team building or leadership might correlate both with positive usernames and with positive personality traits in the real world.”

In other words, if you want to quantify the mindsets of nationalities or ages or maybe even religions, you may need look no further than your nearest MOBA server. In fact, knowing these differences may be only a first step.

“We are currently investigating the possibility that reinforcing altruistic strategies within a game environment conditions players to modify antisocial behavior in their day-to-day life,” the researchers write.

Maybe you are a League of Legends troll. If so, psychological researchers can use your username and gameplay to find you. And soon games may be able to train you to be less of a troll…in ways that could make you nicer outside the game as well.

We go to games to escape. But this paper and many more like it show that the personality we bring to our online worlds isn’t easily separated from the one we live with outside the game. And the flow of influence may go both ways: How you choose to name and conduct yourself in League of Legends may both define and influence how you exist in the world once you log out.

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