This is an edited cross-post from a comment I made on another thread, but I was intrigued by the idea and thought I'd give it its own thread. I'm looking forward to hearing what you think about this.
It's about status, and the real reasons for the chat dysfunction, raging, and misbehavior.
It's very long, so I've placed it in a Spoiler tag, but I think people might benefit from reading the whole thing. So what do you think? Does this make sense as an explanation for some of the dysfunctional behavior we see in-game and here on the Forums?
I have a theory that most of the in-game or post-game dysfunction and salt is due to status conflict. Status, in general terms, is your externally-perceived achievement-derived standing in a particular context. Sometimes status and prestige are the same thing, but they're not directly comparable. Status is more transitory, and status sometimes expands into prestige, but prestige often comes without effort.
Status is an important concept, and has lots of different flavors and textures. Transient status can come from something as simple as buying lunch. Durable status comes from something complicated, such as raising a child. Status pervades our world. We can think of everyone as high-status, medium-status, and low-status, with grey areas in between. In each group, individuals can be described as "status-confident" or "status-aware."
High status individuals don't need to worry - a unicum loses, can shrug it off. It's like a hot girl who doesn't get a date - she knows she won't be alone long. Or a hot computer programmer gets laid off - no biggie, lots of opportunities for someone with software development skills. They're status-confident. They might dip into being status-aware from time to time, but on the whole they're not going to be fazed by day-to-day events in particular status contexts. On the contrary, people in the mid to low status ranges can be status-confident, but are more frequently status-aware.
Individual standing is not necessarily an indicator of whether individuals will be status-confident or status-aware, but I'd guess at the status extremes, it's more likely that someone is going to be status-confident. Noobs know that they're not very good. Unicums know they're very good. So the status conflict comes in the middle, where people are striving to move up and striving not to move down. That's where people tend to be acutely status-aware.
Status-aware individuals are highly sensitive about standing. Every battle is an opportunity to gain status, so a win is great, but a loss can be very challenging. Winning means capturing status from the losers - you can think of it in terms of Native American braves "counting coup." The better the players you beat, the more status you gain from beating them. Unicums can be anxious about maintaining high status, too, and respond to that challenge by building elaborate systems and thresholds. (Toon all the time, must have xx average tier, must have xx average damage, must have xx average WR at tier X, or what have you.) At the same time, many unicums are generous with their time and advice - a sure sign that they're status-confident, although the act of sharing knowledge helps to reinforce and sustain their high status.
For example, someone the other day posted that they're fine with a loss as long as they wind up #1 or #2 on their team. That's a status measurement. They are status-confident, can deal with the loss, but prefer to get the most status they can on the losing side. (I share this perspective.)
So who rages? What makes players into jerks? Why does frustration turn into dysfunction? A player who rages is most likely someone who is focused on maintaining their status, is jealous of the standing of more skilled players, and dreads the possibility that they'll descend into a lower status. The common threads in raging all revolve around blame and avoiding responsibility (blame noobs, or bad luck, or RNG, or WG, or Internet problems, or lag, or interrupts from their sister, or signals from space aliens for their losses). Ragers don't acknowledge that every player has similar limitations and challenges. Ragers don't acknowledge that the other team won; they focus on their loss. Ragers don't accept blame, because blaming themselves could mean a dreaded lower status. They admire unicums, but look down on, ridicule, or dismiss people who don't perform at their level, because those people are significantly less relevant - nobody gains a lot of status from beating less-skilled people. We call it "seal-clubbing" and scoff at people who have a high win rate but a low average tier, because the high win rate (normally associated with high status) was accomplished by beating less skilled players (which earns less status).
On the other hand, anyone who is status-confident will treat a loss in context, and will be able to learn from the experience, might even laugh at the dumb things they did in the battle. One of my first posts here on the Forums, I said that I lost a battle because I made a mistake, and someone actually joked in response that they'd never seen anybody take responsibility for their own losses. That's a measure of status - even when I was new here on the Forums, I was status-confident to the point where it was more important to me that I share the experience (and perhaps learn something from it) than to protect my standing.
You see status conflict in lots of contexts - students competing for grades, people competing in a workplace, people posting their vacation pictures on Facebook, even people who post put-downs here on the forums.
Why do people comment on the Forums? Some are high-status/status-confident individuals who want to share something, want to solicit feedback, or want to establish alignment. Some are medium-status individuals who are trying to make a name for themselves as having a valuable perspective, useful opinion, or particular insights. Some are people who want to align themselves with someone they perceive as having high status, so they can gain status by association. Some are low-status individuals who mock and go off-topic because they want to impair the status someone else might get for a particular post. Some are low-status individuals who are trying to keep expectations low.
So what about Trolls? In my thinking, in the Forums context, Trolls are not what you might think. They're not just antisocial jerks. I believe they're generally people trying to ensure that someone doesn't get status for saying something that they think shouldn't get status. Let's say someone posts that the Yolobuggy 2000 is the absolute most OP tank in the entire universe, because it can wipe out three tanks at a time if you equip the Ricochet Rangefinder. We all know that within minutes, someone would question the author's sanity, ask what the weather's like in their world, criticize their WR or WR at tier X, or do something else. Someone might come out and say that the Yolobuggy 2000 sucks because its view range is only 100 meters. All of those posts are in response to something that's obviously not correct, but their intention is to either ridicule the poster, or eliminate any status gain for that post, or both. Unfortunately, in Troll-world, Trolls gain status from negativity.
Trolls are an interesting phenomenon because they see their notoriety as a measure of their effectiveness as the arbiters of institutional wisdom. Has anyone else ever noticed that trolls seldom troll trolls? It's because Trolls don't normally post hypotheticals, guesswork, or blue-sky thinking: they're only interested in things being "correct," and correcting people who aren't, sometimes very harshly. That can have a significant impact on a forum, because it forces alignment. For example, if everyone knows that the perceived wisdom of the Forums is that you never go town on Middleburg, they know anyone who posts about going town is going to be trolled. They're going to be called noobs, fools, or worse. Memes will sprout like wildflowers. Who's going to ever propose anything except "drive up the hill" in that type of environment? The significant problem with Trolls is that they're essentially negative and stifle open discussion - the much more constructive approach would be for the troll to guide the poster to a more effective understanding of what they're posting about.