Thorsten Busch is a Postdoctoral Fellow with Mia Consalvo at Concordia University, Montreal, Canada, and a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for Business Ethics, University of St. Gallen, Switzerland.
The Governance of Toxic Gamer Culture: League of Legends’ Tribunal System, Corporate Responsibility, and Exploitative Labor
Despite a rapid growth in popularity, online games are continually plagued by problems such as misogyny, racism, hate speech, and other practices summarized by the terms “cyberbullying” and “toxic gamer culture”. That activity takes place within the games, during communication on gaming networks, and on related internet fora. Empirically, toxic gamer culture is regulated via two mechanisms:
1. Gamer communities self-negotiate and enforce standards of acceptable behavior among their peers, but these practices can differ greatly among games and gamer subcultures.
2. Online gaming and discussion takes place in spaces owned and operated by private companies, which have become quasi-political regulators of their respective online territories, raising questions of corporate responsibility.
Against this background, League of Legends (LoL) takes a seemingly progressive approach to governing its community of more than 30 million players: instead of unilaterally dictating the terms of play on its platform, the game’s Tribunal system gets players directly involved in evaluating other players’ behavior. While the company is ultimately the entity banning players from the game, it is the game’s players who provide a peer review of other gamers’ behavior.
Our paper will provide an overview of various corporate approaches to regulation and discuss the Tribunal system’s inherent tension: On the one hand, it is designed as a progressive attempt to achieve genuine moral legitimacy and acceptance of corporate decision-making; on the other hand, a more critical reading could interpret it as a way of outsourcing community management to amateurs who are not only asked to contribute uncompensated labor, but who are also being used to justify corporate decisions, effectively acting as a shield between LoL and the toxic players it bans from its platform. Player actions will also be discussed via theorizations such as ‘playbour’ and how gaming capital might circulate via these activities.