Harnessing Hate: Turning Trolls to Gameplay Features with Dick Starr

Steve Anderson : End Game
Steve Anderson
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Harnessing Hate: Turning Trolls to Gameplay Features with Dick Starr

The general rule for dealing with trolls online is, as the saying goes, to never feed them. That is, never give a troll anything like attention; don't yell back, don't insult, don't get dragged into the fight because trolls live for that sort of thing. But Poor Ugly Dwarf may have just turned the concept on its head by bringing out “Dick Starr Conquers Mars,” a game that actually somewhat depends on trolling to make it challenging.

“Dick Starr Conquers Mars” takes the one downside of Twitch broadcasting—minimal if any audience participation—and makes audience participation a big part of the game. With “Dick Starr Conquers Mars,” audiences aren't just limited to the standard catcalls and threats, as well as insults; here, audiences actually determine what kind of hazards and bonuses the characters get. Since “Dick Starr Conquers Mars” is a top-down shooter, there are plenty of opportunities here. Think your standard game of “1942” or the like with a bit of a space motif and you've got a good idea of what the game looks and plays like.

After a wave of ships comes and is beaten, a voting option opens up in the chat field, which in turn provides several choices. One case might have four choices; two are geared toward supporting the player—offering a boost to the main weapon's power, or adding a “buddy”, more commonly known as an option, in which a smaller ship orbits the larger and fires its own weapon, synchronized with the main weapon—but two are outright sabotages. One summons a wave of asteroids that resemble chocolate chip cookies. Another summons a minefield.

Later, some choices may have nothing but positive choices. Others may have negative. But the key takeaway here is that, while the player is playing the game and encountering the enemies and receiving the powerups, the audience is deciding what powerups are doled out, what enemies show up, and in general, how the game is played. Sometimes the crowd is helpful, doing its part to give the player extra advantages. A room full of trolls, meanwhile, just make the game tougher.

It's a point that I got from an old episode of “Married...With Children.” Those interested can go look it up; known as “The Chicago Wine Party,” one of Ed O'Neill's better monologues can be found therein “Let's strike a blow...wherever they dine al fresco.” Anyway, earlier in the episode, neighbor and perennial thorn in Al's side Marcy D'Arcy brings several signs to the Bundy house espousing bizarre and even self-destructive maxims, such as “Support Toxic Waste Dumps.” Marcy explains that, by putting such signs out in front of the Bundy house, the neighborhood will believe the Bundys support such things. And if the Bundys support same, the neighborhood will vote against it. Marcy refers to the concept as “harnessing hate,” and that's what's happened here.

The trolls simply make the games harder. Expert gamers looking for a challenge will crave the presence of trolls who oblige by throwing the worst the polling has to offer. Trolls will, essentially, become a valuable part of a community. What kind of ramifications does this have for gaming in general? Will trolls even stick around when their presence is actually encouraged?

Only time will tell just what kind of impact this has, but it's possible that “Dick Stone Conquers Mars” could be on to something here, a combination of making Twitch an even more worthwhile destination for gamers and even potentially changing the nature of game interaction with it. Whether you call it integrating trolls, harnessing hate, or just audience participation, the end result remains the same.


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