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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Using game theory to explain people's poor behavior in League of Legends

As anyone who has played solo queue ranked games has witnessed, many people in League of Legends  have a very weak psyche. The smallest amount of trash talking could create a snowball effect where the whole team falls apart. It may seem odd, then, why so many players talk trash to each other at the smallest mistakes. For example, I was in a game yesterday where my team and I were completely dominating the other team for the first 25 minutes. Then, one teammate makes the mistake of not running to mid and my team loses a 4 v. 5 team fight. This causes one player to call the other one all kinds of names and we eventually lost all momentum and the game.

It's been some time since I studied game theory in college, but I remain fascinated by its application. Game theory can apply to League of Legends to explain why so many players talk trash to people in the game. For this application to work, however, I am assuming that League of Legends players have big egos. This means that each player is harmed whenever another perceives him as being inferior.
The prisoner's dilemma can explain why players in League of Legends trash talk their own team. In the prisoner's dilemma, there are two parties (A and B), and each has two choices. The typical example is that both parties are prisoners and each has the option to stay quiet or confess to the crime. Neither party knows what the other will do. If each knew for sure that the other party would confess, then it would logically follow that each would confess, giving them both a good payout. But, because neither knows what the other will do, both have a greater incentive to stay quiet. If one stays quiet and the other confesses, then the one who stayed quiet would receive the maximum payout and the one who confesses would completely lose. Because both parties have more to lose by confessing than by staying quiet, both will stay quiet, resulting in each receiving the second lowest payout.

This theory can be applied to determine why people talk trash in League of Legends. When a player enters a game, he has a decision to make - play the game peacefully without trash talking, or disparage his teammates. If the player chooses to play peacefully, and everyone else reciprocates, each player wins the second highest payout (i.e. confess/confess). But, if one person plays peacefully and someone else starts talking trash to that person, then the recipient of the trash talking may feel inferior (i.e. confess/stay quiet). Because of this, it is in each person's best interest to start trash talking his teammates at the earliest opportunity (i.e. stay quiet/stay quiet). Again, all of this rests on the assumption that the players in the game have big egos, therefore they are harmed when people perceive them as being inferior.

To mitigate trash talking, it may be best to start each game by telling your teammates you will not judge them by their mistakes, that no matter what happens, all you want is to win. By doing this, you may prevent someone from trash talking to protect his/her own ego. Small comments like this can go a long way to preventing a team melt down.

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