Not many people purchased ‘Granny Fisting Weekly’ from my local WH Smiths. I should know; as after months of giving them the little form in the back of the mag and finally persuading them to stock it, it turned out to be nowhere near as popular as I had led them to believe. I mean, I knew from local meetings of the Granny Fisting society it was a subject with a large following. It’s just that most people weren’t prepared to pick it off the shelf from the newsagents then queue up with it. It seems they are happier getting their OAP fisting fix from the internet.

Okay, so maybe the first paragraph isn’t true; but it does highlight how people’s behaviour differs when online and offline, especially with the risqué - experts will often refer to affordability, anonymity and accessibility. Which in a nutshell explains thay if people can get hold of something cheaply, easily and without fear of judgement or repercussions they most likely will.

This feature is essentially looking at why people behave like dicks in online games and it’s anonymity, which psychologist call deindividuation (essentially the removal of social norms via concealed identity), that seems to be a key enabler to being an arsehole.

Experiments were undertaken into this phenomenon with American children at Halloween - in which sweets were left unattended with an invite to take them. But on the same table as the sweets was an amount of money. The results give An eye opening insight into how behaviour is modified via anonymity. Of the children that arrived NOT wearing Halloween masks only 8% of them stole money, but of the children that arrived in disguise that figure leaps to a staggering 80%.

Whilst I can’t hope to deconstruct human nature in this article, it does pose interesting questions. Are people selfish at their core and attempt to get away with whatever they can (if there is a perceived lack of negative outcome) or is there intoxication to anonymity itself that drives behaviour outside of the norm? From my own online gaming experiences I try my hardest to treat others in a way I would like to be treated myself and in team based activities understand that the teams goals come above my own. For me, this leads to a more enjoyable gaming experience. But it seems I’m in the minority and playing from the moral high ground often leaves me at competitive disadvantage.

Just last week I was playing Golden Axe online with an anonymous partner who grabbed ALL the food. Even if they were at full health and I was close to death – despite this hampering the chances of the two of us completing the game. Whilst this is hardly the end of the world, it does provide a simple example of how people’s seemingly overwhelming yearning toward selfishness (even to their own detriment) plays out.

Maybe it’s the desire to win at all costs that causes people to camp on re-spawn points or pull their ethernet cables out for fear of dropping a point. Maybe it’s the lack of control people have over their daily lives that causes them to try and wrestle some of that control back in the virtual gaming space. Whatever the reason is a lot of people are put off on-line gaming by this extremely anti-social behaviour.

So whilst we can’t solely blame the pubs for drunken idiots fighting and throwing bins through kebab shop windows. We also can’t blame the games for the anti-social behaviour exhibited within them. But are there things games can do to encourage better behaved players?

Despite having bots more annoying than a supermarket filled with the elderly - ‘Brink’ went some way to rewarding players for teamwork. Admittedly it wasn’t able to figure out who was really playing as a tactical team member, but rewards are dished out for buffing guns or administering health. Despite this, players were left to complete objectives alone as guns were buffed to within an inch of their life back at base. The obvious way to remedy this is to play using headsets with friends only, but this isn’t always possible. Street Fighter 4 tried to identify rage quitters and then pair them up together. But all of these strategies don’t actually tackle the core problem of anonymity leading to fucktardary.

So what can developers do to destroy the anonymity and break down the barriers that conceal identities? Would video-chat do that? Or would it lead to hundreds of kids exposing their genitals during gameplay? Should teams be able to collectively allocate higher scores to the best players and boot the idiots (you are the weakest link. Goodbye). Would forcing people to use their real names prevent religious, racist and sexist abuse during games? This is one of the reasons Facebook and Google+ are so keen on people using their own names on their services.

As online gaming continues to make in-roads toward mainstream culture, often by stealth (my wife regularly plays words with friends without really realising she’s participating in an on-line game), the industry will have to address how off-putting idiot players can be. If this almost seamless transition is to continue into more titles then methods of moderating (or hiding) human behaviour will be as crucial as delivering low latency in maintaining the growth of the online arena.

Of course it could well be that some people are just fundamentally rude and no amount of in-game window dressing or rulebooks is going to change that. People commenting on the NME’s reporting of the death of Amy Winehouse using their facebook ids (including their full name) posted incredibly bitter and poisonous comments that caused their on-line editor to spend the best part of a Sunday morning deleting them.

If the problem is rooted in the core of human nature then awarding points for dishing out stat-boosts packs isn’t going to make much difference. But maybe two-way-traffic does exist and the positive methods that the industry puts in place will bring us closer together as a society – maybe good Samaritans will flood from the virtual world into the real one? But until then keep your fucking hands off my health packs.