Theories of Instilling Moral Excellence in League of Legends

Battling Unethical behavior in League of Legends is a lot more complicated than one may believe. Utilizing theories from an economical, psychological, and moral standpoint I hypothesis possible approaches and pitfalls to tackling trolling.
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Article republished by author with permission. Original article found here 

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Battling unethical behavior in any community revolves in strategic planning of cause and effect on player actions. Though to what extent does one need to go to create a plan to evoke a positive behavior? Is it wise to exclude the 1-3% of the population that have no hope of reform? Is it more possible to create strategies to reform this small percentage of moral failure than it is to weed them out? What internal mechanisms help players move toward morally positive actions in a highly competitive environment? [Riot Forums]

Moral failure has become all too frequent as acts of professional moral courage are an exception rather than a norm. Regardless of rules to inform players how to prevent wrongdoing, does there need to be a direct, detailed, and advanced set of guidelines to create moral excellence? Considering an honor code creates an integrated approach to manage ethics,but what promotes moral excellence? What sort of internal mechanisms help players move toward morally courageous actions in a highly competitive culture? How does one create a value for positive moral actions?

According to Jamie Madigan, psychology is one way to getting gamers to behave cooperatively. Utilizing “priming” to get players in a state of mind before a game, one could illicit a subliminal mindset to evoke a specific response. In the same way advertising companies evoke a drive in viewers to buy, eat, go, or take a product the same can provoke a desired mindset within the game. Examples that Madigan expressed would simply be showing words like “sportsmanship”, “communications”, and “fairness” between loading screens. An example shown above is from the game The Adventures of Timmy Run Kitty Run, where logistics of bullying are shown on loading screens between gameplay. If the game wanted to be even more transparent, they could include stories or comics that illustrate these words to rouse these behavior responses in players. Real data can be included as well showcasing the number of assists, honor awards in teamwork, compliments from fellow teammates in previous matches, or stats on avoidance of unethical behavior (i.e.  reports from League of Legends Tribunal). The extent to priming can go as far as having champions condone summoners for their lack of positive behavior or admiring positive actions in previous games.

Having taken a course with Dan Ariely, he mentions in his book Predictably Irrational an experiment where right before taking a test subjects that were primed in the ‘cheating is possible’ condition where asked to write the Ten Commandments before starting math problems. Compared to the group that didn’t have to write the Ten Commandments, 33% more questions were answered in this group than in those who wrote down the Ten Commandments. This is clear indication of cheating as its more expected than chance alone.

A reference to an honor code seemed to be enough to prime people for behaving appropriate to what was necessary. However, Madigan indulged on the concept that ‘the consistency bias’ had more to do with the priming than honor code alone. Which means the tendency to behave in ways that was consistent with our stated public intentions.

According to Leslie Sekerka’s research, If one where to define a moral minimum, which is a behavior that which does no harm to others, and a moral excellence, which is proactive efforts that assumes responsibility to help reduce harm and/or adverse impacts to others, one could exceed the moral minimum towards moral excellence. The bar of expectation of players is then geared towards a positive goal. Currently systems, structures, and processes are in place to manage ethical behavior through compliance driven activities. Transferring those methodologies into League of Legends or even any game for that matter could steer a community to behave holistically positive.

Sekerka states it is naive to think that moral excellence will  happen by espousing the companies moral values. However, Ariely discusses choice architecture as an illusion of agency we use to make decisions influenced by others. We justify decisions we make based on others but they are never a true reflections of reasons. This is because people take the path least resistant meaning it’s easier to maintain the status quo than it is to deviate from the default as it is more complex for the norm. Trolling is a scapegoat with the least resistance in regards to the norm. It is even “rewarded” because these individuals then are spotlighted for their negative behavior, gain praise from fellow trolls (i.e. LOLs, GGs, and other supporting memes),and receive a large amount attention.

Coming to this point, the reason why deviating from the default might be considered more complex is simply the positive behavior is not detailed and directed to combat trolling. Trolling is a more prominent behavior within the community because there isn’t necessarily any mechanism approaching an alternative moral righteous approach. Priming could alleviate this complexity to illicit the behavior that is necessary. However, because of the current social norms of the community it would not fit appropriately since good sportsmanship would need to be the focal point.

The social norm or the common behavioral conception of the society of members that emerge over time has been distinctly negative in the League of Legend community, but due to behavioral modifications that trend stands to change. According to the League of Legends Lead Player Behavior Specialist and PhD. psychologist Riot Lyte, more than 74% of players that receive a first warning for inappropriate behavior improve. Only a 1-3% of players refuse to reform regardless of consequences with consistent severe behavior that requires drastic punishment such as a 15 day ban. This is closely related to Dan Ariely’s Pain of Paying where the salience of the method of paying and the timing must evoke how a player feels about the payment, how much attention they pay to it, how much they notice it, and how it affects their enjoyment of an experience (i.e. Making Platinum, acquiring limited skins, receiving honor rewards, etc). Presented as a “moral tax” associated with their guilt as a method of payment, the pain of payment could work if the social norms and values of daily actions of frequent players painted a picture of a rich holistic morally strong organization. Creating a proactive ethical holistic communities that demanded moral excellence as the standard by fellow players evokes the honor codes instilled by the organization via constantly engaging strategically balance mechanism to complement existing reactive strategies.


Ariely, Dan. Predictably Irrational. HarperCollins Publishers. June 6, 2009

Madigan, Jamie. Priming, Consistency, Cheating, and Being a Jerk. September 9, 2010 

Sekerka, Leslie. Battling Moral Mediocrity in the Military: An Integrated Proactive Approach to Ethics Management. Ethics and Integrity of Governance: A Transatlantic Dialogue. May 9, 2005

Riot Games. League of Legends Forum. I’d like chat logs for my 2 week ban when I don’t even use chat. July 27, 2014.

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