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In defense of trolling

I like a good troll. I know that makes me sound like some kind of antisocial basement-dwelling hate-monger, but stick with me. You see I like a good troll. I have no time for basic flame wars or tedious comment thread mud-slinging. That stuff doesn’t hold a candle to the triumphant, barnstorming art-form of the real thing. In fact the real stuff is the exact opposite of that whining crap. It’s the nemesis of ill-natured internet rage, and it diffuses and punishes it beautifully.

Trouble is, the idea of what trolling is (and can be) has been diluted and disrespected over recent years. Ever since the mainstream media got hold of the term and started applying it to any and all unpleasantness ever inflicted by one human being upon another, there’s been a decrease in the amount of respect trolling gets. And that’s just not right.

You see trolling in its true form is an entertainment medium. And a bloody creative one at that. It’s the art of modifying the world to make it more interesting. Whether it happens on the internet or in the real world, trolling is a kind of interactive theatre. It’s living, total immersion improv, and it’s bloody brilliant.

We’ve had a fair few trolls on GamesRadar over the years, and by and large I’ve loved the lot of them. Nothing livens up a comments thread like the discovery of a reader writing under an assumed persona, be it by steadfast adherence to a resolutely ridiculous viewpoint, a smartly caricatured voice, or penchant for responding to articles by way of bad poetry. As stupid as the outer persona might appear, that stuff takes serious thought and dedication to maintain and keep coherent, and as a creative writer I love seeing it pulled off well.

And it can be a serious force for good. The purpose of real trolling is not to abuse, but to play with people. It’s about creating a character so ridiculous yet believable that certain people just can’t help but be drawn into its delicious web of madness. And when a good troll gets a bite and starts messing with their indignant quarry until the prey gets tied up in knots of their own misplaced annoyance, I can’t help but love the display of self-defeating rage.

The internet is full of angry, ill-informed, mean spirited snarkers, and by drawing them out in a localised spot and keeping them busy in a safe environment for a while, a good troll is a bit like an internet quarantine officer. Provoking and engaging internet rage the way they do is the equivalent of dealing with it via controlled explosion. It keeps the internet-angry busy and it’s mighty cathartic to watch for the rest of us.

People might think a troll is stupid, aggressive and antagonistic, but all they’re really doing is exposing those qualities in other people. If you react negatively to a troll and get involved in messy cluster of flame and rage, you’re only ever really wallowing in crap you brought to the table yourself.

Similarly, when trolling makes its way directly into gaming and evolves into griefing, it can be hilarious. Again, it all comes down to the quality of the trolling. Melee bullying a player in a team FPS is crap, but when a griefer or group of griefers really start playing around with the deeper mechanics and exploits of a game while applying a genuine sense of creative wit, it’s a glorious thing to behold.

Check out Team Roomba’s Team Fortress 2 videos for evidence of that. Rather than mere belligerent trouble-making, it’s smart, insightful play that pushes the boundaries of the game’s design and manages to expose its flaws, all while being really damn funny. Kind of brutal to be on the receiving end of, but if you don’t see the funny side escape is only a server switch away.

And that’s trolling all over, really. Good trolls don’t cause the problems. They highlight the problems, be they a result of sloppy, exploitable game design or the reactionary, blind anger of other people. And while their prey might not be in on the joke, the rest of us are usually in on a brilliant one. Trolls of the world, I salute you. You keep the internet on its toes, and the idiots out of the way of the rest of us. Until the day the internet becomes rational enough to stop feeding you, don’t you dare come out from under those bridges.

You know that kid at parties who talks too much? Drink in hand, way too enthusiastic, ponderously well-educated in topics no one in their right mind should know about? Loud? Well, that kid’s occasionally us. GR Editorials is a semi-regular feature where we share our informed insights on the news at hand. Sharp, funny, and finger-on-the-pulse, it’s the information you need to know even when you don’t know you need it.

Long-time GR+ writer Dave has been gaming with immense dedication ever since he failed dismally at some '80s arcade racer on a childhood day at the seaside (due to being too small to reach the controls without help). These days he's an enigmatic blend of beard-stroking narrative discussion and hard-hitting Psycho Crushers.