69 percent of gamers admit to “smurfing” even though they hate it

A new study on gaming toxicity found that 69 percent of gamers admit to smurfing even though they hate it when others smurf at them.

The uninitiated might be wondering what smurfing is, or perhaps imagining 69 percent of gamers painting themselves blue and replacing all their verbs with “smurf” during a gaming session. If that’s what you’re assuming, you’re pretty far from the truth.

When you play an online game against other players, the game tries to match you with players of a similar skill level, because game developers know that it’s less fun for players if you’re constantly being crushed by opponents far above your skill level. skills. But people find ways around this – creating new accounts or borrowing them from other gamers – to play with people of a much lower skill level than their own.

In 1996, two Warcraft 2 players became so famous in the game that other players quit matches if they saw their usernames. To play the game they had purchased, they created second accounts named PapaSmurf and Smurfette and proceeded to crush all their opponents under these new accounts. The term “smurfing” took hold from there and is used to describe any player who intentionally creates new accounts to play against players of lower skill levels.

Gamers report that smurfing happens frequently, with 97 percent of participants in the new survey saying they believe they sometimes play against Smurfs. The behavior is seen as toxic by the gaming community, and yet 69 percent admit to smurfing at least sometimes, and 13 percent say they do it often or almost always.

“Compared to Smurfs, participants perceived Smurfs as more likely to be toxic, disengage from play, and enjoy play,” the Ohio State University team wrote in their study. “There were also distinct effects of self. Regarding themselves, participants believed that other gamers were more likely to be toxic, less likely to continue playing the game, and less likely to enjoy the game.’

At the end of the study, the team asked for feedback and found that gamers (recruited from Reddit) informed them of a number of reasons why they smurfed, ranging from wanting to play alongside friends of different skill levels to wanting to crush a group of noobs. The team conducted a second study asking players to rate these different reasons for smurfing, being told that these were real reasons given by smurfs who had won the game they were smurfing. They were also asked what level of punishment should be given to the smurf.

The team expected people to use a “motivated view of blame,” or to generally think that smurfing is wrong, regardless of the justification.

“This view says that if something is wrong, it doesn’t matter why you do it, it’s always wrong,” explained lead author Charles Monge in a press release. “The idea is that it shouldn’t matter if you’re just smurfing so you can play with your friends, you made me lose this game and now I’m furious.”

However, the team found that gamers judge whether smurfing is wrong on an individual basis, ranking some types of smurfing as more reprehensible than others and demanding harsher punishments for smurfs with less valid reasons for smurfing (eg, wanting to smurf less skilled players).

A third study found that non-gamers had roughly the same socially regulated perspective, seeing nuances in Smurfing behavior. While interesting in their own right – given the toxicity often associated with gaming – the team hopes the findings can be applied elsewhere.

“Games can offer a really powerful tool for testing things that aren’t games,” Monge added. “How we attribute blame in online contexts can allow us to understand how people blame more broadly.”

The study is published in New Media & Society.

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