Lessons from The Chinese Server, Part 2


Overall, the players on my server did not seem to talk much. Perhaps games back home went that way too. Calamitous racket always sticks out more than silence, and the words could not grip me as they did in America. Even when things turned bad players rarely took to the keyboard. I would sometimes try to type things in pinyin.

I knew how to type in characters, but not in League’s in game chat system. When I typed in pinyin the other players gave me an array of awkward or disgruntled emoticons. Most of my messages came across through bursts of color and sound, pings.

Through pings and movement alone teams came together or crumpled apart. Only using pings and movement, I found it easier to figure if I baited the team into something bad. Most of my own shortcomings felt more present. With only pings, it became clearer how movements alone can cause miscommunication. Though mistakes stood out more I did not mind them as much.

My happiness depends on me

In a ranked game giving up first blood caused my stomach to sink. It felt like other players were waiting on the wings to write something rude. It did not need to be particularly confrontational. They could utter a simple “ugh” or “come on”. It only had to have that senselessness of an annoyed person behind it. It needed only the blind and maligned idea that a sharp, kneejerk indulgence in shaming another would somehow straighten them out. Even if I ignored the user, I would likely tilt harder than a teapot. Even if no one made a comment the sinking feeling alone could cause a tilt. With the chance of argument cut away I studied mistakes more clearly.

Slip-ups still irked me. I knew that four people still relied on me. It still felt bad to do poorly by my own standards. I removed all the things I blamed my fragility so heavily on. That only meant I had to admit to my own flawed thinking. A bad apple could spoil the whole bunch but a good thought could keep me from biting into rotten fruit. I always plunged myself head first into unnecessary mental narratives. Too many hours went to thinking up resolutions to problems I could have been up and about solving. My happiness depended on me. That lesson would become clear as I opened up to China.

Gaining confidence

The language came quicker as the semester wore on. I wove through the city to see famous temples and to get to work and back. The fear of getting lost and not knowing enough of the language always remained. In the beginning retreating into an asocial shell seemed the best response to that fear. I saw the flaw in that and Confidence came gradually. With it gathered all sorts of new acquaintances and connections, Chinese and American. That confidence applied right back to League.

I still lacked the ability to read enough characters to piece together most of the things people said. But understanding comes subtly. Pointing at pictures can get you food in any country, and reading enough contexts will help you gain some understanding. When the chat filled up after each mistake players made, a rager likely chose this game to vent his frustrations. When “好 (hao)”, good, popped on the screen it likely meant congratulations. I even picked up on some unique Chinese internet slang like SB (Sha Bi 傻屄).

Reading the wrath of Chinese players

Sha Bi roughly translates to “stupid bitch” or “stupid cunt”, surprisingly brutal insults by American standards. People talk up the Confucian elements of social rigor in Eastern societies and the freedom afforded by individualist America. Yet, people seemed much more frank and open in China then in America. Back home my parents and peers taught me a social script for near everything. Even if rage cut to the bone, I would not call someone a stupid bitch unless I wanted a fight. It feels extraneously angry even for the internet.

SB popped up in a lot of games too. Though it translates to stupid bitch Chinese players dropped it like American players drop the ellipses. I bristled at it in an unusual way. In the North American servers the ellipses or “why?” annoyed me for the petty, passive aggressive behavior they exhibited. SB filled me with this mixture of confusion and indignation.

I wondered if Chinese people got that mad or if the culture put less weight on those words. Ellipses might annoy me, but I would not report for a few of them dropped in game. If someone called me a stupid bitch in game for giving first blood, I would report so fast. The difference jarred me for a while.

Once I started registering the toxicity it became pretty fun to interact with. Big walls of characters blipped into the chat interspersed with SB’s. I never figured out how to type characters in the league chat (despite genuine efforts) so I wrote random things in English. Wrathful players would not register my absurd replies, nor I theirs. Sometimes I did try to say nice things in pinyin (Romanized characters).

A new friend

During a casual bout of absurdity I met a friend. We played in a lane together and I offered up strange assurances and compliments in English. He responded asking in English if I spoke Chinese. The questions continued during downtime in the game. We spoke afterwards in the league client, where I could type characters. We did our best to translate for each other, as we knew similar amounts of the other’s language. I learned that he lived in Beijing and attended college studying computer sciences.

Rather quickly he said he had felt fate ordained the friendship. It is not the most unusual platitude in China. The Chinese use a term called Yuan Fen 缘分 to indicate any sort of fateful relationship. I cannot account for how often Chinese people throw the term around. We still email back and forth. League introduced me to a friend I hope to maintain.

The great barometer

I owed it gratitude for an element that I loathed it for. The socialization that I despised at home felt beautiful abroad. The thousands of miles did not change so much, nor did the language. The truth was that League had the power to be what anyone made of it. I treated the game as though it had great control over me. It felt like a slot machine drawing in my energy and spitting out tokens of praise or denial.

In reality it provided a barometer for my own wellness. If angry and frustrated, league appeared a den of ragers. If happy and light, it seemed the fun distraction I needed. When closed to the world, League injected meditative emotions to help me through. When I opened up it let me socialize in a ways unseen in real life. League might have some control over me. It might swallow up half to a whole hour of my day in one game. The length sits out of my control as does the actions and words of others.

For all the control I gave it, it gave back just as much. The ultimate experience came down to the way I handled life just moments before entering the lobby. The Chinese servers taught me much more about my identity than it did the middle kingdom.

~Austin R Ryan

Lessons from The Chinese Server, part 1


Without knowing a word or character of Chinese, I decided to study abroad for a semester at Peking University. At the time I foolishly expected much of the world to move to my mother tongue. My interests in Chinese economy and history ran deep, and my advisor told me that I would need to know the language to continue to pursue my interests.
The curiosity for China did not stop at figures and books. Something about the unfamiliarity of the country’s philosophy, language, and even geography created in me an idea of a wholly unfamiliar people. I suppose I wanted something to explore. Perhaps that thirst for exploration plunged me into the Chinese league servers. I knew I wanted to play League in China as soon as I submitted the application to go abroad.

For a twenty something male, the desire should not seem so out of place. In my life back home League formed a legitimate means of communication. My friends sometimes spent entire nights on the NA server. We gleefully constructed ridiculous team comps and ideas. Other times we tried to semi-seriously push our ranked 5 team up the ladder. After playing League for so long, the game started to become a type of social indicator. The way that you played League reflected on how you behaved in real life, and who you associated with. When I first began, I played with a friend who took the game more seriously and stressed about winning games. He did not rage and loathed the raging community around him. We enjoyed painting the game with this sort of heaviness.We enjoyed trying to win and get better. As time went on, we both transitioned into college. He stopped playing League.

I continued with a new group with a much goofier attitude. We like to mess around. We created two ranked 5 teams dedicated to goofing off in game. Our first team, Lock In and Wreck Face, required us to instalock a full team and try to win with whatever we got. In our second team, Off Brand Cereal, we got to pick our champs but we had to use off-builds and go into weird lanes. The time constraints of double majoring, continuing to write creatively, running an internet radio show, and going steady with a girl meant that I could not play with that same serious mentality.

I wanted to play League in China for a lot of superficial reasons. I did not want to get too rusty. I wanted to see if Asian players were truly gods amongst men. I wondered whether their meta differed and what champs they played. At the end of the day, I just enjoyed Leaguing. Above all these, two reasons pushed me into going through the odd process of creating a Chinese account. League reflected attitudes in real life and to me it seemed a window into a Chinese gaming mentality I knew nothing of. Do people rage, do people troll, do people run goofy comps? I wanted to know because the answer to each question taught me something of a reality still mysterious to me.

The biggest pull came from my absolute Chinese illiteracy. Hard fought loss or an outright stomp, even losing a game of league took effort. I tired of hearing so much bickering. I grew up in a house with three older sisters and a bit of a hot head dad. I wanted the thick sort of skin that could steel me against a household bursting full with wild emotion. Failing to keep my cool fostered this deep feeling of inadequacy. It gripped deep into my chest and pulled at this long standing desire for emotional strength. Every time I queued up and felt some fury, those talons clawed away at my self-image. In China, I could League and appreciate the game all in my lonesome. No matter what anyone said it literally could not scathe me. I felt damn sick of the other players. I wanted a chance at the silence and purity of play that NA could not give me.

I broke into the Chinese server, following the complex guidelines set out to me by a Reddit post. I needed to play bots before I entered PvP. Mulling over who to pick for my first bots game abroad, I spotted the Chinese art. The Chinese splash art looked gorgeous. Karthus went from a skeleton with silly hat and a big robe to a terrifying, no faced necromancer with burning eyes and a gilded staff. Twitch had longer arms and legs, looking like a scrawny and more humanoid anthropomorphized rat. He looked like a more PG version of the visually reworked twitch. Cho’Gath resembled a terrifying, gargantuan monstrosity ripped loose from the void. The Chinese splash art raised the bar on almost all occasions. It gave the game a polish I never realized the game could use.

Splash arts never came across my mind in America. Back home I played set roles and set champions. I had certain top laners and marksmen that I preferred, and a pool of owned champions to select from. In China, I could choose any sort of Champion. Sure, I still knew what I liked, but once you threw out the meta, the rune pages and the masteries, every champion played a lot differently.
When it came time to pick a champ, it took me longer to deliberate. During the races against the clock to secure a champ, the splash arts seriously came into play. Seeing a champion in this sheen of idealized glory made them more enticing. In those last minute decisions, the splash art conveyed a quick feeling of the full glory of a champ. As a player brought back to level 1, not knowing which champ to pick, it made all the difference.

Even old favorites like Wukong had this almost preposterously badass look about them. The whole visual styling in China felt different, but more appropriate. China focused on evoking images of intense battle and heroic power out of each splash art, as where the NA server had a more playful and light focus. I preferred China, because to me it just fit. I am a summoner controlling one of the most powerful entities in a world, even if I am just playing a game. It helped that for the most part the Chinese splash art seemed better drawn.

In the very first co-op vs. AI match I played, our Blitzcrank rallied four of us to the tribush near the bot tower. We cheesed first blood and beat the bots into the dirt. For a second I let the prospect of an inherently more talented server carry my mind away. Over the next few days the Blitzcrank free week faded along with the rose tint on my glasses. The early levels provided a lot of easy wins. It felt unkind to stomp new players. Luckily it did not take long for games to become battles between smurfs. As I climbed my match history evened out with wins and losses. At around the tenth game matchmaking placed me in with the rest of the smurfs. I started playing games at level 8 where teams took dragon and occasionally used junglers and supports.

It seemed no different than smurfing in NA. Smurfs still lacked runes and spells to play all positions. Supports and junglers did not exist. Ideal team comps did not exist. All bruiser teams duked it out against all burst mage teams. Even all smurf games looked messy and strange. It provided a pleasant reminder of the days when I loaded up a smurf to play with low level friends. That familiarity felt soothing in a place where the trees, the birds, the spiders, and the air I breathed all looked different. When arriving, the foreignness of it scared me so deeply. It felt terribly lonely without school friends to speak with. Knowing nothing of the language sometimes put me into isolation. It became tiring to function at a basic level. League provided a rejuvenating normalcy to retreat to.

Part 2 Coming next weekend.

 

~Austin R Ryan

“Toxic”


If you play league you know about toxicity. Chances are a friend or reddit post introduced you to the term. The League of Legends community accrued some infamy for the fury behind its players. Popular perception tells that frustrated teens make up most of the player base. The young malcontents express their frustration at the slightest provocation. The veracity of League’s unfortunate reputation says little. The word around it speaks volumes.

You might not feel thankful for a toxic player, but you should feel grateful for the term itself. No word fits the effect of ragers, complainers and pesterers like toxicity. Something toxic lingers. A toxin might not knock a person dead. It could cause a cough or a collapse. Either way, a toxin goes around and people wonder whether it will hit them. Toxicity describes in-game rage so well because rage works the same way. That one argument provoking comment permeates the very air around each monitor. Engaging with it might just spread the sickness. Ignoring it does not will it away from everybody. It might not reach you, but it still clings to the whole habitat, threatening to ruin something fun.

Imagine coming home after a long day and sitting down to play a game of league. The trials of work or school proved tiring. You enter into a quick ARAM to clear you head. Everyone on the team randomly rolls a decent champion. The game starts and your team files up to the bushes at the side. An early fight breaks out and an errant arcane shift from Ezreal blows the whole thing. Your surviving teammates limp back to the tower. For a moment only silence permeates the cold air of the howling abyss. Then one of the champs falls back and stands still. The player starts to type instead of play. Ezreal receives an attack on his character. No mincing of words, not even a passive aggressive ellipses, just a raw assault on a stranger’s ego.

You made no mistake so the mad player did not target you. It does not matter, though. It could have been directed at anyone, even the opposing team. That it happened means at least one of your teammate’s put their head in the keyboard rather than the game. Even worse, that fury could turn toward any teammate that slips up.

Even the thick skinned go on guard. In a team game the morale could mean it all. One player going on tilt makes the carrying much harder. If the argument spreads to three, four, or even five players it could take a miracle to pull the team out of a nosedive. You click tab and mute the player, but that hardly means the end of it.

Responses to the rager start pouring in in spite of your requests for your teammates to mute him. Soon enough the chat lights up with the flavorful exchange of decent people turned keyboard warriors. You slate your team to lose. In the beginning it seemed like a guaranteed win. But the battle over the chat box means more to the team than the push for the enemy nexus.

Sometimes whole groups of people find that perfectly analogous term to describe a widely shared experience. The League community did just that when they coined the term “toxic”. In a team game where morale determines tilts and tilts determine who wins, nothing fits a fit of anger so well as “toxic”. No matter what you do, no matter what anyone says, the toxicity floats menacingly through the air. Even if all four players don their biohazard suits and mute the flaming fifth, the memory of the rage remains. All four know that the quarantine never needed to happen. Some might even want to fight back, but you cannot hit a toxin. You throw the punch, you take a breath, and the next thing you know it has floated right into you. You matched hate with hate. Reporting offer some reprieve, but you will never know with certainty the tribunal response. The only true consolation is that the word itself fits like a glove to a leprous hand.

 

~Austin R Ryan