scorecardMost gamers think everyone else is a toxic smurf, but over a third do it themselves: study
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Most gamers think everyone else is a toxic smurf, but over a third do it themselves: study

Most gamers think everyone else is a toxic smurf, but over a third do it themselves: study
LifeScience3 min read
If you’re a regular gamer who indulges in any form of competitive video gaming, chances are that the word “smurf” is probably going to bring your blood to a boil. The term, which reportedly originated from two world-class Warcraft players, refers to the act of masking your actual skill level to match against players from a lower skill bracket.

From an outside perspective, this might seem pretty harmless — after all, it’s just a game, right? But to the millions of gamers who indulge in casual or competitive video gaming, encountering an unbeatable smurf can put a dent in their days. Thus, smurfing is generally looked down on amongst the gaming community.

However, a new study has found that despite a general consensus that smurfing is detrimental and toxic, a surprising number of gamers admit to engaging in the behaviour themselves.

How does smurfing work in the gaming world?

Online games often use sophisticated matchmaking systems to pair players of similar skill levels. To get around this, smurfers create brand new accounts, which tricks the system into considering them as beginners. Thus, they are entered into competitive matches against other rookies, allowing the more-skilled smurfs to dominate the less experienced players. This has sparked controversy within the gaming community, with some defending the practice and others condemning it for ruining the gaming experience.

Hypocrisy among gamers?

The new study surveyed over 300 participants from gaming subreddits and a university gaming club — players who game slightly more than 24 hours a week — in an attempt to ascertain how they feel about smurfing. They found that while gamers generally viewed the practice as negative, many actually admitted to doing it themselves under certain circumstances.

While 94% of the participants believed that other people smurf more frequently than them, and in a more toxic manner. Meanwhile, over two-thirds of the surveyed noted that they smurf at least occasionally.

“There was this outpouring of comments saying basically, ‘Hey, I do smurf sometimes, but really it is not bad all the time’,” explains study author Charles Monge. “Gamers say they really don’t like smurfing. They also say they do it, but they’re not ruining games and they only do it for valid reasons.”

Can smurfing be justified?

But if most gamers agree that smurfing is a terrible practice, why does an overwhelming majority indulge in it? To answer this question, the authors conducted another study by asking 235 heavy gamers when it was okay to smurf, expecting the respondents to have extremely clear cut opinions on the matter. However, the response was anything but black and white.

The presented justifications for smurfing ranged from the benign (playing with less skilled friends) to the blatantly malicious (wanting to crush weaker players). The findings revealed that gamers are capable of nuanced judgments, often excusing smurfing if it served a reasonable purpose.

This approach aligns with the "socially regulated" perspective on blame, which considers context and motive. This contrasts with the "motivated-blame perspective," where actions are judged as unequivocally right or wrong, regardless of context.

Interestingly, a third study involving non-gamers indicated that this nuanced approach to blame isn't confined to gaming communities. Non-invested non-gamers also showed a tendency to evaluate these justifications based on context, suggesting that gaming might provide a valuable tool for understanding broader social behaviours.

The findings from this research highlight that smurfing, while generally viewed negatively, is perceived with a degree of nuance by the gaming community. This complexity suggests that the debate over gaming toxicity needs to consider the varied motivations behind players' actions. As gaming continues to evolve, understanding these behaviours will be crucial for fostering healthier online environments