This game took a radical new approach to homophobia, and it worked

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The creators of League of Legends are taking a radical new approach to tackle homophobia and abuse in their online community – and it appears to be working.

The popular battle arena game has a massive community of over 67 million monthly users. It recently underwent changes to help tackle the problem of racism, homophobia and sexism in matches, given the size of the community.

Lead Game Designer Jeffrey Lin of Riot Games spoke about the challenges and successes of the new approach in a blog post on re/code, shifting from a system based on manually moderating users.

He explained: “Our team found that if you classified online citizens from negative to positive, the vast majority of negative behaviour… did not originate from the persistently negative online citizens; in fact, 87 percent of online toxicity came from the neutral and positive citizens just having a bad day here or there.

“Given this finding, the team realized that pairing negative players against each other only creates a downward spiral of escalated negative behaviours.

“The answer had to be community-wide reform of cultural norms. We had to change how people thought about online society and change their expectations of what was acceptable.”

The company built a “tribunal” system that allowed the game’s community to review reports itself, submitting millions of votes on whether comments and actions are positive or negative, and ‘teaching’ an automated machine-learning system.

Mr Lee added: “In League of Legends, we’re now able to deliver feedback to players in near-real-time. Every single time a player ‘reports’ another player in the game for a negative act, it informs the machine-learning system.

“Every time a player ‘honours’ another player in the game for a positive act, it also trains the machine-learning system.

“As soon as we detect these behaviours in-game, we can deliver the appropriate consequence, whether it is a customized penalty or an incentive.

“Critically, players in the society are driving the decisions behind the machine-learning feedback system — their votes determine what is considered acceptable behaviour in this online society.”

He continued: “As a result of these governance systems changing online cultural norms, incidences of homophobia, sexism and racism in League of Legends have fallen to a combined 2 percent of all games.

“Verbal abuse has dropped by more than 40 percent, and 91.6 percent of negative players change their act and never commit another offense after just one reported penalty.

“These results have inspired us, because we realize that this isn’t an impossible problem after all.”