In October 2020, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) slipped into the engine room of a spacecraft and said, “I can’t kill Poki, she’s so nice.”
Seconds later she killed Poki.
The gameplay murder was part of a twitch stream from Between us, an extremely popular social deduction game developed by indie studio Innersloth. While it premiered two years earlier, Between us Fandom boomed in 2020, fueled by pandemic boredom and celebrity interest online. The point of the game is to work together with “crewmates” to complete a series of tasks before “impostors” kill everyone on board. But despite being a game built on silent stabbing, its community guidelines emphasize a conflicting quality: friendliness.
That has a lot to do with Victoria Tran, Innersloth’s 27-year-old community leader.
“I don’t know if you know this, but the internet doesn’t have a reputation for being friendly and nice,” Tran tells Digital Trends over a call from her home in British Columbia, Canada.
The Good of the Internet
There are trolls on every platform, and players have a certain reputation – deserved or not. But Tran has recognized the benefits of the Internet. She experienced it growing up playing massively multiplayer online games (MMOs) such as Habbo hotel and shin. She has made real connections online that mean a lot to her. So Tran thinks: How can we improve online communities?
“A lot of my work is based on the fact that while I have the energy and curiosity, I want to explore ways we can improve the Internet and not settle for stereotypes,” says Tran.
“In a way, I’ve trained my whole life for this.”
Tran is known in the gaming industry for incorporating friendliness into community design. That means creating spaces inside and outside of games that encourage players to treat each other and the people who create and run the game with respect. Friendly design, Tran explains, can be facilitated with rules by setting expected norms, treating players with respect, earning their trust, and creating a sense of homeliness within the game and its social channels. Their philosophy is that friendly communities breed more friendliness: an audience that tolerates bad behavior allows trolling. An intolerant audience will turn that off. Friendly design helps create an intolerant audience.
“I’m interested in how people love something,” says Tran. “Every thriving community is a place where people feel welcome.”
Rachel Kowert, research psychologist and research director at Take This, calls Trans’ 2019 article on creating these communities a “pioneering article on how to better understand the structure and nature of communities and how they can influence behavior inside and outside of game spaces.” “.
“Your perspective is unique when it comes to looking at the boundaries and structures of social space as the basis for your community’s in- and out-of-game behavior,” says Kowert. “She was one of the first to speak out publicly about these concepts.”
It’s a perspective she began to cultivate in her childhood. Tran attributes her interest in communication and community to the fact that as a child she often took on the role of translator, both literally and for a new culture.
“Friendly design starts with rules because how the game is structured facilitates the kinds of discussions and settings you want.”
“My parents were refugees from the Vietnam War,” says Tran. “They came to Canada and didn’t know English; they didn’t know the culture. So growing up I was a translator; I read government documents and tried to tell my parents what I thought they meant.”
Childhood also meant playing free online MMOs for hours. The concept that she could connect with people in other countries — even say she has friends — was beyond cool.
“In a way, I’ve trained my whole life for this,” says Tran.
find your way
She went to university to study health care, graduated, and found that she hated the job. “I kind of had a huge nervous breakdown,” she says. “I hated not knowing what to do! So I literally started Googling ‘what to do when you don’t know what to do,’ and I saw something that said, ‘Start with your interests.'”
She thought about online games.
Tran became the community strategist for the puzzle game unpacking, the communications director at Kitfox Games and, in November 2020, the community director at Innersloth. She is also a co-organizer of Game & Color, a grassroots organization formed to support color game developers.
Innersloth is a team of 13 remote workers and Tran is busy. Beyond social media community design, she works on marketing, public relations, branding, campaigns, influencer partnerships, and other initiatives. When asked what she does when she’s not working, she laughs and then pauses for a long time. (She enjoys reading manga and baking chocolate chip cookies.)
Tran describes the role of a community director as the person who is the link between game developers and players, but more importantly, the person who facilitates the space in which the community interacts. for Between usthat is, within the game and on platforms where players discuss it, such as Twitter and TikTok, which has 1.4 million and 2.9 million followers, respectively.
A multi-step process
Creating and enabling a friendly community, Tran explains, is a multi-step process that ultimately reflects the environment game developers want to do their work. It’s about holding players accountable a code of conduct and a clear idea of what’s expected: It’s not enough to say “don’t be a jerk,” says Tran. Rules must be clearly defined, published, fair and applicable to all.” In practice, this means that design elements are integrated into the game, e.g. B. to make it easier to report a player for bad behavior or to create a list of words that people are not allowed to say in-game.
“Friendly design starts with rules because the way the game is structured makes it easy to have the discussions and settings you want,” says Tran.
Tran is committed to setting the norms of the space (demonstrating what is and isn’t an acceptable way to communicate), building trust in the community through transparency, and charming it through positive encounters and celebration of fandoms. One of the ways Tran does this is deceptively simple and effective: she responds to comments, even comments from haters.
“If you post in a community, you should be a part of it. Investing the time and effort can really change things.”
It pays off. For example, Tran remembers an event that happened shortly after Between us TikTok account was created. She posted a video about a new map, it went viral and suddenly it was flooded with comments about “dead game” – people complaining, people saying they were through the game.
“It was just endless comments like this and I was so de-motivated,” says Tran. “Then I thought about it and asked myself – what am I supposed to do about it? What I did was literally sit around for hours and respond to as many comments as possible, not in a cheeky way like some brands do, but in an honest and hopefully a little funny way.”
Suddenly she saw a shift. Other commenters joined the conversation, asking: Why are you beating an indie game? Why do you hate something people like to play?
“It was a complete tonal shift,” says Tran. “It’s an example of why when you post in a community, you should be a part of it. Investing the time and effort can really change things.”
Tran sees the work as a continuation of the kind of online spaces made possible by early YouTubers like John and Hank Green and their Project for Awesome, and describes it as a “win-win” for game developers. Friendly communities, Tran says, are just plain good for business: They bring in an audience, but more than that, they bring in an audience that shares thoughtful feedback and cares about the people making the product. (As Tran tweeted over the holidays after announcing the account would be taking a break, the Between us Twitter followers gently scolded She.)
“It’s also really nice that people care about you and engage with you in a meaningful way,” says Tran. “There’s a very human aspect to all of this that’s really hard to quantify. I wouldn’t really want to quantify it anyway.”