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Psychology of ML Trashtalkers

Mobile Legends is just another multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) made for mobile phone users. Just like LOL and DotA, this is a 5v5 battle game that requires skills and strategy to defend your own bases. Aside from its addictive features (collecting heroes, skins, playing with friends, aiming for a higher rank), one of the most evident highlight of the game is the trash talking.

Mirriam-Webster defined trash talk as disparaging, taunting, or boastful comments especially between opponents trying to intimidate each other. In this case, the primary purpose of trash talking is intimidating the opponent. This is very similar to what bullying is all about. Bullying is the use of power to abuse, aggressively dominate or intimidate (Juvonen & Graham, 2014). This means that bullying has an intention to hurt other people. We can infer from this one that trash talking in mobile games such as ML is a form of cyberbullying.

The game developer of the said game filters the messages and censor profanity across languages. In our case for example, the words “bobo,” “tanga,” “putang ina,” were censored by the use of asterisk. However, players still find creative ways to release their aggression by manipulating the spelling of these profane words such as, “bubu,” and “vovo.”

It would somehow be understandable if trash talking happens when a low-skill player ruins high-level player’s game. The outrage would be much more reasonable. However, upon my observation as player, trash talking even starts upon picking heroes. A team were supposed to have at least a tank, a marksman, a mage, an assassin, and a fighter But some players with low knowledge on the gameplay insists on the hero that they are comfortable playing without thinking the team’s fate. But that is not the catch. The main point is even if you comply with other player’s suggestions, you might still be branded as “vovo.” These trash talkers would even mention you. In which very distracting and discouraging on the part of the victim. This might also have a huge effect on the victim’s gameplay that would result on receiving more trash talks.

So why does this happen?

Williams and Guerra (2007) state on their study that young people are more likely to engage in cyber bullying if they believe that adults and bystanders are unlikely to intervene. During the game, not only the trash talker was ignored by other player, but he might also receive some support from it. Making it an unhealthy environment for the victims.

We can apply here the Deindividuation Theory. It has been posited as one of the explanation for antinormative behavior online and in computer-mediated communications (Kiesler & Sproull, 1992). The lead researcher of the Stanford Prison Experiment, Zimbardo (1969) proposed that the deindividuated state is caused by the following conditions: anonymity, arousal, sensory overload, novel or unstructured situations and more.

This means that one of the catalyst for this behavior is the anonymity. For the past month, I have been attacked on a social media app, CuriousCat receiving endless libelous comments against me. They are very comfortable on the assault because the perpetrators hide behind anonymity. Through constant attacks, I was able to identify these culprits then suddenly, the number of attacks diminished exponentially until it was completely done. As a professional in the field of psychology, I turned myself into a wiser person that understands the root of their aggression. As Krahé (2013) says, “Aggressive behavior is generally more prevalent under conditions of anonymity. Thus these cyberbullies only take courage behind the concealment of their identity.

What are your thoughts?


Juvonen, J., & Graham, S. (2014). Bullying in Schools: The Power of Bullies and the Plight of Victims. Annual Review of Psychology, 65(1), 159-185. doi: 10.1146/annurev-psych-010213-115030

Kiesler, S., & Sproull, L. (1992). Group decision making and communication technology. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 52(1), 96-123. doi: 10.1016/0749-5978(92)90047-B

Krahé, B. (2013). The Social Psychology of Aggression: 2nd Edition: Taylor & Francis.

Mirriam-Webster. (Ed.) Merriam Webster Dictionary.

Williams, K. R., & Guerra, N. G. (2007). Prevalence and Predictors of Internet Bullying. Journal of Adolescent Health, 41 (6), S14-S21. doi: doi:10.1016/j.jadohealth.2007.08.018

Zimbardo, P. G. (1969). The human choice: Individuation, reason, and order versus deindividuation, impulse, and chaos. Nebraska Symposium on Motivation, 17, 237-307.

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