A flame war is an online argument that rapidly degenerates into personal attacks, accusations of pedophilia, and racial slurs. Flame wars can be found on most internet forums and are the primary means by which social shut-ins vent their frustration.
The above Penny Arcade image really says it all: anonymity is a powerful force for stupidity. Where most people in real-life are desperate to avoid confrontation, the protective bubble of the internet seems to encourage even the most mild-mannered wiener into acts of textual abuse that will make your eyes bleed.
This effect has actually been documented in the way that people drive. Drivers in a vehicle with tinted windows are prone to far more aggression than those driving in open-top convertibles, where they can be easily identified. It would seem that if there is a chance that someone can find you to kick your head in, your balls shrink proportionally.
So sitting at alone at home in front of their computer screen and collectible figurines, it is easy for many ordinary (read stupid) people to get drawn into escalating wars of verbal attrition, tossing out violent threats and racial slurs as if their opponent had pissed into the open mouth of their recently dead grandmother.
It is no secret that the average attention span of a person sitting at their computer varies between five seconds and a measure of time too small for scientists to accurately identify, so it is also no surprise that most flame wars start when someone reads the first three words of an article, blog post, or forum comment, and leaps to either defend or refute the offending claim. This is especially true of "knee-jerk" topics, topics about which people have incredibly irrational strong feelings. Most of these will have common associated knee-jerk responses.
Public Healthcare (US only, since the rest of the developed world actually believes in the value of a healthy population): "Socialized medicine is the first step to becoming communists and living on collective farms!"
Tabletop Gaming: "Every D+D player I know is a super-hot girl and I have lots of hot sex with all of them."
Fox News: "Anyone who doesn't watch Fox News eats babies and wants death panels for the elderly!"
Professional Wrestling: "It's the greatest sport in the world and Triple H is a god."
Any Religion in the Entire World, including Jedi: "Burn in hell, unbeliever!"
While the initial response in a flame war generally attacks the credibility of an opponent's logic, facts, or opinions, it is important to note that these tangible points quickly get thrown out the window like a soapy baby in too much bathwater. Emotions take control, and what had started as a rational argument about the validity of a physics equation soon collapses into a game of who can come up with the most childish name for the other.
Example: "u seem to be confusing education and intelligence. you cant even hold to an argment with out going off track and your basic ten year old math is still fucking stupid to apply too this situation you fat headed little clown. btw your name is clown from now on ok clown?"
This also illustrates the next point: complete abandonment of basic spelling and grammar conventions.
Slef explantorny: beotchh..
It is very strange that, in an era where virtually every web browser now supports automatic spell-check and grammar-check, people still can't seem to formulate basic sentences with actual words in them. It almost appears to be a point of pride to be able to rant the most inarticulately.
Example: "i would beleeve you just as much as you would tell me that u wer one of the special kids that got to go to Michael Jacksons Nerverland Ranch & slept at his house( his bedrooom)..."
In a proper flame war, being able to write a compound-complex sentence bears little (if any) weight, since the average literacy of an online flamer is comparable to that of a reasonably bright cat.
Do you remember when you tried to play Rock-Paper-Scissors (or Scissors-Paper-Stone if you're British), and some wanker would try to throw in "dynamite" (or Semtex) because it beats everything? Well, the flame war equivalent is the Hitler comparison. The most knee-jerky, inarticulate, uneducated flamers will often resort to this tactic because they consider it an unstoppable one-hit kill. This is generally known as "Godwin's Law."
Example: "presiddent obama wants deth panels for old people!!!! He wants to kil old people hes like Hitler!!!!"
This person appears to be using the logic that if you disagree, you are a supporter of Hitler, or possibly of the Nazi movement in general. In his or her mind the argument has been won handily, in spite of the obvious fact that there really haven't been too many people that could rightfully be compared to Hitler, and certainly none of them have occupied the Oval Office.
An associated (but far more offensive) technique is the Holocaust comparison. This has recently been used on national television by the intellectual luminaries of the Fox News Network as they rant against the possibility of public healthcare. Normally you have to dig pretty deeply into obscure YouTube video comments to find anyone brash enough to compare anything to the systematic genocide of 6 million people, but now you know that it's probably Glenn Beck that's flaming you because you wrote your support for free hospitals.
It seems that many people are under the impression that if they are wading into a flame war, and their caps lock isn't down, that they are stepping into battle with the safety on. And really, nothing says intelligence like writing in all capital letters like the block printing of a 6-year-old child.
Likewise, if one exclamation mark means that you are yelling, ten exclamation marks apparently means that you are yelling ten times louder, and are therefore ten times more right. The really obnoxious flamers always make sure that their rhetorical questions end in the "Quexclamation Mark" (!?), preferably repeated ad nauseum and erratically (??!?!?!?!!?!!?!!?!?!?!?!?!?).
A good and proper flame war always degenerates into personal attacks, the more outlandish and baseless the better. If you took the unfortunate route of actually trying to make valid points and intelligent arguments, you will generally be swamped by a seemingly endless run of abuse.
Use the following chart for ammunition in the ensuing firefight:
Mix and match your insulting names. Pick one from the each column, from left to right:
Also, expect your flame war opponent to use the vilest racial and ethnic slurs known to mankind at every and all opportunities. It really doesn't matter that he or she likely doesn't know your ethnicity; anonymous lash-outs are not based on facts.
In the spirit of name-calling, you can be sure that everyone hiding behind an internet connection will be letting you know how badly they could "kick your pussy ass" and how lucky you are that you live far away from them. According to them, they are a ripped kickboxing champion with adamantium claws, instead of the far more likely overweight computer geek with one hand permanently down their pants.
Other options for threats include urgings toward suicide, self-mutilation, or impossible acts of sex with oneself.
If all of this has scared you away from the thought of weighing in on any online forums, fear not! You can simply use the following fill-in-the-blank form to make your own flame war comments. Of course, you should probably take out all of the capitalization and most of punctuation, and you should change all of the polysyllabic words to the non-standard "douchebag" spellings ("respected" becomes "repeccturd" and "interdisciplinary" becomes "STFU GAYBEE"), but the format should be applicable to most discussions.
Hey (insulting term for homosexual)! Why don't you get your (body part) out of your (orifice) and go (action) your (other body part) off. You suck (someone else's body part) and eat (bodily fluid or excretion). Not only are you too stupid to (action), but I bet that you like (sexual act) from (some form of same-sex working professional). I hope you get (violent action) until you die, you (euphemistic term for a body part, prostitute, or animal).