Broken Hearts and Examples of Hope in “Azeroth” and Beyond

sitOne of the many aspects of gaming is community- and with that comes social despair and also social redemption. I pretty much always hold to a principle of “good-karma gaming”, or “enlightened gaming” whereby players recognize their roles as not only competitors, but as human beings who intentionally play among other human beings as opposed to on a console with no connection. Enlightened gaming, from the way my compatriots and I have always understood it, has been exemplified through an openness to fairness, kindness, and helpfulness. This means that competition isn’t rooted in making someone feel bad, but rather in skill and chance. Do I enjoy “pwning”? Yeah. That is skill and competition.

posIt doesn’t mean someone has to feel bad, get called names, get ostracized.

I’ve been part of communities in counter-strike (1.5 and on), Diablo II and III, and World of Warcraft, which held such a principle in common. In some of these games, it took a while for me to find like-minded people. I feel there are a number of continuums through which we can understand gamers’ levels of positive and negative regard.

Reasons to like you

I am cognizant, appreciative, and in awe of the work of Nick Yee with regard to gamer behavior and motivations, which I don’t want to reproduce here, nor conceptually replace. He is ridiculously thorough, an absolute genius, and a mentoring presence as I grow into the researcher I want to be. Rather, I am reflecting on my experience of a selected social order within massively multiplayer online gaming and how it relates to player-to-player relations, positive and negative.

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The first is how players relate to one another in relation to competition. The simplest way to look at this is through the lens of “newb vs. pro” and to see those two extremes as treated synonymous with “dis likable vs. likable”. Quite simply,

if you suck, we hate… but we’ll love, if you dominate.

I’ve experienced a number of guilds, clans, groups, communities, and anecdotal situations in which this simple formula dictated players’ regards for one another. A friend of mine pointed out a fascinating and all-too-common story of a misfit gamer whose ostracism seems to have resulted only from a lack of skill and diminished capacity to take minimal helpful cues. In this case, his entire realm (one of hundreds of servers each of which house thousands of players) has blackballed him from raiding and guild membership. That takes place on a South Korean server, where apparently the spirit of hardcore play appears significantly more rigorous than the spread of hardcore through casual through “just for laughs” guilds that cover the landscape of western servers in Europe and North America. But I’ve seen similar dispositions toward players on a guild and community level, who simply weren’t so skilled. It’s easy to feel empathy here, isn’t it? Not necessarily- it depends on who you’re talking to in these games. My World of Warcraft Guild has a policy- we won’t kick anyone from a raid (not guildie, not pug) unless their conduct is rude. We’ll wipe all night while we teach and learn with one another. So we don’t like to measure a person as far as his or her skill. … but what about trolls?

Troll me once, shame on you. Troll me twice, shame on you also?

A few years ago, I encountered my first friendship with a repentant “trade chat troll”. For non-WOW players, trade chat is a chat channel with perhaps the most access to communicate across an entire realm (server)- accessible to the gamers in major cities in-game. The latest game expansion has, to be sure, dispersed the player population into the new world a bit, but trade chat still has its role as a main drag for communication. A troll is best understood as someone who draws negative emotion and reactions from the masses through what he or she says in chat. This isn’t simply someone getting a laugh- rather the goal is a negative attention goal. I like to make this distinction because there are many positive forces in gaming who rally the troops, cheer people up, or counter the trolls’ negativity with positivity. Those aren’t trolls- they’re anti-trolls! Anyway, I met a troll who wanted to change his ways, one day. This was a super-troll, someone who could simply say “hello” in trade chat and his preceding reputation would extract negative reactions based on past history.dead

This guy could not get into a raid, and only the loosest (and, unfortunately, disorganized, unfriendly, boring, dead) guilds would accept him. The guild of which I was (and still am) a member, decided to take a chance on him, as a few of us had interacted in player-vs-environment and player-vs-player content with him before, and found him to be skilled and friendly. We offered to help him reform. It was difficult, but he reformed. He also grew annoyed with having to reign himself in, and eventually found our guild to be a bad match and moved on. What he didn’t do was wreck us, or bring drama. We don’t do drama. Since that time, we’ve taken in at least one other troll who wanted to reform, with positive results. It feels good to be a community for people who want to participate in community. We had expectations, however- that he not misrepresent us by going back to his old habits while wearing our tag. We’ve asked people to leave our guild if they were abusive to others, communicated in homophobic or racist ways, or if they felt like their competitive edge required them to be rude or condescending to others- either inside or outside the guild. We enjoy being a community whose purpose is not only in-game friendship and gaming content, but also in helping to form the greater gaming community by example. We’re a casual guild, but we’re hardcore about community.

What’s it all mean?

I’m one of those people who believes that gaming has a great deal to teach us. My most high profile research thus far has been to collect what is apparently the largest sample thus far, of MMORPG gamers (players of WOW) for the purpose of addiction screening; but it’s far from my quest to add more hasty presumptive science to the literature against technology, internet and gaming… far from it. I can’t really go into it right now, but the thing we need to do is to harness the power that people, addicted or not, experience from gaming. Here are the assumptions and

  • There’s a soul behind every monitor. MMOs are a training ground for empathy. (among other things)
  • Mistakes are par for the course. MMOs are an opportunity to learn how to learn.
  • Organizations are everywhere. MMOs are a place where community experiences can inform organizational behavior.

With this blog post, I’ve been purposefully vague with regard to some of my favorite (and more defined) areas for gaming discourse, like gamification, addiction (I think it exists, but it’s with the person, not the game), and public policy. It’s my intention to explore experiences and not to write journal articles here, because I’m writing journal articles to hopefully submit elsewhere, as part of my career. However, I’d appreciate getting to know folks with similar scholarly interests, as I try to take part in conversations on a more academic level as well. Thank you so much for reading, and please share with others. If you don’t like what I have to say, well- that’s ok too. GG!

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