Almost twelve days ago a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri killed an unarmed black teenager named Michael Brown. The resulting protests by the local community against the police department went from tense to terrible after ever-escalating hostility of responses by the police and now is a leading national story of race politics and the mishandling of community-level first amendment rights.
It may have taken a while, but the story is finally getting into the media.
This means that the MMO community by now may have been impacted by the news. So how have video game players and MMO gamers been affected and what sort of opinion is forming? The answer is hard to frame because the MMO gaming community itself doesn’t do politics and extends way beyond the borders of the United States.
There is no singular “MMO community” it is a global phenomenon of players who tend to gather to play multiplayer games and join in conversations in ephemeral virtual worlds, as part of guilds, or even in the official (and unofficial forums) of specific MMOs. There’s also a number of news sites dedicated specifically to MMO players and the games that they play. Needless to say, the greater MMO community stretches globally and is born digital, persisting primarily through the Internet.
Divergent demographics may be a factor
The events in Ferguson present a lot of meaning to the United States and in particular problems of racial political history (hint: it’s bad) and raise the specter of police militarization. The impact of racial issues does in fact follow people from the streets into virtual worlds (and forums) so it seems that at least some sub-segment of MMO players might have opinions on this subject. Especially those from the US—where Ferguson is, after all.
The people of Ferguson most injured by the resulting police actions and unrest happen to be from economically poorer regions, they themselves most likely also have low household incomes and they’re majority black. From a survey of EQ2 players run by Nick Yee in 2006 (“Who plays, how much, and why? Debunking the stereotypical gamer profile”, Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, Sep 2008) showed that players tended to come from households with higher-than-average incomes. And, EQ2 players in general also tended to be more white than the national average and blacks tended to play far less (12.31% national average vs. 1.55%.) If these numbers persist across most popular US-played games, even today, there’s a good chance most MMO community demographics diverge somewhat from the population of Ferguson.
However, as Ferguson is coming to international attention—especially due to the power of Twitter to convey and spotlight local events–MMO gamers no doubt are beginning to notice.
If any attention comes, forums may see first light
At least one MMO community, visible to the Internet, on MMO Champion—a website dedicated to MMO gaming—noticed and a thread about the events, started August 11th, has almost reached 300 pages.
The beginning of the commentary, posted after the initial protests turned violent, reads much like most distant understanding of protests and race politics in general. It captures a certain amount of ignorance about the situation with a number of inflammatory opinions—not the best caricature of any MMO community. However, quickly opinions become further divided and distracted by media stories about looting and rioting—but this is only the beginning of the news cycle of Ferguson which has now been developing for twelve days.
One interesting thing to note is the reaction of the MMO Champion forum moderators who appear to be banning commenters here and there. A quick look at the infracted posts (which likely led to the bans) most of them came from outright racist stereotypes of Ferguson protestors or blatant trolling. While the rabble may be carousing and divided, the moderators do seem to have a stern eye toward what does look like provocateurs.
For most of the MMO community, Ferguson will not “hit home,” but it would be curious to see how many residents of Ferguson (and surrounds) are MMO gamers. So far there’s little intersection as gaming is entertainment and protests are boots-on-the-street politics, not to mention that for many of the protesters Ferguson is their home.
With the social media appetite of the born digital effect within MMO communities, no doubt most MMO players are very aware of Ferguson (after all the news spreads rapidly on Twitter and Facebook) even if the MMO Champion forum thread is the only one visible to Google right now.