Signal to Noise and the MMO Chatter

Posted by | May 18, 2007

greenboard.jpgColleen Hannon at GamersWithJobs has posted a rambling article, Cleaning up Thunder Bluff, about the state of game socialization today—mainly that there’s a lot of people out there with a lot of very nasty things to say and a great deal of bad behavior to boot. I think that the boys over at PennyArcade summed this particular one up better than anyone else.

Unlike Colleen’s comparison to the freeway system, the Internet’s trolls are not driving dangerous vehicles, they’re keyboard jockeying. Unlike someone in an SUV behind you, a troll can be put on ignore. The likelihood that a troll/greifer ends up doing something is predicated entirely on their ability to affect an audience.

The best example I have of this is I know how loud and crazy World of Warcraft gets, especially Barrens Chat. A lot of people end up simply turning off global chat and totally ignoring the world at large because of other people who just wait to stir up trouble. We tend to spend a lot of time with our Guild, just bantering and having fun. People want to believe—for one reason or another—that MMOs and the Internet are going to bring people together, and they get shocked when cliques form out of these large communities of people. Well, welcome to human social nature.

If an otherwise mild mannered individual goes into the wild places and they meet Wild Things and they freak out at them, nothing will go well for anyone. The sense of anonymity behind a screen, keyboard, or the mic does ratchet things up a few notches, but it isn’t adding much essential danger or risk to the whole experience. In highly competitive situations trash talk will happen—for the most part this type of gamer bonding (and yes it afflicts the younger gamers more than old) is a stand-in for actual familiarity. Children have been doing this to each other on playgrounds since time immemorial, and, for the most part, it isn’t even trolling or griefing because almost everyone there is into this social meta game.

Certain extremes of this behavior people do not tolerate. In fact, there is a famous example from World of Warcraft where a particular guild leader lead a large raid against one of the major bosses in the game, Onyxia the dragon. When things started going sour he began with a fusillade of swearing, personal attacks, and abuse. The story goes that later on the guild decided to jump ship from their overpopulated server. Upset by his continually bad behavior they got rid of him by telling him the wrong server. Since Blizzard only allows server switches every three months, he was pretty much taken out of their game in a very pointed sort of way.

I myself have run into highfalutin, fowl-mouthed individuals in any number of online games, but the actual reality isn’t as horrific as people might want to paint it. In the heat of battle people do tend to get overzealous, with their friends and semi-familiars they descend into less-than-mannered conduct, but overall a large portion of the people I’ve met have been worth my time.

There was a day, I recall, when I was asked into an arena battle on City of Heroes. Lynx.sys, my Robotics/Traps Mastermind had been challenged by a three slightly lower leveled Masterminds. With a great deal of trepidation and the expectation that my doom waited somewhere between those boxes of unidentified contents I accepted. The ensuing battle raged on for ten minutes, I only got myself killed once. Essentially: I mopped the floor, the walls, and the ceiling with the opposing teams.

I didn’t say much a word that wasn’t a command through the entire fight, the whole of my being had been stacked against three opponents (and hordes of minions crawling out of nook and cranny) I didn’t have enough time to think of anything except “Incoming!” On their side, however, the invective was flying as frustration and fear rose. At least twice I found myself cackling when, at a pointed finger and my command of “Focus firepower!” an equally emphatic noise came from the opposition, “Oh shit!

When the dust settled—with a score of 17 to 1—everyone on the opposing team spent a moment to thank me. One of them even private messaged me apologetically to say he was sorry for calling be a “bitch.” Although, I have to admit, I didn’t even hear someone say that. I told him he was forgiven—I couldn’t bring myself to tell him that I was too busy kicking his ass to listen to what he had to say about me.


1 Comment so far
  1. […] post, rather poeticly, comes right on the heels of commentary on the article about Cleaning up Thunder Bluff, but unlike game players who could simply turn off their computers, walk away, or ignore the […]

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