If You Don't Have Something Nice to Play…

Virtual Memories, Part II

By Merriandra Eldaronde

Once upon a time, neither so long ago, nor very far away, there lived
a young ranger and her group of companions. This young ranger was both
generous of spirit and compassionate of heart. She was loyal, and talented,
and her skill caught the eye of a paladin. Soon, the young ranger had
invited the paladin to join her nightly hunt, and a friendship bloomed.

It wasn't long before
the paladin and the ranger were deep in conversation, both while walking
through the land of Norrath, and in the real world, on the telephone.
Nor was it long before the paladin's armor began to lose its sheen, particularly
in the eyes the ranger's companions. He would be rude and abrupt until
the young ranger arrived, and then his demeanor would change. If she wasn't
on time, he displayed quite a temper. The young ranger never saw the dark
moods of her knight-in-shining-armor, and so, for a brief time, she enjoyed
his company.

Within two weeks,
the young ranger began to stay away from Norrath, and when she did appear,
she would be shivering in fear. The paladin had pledged his undying devotion
to the ranger, but in ways that chilled her very soul. His words became
crude, he accused her of leading him on, he promised, then threatened
to find out where she lived.

She changed her name,
and the companions moved on to new hunting grounds, staying well away
from the castle walls that hid the regular haunts of that paladin. Still,
the game was never quite the same for the young ranger, and even in her
life away from the game, she didn't feel completely safe. The virtual
world had become as tarnished as the paladin's armor. Sometimes, online
relationships are no fairy tale.

Yesterday, Tuesday's
Takes focused on the warmth, the laughter, and the honest, caring emotions
born from the friendships and relationships established in MMOs. However,
just as people relate to each other in different ways in social and professional
settings, or perhaps are more comfortable saying something directly to
a family member than an acquaintance, people express themselves differently
through tells and emotes when hidden behind an avatar. What happens when
an in-game relationship goes a step too far? How is it possible that the
words we see in our chat windows can be as hurtful as something said on
the phone or across the room?

Every day, if not
every hour, somewhere, on a message board, one player complains about
the way that another player has treated them in-game. It's no secret that
people, in general, seem to feel freer with harsh words when they don't
have to look someone in the face on a daily basis. It's easier to be abrupt
with a clerk at the grocery store than the colleagues who share office
space with you.

Maybe the fact that
our avatars look so much like the NPCs helps to blur the line between
fiction and reality. At least, I think that's the intent. It's an excellent
goal if you are trying to create an immersive online experience, and a
difficult obstacle to counter when trying to instill courtesy in a world
that's not "real". Then again, maybe a bigger part of the problem
is that we're bringing together a huge group of people from an amazing
range of cultures, ages, and backgrounds. In our daily lives, these are
individuals whom we might never speak with, never mind spend time with,
and yet online Joe Schmo, a grandfather from Peoria, might be grouped
with John Doe, a high school student from Los Angeles. I guess I'm only
surprised that we don't have more conflict and misunderstanding.

The community that
develops in most online games helps to police players who seem intent
on causing trouble, while forgiving the occasional bad day. After more
than a decade in and out of online worlds, ranging from the text-based
to our current generation of MMOs, I've come to the conclusion that there
are three different categories of people who cause uncomfortable situations
for others online.

Sometimes it's the
person you'd least suspect, and it never happens again: these are the
people I call Accidental Boors. Maybe they had a little too much alcohol
and decided to log in. Maybe the stress of a real life situation became
too much, and a mistake or a failure in game sent them over the proverbial
edge. Maybe they don't understand that their character seems rude and
obnoxious. When I was a very young bard, my party and I ventured into
Befallen, where we encountered a dwarven warrior who was running around
at the zone, bringing small trains of undead creatures every few minutes.
He would punctuate the trains with shouted obscenities and yells for help.
I asked him to please be considerate of the others in the zone, and he
sent me a rude /tell, then brought a massive train just as my small party
had started fighting. As my party struggled back for corpse recovery,
I thought about reporting him, but I received another /tell from the dwarf,
this time an apology. It seems that his brother had been seriously injured
in a car accident two days earlier, and when the phone call came from
his parents, he had left the keyboard abruptly and had subsequently fallen
deep into Befallen, and had expired. For hours, after returning from an
all-night hospital vigil, he had tried to retrieve his corpse and had
died no less than seven times. Needless to say, he joined our party, we
all recovered our corpses, and he became our friend. We forgave and forgot.

In every game you're
also destined to find the antisocial Habitual Offender. Maybe he or she
thinks it's amusing to steal multiple kills, emote obscene gestures, or
train the zone for fun. Maybe the player is a loud mouth who doesn't know
when to shut up and who offends not only individuals, but entire guilds.
When I was a guide, there was a player who liked tell other players they
weren't right. No, more than that, he would pick a random player who had
posted to a message board, and then wait for them to log on and send obnoxious
/tells explaining why they were wrong and challenging them to duels. Frankly,
I saw his behavior as a form of harassment, no matter how innocuous it

Last, but certainly
not least, there are the Virtual Stalkers. Perhaps the individuals behind
these characters are disturbed; perhaps it's all an act. Maybe they threaten
to follow you and train you. Maybe they become your friend and then want
to become more, or won't leave you alone. In comparison to the experience
of the young ranger, there are other, more frightening stories of the
lines that have been crossed. On the Official Vanguard Forums, StraboV2
writes about an encounter with another player that resulted in an unwanted
personal visit. Similarly, when I was a Senior Guide I encountered a player
who was terrified and begged me for a name change, since her online friendship
had become an online nightmare and her "friend" had been seen
sitting in a car, watching her apartment building. She didn't want to
give up her sanctuary in the virtual world, because she had worked so
hard to gain her levels and equipment without help. Another woman pleaded
for a name change after her real life ex-boyfriend tracked her down online
and sent her harassing, obscene tells, making new characters all the time
to get past /ignore.

The fortunate element
of being a part of a virtual community is that Virtual Stalkers are rare,
and Habitual Offenders are largely ostracized. Accidental Boors are, for
the most part, forgiven. Still, the topic of harassment in virtual relationships
has been largely ignored. I hope that the developers and producers of
the next generation of MMOs can take a look at policies to protect and
preserve the positive relationships that can be formed in an online community.

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Last Updated: Mar 29, 2016

About The Author

Karen 1
Karen is H.D.i.C. (Head Druid in Charge) at EQHammer. She likes chocolate chip pancakes, warm hugs, gaming so late that it's early, and rooting things and covering them with bees. Don't read her Ten Ton Hammer column every Tuesday. Or the EQHammer one every Thursday, either.