Bullying and World of Warcraft

And online, and in life in general.

A call for introspection and civility.

Bullying is currently a big topic in the news.  I think it’s a bigger topic than it’s ever been in the modern era here in the U.S.  It certainly seems to be reported, written about, and discussed much more now than it was when I was growing up, or even more than it was ten years ago.

Parallel to that, we live in an age of technology, where the ability of the average person to communicate – and obtain – information electronically is at unprecedented levels.  It is difficult to wrap our heads around how many trillions of emails, tweets and text messages have been sent and received; billions of comments left on blogs, news sites, Youtube, Facebook, and other various forums; and untold amounts of various types of chats that have happened through electronic means.

Bringing it closer to “home,” most WoW players participate in, at minimum, the latter type of communication, in the form of the chats available in game: Trade Chat, General, Party, Raid, BG, whispers, Real ID, various guild channels, etc.

One of the concepts that has grown in conjunction with the explosion of interactive electronic media is the idea of online anonymity.  Anonymity allows a person to hide behind a fabricated handle and/or avatar (or both), by choice* or by necessity**.  It has many merits; for instance, I might not have ever started my first blog if I had been forced to use my real name, but the ability to create a handle for myself allowed me the comfort of posting my thoughts and getting my feet wet, blog-wise.  As I became more comfortable with the idea of blogging and began sharing my posts with friends and family (and making friends with some of my readers), I changed my handle to my first name, and have been comfortable writing that way on on-WoW blogs ever since.

*By choice, i.e. I refer to myself as Mushan on my blog, rather than using my given name.

**By necessity, i.e. my hunter is named Mushan in WoW, my druid Anacrusa, etc., because the game prevents me from simply naming each of my characters the same thing – my given name – for hopefully obvious reasons.

Unfortunately, it has also provided the means for anyone to potentially use an anonymous handle as a wall or mask to hide behind and use to the detriment of others.  Detriment is probably not the absolutely correct word; nevertheless, every day one can find countless examples of this in almost every medium.

– – –

This was brought home to me (again, for about the ten thousandth time) one day back in January, when I was in Warsong Gulch on my druid.  Both flags were being held in the enemy bases, the clock was ticking down, the debuff was stacking higher and higher, and the first to drop was going to lose the game for his/her team.  The Horde had their flag carrier well protected, and so did we, and each team was sending out sorties to try to kill the EFC in order to get the win.

During the last of these sorties on this particular possession, the Horde succeeded in stripping our FC, and their FC managed to slog his way to the capture point despite our best efforts to slow / stun / knock him back (while we were slowed / stunned along with him – the fighting was fierce!).  There were less than two minutes to go, and we were down one.  The game was basically over.  They protected their flag, the effort was intense on both sides, and they won.

It was a great game, and in spite of the loss I felt exhilarated.  Experiences like that can be epic, even for the losing team, if the players have the right perspective.

However, the exhilaration was grossly tempered in the final seconds by the following exchange in chat:

Holy Paladin loudmouth: “Blah blah blah [FC’s Name], you fucking suck”

FC who had just been killed: “I’m sorry. . .” (etc.)

Holy Paladin loudmouth: “You should just log off and go kill yourself bro, because you’re obviously awful at this game” (actual quote).

Anacrusa: “Hey, not cool at all, [Pally’s name].”

After that, the paladin got an earful from several of our teammates, which I was glad to see.

I wish I could find the screenshots that I took of the conversation, but I can’t.  Such is the price of taking so many screenshots and then occasionally purging them.  However, I did report the paladin for abuse, and I’m referring to the emails I got referencing the ticket and its resolution as I write this.

In my report, I said: “Filthy language and insults are rampant in BGs – I accept that, however grudgingly. However, [Paladin] crossed the line in my book, considering the seriousness of suicide.”

I got an answer quickly, and the GM explained that he took the matter seriously, and obviously couldn’t communicate with me as to what sort of punishment or reprimand, if any, was carried out, but thanked me for bringing it to his attention, and told me that I was right to do so.  I was fine with that; I know how it works.  I was very pleased with the response.  So I don’t know if the jerk was temp-banned or not; ultimately, I was powerless either way, other than to voice my concerns.

However, the fact remained that it happened.  This person told another person to go kill himself as a result of his performance in a video game.

I don’t know how old the FC was; I hope that he was mature and stable enough, whatever his age, to let it roll off his back.  He was still playing in May, according to the armory, so I’m thankful for that.

I don’t even know how old the paladin was, for that matter.  However, my gut feeling at the time was that it might have been a minor – likely a college or high school kid – telling another minor to kill himself, however flippantly it may have been, and it made me feel awful.

– – –

I’m in my thirties now.  Not that that’s a definitive gauge of one’s maturity, but whatever.  That may have nothing to do with my perception of this; it may be just a result of the trends I talked about at the beginning of the post.  However, whatever the cause, I seem to see this type of hateful behavior all the time: in game, on music/movie/game sites, news sites, blog comments, Twitter, etc.  To clarify, I see it more and more as I get older.

The mask of anonymity makes a person feel safe.  Safe enough to say things that one might never say to another person’s face, although I understand that mean-spirited conversation probably comes from people of many stripes.

Anonymity allows for a myriad of possible consequences both positive and negative.  On one hand, we can develop friendships with total strangers, and even make a positive impact on their lives.  On the other hand, flippantly abusive comments can lead to dire results, although I hope and pray that the number of those results that are most dire is minimal.  Unfortunately, anyone who reads the news knows that that number is not zero.

– – –

And so I have two things to say.  I say one of them to one group of people – the abusers – of whom I realize that almost none will read this post.  And I say the other to those who are sensitive to abusive language, or who have very low self-esteem, or are going through a difficult time personally, and have something negative like this directed at them.

First, to anyone who loves to swear at, call vile names, and otherwise maliciously ridicule others: I ask you to take a look at yourself and your actions.  We may live in an age of anonymity, but your words and actions with regard to others – both online and in real life – have the potential to either uplift or destroy.  While nobody knows you, you likewise probably don’t know to whom you are “speaking,” what his or her life circumstances are, and just what effect your words will have.  Look in the mirror, and understand that, like you, that other person’s life is his or her most valuable possession, regardless of race, sex, sexual orientation, size, religion, economic status, or skills and abilities.  Feel free to disagree with another person’s views or actions, by all means, but put yourself in the other person’s shoes, and treat that person with respect.  Because that’s how you would like to be treated, whether or not you know it / believe it.

P.S. “Rape” is never, ever funny.  Ever.

Secondly, to anyone who is the recipient of such abuse, and for whom it is particularly hurtful in one way or another: please, please don’t ever take it to heart when anyone tells you, in some way or another, that you are without value.  If you’re playing a game or commenting on a post somewhere out there or just living your life, and someone directs homophobic, violent, misogynistic, or otherwise misanthropic or abusive language toward you, they are in the wrong.  If it’s in WoW or any other forum that allows you to report abusive behavior, do so.  And always remember that there are good people out there who are exactly the opposite of the assholes you run into, so find them and take comfort in them.  Finally, while nobody is perfect, every life is valuable.  Never forget that.

– – –

Unfortunately, there are far too many negative examples of people who are public figures, from TV personalities to political and corporate leaders, who engage in this sort of middle school playground bullying behavior without even hiding behind a mask.  It’s loud, and it’s flagrant, and it’s without regard for others – to say nothing of its lack of regard for Logic in the process.  These people may deny it, but their public behavior has the potential to influence the behavior of those who grow up in this, the information age.  I continue to hope that there will be a gradual “regression” to the mean – the mean being a more civilized society, from our leaders down to our children, who are the future of this society – but at this point I am not particularly confident that this will happen anytime soon.

But as I said, I still hope.

– – –

Thanks for reading this post by Mushan at Mushan, Etc.  Comments are welcome!


5 Comments on “Bullying and World of Warcraft”

  1. Aralosseien says:

    This was a really good, well thought out post. Subscriber gained! :)

  2. Erinys says:

    Excellent post.

    The cynic in me though would put money on the loud mouthed paladin being more like late 20s/30s than a minor. It’s been my experience that both with raiding and pvping, that the more obnoxious someone is, the older they are (usually between 20 and 40).

    Which naturally makes it far worse. Teenagers I can semi understand but adults possibly with children of their own…

    I have a fairly thick skin but I must admit sometimes I pvp on my combat log, there is only some much swearing, capsing and general rudeness I can take on a day to day basis.

    • Mushan says:

      Thanks Erinys!

      Part of my thinking on the teenager thing came from the fact that I see, upon referring to my ticket emails, that this took place in early January, when some schools are still out for the holidays. However, you may very well be correct.

      I almost never run with my combat log showing. I’m always hoping for a group that communicates at least moderately well, so I’m constantly glancing down at the chat log. There have been times, though, when things seemed to be abundantly worse than others, and where I’ve actually taken a break from PvP. The abusive conversation, while it’s almost never directed at me, begins to tear at my soul after a while, which can ruin my enjoyment of that aspect of the game. It’s a shame, really, but if I’m not having fun, I tend to do something else. But I’ve definitely been tempted to block it out at times!

      • Erinys says:

        I find if I don’t block it, I tend towards yelling at the bully rather than killing Horde. Typing long sentences isn’t the best for defending flags.

        I hate those who start out with stuff before the gates even open the most. Whatever happened to at least giving them a shot before starting to call them fifteen names.

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