Anonymity, Acceptability and the Internet


Truth is, I haven’t been able to log onto WoW for the last week or so. Perhaps even a little more than that. I’d like to say that its something like the expansion blues – something nice and convenient like that. But it’s not. I’d like to say I’m ok, but I’m not.

I can’t exactly remember how long ago this happened…it’s all sort of blurry in my mind. To try and mix things up with my alt-levelling, I decided to give PvP a whirl at low levels. I rolled a hunter, a class I’d never tried before and queued up.

For a while, things were great. I could kill all those classes that haunted me on my healers and in a strange way, it felt as though I was exacting a healer’s revenge. And then came the fateful battle at Warsong Gulch. I ended up with the flag after a couple others failed and the horde came down hard on us. While some of the team was off trying to kill their flag carrier,  couple horde descended on me while a bunch others stayed at our flag.

Somehow, I miraculously managed to stay alive and they killed the flag carrier. In the time it took me to try to jump down and cap the flag, one of the five horde camping the flag pick it up and ran off. Perhaps I wasn’t quick enough or perhaps I was just catching my breath at a bad time. But then the nightmare ensued.

Insults were flung and blame put squarely on me. I’ve learnt not to take a lot of these seriously, but something they said broke through. They said “die character-name, die”. And then they said it over and over and over again.

I didn’t care about the match or that the team saw it fit to squarely blame a single person for everything. But I could not come to terms with how people could so flippantly wish a person’s death. It is one of the most hurtful things that can be said to anyone and I would not wish it on anyone. The fact that more than one person said this was even more dismal and the entire experience just shook me to me my core.

I know that this is the internet.  But seriously, I have to ask, what kind of community do we play in that people think it is alright to go ahead and say they wish a person died a million times? 

I’m not sure what I’m supposed to feel at this point. It’s been a week atleast, and those words still haunt me. Am I really supposed to just be thick skinned and shrug it off, and hit the queue button for the next BG? And in all honesty, do I ever want to reach the point that I lose sensitivity to those kinds of things?

As with everything, my mind always struggles to reason things out. I know that my experience isn’t the only place this kind of abusive conduct and flippant use of insults happens. A lot of people in the game use the word “rape” without so much as a second thought or instantly add the f word to every adjective just to be cool and fit in. And so little thought goes into the actual meaning of what they’re saying.

I have to wonder, there is something I really don’t understand about the internet. Does anonymity really give people such a sense of freedom that they don’t feel accountable or responsible for what they say? Is that the new standard of what is acceptable?

I haven’t shared this with any of my guildmates – I simply don’t know them well enough yet to do so. And a part of me expects comments like “you shouldn’t let them get to you – grow a thicker skin”. But I don’t like to assume what people will say. I’ve seen my fair share of insults and nerdrage comments directed at me in my four years of playing but few of them have made it so I completely avoid the game. There’s a certain line and some things cannot be shrugged off. That line was crossed for me.

Perhaps I am naive about the internet, silly to expect a minimal standard from people and foolish to let this bother me. But I’m still upset by this, and I am who I am. I cannot see myself becoming a jaded cynic who expects the worst out of everyone.

My father always reminded me that “this too shall pass” whenever I was upset as a child, and I’m sure this time will be no different. I’m sure at some point, I’ll find I want to log on beyond my weekly raids and maybe slowly go back to exploring Azeroth. And when I do, I will be a little stronger.

15 thoughts on “Anonymity, Acceptability and the Internet

  1. /gently pats you on the back, sits you in the comfy spot on the couch and makes you a cup of hot tea.

    Mean people really suck; and imagine how horrible their lives must be that they have to take out their crap on anonymous people. There are many times I’ve wished that they made an MMORPG for only adult women…then I realized it would turn into a bad wine and yoga pants wearing party in no time. I honestly hate dealing with idiots and mean people; and as a GM I try to make sure I fill my guild with mature people who can have fun but treat each other with respect…I’m not always successful but I’ve gathered a pretty good group of people. That being said there is always that one jerk face who makes me want to reach through the screen and smack his face off and then perhaps call his mother and congratulate her for raising an ass and a bully all in one.

    I’m sorry that you ran into a pack of mean, idiots…take a break…have some tea and then come back to Azeroth and know that of the millions of people playing most of us are pretty kind. (Kaylais@Runetotem)

    This graphic pretty much sums up the internet bully to me:

    • /hug. Thank you so much Jennifer.

      Also,….”that one jerk face who makes me want to reach through the screen and smack his face off and then perhaps call his mother and congratulate her for raising an ass and a bully all in one.”….. summed up my feelings perfectly. You’re awesome. 🙂

  2. I’m so sorry this happened to you. I find it incredibly jarring sometimes to log into WoW and face the reality of how cruel players can be to one another after spending so much time in the (relatively) sheltered world of my guild and the blogging community. It’s a big part of why the idea of ever finding a new guild terrifies me – so much of the WoW “community” is just … well, it’s bad. It’s filled with people like the people you ran into in that battleground. And, no, to answer your question, it’s not acceptable. I hope you were able to report the players who were abusing you, because it is something Blizzard will take action against. It’ll probably be a slap on the wrist, but it’s still worth reporting.

    Again, I’m really sorry about this. I don’t know how we can make the community better, or if we can. At the end of the day, the internet is as scary of a place as it is awesome. 😦

    • You hit the nail on the head – a big part of this experience was the sad reality check I got with the “community”. I had to find a new guild this summer, and I ran into a couple of jerks during the process, so I echo your fears of having to ever do this again.

      I don’t know if or how we can make the community better either. Writing about things that shake you up isn’t easy but I’m glad I did – I think the first step is raising awareness about issues in the community at the very least. If someone read this and decided to stick up to jerks in the next BG, that’s a start. Beyond that, I’m not really sure – jerks will be jerks.

      Finally, thank you. I’m not sure when I’ll be ready to dive back into Azeroth but it’s the good people like you and many others who make it worth the return.

  3. First of all, sorry. I pvp a lot and unfortunately things like this happen far more often than they should. You should definitely report them, one of my old guildmates got a three hour ban for saying something fairly tame in comparison.

    I always tell people off when they resort to bullying but one or two voices against the tide does little to stem the abuse, not healing them tends to have a slightly bigger impact though. Even if it doesn’t stop them being jerks, it at least focuses them on me and in pvp at least, I can shrug it off.

    For every mean spirited, nasty person there is at least half an nice one! (I hope).

    • Thanks. I’ve heard that the PvP community is particularly abusive and it’s an issue that’s been around for the longest time. I think partly I’ve never been exposed to this kind of conduct before because I don’t really PvP on a regular basis.

      It’s definitely been one of those harsh learning experiences, and I’m not sure what can be done to make the issue any better – like you said, one or two voices against them can only do so much.

      Kudos for sticking up to them and telling them off. Hopefully, when I’m ready to get back into PvPing, I’ll be strong enough to shrug it off myself, and I’ll have twice as much reason to tell jerks off.

  4. Pingback: Random Battlegrounds: Blizzard’s own Stanford Experiment « Harpy’s Nest Blog

  5. The TL;DR is, “Don’t loose your heart, but learn to pick your battles.”

    The longer comment is this:

    We may not see ourselves becoming jaded, but it very well can happen. We have to take initiative so that it won’t happen. We have to set our boundaries, and decide now what we won’t put up with.

    Secondly, know your tools. The /ignore option is a god-send. Use it. Love it. Let it be your friend.

    Thirdly, know your battles. What I mean is; there are some times when saying something about the other persons bigotry, crassness, racism, masoginy, etc. just won’t do any good. In that case, make ample use of the /ignore. But, if you feel that it is a teachable moment, then speak up in a appropriate way.

    For instance. A couple of weeks ago, I was alting around on my MG horde toon. I’m in a guild, but I can’t say that I’ve earned any kind of respect on the part of the membership. It just so happens that the leaders appreciate some actions I’ve taken since joining the guild. Well, someone used the term “rape” non-chalantly. Knowing some rape victems, I’m particularly sensitive to this. So, I /w the co-guild leader and asked, “How might I communicate to that I’m utterly repulsed by the use of the word ‘rape’ in a respectful and effective manner?”

    Her response was, “It’s taken care of.”

    A few seconds later, the person made a public apology in /g for using the word.

    So, in essence; this is what I did. I communicated to someone with authority in the group, with the responsibility for setting guild culture, about my issue. Their response would then affect my own response. The co-leader understood the larger issues and acted upon it. If something like that was going to be tolerated; then I get to choose if I want to stay in that environment.

    Its sad to say, but I think BGs are more difficult to deal with…thus the use of /ignore. I’ve made a comment at times in /battleground when someone was really harassing someone, and they actually shut up. But, I feel those times are few and far between.

    While people may be free to say what they want (to a certain extent within our society), that doesn’t mean I (we) have to give tacit approval.

    Finally, we lead by our own behavior. We lead by communicating effectively. Often times, a kind word turns mitigates the wrath of the asshats. It probably won’t help when they turn their ire upon you personally. But, it can help when they are attacking someone else, and you begin to say encouraging things to the victem.

    Ok, I must be tired. /rantoff


    • Hi Zwingli,

      First off, thanks for your comment. I think you have a lot of good stuff in there. There’s a lot of truth to picking your battles for sure and I have to admit that I have encountered far less of this kind of behaviour in guild chat, raids or LFD than in the random battlegrounds. Partly, this might have to do with those tools you just mentioned. Unfortunately, we don’t always have the luxury of choosing our battles – they can descend upon at the most unexpected of times.

      Ignore in LFD is godsend and I’ve learnt to use it unhesitatingly when I encounter jerks in groups. Ignore in LFD ensures that you don’t hear anything from them and you are never grouped with them in the future – perfect. Ignore in battlegrounds only ensures you don’t hear from them. Nothing about this feature protects you from being grouped with them again. So yes, this tool could certainly use a little bit of work.

      The other tool we have at our disposal is the report tool that is seemingly ineffective in these situations – when I try to report I only have the option to directly report for names or cheating. There used to be one about harassment but I don’t see it anymore. The tools here do precious little to empower anyone who is subject to that kind of abuse.

      At the end of the day, the root of the problem is why people think it’s acceptable to even behave this way. As Erinys wrote in her recent post on battlegrounds, responsibility for why it happens rests with both Blizzard AND the community and it takes a good effort from both to curb incidents like the one I experienced.

  6. First off, I’m sorry you had to go through that. It happens and it is miserable when it does. That said, this is a great post and explores a lot of issues with community standards, anonymity, enforcement, and thank you for sharing so we may discuss this type of behavior in the blogging community. I think the posts and discussion have really done a great job of examining the issues around behavioral norms, so I’ll move on to the structural aspect of the match that is influencing the behavior. I’d like to share a bit about capture the flag style matches in MMORPG and FPS games.

    I find that of all the battlegrounds in WoW, Warsong Gulch is the worst because it centers around a single goal (the flag) and that structure brings out the worst behavior in people. Compare Warsong Gulch to a battleground like Arathi Basin that has many goals: it tends to spread the focus of players around more equitably. WG also has the tendency to be over too quickly and is more susceptible to the types of imbalances mentioned din Erinys’ post. Warsong Gulch has a great deal of tension as teams butt heads, often with imbalance and a mix of strategy and communication that quickly leads to chaos and bad behavior for the players of have randomly been thrown together.

    In Star Wars: The Old Republic, a similar “capture the flag” style game is Huttball– but that one is even a bit more friendly than Warsong Gulch because there is only one flag in the center, and you only have to cross the far side of the map to cap (vs return it and your own flag has to be at its position). This is preferable to Warsong Gulch because a match doesn’t lead to stalemates, and it’s much smaller so every player is involved at all times, lending themselves to participate through interaction and not hate/aggro rants.

    Capture the flag also has a healthy history in games like Tribes 2 (you get to use jetpacks and swoop in past base defenses) or Team Fortress Classic (you can be a quick operative class and use grappling hooks to maneuver into a base, while slow but heavy defenders try and place defensive turrets and traps). Those types of first person shooter variants have a lot more strategy, larger maps, defenses, and most of all an equality in gear that makes this direct confrontation palatable and encourages teamwork. Tribes 2 in particular had a very small community and was less anonymous than WoW battlegrounds, leading to better enforcement of community standards regarding conduct.

    With several ways of how a battleground can be healthy: equality in gear, non-stalemate conditions, strategy, and incentives to communicate and form a community really emphasize how WoW Warsong Gulch has failed in all those respects. I refuse to queue for it– it’s miserable even when winning– it’s like choosing to have a bandage ripped off quickly or slowly and miserably– it sucks either way. Anyway, hopefully these viewpoints help to illuminate another side of the issue!

    • This is very interesting indeed. I don’t have much of a background in gaming so looking at the broader picture through the eyes of someone who does is quite insightful. I think you’re spot on that Warsong Gulch in particular lends itself to the high-tension blame-game type of atmosphere which leads to players exploding at others without accountability.

      Looking at what you said on the history of capture the flag games, I just realised that a lot of these battlegrounds haven’t changed since launch. Warsong Gulch and Arathi Basin in particular are pretty old by now. And even though the battleground itself hasn’t changed, the demographic of people playing certainly has over the years. And that’s reflected in Blizzard’s new design philosophies as well.

      I wonder if its time these battlegrounds got a well-needed design update to curb encouraging these kinds of scenarios where people are put in explosive situations. This isn’t to say that everything should be rainbows and ponies ofcourse, but certain boundaries can be encouraged.

  7. *pat* I have a really hard time with people who go out of their way to be mean. My usual response is both quick and emotional, which certainly doesn’t help the problem most times, and has gotten me into plenty of confrontations. For better or worse, I suppose that has thickened my skin a fair amount over the years. I’m not sure that’s a good thing either, and what happened to you just might trump anything I’ve gone through, but it has helped me shrug off some of the annoyance and pain after the fact.

    On the interwebs especially though, every fleeting notion is easily expressible with little fear of reprisal or social stigma, which is possibly why there seem to be more jerks – the normal filter isn’t there for some people. Unfortunately these people also tend to be the most vociferous, again lending to the impression that they are many.

    It may be the BG pushing them to annoyance, or it may have something to do with the frustration a lot of players go through on a daily basis in PvP… or especially in this case, they may just be awful people, but I don’t think it’s excusable behavior by any stretch of the imagination. Especially when it comes to bullying in such a mean-spirited and obviously intended-to-get-under-your-skin-and-cause-some-damage way.

    Taking a stand is admirable under such situations, but if it’s too much, don’t stick around to take the punishment either. Maybe the best thing you can do is screenie what they said and open a ticket with a GM, like Erinys suggested. These people certainly deserve a ban. Then again, maybe more people just need to buck up and stick together against this level of bullying – certainly by being a good example of this, you can keep most groups you’re in at least tolerable.

    Sometimes it’s just too much though – I think taking a break this time sounds like the right way to go too. Recoup, reaffirm that you are indeed awesome, and come back when the time is right, recharged and ready to go. =)

    • Well it certainly sounds like you’ve seen your fair share of jerks over the internet. >.< At this point, I think having a thicker skin isn't necessarily a bad thing as long we don't lose sight of what we'd like the community to be like and stick up against jerks who try to bring others down.

      I also agree that sometimes its just best to walk away, which is what I ended up doing after trying to defend myself and getting a battery of more insults for it. So in that sense, I didn't stick around to take the punishment, but I guess it doesn't take much for things like that to do much damage.

      For now, I'm sticking with the break and spending some time in Star Wars to change up the community a little, and have a bit of solo time. 🙂

  8. You’re quite right, it’s a huge problem! Verbal abuse is in effect what keeps me from battle grounds, the random dungeon finder and the looking for raid features of the game, unless I go in group. I like to liken it to a school gone mad, where you have to have your gang with you to feel safe.

    The reason I don’t use these features aren’t that I’m afraid of the abuse or that I can’t fend for myself, or even that it gets directed at me more often than others, it’s rather that I play to have fun, and in my opinion it’s not fun to hear or be the target of such abuse. I don’t want to have to step into an argument and defend someone while I have my precious spare time game, if I want to do that I can just go to work.

    The people who type before they think are what locks me out of a huge part of the game, and they destroy my experience. They can also, like in your case, deeply affect people, and do real damage. Just because it is on the internet it isn’t less real and you are clearly allowed to feel offended and troubled by the comments.

    • Your analogy of a school gone mad and needing your gang to feel safe is dead on with the situation in WoW these days. I’ve found recently, its simply not worth logging on unless I’m doing something with my guild or friends. I’ve often wondered what the developers were thinking when they implemented features such as LFD and LFR which only magnify the anonymity that trolls and other jerks on the internet.

      I’ve generally been enjoying my time SWTOR for now – the community is smaller, different and while there is a group finder function it is server only. I haven’t dared use it yet but I still see people looking for groups in the normal chat channel so that says something to me. I’m on the fence about WoW, hoping to put off the decision until the new expansion comes out. I think if I ever end up walking away from the game it will be due to the community rather than the actual game itself.

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