Sunday, April 12, 2009

Growing up on WoW

It's a strange thing to grow up in the 90s, as far as the Internet is concerned. We are the first generation to experience the online world as part of our emerging social lives. Sure, the generations before us are engaging with people online as well, but our generation was the first to grow up with it.

Chatting , IMing, and online gaming were just becoming the standards they are today. Parental controls were on the cusp of being considered, as all sorts of chat room horror stories were emerging. I know I did a lot of stupid and very silly things in chat rooms, not to mention saw several things no child should see before they are mentally ready. I also succeeded in embarrassing myself thoroughly in the first Multi-User Dungeon I ever attempted.

And that's the thing. I was embarrassed in front of many people that I would never meet, never see, and never recognize me in real life as the player that was killed by a fish. The online world was adding more social pressures in addition to the many social situations that kids would have experienced pre-Internet. Not only are we embarrassed by some middle school fashion atrocity, but something we told a "friend" in confidence over AIM is now being gossiped about over the entire school. I can't fully express my relief that I didn't experience the worst of cyber bullying until I was old enough to deal with it, but it is a sad reality for kids growing up today.

My guild has always had a "18 and over" policy. With Wrath, this recently changed to "21 and over," a change I question. Not only does this exclude a handful of raiders, in addition to one officer, but it means a good core of our membership would not have been admitted in the past. Has that three-year difference changed so much?

There has been only one exception to our policy, and we accepted him as a raider because of many vouchers for his maturity, intelligence, and skill as a player. He was the epitome of a good raider all through BC and into Wrath, and everything you really expect from a decent person on the Internet, so much that officers, myself included, tend to forget that he is just 14. But, he is still a young teenager, and if any issue arises around him, his age does comes into factor.

As 3.1 nears, tensions are rising as we decide what initiates are pulling their weight, what backup raiders we need to gear, and who we should bring in to polish off the meta-achievements. Our resident teenager already caused some frustration amongst the officers for asking earlier to join another guild's OS10+3D farm raid in order to polish off his Glory of the Raider. This was the day before we downed it ourselves, so while his worry was excusable, the lack of faith in his fellow raiders was unnerving. It took a miscommunication between him and the guild leader to start up another debate as to how his age affects our shared online experiences.

I was playing moderator for this incident. I know both the raider and the GL well, and I was working with one over Vent and the other in chat to find the source of the bitterness. When the evening's raid finally ended, the officers got together in Vent, and I asked the raider to join us. He said very little aloud, instead communicating in chat through me. The other officers wouldn't have this, and called him out on it. When he did finally make a statement, his voice was heavy with tears.

I felt awful. He was now being badgered for crying over a game by adult men who had no idea what it was like to grow up in a social environment like an MMO. I was proud of him for admitting that he preferred to keep it to chat because he could control himself better and keep his thoughts rational, but I felt so guilty for pressuring him into a Vent conversation where he would be exposed for putting so much emotional investment into an online community. I told him that he was not alone in his frustrations of dealing with this social life, and that if he ever needed to talk, I was always here and knew what it was like.

One of the officers called me a "mother hen" for wanting to shelter him, but I don't think I wanted to shelter him as much as I wanted the other officers to empathize with him. He had admitted his mistakes and the fault for the miscommunication, but they did not fully grasp what it was like to have such emotional ties to a group of people online. What happens in WoW can be as important as any other real life event, socially and emotionally. Getting laughed at by your guildees can be as harrowing as getting laughed at by your high school peers. It is the same development that everyone deals with, except now it is in relative anonymity and amongst people who don't recognize that online society doesn't immediately disappear when they log off.

The consequences of how we treat our fellow gamers are real. It is now standard for kids to learn how to deal with the connections they make online, and how to manage the resulting emotions similarly to what they experience in the real world. You cannot expect everyone to experience WoW like it is "just a game." While we may be fighting groups of pixels in order to achieve shinier pixels as rewards, the friendships we form, the words that we say, and the memories that we share show that MMORPGs are beyond just interacting with a computer.


Criven said...

Honestly, that's the reason I don't think I could ever raid hardcore. It seems to make people lose perspective.

When the other officers in your guild were more concerned with the Meta-achievement than the reason the kid was upset in the first place, they lost sight of what's important at the end of the day.

"Mother hen" is a terrible way to describe someone acting like a reasonable human being. Kudos.

Negathle said...

I suppose I should make a couple of clarifications, because I don't want my fellow officers to come off as the bad guys here either, though I was trying to keep the scenario as non-specific as possible.

The incident in question was just a miscommunication on who would be in a for a Naxx wing. There were no meta-achievements involved in this case, and, as far as I know, no drama has surfaced regarding who is invited for groups regarding achievement runs. His reason for being upset was a question of respect, which, in all honesty, is a perfectly good reason to be frustrated. Better than other reasons I've encountered, certainly, particularly at age 14.

Anonymous said...

I know exactly what you're saying, and I agree with everything you've said.

I remember this one time where the Raid Leader muted my vent so I couldn't talk, simply because I was the BElf huntard. I don't know why, but I didn't notice for a long time until a friend of mine was trying to offtank Tinman in kara, and he'd never done it before. He'd never kited as a warrior.

I offered to help kite him around, act as the hunter tank and let him take it when it got to close. No one listened, and they argued and cussed poor whitehorn into quitting the instance. I never saw Horn again. And since they muted me and I didn't know it, I was extremely frustrated that they didn't listen to me. All of this could have been avoided.

When they finally told me and unmuted me, I was furious and vengeful. I was so close to MDing the jerk that a missclick would have been all it took.

I simply decided I would leave the run.

I ran into the same person in a Gruuls run, and he wasn't the leader. When he started to rag on the tank in Gruuls, all my feelings returned.

I caused a wipe.

But was it worth it? Yes, especially when I explained why. The guy never talked the rest of the run.

But he cost me a friend, and for this, I was furious.

In a world where people look for social interaction and can find it around the world, it certainly does matter as much in Azeroth as it does in real life. The problem with real life is that you can just leave it and go do something else, but otherwise it's the same.

Plastic Rat said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Plastic Rat said...

What really annoys the crap out of me is folks who expect people to take raiding seriously, and then in the same breath will go 'it's just a gaaaaaame!'

You're expected to arrange your real life so you can pitch up regularly and on time for raids.

You're expected to prep, to read up on stuff, to be knowledgeable about the raid, your role and your class.

All of this requires you to have some sort of investment. To work at something and commit.

...and then these same people rip into a kid who's taking the game seriously enough to succeed at raiding? For what... for investing himself too much?

I'm sorry but your guild sounds like a bunch of complete jerks.

Criven said...

Aye, that's fair enough really. I shouldn't post in what is the middle of the night here.

On the other hand, it's more the "man up" attitude of the other officers I was commenting on - it's a wee bit too prevalent in gaming and it really shouldn't be.

@slowwolf, sound like a shit experience mate. Honestly, I'd have bailed from the gruul run, after explaining why, the second the muter joined. Did whitehorn just log off and never log on again btw?

Negathle said...

@Rat Eh, I respectively must say the "jerk" thing to have done was to have not talked with him at all and just went straight to the demote button. I don't think my guild sounds any better or any worse than any other guild. At least we work out our problems :)

@Criven Agreed, the "man-up" bit was what rather got to me. Ironically, we were discussing if he was raiding too much lately, and if we needed to give him a break was what started the night.

@slowwolf Aye, we all have stories to share. Have I mentioned the time Prince's bow was ninja'd from me by my Guild Leader, long long ago? Yeah...

Anonymous said...

Why? I'd never seen Gruuls before at this point, and wanted to see it dead. That and the jerk monkey wasn't the leader, AND the guy who got me in on the raid was a good guy. Too bad Mogie isn't playing anymore. =(

0.o That's awful! My first time through kara, I cleared it with T4 AND that bow under my arm. Now I feel really lucky. =(

tiggs4e said...

Bravo so well said...we truly do develope close real relationships with our online family and can be hurt by them the same as in RL. Thnks for bringing an important message out.

Criven said...

@Slowwolf, personal choice. If someone has caused that kind of problem in the past, they're going to do it again. You can either explain to people why you're leaving and leave, or end up causing an issue, or suffering in silence, later when you inevitably get annoyed about it.

I'll chose explaining why and walking away usually.

Anonymous said...

Wish I'd seen this earlier. Really good post. The whole Man-Up piece *shouldn't* be in the game - but it is.

One thing I have noticed is that a lot of the younger players I've gamed with tend to be extremely mercenary about their achievements and their progression. If you get in the way of it - are too slow moving through content - etc. They'll drop you without a second thought and move on. Again - this is what I've observed - YMMV.

For most of *them* - the game is a game. You side with the winning team when you want to win.

For a lot of us old dudes with jobs and kids and potentially misplaced loyalty baggage brought in from our personal lives - this can be threatening and erupt into a great deal of bad feelings. Particularly if you happen to be a raid leader or a guild leader.

I'm not sure how you can fix that. This is a game. You pay to play. You should be able to maximize your enjoyment and not feel bad about it.

The problem though, is that for a guild officer juggling the worry of keeping the guild together, motivated and moving forward is stressful. Having one player that seems to be putting their own progression above the "teams" is incredibly abrasive. The more vocal that player is - the worse it gets.

To the guild officer it feels like this:

"I don't think you (or anyone else)in the guild have what it takes to get me to where I want to be. So I'm going to depend on others I see as more capable to get there."

In short - you've been weighed - you've been measured -- you've been found wanting.

That's hard to swallow.

(Hell - it might even be true...)

Respect - and maturity come with experience (not necessarily time). For your 14 year old gamer - this was a good lesson. He walked away with some bruises I'm sure, but it's something he can put in the old "life experience bank" to draw from later on.

Kudos for keeping your head and being able to play the calm middle ground. The game needs more people that can do that.

aerynn said...

It is unfortunate that crying is still seen as being unmanly. Caesar, Charlemagne, and other historically "manly" men have wept over less. Kudos on being his "mother hen" (another tag which, to me, has no negative connotations). Guilds need more people who care. More people who emphatize.

I also prefer chatting to Vent, except when using Vent have distinct strategic and tactical advantages when used as strategic and tactical tools. When discussing explosive stuff, text chatting has the advantage of neutralizing tone.

I can understand your young friend concerning his needing to go to another guild to ensure his "Glory of the Raider" achievement before the patch.

In BC, I had done all the quest chains that would have led, eventually, to the "Hand of Adal" title. All I needed was to get the quest from the SSC NPC and, even with the patch coming, I would have still been able to complete it and get it.

At that time, however, my guild already had Hyjal and most of BT on farm. A lot saw no point to going back to T5 content when T6 was opening before us. And I was the only one to have gotten far enough to even get a shot at the title. However, I was promised that we will do a fun run before the patch.

Some of my friends for other larger guilds were stuck on SSC and TK, and have offered to take me on their runs. I refused. I trusted my guild. I also didn't want the drama that would ensue ("She only got her title by resorting to another guild!"). No title is worth that—especially on our server where a guild "kill" is not considered a "guild" kill if there was more than 10% of another guild (or PUG) to help them polish it off.

Long story short, the patch came and I never got my title—we never went back. I wasn't the only one—a lot of my guildies never got even the Champion of the Naaru title either. This was long before achievements was an epeen factor, when getting loot was the defining force behind epeen and progression was measured by screenshots and wowjutsu scans.

I just hope that your skillful 14-year old (who, despite the tears, sounds much more mature than his age suggests) do not come away with this embittered and jaded. I have seen too many good, optimistic teenagers go to bad just because a group of grown-ups think they can "toughen" them up.