Online communities often times face the compounded problems of prejudice, anonymity, audience, and perceived slight. I like to think that our haven of MMO communities is a protective sea fortress in the sea of pejorative online calamity. We are anonymous to a degree. I might be a quasi-intelligent lesser primate for all you know. I drop hints, here and there, about my life, but as far as you know I am building an artificial persona to lead you astray, dear reader. Still, my posts and name have persistence. You know me.
The same is true in our gaming genre built on communal interaction. We might be “IRL” anonymous, but we really aren’t in an MMO. We are just known by different names.
When I first started playing A Tale in the Desert, there was a big discussion on what names should be allowed in our little Egypt. We had names with sexual innuendos, 20th century technologies, and even l33t speak (e.g., ]-[@xin8trrr). The lead developer stepped in and said ‘anything goes.’ His MMO, he explained, was built squarely on the foundation of community. If a person wanted an unpronounceable or ridiculous name, then that person would have more to overcome when trying to create the necessary social connections.
Things are not so different in a mainstream MMO, such as World of Warcraft of Lord of the Rings Online. Guilds, players, and sometimes even areas (like the Prancing Pony) gain reputations. With guild tags flying above our names, all it takes is one rotten apple spouting racial, sexist, or sexual obscenities in a pick-up-group to ruin the reputation of a reputable guild. Sure the rotten apple might get booted, and the guild leaders might make public, persistent apologies. But, the damage was done.
I think this is something most of us know. When looking for a new guild or inviting new members, we are more careful in MMOs because something is immediately at stake.
The effect compounds itself with the big brotherly punishment of exile. One drunken tirade against a culture on public chat might cause a player’s entire reputation to vanish as his or her account is banned. All the time and energy spent in creating a persistent online imago is stripped away because ultimately our games are a privilege. And, the rules are simple ones we have known since pre-school: play nice and play fair.
This post so far is pretty negative, but the negatives, in my humble opinion, are a good thing. It leads me to believe that our little gaming sub-culture stands above the uncouth hordes of gamers, if only a little. It makes me believe that MMOs can be a breeding ground for social tolerance, friendships, and ultimately a real affect on those we game with because our reputations (and accounts) are vulnerably persistent.
this little light of mine