Hiding Behind the Monitor
Though this is an issue much more severe than any one game can reflect, many of you have asked for my thoughts on this story as a female gamer. For quite some time there has been an uproar over the plans Blizzard had to force WoW players to post as themselves (using their “real life” names) in the WoW forums. Just a few days ago Blizzard announced that they would no longer be implementing this plan. Here are my thoughts thoughts this:
While I have not played WoW for years, once you are inside of the World of Warcraft, it gets inside of you (no, not like that 😉 . It is fun, addicting, frustrating…and you can get lost in it. Part of its appeal is defined by the “R” in MMORPG. You have the ability, the privilege even, to take on the role of a character completely unlike yourself. Or, if you so choose, to take on the role of a character completely like yourself. Or only a little.
But, the key is, you are NOT yourself. You’re someone else.
I was a high-level Rogue Gnome named Ludith, among other things. If I had decided it, I could have hidden myself completely behind my character. No one would have known who I was. No one needed to know I was even female in real life.
So the appeal of such life-like games is not just in the fun of the game mechanics, but in the allure of anonymous connections with strangers, of being whoever I want to be, without the cares, worries, and history that comes with “real life.” This environment is like a bright fluorescent light at night, drawing, among others, socially-awkward gamers and people with low self-esteem like so many moths, gnats, and mosquitoes.
Anonymity can be helpful in some ways. Sometimes this allows for people to create bonds with others that they might not otherwise be able to create. The soft aura of the monitor screen acts as a protective shield. People are accustomed to sharing emotions, information…more of themselves than they might otherwise be.
While I am Nixie Pixel here, it may surprise you to know that it isn’t my real name. =p I get to share with you some of myself and my life while still keeping my work (as this has become my full-time job) and personal life separate. One reason I chose to do so is because I am a gamer. My experience with gamers online has been very positive for the most part, but occasionally while playing a game that is normally played by mostly male gamers, such as “hardcore” shooters like Gears of War 2 or Modern Warfare 2, I experience the ugly side of online gaming.
I had always known that online gaming was full of “unintentional bigots.” People who use the term “gay” as a perjorative, or particularly hateful racial or ethnic slurs, or say offensive things simply because of gender.
Perhaps they do this because they expect it to hurt and they need to vent anger, perhaps out of simple familiarity with the term and habit, perhaps for other reasons. But the shield of the monitor or television also protects those who seem to take out the aggressions of their personal life on other gamers from the consequences of their actions. The soft, soothing glow of the monitor seems to be akin to waving a flag in front of a bull, for them.
As an aside, to some extent this is true of the Linux community as well. I have personal experience with this, and perhaps the same reasons that cause gamers to feel good about personally challenging others are also true of Linux users who feel the need to make offensive remarks about operating system choice, gender, computing habits, or even choice of distribution.
Whether someone takes an unhealthy obsession with another too far, or simply wants to cause (emotional) pain and anguish, the Internet is a wonderful place for the anti-social among us.
And competitive games seem to be among their favorite feeding grounds. Instead of celebrating a shared passion, in a group of people who have often (especially in the past) been ostracized for their choice of hobby, the culture of gaming (and of the geek/computing and Linux communities, to some extent) seems to encourage division based on differences.
Women who take part in these communities are familiar with hiding personal details. Many choose to represent themselves as genderless, or even male, to avoid the problems that those who are more open tend to face. Many of my peers choose pseudonyms to avoid people who want to pry too much into our personal lives, and for both men and women I know, online stalking has turned into real-life stalking.
Women are particularly at risk for this. I try to connect with the people who watch my videos as best I can, sharing my personality, and perhaps a bit of my knowledge. Because these communities are predominately male, and many people drawn to computing or games have suffered at the hands of their peers for being different, some may feel that they will always be misunderstood by females, and so may be particularly drawn to someone like myself, who also grew up suffering for the same reasons. Sometimes people assume familiarity or a personal connection to an extreme.
I sympathize with the WoW players who spoke out against Blizzard for their decision. I can only imagine what it would have been like for celebrities who play WoW such as Mila Kunis or Felicia Day. I am very happy for all players that Blizzard has reversed their course of action and decided not to require people to use their real names to post. I know that the intention was to reduce trolling in the forums, and this is indeed a worthy goal, but there must be better ways to do that. The separation of character and person is a huge part of roleplaying, and for the sanity (and sometimes even protection) of many players.