WoW as a personality mirror

Yesterday, according to MMO-C reporting, there was a dev pseudo-interview about raid and encounter design. I did not know about it in advance, and I would not have watched it even if I had known. If you are interested in it you can read the crib notes here. I would say you can also watch the video but apparently some of it is “proprietary” so not available unless you go to the Snotbag Slootbag Twitch account. I am only guessing about this, as I was not interested enough to track it down.

You may have surmised I am not a big fan of Slootbag, and you would surmise correctly. I do not know the guy personally, I only know my impressions of his public persona. He may be a fantastic human being in person, but in my opinion he presents the public image of a supercilious, slick, weaselly, chiseler out to advance his own name at any cost, to get all he can while the gettin’ is good. The “interview” yesterday was less about getting encounter design info out than it was about Slootbag tooting his horn about how connected he is and what a fantastic interviewer he is, not to mention what a great raider and gifted player he is. He has been a part of a slimy world-first guild that looked the other way while he and others almost certainly crossed the line in their game play. So, yeah, I am not a fan, but that is neither here nor there. I suspect he is not a fan of mine, either, if he even knows much less cares that I exist. Trashing him is not the focus of this post, but his public persona serves as a jumping off point for my real focus.

I have a theory that you are who you are in WoW. I know there is another point of view — that WoW and similar games are where people try out alternate personas and experiment with psyches that may be the polar opposite of who they are in real life. I suppose some of that happens from time to time, but I think over the long run such pretense is very hard to maintain, and people revert to their real selves even in their avatars.

I think the anonymity of MMOs encourages the real core personality to emerge. You are free from normal social restrictions on behavior, and you act according to your own internal morality code. If that code is based on empathy, kindness, trustworthiness, honor, etc., then that is how you interact with others in the virtual world. On the other hand, if your core morality is based on personal resentment, unfettered ego, greed, or other less attractive human qualities, then that, too, is what emerges in your online persona. Virtual anonymity assures us that no one will report our behavior to our parents or our significant others or our close friends, so we are completely free to be exactly the person we are with no fear of censure from those we care about. It is at once liberating and frightening.

WoW is a microcosm of this greater virtual uninhibited world. You see true unfettered behavior in activities like trade chat, pugs, LFR, and chance world or quest encounters. Some players prey on the weak, others go out of their way to help. Interestingly, I think guilds tend to moderate this Lord of the Flies behavior, because they add a certain amount of social accountability back into the equation. You are no longer completely independent of organized society — you are held to some standard of behavior codified by the guild, and you know there is a chance that if you violate this standard you will be held accountable for it. In other words, guild membership establishes a kind of non-anonymity in an otherwise anonymous virtual world, and some of the social restrictions of the real world start to apply.

I am someone who wants to believe most people are good at their core, that given a chance they will nearly always try to do right by their fellow human. Sadly, I am coming around more and more to the realization that a sizeable number of people will only behave honorably if there is a punishment for not doing so. In the real world, that punishment is frequently social or family censure, but it is also more concrete reactions like a guaranteed punch in the nose or legal punishments or losing one’s job.

In WoW, this was driven home to me with Blizz’s fairly recent reaction to the toxicity of trade chat. Left alone, that channel became a cesspool of spewed hatred, vile language, and implied threats of extreme violence. It was run by bullies and trolls, and they stomped down anyone daring to speak up against them. Then about a year ago or so, Blizz announced they were implementing a system of immediate and graduated bans for reported bad behavior in the game, including in chat. And they followed through. Miraculously, trade chat improved almost overnight. This is a good thing, but it is sad that it only happened because suddenly there was actual punishment for bad behavior. It does not give one great faith in the innate goodness of humanity.

So, even though it depresses me a little, I still think you are who you are in WoW. And if you are the self-aware, introspective type, that can help you to become a better person, to see yourself as others see you. When I look at my WoW characters and how they interact with other players, I see someone who basically would never cheat others or berate them for their play style or gear, someone who is happy to give mats and crafted items to guildies and donate to the guild bank, someone who can be relied on to show up for raids on time and be prepared, someone who values her word and would never go back on it. Someone you can trust. That is really who I am. But I also see someone who can be snippy and snarky, who has a quick temper, who lacks confidence, and who frequently obsesses over imperfections in the game. That is also who I really am. A mixed picture, but a picture nonetheless, and one I can use to improve myself.

And now, I will further improve myself by enjoying a beer on the front porch and starting my weekend. You enjoy yours.

About Fiannor
I have a day job but escape by playing WoW. I love playing a hunter, and my Lake Wobegonian goal is to become "above average" at it.

2 Responses to WoW as a personality mirror

  1. Great article and I believe you.
    Within your context, I am that Community Standard Busybody who happily reports language at every opportunity. It doesn’t feel great at all to report, you’d think that there would be satisfaction. Still, it’s time to clean up this town.

    • Fiannor says:

      Haha, yes, I am one of those Busybodies, too, in my rather infrequent forays into trade chat. There was a time when you could legitimately report nearly every participant, it was that bad, but happily it is much, much rarer these days. I have never reported anyone for swear words or the occasional F bomb, but I draw the line at personal attacks, veiled or overt sexual violence threats, and just vile braggadocio in general. There are internet chat rooms elsewhere for that kind of conversation if someone really wants to engage in it. WoW is not one of them.

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