Growing up, I wasn’t really good at taking a joke. I took things too personally, let others hurt my feelings, and generally, it made life miserable. It’s a growing trend in the world on a whole, with kids bullying each other at school, adults bullying each other at work, and even adults bullying kids, or vice versa.

Now, many years older, and leaps and bounds more mature, I look back on that and think “Really? This is what we’re reduced to?”

Bullying in school is nothing new. Digital bullying has become the new thing. Posting uncomfortable videos, Photoshopping images to make someone look silly, creating entirely new Facebook sites to stalk and harrass other people. It boggles the mind how people can do this stuff, as if there isn’t enough going on day to day to keep us distracted. I saw it during my years as a bartender, too. Two people, stalking one another behind fake accounts and assumed names.

As a long-time gamer, I’ve seen, and been privvy to, the business end of digital bullying in games. I won’t really use this post as a soapbox to badmouth the bullies, because that makes me no better than them. Instead, let’s look at promoting awareness here.

Let’s talk massively-multiplayer online role-playing games. World of Warcraft and Guild Wars 2 are my personal favorites.

World of Warcraft is a playground for millions of fans. That being said, millions of personalities in the same tiny little place are, by design, bound to clash. Be it differences in opinion on how the game be played by raiders, explorers, role-players, and the like, or how a battleground should be successfully dominated, I’ve seen my fair share of haters, griefers, bullies, and just downright jerks.

Countless are the number of times I’ve seen someone in a battleground shout “You guys suck, get out if you can’t play right!”

Well, what is right, exactly? Is the angry player playing right? Are the other players? Are all of us at the same skill level? What if I started yesterday? And how long has the shouting player been here? Did they start in beta? Are they a developer? Or are they just immature enough to think the only thing that matters is winning every single thing, because they were told they’re a winner in school, despite losing in Physical Education?

I know, I know, now I’m bullying. Fact of the matter is, this is the type of thing that happens in games. One person starts running their mouth, another person picks up because they’re defending themselves, or they’re sick of the bully, the problem proliferates itself endlessly.

Guild Wars 2 is no different. I had an encounter only a few months ago with a player who, in the middle of a World vs World match, started sending me a string of offensive, immature, and generally annoying whispers to distract me in the middle of a massive fight. Whispering me about how terrible our team was, how we’re a bunch of idiots, blah blah blah. I mentioned it to my team leader and we shared a good bit of laughter over this player’s unhinged rage about a game.

This kind of thing is happening constantly. There’s always going to be someone who’s upset because you’re not doing exactly what they think you should be doing, because they don’t like how your character looks, they don’t like your name…the list can literally go on endlessly.

My personal favorites are the people who tell you that you’re playing a class wrong, such as a healer, when they’ve never played one themselves. They only know what they’re used to seeing, not what actually has to happen to play that particular role in a party. They trash you because you’re doing something different than what they’re used to seeing. To me, that’s just comical.

Most games have included functions to overcome this digital annoyance via methods like an ignore function, reporting ability to game developers, screenshotting for evidence and, in some extreme cases, transfers to other servers to escape the behavior entirely.

Bullies, like developers, have a seemingly endless string of ideas, though. They’ll follow a player, whisper their friends, hack their account, kill monsters the player is trying to kill. In general, it’s a problem that continues to feed itself just by virtue of the fact that people get sick of listening to, or enduring it.

The unfortunate nature of the internet gives all of us, myself included, the benefit of a screen between me and the end user, or you, the reader. If I want to be a complete blister, the internet enables that with no face-to-face consequence for my behavior. Likewise, digital bullies are not held accountable for their action, aside from whatever punishment is handed down from the moderator of the game or particular platform the user is bullying through. Furthermore, moderators, admins, and other authority figures are addressing countless thousands, or even tens of thousands, of reports, complaints, and other administrivia for the site at any given time. This means that reports or misconduct notices from users, largely, seem unaddressed, or handled via blanket channels, leaving the plaintiff with little in the way of resolution, and the offender with even less in terms of punishment or corrective action.

And so, it falls to the users to try and work things out themselves, or so it seems. Unless it is a grossly offensive, or otherwise mass-audience offense, most minor complaints usually only garner laughter and further harassment from the offender if they are told they will be reported for their behavior.

Ultimately, bullying is one of those battles that then falls on the little man to fight. We, as a community of gamers, have our cliques, our social circles, you name it. Gaming has become a sibling rivalry, where we pick on each other, but God help you if you pick on one of us. Unfortunately, big brother and big sister also like to pick on social groups like “The filthy casuals” and the “noobs.” I consider myself a fairly experienced gamer, and it’s hard, sometimes, to remember where we all came from. We all “sucked” at some point. But we’ve grown, we’ve conquered, and we’ve “been there, done that.” It’s our job, as the experienced players now, to educate the new players, to show them the ropes. It’s not our place to beat them down, run them off, or keep this community to the elitist few. Encourage each other to improve. Give pointers, offer advice. We can’t shout down from some almighty platform at the “plebians” who are somehow inferior. We have to help one another, grow this community. Give people a reason to respect gaming and those who enjoy it, either as a hobby or a profession.

We are gamers. The more of us there are, the more varied and colorful the competition becomes. And for the bullies, one day that player you’ve been making fun of in World of Warcraft is going to come around and kick your ass in a battleground. 😉

–Jimmy

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