Crying for Help : “My Point” to the “Other Side of the Screen”

"Community Building" means you give us tools to be a community, not a group of individuals hanging out together.

Apparently, I need to be more direct.

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See, in the last article I wrote for GameSkinny, the point was apparently missed by a lot of people. So, let’s try a more blunt-force method. For those of you who don’t need to be bludgeoned with “the point”, please feel free to know that it’s a boffer weapon, not a real mace, so it won’t hurt all that much.  I’ll remove the foam later.

I am a reality junkie. I love reality. Given a choice between a virtual experience and a real one, I’ll take the real one. Or, more correctly, I used to take the real one. My injury list is enough to make most insurance companies wince in pain and there’s a reason I live on painkillers and mountain dew some months (We’ll discuss that another time, however).  Now, I’ve had to slow down.  A little.  So I take virtual trips instead.  It’s better on my joints anyway.

So with that in mind, I tend to bring a lot of my environmental awareness with me into virtual worlds when it comes to people in my surroundings. For example, if I go snowboarding, I’ve got about a hundred or so other people on the hill who I want to be aware of. I play paintball and I’m aware of the 20-1500 or so other people on the field with me (EMR Castle Conquest.  It’s a hell of a game). Mountain biking is a little more of a solo pursuit but I’m looking for other riders. You get the idea.

I’m not just looking for these people to play “live Frogger” by constantly dodging them. I’m also keenly aware that someone could be hurt doing the things I enjoy. That’s part of the thrill, getting onto the knife edge and balancing on it. Unfortunately, people slip.

In the last few years of snowboarding I’ve been “first on scene” for several bloody faces, bashed arms, “yard sales” and other minor maladies (bruised egos are the most common). And I always try to stop, or at least look over, and make sure everyone’s OK. If not, I’ll do what I can. I don’t carry a first aid kit with me, but I can still do some things. I can pop my bindings and prop up my board as a warning sign for other riders and a sign for Ski Patrol to see where the downed skier is. I can help someone find their ski poles and possibly their hat in the woods. I can bomb the run to get to a ski patrol person who actually HAS a first aid kit and tell them “There’s a guy down on the trail.”

I do this because, in part, I know the other riders would do this for me too. It’s a community thing. We all have something in common, and we all want to see everyone else enjoy that thing, we look after each other. If I can’t help you, I’ll make sure someone who can does.

By comparison, in a virtual world mentality the same downed person would register as an “obstacle” to most players. Avoid them, keep going to the end, win. You fell and you’re bleeding? Too bad noob, L2S. I’ll be a the bottom, winning, and upping my skis.

This is the fundamental difference between real and virtual communities. In the real world, when you’re presented with a 12 year old face down on the trail covered in blood and crying, you do something. In a virtual world, you blow them off because you’re staring at a monitor and not a real person.. Granted, the worst physical injury you might get gaming is carpel tunnel or stubbing your toe while going for a soda, but that’s not the only cry for help you see in MMOs.

To go back to the example from the other night. A player, utterly frustrated, said they were going to kill themselves and then left before I could say anything to them. Now most gamers would blow that off as “nerd rage” and “rage quit” but I don’t. I know there’s someone on the other end of the computer monitor who’s had a really craptastic day, and this was the final straw. In the real world, if I knew how to do so, I’d call them to talk to them. I’d make sure they really weren’t suicidal, that it was probably just a moment of anger and frustration bleeding into the keyboard and they’ve calmed down. And if they were going to actually end their life, well, that opens up a whole new discussion. But for most gamers?  You’d mostly get “Noob, L2P, GTFO, Go drink bleach.”

Dodge the obstacle, don’t help the person.

Granted, this is pretty extreme, but it does happen. MMOs are social forums now as people use them as 3D chat rooms. I’m reminded of a story in which a young teen took his own life, live in a chatroom, as people in there encouraged him to do it. One person called the police in his town because they figured out where he lived, and the police were the ones to find the body an hour later. In an MMO, that’s just not going to happen. There’s nothing in place to reach out to a person like this. Especially in an MMO where one person can have ten or more personae going at once.

Looking into it, Facebook has something in place that they try to help out. Twitter does too. Youtube and Tumblr have ways to contact the user in these situations. I mean for the love of (insert deity of choice here) you can order a PIZZA from your XBox. The least we can do is have the tools available to look after each other for matters that are a tad more important.

A community helps each other, especially when someone is in pain or needs help.  But that’s assuming there’s a community there. MMOs don’t have communities, they have alliances of convenience. When game designers talk about “building communities” they really mean “building a customer base”. MMOs are, in the end, designed to be “all about me” and not “all about the community”. It’s more profitable to cater to the individual ego.  Seen it before, seeing it again.

For the sake of transparency, I’ll end the article with my bias and why this language strikes me as it does. A little under two years ago, a good friend of mine committed suicide. He lived in Croatia, and there was literally nothing I could do to help. He made one final post on Facebook, and gone. The photo of the helmet you see above was the one he wore at Living Legends when we brought him to the states. We, as in the paintball community and not the industry, fund-raised hardcore to bring him here because we knew he deserved to be here. The same community that grieved together when he left us.  The same community that all asked the same question.  “What could I have done?”  We wanted to help, if only we had the collective means to do so.

So, the point? This is the part where some of you may want a helmet for the direct bludgeoning about to happen. If you’re a game designer, a company, or anyone involved in the process of an MMO and you even utter the term “community” and “building” in the same breath, you better actually put in tools to allow us to be a community like in the really-real world. If some person says “I’m going to kill myself”, a community should have an option or some way to actually contact the person and ask “Are you ok?” or talk it out with them. Or at least have some kind of system in place so the company can contact local authorities.

A community helps each other, good or bad. MMOs are simply not equipped to do this right now.  I would like to think that, for the most part, gamers actually give a damn about other gamers. But it’s very, VERY easy to blow it off when it’s just text on a screen and not a person laying in the snow covered in blood in front of you.

That’s my point.

 

Before I go, one final link. http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/


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Author
TygerWDR
I'm a gamer. I'm a reality junkie. I'm a cynic. I'm a dinosaur. I'm a writer. I'm so much more than a paragraph can say. You want more? Ok. I started a video game show on the internet some time ago. See, I've played video games since Intellivision and Atari 2600 and PONG back in the day. Retro-gaming doesn't really fire me up as much as seeing how the community ticks. And after seeing way too many "I'm too young to have played this game when it first came out but it MAKES ME SO ANGRY" reviewers who would happily eviscerate my childhood for lulz... yeah I tossed my hat into the ring. the quickly scooped it back up, I'm told I have a bald spot that needs covering. Outside of gaming... yes I go outside shut up... I like to play paintball when I can. I snowboard a lot, when I can. I go mountain biking, when I can... seeing a trend yet? I prefer reality to video games, but at 4 AM it's hard to find a paintball game going on. Lately I livestream a lot, playing video games for an audience.