"The Other Side of the Screen", the Responsibility of Community Building

The darker side to MMO community building

A lot of you guys are used to my more humorous stuff, but I'm not in the mood for humor at the moment. The politically correct term I've heard used for dealing with this stuff is "pain management" but let's call it what it is. "Taking so many over the counter anti-inflammation and pain med drugs so as to be functional that it could probably kill a horse." I'm almost at "bison" level. If this keeps up I'll be at "elephant" by summer. So my humor is pretty dark at the moment.

So with this in mind, there's one thing I'd like to talk about here. The only way I can describe it is to talk about something that happened last night in DCUO, but I've seen it enough times in MMO's that it's something I've thought about a lot.

To set the stage. Its about 3 AM. I game the graveyard shift, so what? I sign up and eventually get into a mid-level 4 player instance (Oolong Island, for those keeping score, the T2 version.)

This instance is where the game amps up the difficulty. You need to know your role/powers/skills, and know what you can do and how to do it. So the difficulty goes from 4 to about 6 on the Spinal-Tap scale. As a result, a LOT of groups fall apart in the first or second boss fight due to inexperience. Groups generally don't talk, or if they do its one person barking orders and the other three telling them to shut up, "I got this!" *wipe* As you can imagine, this instance tends to be a powder keg sometimes.  But not like last night.

My group struggled through the first trash mobs (the negligible bad guys that exists only to make the instance longer in most cases) which was a bad sign to me. I've seen groups turn it around, however, so I'm willing to stick with it. The first boss fight is almost disastrous but somehow we take a victory. On reflex I take off flying over the useless trash to get to the next area before the loot screen comes up.

Our "group loot" comes through, and it's pretty low level for what characters should have by this instance. A pendant and a decorative item for player homes, nothing I need so I passed on them both. We get the loot distributed, but the group stalled back at the useless trash mob that can literally be jumped over to avoid. Then out of nowhere, two people leave the group. I don't know if words were exchanged in local chat, but as far as I know, they just got the gear and left.

Then in group chat, the remaining person starts screaming in all caps (censored because I like to think it's a family website) over several individual lines "SERIOUSLY I LOST A ******* VASE AND A LOOT DROP FOR THIS I HATE YOU HATE HATE HATE HATE HATE YOU! IM GOING TO ******* KILL MYSELF" This person then closed the instance to new players, and left.


I want that to sink in a moment.


At 3 AM, a user somewhere out in the world drops that on you from seemingly out of nowhere over what's honestly a trivial loot drop. What do you do? What can you do? And I mean that question sincerely, what, as a player in the game world, can you do with this information?

Gamers have become desensitized to language like this because we see it all the time in a different way. Not knowing exactly what to do in "League of Legends" can lead to being instructed to "die in a fire", "go kill yourself" or "go delete your hard drive and drink bleach you n00b!" and that's if your team is polite. We filter it, literally or figuratively, and move on. But what do you do if it's the other way around like this was?

I don't want to get into the legal questions of obligations because I can't easily find the answers. However, I'll speak logistically. I have no idea who this person is. For all I know they're not even in the same country as me, let alone the same continent. So if I wanted to say something, or do something, I can't. This was just a random shout to the wilderness for all intents and purposes... with one difference. The person has a unique name. That name is tied to an e-mail account at the very least and full billing information at the very best. Someone has access to that information, and they could do something about it.

If they had a system in place to do so, that is.

When I hear game developers talking about "community building", I rarely if ever see them bring up this kind of thing. I mean why would they? Games should be fun. Games should be an escape from the real world, so teh party line goes.  But in the end, they see us not as numbers.  A demographic that they want (nay, NEED) to tap to keep income rolling in on a subscription or a F2P microtransaction model.  This may be a negative stance to take, but hell you can't convince me that Blizzard entertainment gives a damn about it's players further than their credit limits.

But on the other side of the screen sits not a metric, nor an e-mail address, nor a credit card, nor a demographic, but a human being. Humans who have good and bad days. Humans that bring baggage into the world they're playing in. Humans that are sometimes on edge and need help to get pulled back in.

I understand that "community building" in MMO lingo means to have a steady customer base but that isn't what a community really is. We have emotional ties based solely on the fact that the person on the other side of the screen enjoys this game as much as I do. We have that in common, that's enough to at least be friendly most of the time. Just like the real world we help members of our community if we can. Someone cries out for help, we want to help. MMO's don't often have tools in place to allow players to help in circumstances like this. They should, as players use MMO's as 3D chat rooms now, but from what I see they don't.

I did all I could do. I took a screen shot, forwarded it to the powers that be at Sony, and implored them to look into it or at least notify the correct people. I want to do more but, honestly, what else can I do?

Then again, the answer to that question is somewhere in the above text, isn't it?

Published Apr. 29th 2013
  • Amy White
    Former Editor in Chief
    I bet if games created a way to report that sort of thing, we'd see a lot less of that language used casually.

    Good points, and I hope your pain management gets back down to 'kitten' levels soon.

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