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Social Entitlement, Oversensitivity, and Real ID

May 23, 2012

Dear Reader,

There’s been a lot of hubbub about our little sphere recently about the inability to appear “invisible” when you’re on a Blizzard game.  MMO Melting Pot collected a representative handful of bloggers voicing their opinions on the issue, but I didn’t really feel like I had that much to say about the topic.  I did, though, begin wondering why people were getting so irritated by this whole thing.  Since Real ID only shows your availability to people of your choosing – your “friends” – why do people feel the need to remain invisible?

My wife’s had some professional troubles recently, not insurmountable, but irritating.  She only had one other professor in the department she runs, and without any discussion with her about it, when that professor left the university, the administration took that position from her and gave it to someone else.  A committee voted on this – let me reiterate without any discussion with her about how it would affect her department.  Our semester has since ended.  I was looking forward to a week of glorious sloth: sitting around, watching TV, playing D3, etc.  Then on Monday night she told me she had to go in from 9 to 3 on Tuesday to help someone else do their job – someone on the same committee that put her in this uncomfortable position.  I asked her why on Earth she’d agree to help someone who’d just screwed her over, and she replied that she didn’t feel like she could say “no.”

Then something clicked.

The problem isn’t so much the inability to be invisible on battle.net, it’s an increasing feeling in our culture that saying “no” is somehow offending the person who’s requesting our help or to play with us.  Thanks to the ubiquity of social networking, where everyone is everyone else’s “friend,” with all the benefits that entitles, our culture is feeling pressured from a false sense of social entitlement to people who’ve become labeled “our friends.”

“A friend helps you move.  A real friend helps you move bodies.”  Well, frankly, this dated cliché does well enough to make a point: few of the people we call “friends” in a digital environment would help us do something irritating and exhausting in the real world.  There are commercials now that make fun of this fact; people work hard to get out of helping their “friends,” so let businesses do it for you (I think it’s a cable commericial).

In an older episode of Radio Lab (and this is a really excellent episode – one of my favorites, so I recommend you give it an hour of your time), Paul Ekman, the scientist who pioneered facial microexpressions that have since been popularized by the TV show Lie to Me, discussed his personal efforts to not lie, even in the socially acceptable “white lie” fashion.  He discussed how he’d handle someone asking on a few occasions to have drinks or dinner or whatever – to be friends.  He detailed how he’d explain that he had was having trouble keeping in touch with his older friends, how he’d not had as much free time, and how he just frankly wasn’t looking for a new friend right now.

I wonder if this type of honesty would even work any more.  Apparently, we’ve become so scared of the social pressure to accept and become so entrenched against telling our friends “no” about things that we literally want tools to avoid our friends.  We’ve become so acculturated to putting anyone who asks on our friends list (and I’m guilty of this, too.  I put my last guild leader on my friends list when I knew I didn’t want to because I wanted time to play away from the guild.  Same story, different game, so please don’t assume I’m talking down at you, dear reader, from a high horse.) that we want to avoid those non-friends by hiding our digital selves.  Really, I think we’ve become so afraid of any kind of conflict that we want a tool that helps us avoid it in our “game” situations.

To be clear, I’m not saying any of this is unreasonable.  I am going to ask, though, about how we define friendship.  Are people who can’t take a polite “no” for an answer really our friends?  Are people we feel the need to hide from really our friends?  And if we use a looser definition for the people who we share our RealIDs with, then why do we feel socially pressured to play with them if they’re not our friends?  Perhaps overuse of “friending” thanks to Facebook has muddied the waters a little too much.

I don’t need an invisible button any more.  When I’m on playing my solo hardcore character and one of my other buddies gets on, I simply tell them that my goal with this character is to play it alone all the way through. We’ve got a social game where we’re leveling “together” (more on that in a second), and if they want, we can play that one when everyone’s available.  But this toon is mine.  This game is mine.  I don’t have compunctions about telling my friends – and they are friends, people I’ve known in the real world for years – this, because I know they’ll respect my decision, regardless of whether they understand it.  That’s what real friends do, and why they’d help move the bodies.

On a totally separate note, I think my last play session convinced me that using the auction house IS CHEATING.  My buddy, who by his own bragging created an arms race in our group to up our dps (3 of our dps was around 200 when his was 350, so he started making jokes about his shoulders hurting – from carrying us.  It was joking because we all do that to one another in WoW; we just hadn’t in D3 yet) was ahead in dps for 4 of our 5 play sessions.  Right at the very end of our play on Monday night, I inquired where he was, and we realized that I’d pulled ahead; I was around 360 while he was around 350.  Only a little bit ahead, you see, but ahead.  And it was left at that.

Then during our Tuesday play session I (rightly) inquired if he’d gone to the AH to “rectify” the problem.  “Only for my weapon,” he said, so I asked what his dps was.  “550.”

A two-hundred dps increase.  Supposedly just from a weapon purchase.  As we headed out into the end of act III, I watched him hit monsters.  He was able to one shot trash monsters.  4-player mode champions (yellow mobs) died in a few seconds to him alone.  It had happened.  He’d trivialized the game.  I confronted him about it, being “friends” and all, by asking him if he thought he should be able to one-shot trash.  “Why not?” he responded.

“Don’t you want there to be a challenge in the game?”

“There’s a challenge.”

“What’s the challenge when you one shot all the trash?”

“There’s still bosses.”

“So you’re saying that all the time between the bosses – 97% of the game play – is a waste of time, then?”

“No, because I enjoy this style of game.”

“It’s not a game if there’s no chance to fail.  It’s just play.”

“Fine.  I enjoy this style of play, then.”

“I don’t want my game trivialized.”

And it was left at that.

Sincerely,

Stubborn (4 essays left –  done today!)

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22 Comments leave one →
  1. May 23, 2012 12:24 pm

    Really interesting post! I wonder if some of the desire to be invisible online comes from a perception that games are somehow “different” from other social obligations. Alternatively, maybe (and I think this is the true case for me) we’re afraid of resentment from others, or that if we say “No” even once the person won’t ask us again. Depending on the situation just that awkward fear that we’ll have to explain why we don’t want to play with someone or why we are skipping raid night to play Diablo 3.

    • May 23, 2012 4:26 pm

      I think you’re dead right about the “one no means never asking again” thing. I think that’s part of the oversensitivity issue. People have become trained through many an afternoon special to be scared of rejection, which has been likened culturally to the end of the world, that if they get told no, they feel like it’s a slap in the face. Because we feel that way, we don’t want to inflict that kind of “pain” on someone else, so we’re unintentionally (or even intentionally in a savvy socializer’s case) forced to always say yes. Once again, then, the best treatment is that we just be honest and have faith that most everyone we know will respect our decisions.
      Thanks for the comment!

  2. May 23, 2012 2:47 pm

    I’ve had people comment on how few friends I have on Facebook (I believe there are 15, of which 12 are family members I have regular contact with). The simple truth is, yeah, I may *know* some of the people that Facebook suggests for me, but it doesn’t mean I want them to know every minute detail of my life. So I keep the list small.

    I understand some people’s desires for invisibility, but I agree with you that if the people you’re trying to hide from won’t let you do your own thing, they don’t need to be on your friends list in the first place.

    • May 23, 2012 4:32 pm

      I don’t even have a Facebook for a social output; I do use it to communicate with my college classes (also, for god’s sake, let people make groups without having to become friends – I really don’t know to get updates on what my students are doing), but I refuse to use it for social reasons. I don’t fault people that do, but personally I think it’s just another electronic medium that’s replacing real-world relationships with facsimiles to make us feel good about being alone (the irony being of course that MMOs are no different). I like to keep my digital and real world separate, though, Facebook blurs the lines. We’re already seeing some of the consequences: online predators, cyberbullying, The Mittani. For what benefit? So we can feel connected? Clearly it’s not working; happiness rates continue to go down. So I’m not really sure what the benefit is.

      Thanks for the comment!

  3. sam permalink
    May 23, 2012 3:35 pm

    clockwork i think it comes from the fact that we are all so hyperconnected. 20 years ago we came home and played our games and enjoyed our solitude. If we wanted other people we had a lan party. Now we walk around with Android phones or Iphones never ever disconnecting from that network of coworkers, newsfeeds, googlemaps etc. Solitude has become a rare thing and thus it is valued more than it was.

    I’m not comfortable with an invisibile profile where I see them but they don’t see me. That seems silly to me. If you want privacy you should just shut the door and ignore everyone. I do think an anonymous mode where I see no one and they don’t see me would solve the issue for most people.

    • May 23, 2012 4:33 pm

      I agree, basically on every point. I wish I had more to say, but you basically nailed it.
      Thanks for the comment!

  4. May 23, 2012 5:05 pm

    In real lifes, I categorize buggers. “Friend”, “Relative”, “Wife”, “Acquaintance”, “Dude what owes me money”, “ex-Girlfriend”, “Buggers I went ta High School with” etc. Social networking tools what insist I interacts with everyone as ifs they was all equal is preposterous. Yet RealID do exactly that. Why do everybodies I wants fer ta stay in occasional contact with deserve ta be treated the same as me wife? They surefuhg don’t in the real world.

    • May 24, 2012 10:38 am

      Wait… Rashtag went to high school? I can only imagine what chemistry class was like. Or Biology, when they asked you to dissect an animal.
      I agree that a more complex system would be better, but then again you only truly need one label for D3: people I want to play with. Other social networks may not be able to use that excuse, but maybe that’s the problem. Perhaps Real ID isn’t meant to be a social network, but we don’t have a name for what it’s meant to be. Or perhaps it’s simply confused about what it is. It sure seems like we all are.

  5. May 23, 2012 6:37 pm

    Anyone who tries to play with me invariably discovers I have pretty bad ADHD. I’m so painful to play with that I never have to say no to anyone anymore ^_^.

    I think Clockwork raises a pretty good point. I turn people down a lot and so I rarely get asked anymore. But playing with other people is just as painful for me as it is for them to play with me so I don’t mind. Lately I’ve taken to sitting in Mumble with my friends. They’ll play together and I’ll play on my own. That way I still get to “hang out” with them, without being forced to play at their pace.

    • May 24, 2012 10:40 am

      I should put you in touch with my buddy Y, who has a similar play style. We’ve gotten used to it, though.
      When I’ve been in-between raiding but still in a guild I really liked, I’ve done the same thing that you’ve described, just sat in vent and hung out. I think that’s a good middle ground between wanting to play with people and wanting to avoid them. Still, it’s certainly not an “invisible mode,” either.

  6. May 23, 2012 9:26 pm

    For me, it’s the Obligation issue. These people may just be fake e-friends, but you need them to play the game. If someone helped me with a group quest by logging onto the their main, can I really say “No, I don’t feel like taking your alt through Wailing Caverns”? Is saying “no” in that circumstance any different than being the douche that just uses people all the time? And even if I “trust them to understand,” how likely are they going to be to help me in the future when I need them to do something?

    I honestly believe your stance is in the extreme minority. It may be more logical in the abstract (and I agree it’d be better), but interpersonal relationships even amongst mere acquaintances is stickier than you seem to give credit for. No “afternoon special” created this problem. Just ask any of your coworkers to do some odious task you know they don’t want to, and see how many accept. My guess is most would.

    The extreme irony here? I am 100% comfortable in telling people “no” IRL; I do it all the time. The minute I go online though, I become a total doormat. Or at least I used to, until I tired of the drama and the doing boring things for other people, going Invisible by way of unsubbing.

    • May 24, 2012 10:50 am

      I don’t doubt that my stance is in the minority, though extreme seems a bit, well, extreme. I think that the backlash against the original Real ID design and this second coming of anger shows that pretty clearly. My coworkers, though, are now college professors, many of whom are lazy in the… extreme, so I’m not too sure.

      I think we need to differentiate between real world and online-only relationships. Real world relationships, even among acquaintances, are very sticky. But I’m not focusing too much on people’s “real” friends here (which is not to denigrate the quality of on-line friends). However, when you’re friends with someone over a long distance, while technology has made it easier, it’s still not nearly as sticky as a real-life friendship. Our brains work on emotional feedback that’s exponentially stronger when we can see people face-to-face (and not over Skype, though once again that helps). People who we only know via voice chat are very abstracted, even when they are friends. Those are the people I think a lot of people have a really hard time saying no to, even yourself. The guy who logged onto his main to help you with a group quest probably isn’t someone who’s a good friend in real life, or you wouldn’t feel obligation; you’d want to help because they’re your friend.

      I get the obligation issue. It’s part of my own problem, too, my “third half” that keeps whispering that maybe it’d just be better to play alone. By doing so, I avoid those nasty entanglements that “force” me to play in ways that I don’t like… like my buddy min-maxing and trivializing everything. I think my writing here is about trying to overcome that, though, rather than continuing the vicious cycle of caving and indebting, which then does the same for the others. Your unsubbing solution is precisely what I did for Wow for a month or two, long enough for me to forget that I had just added my not-real-life-friend guild leader to my Real ID. Upon logging back in on a different toon on a different server and seeing her name, one of the people I was trying to avoid, I logged right back off (this is months ago now). It’s the same kind of thing; I just didn’t make the connections as to why until recently.

      Thanks for the comment!

  7. Windsoar permalink
    May 23, 2012 9:30 pm

    I’m perfectly ok with the current system. Although I originally kept my list to only “actual” friends, I’ve extended my Real ID list quite a bit to include people that I might possibly one day want to run a dungeon with; however, I haven’t actually done it yet. Real ID lets me to talk to people on my own time when I feel like it. If ignoring or refusing to do an activity on someone else’s “schedule” bothers them, then that’s just not my problem.

    I still primarily game as “my time,” and I’m just mean enough to say no ;)

    • May 24, 2012 10:52 am

      I think that’s probably the best stance one can take. “Sure, I’ll add you to my Real ID. You seem like a cool player. But don’t get mad if I’m playing on my own.” I think that’s precisely what we need a lot more of – a kind of social maturity that shows respect and trusts others to do the same.

  8. Bristal permalink
    May 24, 2012 12:12 am

    Ironic that people seem to have a difficult time setting limits with online requests from essentially unknown “friends”, yet MMOs are also rife with rude, immature and raging asshats.

    Could there be a link?

    • May 24, 2012 10:53 am

      Perhaps the Internet makes everything go to extremes if one’s not careful. If you’re a jerk, you become an extreme jerk. If you’re a little socially insecure, you become totally unable to say no. Or maybe simply the perception that you’re being an extreme jerk is such a threat that people want to make sure that doesn’t happen. Interesting point.

  9. May 24, 2012 1:01 am

    In my opinion, the inability to manage social relationships and say “no” to people can be a serious, life-impairing dysfunction and is in no way the responsibility of a video game to fix. That said, I suppose if it’s a widespread enough dysfunction then it might be worth giving people a tool to manage it, in the form of an invisible mode.

    On the subject of the Diablo AH, I actually just yesterday went and bought a full set of Rares for my L28 mage and was pretty disappointed by how overpowered I became as a result. In my opinion they should have at least have allowed a higher difficulty for your first playthrough, just so they’re not alienating that very significant “minority” of people who are not grandmothers.

    I had “tick Elective mode” given to me as a tip when I first started playing and it wasn’t until I was asking my boyfriend why he didn’t just map x ability to a keyboard key instead of the mouse that I even understood what it did, and was frankly a bit boggled at at the game “handicapping” players in that way. I guess for classes which require certain moves be used to generate their primary resource it makes more sense as a noob-guard, but having only played a mage I thought it was a pretty ludicrous restriction.

    It reminds me of the people in WoW who will tell you that using macros is “cheating”. The obvious retort in my mind being that, well, I think action bars and keybinds are cheating and it’s not my fault if you’re too terrible to play the game properly by clicking out of your spell book.

    • May 24, 2012 10:57 am

      To be honest, you’re right, and my first post on the subject concluded that way. Using Elective mode or the AH is in no way cheating, and it’s a little silly to say that it is. Still, after watching my buddy act in such self-interest at the expense of others playing the game with him, and to know that the AH is what enabled him to do that, it still makes me irritated at the system. Why impose the challenge of getting good gear if you can just make money and overcome it?

      Incidentally, in my buddy’s very, very first WoW guild WAY back in vanilla vanilla, they had a guy named Treestorm who did exactly what you describe: play with his spell book open. It was ridiculous, even then, but that’s how he felt the game should be played. When people make bizarre moves while playing now we ask them if they’re “treestorming it.”

      Thanks for the comment.

  10. kaleedity permalink*
    May 24, 2012 10:21 am

    The auction house makes a little more sense at level 60. A little more. It is broken for lower level content because gear does not deteriorate in any way and vendor prices for sold gear are so low. Selling something for a paltry 5k can be a 25x profit over what you would gain from salvaging or vendoring something. I would expect changes to the artisans in the future — though, again, they make more sense at level 60. Both my inferno level barbarian and his hireling are using weapons I’ve crafted that are both crafted for cheaper than AH equivalents. This is the first level where that’s happened.

    I’ve played with my brother for 10 levels or so on an alt. I haven’t played with anyone else, ever, on my level capped barbarian. My thing in an ARPG of this type is that I feel bad about over leveling people and playing with them to trivialize content, and I also feel bad worrying about managing my level to be equal to my friends’. My solution is to play alone and wait until they catch up, or to bring a second character up to them. I will be making a few more characters to catch up to the friends I’ve left behind as fun as inferno butcher runs have been.

    I have to note somewhere that I haven’t yelled at my computer so loudly as I have at act 4 hell. I had about 10 minutes left on the Nephalem buff*, and the final boss killed me when he was at 15% health in his final phase. I haven’t yelled “No!” so loud and so long in a long time. I came back and beat him with less than one minute on the buff — leading to an equally resounding cheer.

    *When you hit the level cap at 60 and kill a monster group that has random attribute traits, you gain a 30m duration buff that grants you 15% extra gold and magic find. Killing another unique pack resets the duration and gives you another stack, up to 5 or 75%. Chapter bosses appear to drop extra rares if you kill them with 5 stacks going. Leaving a game, going to a different chapter, or changing your skills/passives all remove the buff.

    • May 24, 2012 11:06 am

      You want to talk about yelling? I HATE GOD DAMN SUICIDE BOMBER MONSTERS! In any game they exist in, they’re just so stupid, and almost UNDOUBTEDLY the first time you run across them you’re guaranteed to die. I was bitching up a nuclear storm when we were doing the first half of act III and there’s about 10 suicide bombers PER PULL in the 4 person mode. I had to completely remap my character so I could bubble to survive or run out of the pack that I was stuck in the middle of. I get making people change strategies, fine, but suicide bombers are bullshit. It has literally made me stop playing my hardcore mode character – who’s only level 11 – because I simply don’t want to deal with them in a truly “life threatening” situation. (Now that I’ve written so much about D3, though, I may start up again).

      What I want from my “buddy” (who you know very well) is the same kind of courtesy you describe. If he wants to twink out a toon – or almost all of them – fine. But keep one for our social playthrough that’s not uber-powerful and that does not make it pointless for the rest of us to be there. He has at least 4 toons into act 3 (counting his social one) and 1 of them at least into act 4. There’s just NO reason he couldn’t let his one “social” toon lag a little, at least until the upgrades are “needed” (which you seem to indicate they will be, eventually, simply due to the difficulty going up). But trying to explain this to him falls on very deaf ears.

      Add me as a Real ID friend. You know my email. I’m not 100% on yours, but I can guess if it’s the same account we communicated about PAX on.

  11. May 29, 2012 12:55 pm

    Hmm, I find this perspective very interesting. I don’t play on Blizz anymore so being anonymous is as easy as logging onto an alt and being done with it. That being said, Most people know that if I HAVE the time to help, I will, but if I say I am working on questing or leveling, then prolly not. Running a guild is kinda a balancing act, but I try more to promote other guildees helping when they can if Im running teams in instances or raids.

    What I will say though is if player x becomes annoying in asking help for every little thing, player x often gets annoyed. In my guild, self sufficiency is kinda important. Entitlements aren’t really allowed. Now if its a quest or instance someone has been breaking thier PC screen up with thier skulls after an hour of effort, I might step in. Does this mean I’m a jerk? No, not at all. It means I expect my members to get through the leveling process with a certain amount of competency. Now, if Im out tooling around on an alt that is of approx. lv for a guild member, I’ll give em a hand for the sake of teamwork.

    Bottom line though is I dont have to feel like I HAVE to be anonymous. There is no ID save for your toon names. If you help out, great. If not, ok no biggie. Now I might explain some mechanics to someone, but thats really about it.

    I’m glad I don’t have to deal with the battlenet ID thing. It would be pretty annoying to me.

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