Community: If Not This, Then What?
In furthering our discussion about community, a lot of our commentators wondered where “common ground” could be found. There were a variety of ideas; some suggested it could be done through a circular nature to motivational design or a focus on player values. Others suggested it couldn’t be done and drew comparisons to other similar cultures, like the U.S. Overall, there was an excellent exchange of ideas, which is precisely why we’re all here.
However, in the end, little had been figured out. I thought a lot about that, about how confusing such a mass of players’ motivations could be. I’ve always been vaguely dissatisfied with Bartle’s archetypes; it’s not that I consider him wrong, but more that, like Gardner’s initial seven intelligences, they were too limited and vague to start and in need of greater differentiation and development. I’m certainly not in a position to do that work, though, since, I’m just an English teacher. However, I wonder if today we could probe all the reasons people play as an opportunity to look for common ground. The list will be far from comprehensive, but let’s see how many I can nail, and then you, dear reader, can add more as you see fit.
To consume time (avoiding boredom)
To have fun (experiencing flow)
To socialize with others (meeting people without leaving home)
To spend time with friends (maintaining friendships without leaving home)
To conquer challenges (participating in PvE and PvP)
To annoy others (griefing)
To experience awe (seeing fantastic sights and creatures)
To maintain routine (because they’ve been playing for a long time)
To empower themselves (feeling more efficacy)
To escape (for a variety of reasons: sadness, fear, instability)
To feel achievement (seeking dopamine)
As you can see, the variety of reasons – many of them overlapping or opposing – makes it hard to locate a single common ground, and these are just the ones I can think of. There are undoubtedly many others that have escaped my list. That’s one of the reasons I feel, at the base, that WoW’s community is too fractured to repair into a single community; I honestly don’t think that should be the goal of these discussions any more. Instead, I think fostering respect between the communities should be our push. Tension always flares up when communities share proximity but not values, and I think our goal should be to extinguish those flames through building mutual understanding.
How do we do that? Well, I mentioned briefly last time the Positive Coaching Alliance, a group of coaches who grew tired of the constant bad sportsmanship but were having a hard time repairing it until they found the right message: Honor the Game. I think beginning a hard push using that specific phrase could slowly provide a mantra for positive players to maintain both their sanity and their sense of efficacy. I figured today we’d look a little more into that. Let me start by saying this message isn’t for the “bad” players; it’s for the good ones. You’re not trying to correct a bad player’s behavior, you’re trying to improve the overall atmosphere by empowering other players with a simple message that they can push forward themselves.
Imagine the following scenario. Here we are in Shado-Pan Monastery having faced the first boss. You notice in your dps meter that one of the players has atrociously low dps. You investigate and learn that they’ve only been auto-attacking. You find out that it’s not from ignorance; they have good gear that’s acceptably enchanted and gemmed and have achievements that indicate at least a basic level of class knowledge.
You: “Hey, why are you just auto-attacking?
The Jerk: What difference does it make? It’s so easy. (Pretend the grammar is worse; I can’t bring myself to write that way.)
Here, you have a variety of options. You decide to go on the attack:
You: “You’re making it harder on everyone else, you jerk.”
The Jerk: “Who cares? You downed the boss without me.”
You: “You’re not playing right.”
The Jerk: “I can play however I want!”
You: “You should be doing a different rotation.”
The Jerk: “Make me!”
…etc. Each of these encounters just leaves you frustrated and exhausted, and it’s likely that nothing is going to change, anyway, since if they’re truly a jerk and not acting out of ignorance, then they know what they’re doing is wrong. Here, you’ve tried to correct an anti-social little troll’s behavior, and it failed, much as his parents failed for years prior. Remember, though that this new strategy isn’t about “correcting behavior,” it’s about reshaping the whole atmosphere. Instead, try this:
You: “Hey, why are you just auto-attacking?
The Jerk: What difference does it make? It’s so easy.
You: Man, you need to honor the game.
… and it doesn’t matter how he responds, you see, because you’ve said all you need to say to deliver your message. His response is irrelevant, because it’s not about him at all. It’s about delivering that message to the other good players.
It’s that simple. It’s likely the jerk will just continue to be a jerk, but you never know. The benefit won’t be immediate, anyway; it never is. Instead, the other good players in your group see that and think, “Yes. That’s the right argument.” Don’t make it about right and wrong and get lost in moral judgments. Don’t make it about specific behaviors and get lost in tiny details. Just say what you mean: honor the game. It’s not about individuals, about difficulty, or about fairness. It’s about respecting the one and only thing you and that jerk may have in common: the game itself. The hope from there would be that the message would spread, that good players would use the same short, simple, easy to remember phrase. Some will mock it. Many will ignore it. But as long as it keeps moving forward, any small improvement is worth it, and who knows, if it gains enough momentum, it could even actually reshape how we view WoW: not as just a virtual world filled with faceless automatons worthy of scorn and disrespect, but a place where our behavior reflects our feeling towards the game itself, regardless of how we feel about each other.
Of course it seems ridiculously far-fetched to believe this would ever work. I’m sure that’s what a lot of coaches and players thought about parents’ and their children’s behavior at their games, too. There was no way a simple little phrase could begin to reshape such a venomous community. But it is. In encourage you to look into the PCA’s success rate; it’s somewhat startling.
And another “of course,” is that there simply must be more oversight by “the authority.” Without Blizzard’s overt approval of this new vision, nothing will change. Too many people take their cues from the devs and GMs, who have a spotty-at-best track record for how they deal with other players. Who knows, though; it may be that the message gets to them and sticks.
So try it next time. Make it about respecting the game, and let me know what happens.
Stubborn (and eager to hear)