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Community: If Not This, Then What?

November 17, 2012

Dear Reader,

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.

Player Motivations:
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)

27 Comments leave one →
  1. November 17, 2012 11:15 am

    This is an inspiring article. I’ve got to the state in WoW where I tend to shy away from grouping with strangers, because of all the negative experiences, but your suggestions make me want to try again – and see how bullies and jerks respond to such a sensible way to deal with them. I’ve pondered the dilemma of community degeneration myself for a long while, and have written about it too. One thing I pondered about was the idea of rewarding people for good behaviour rather than punishing for bad, since that seems to accomplish nothing. But I think your suggestion is better – bring it back to honouring the game we love!

    • November 19, 2012 12:56 pm

      Yes, I’ve written before that the insularity of guilds is a direct result of the vipers that fill the rest of the community. Unfortunately, those high-walled structures often prevent us from experiencing all the game has to offer, but with the risk of constant frustration weighed against only the possibility of a good experience, who wouldn’t stay within their insular little groups?

      Thanks for the comment!

  2. November 17, 2012 8:23 pm

    I find it strange that your example of a hypothetical situation in which you can make the game a better place centres on passing judgement on a person who hasn’t done anything to you or anyone else other than prolong your dungeon run by a couple of seconds/minutes for some unknown reason.

    • November 18, 2012 10:46 am

      I think the concept is that rather than meeting discourtesy – and it is discourtesy, regardless of how you want to frame it – with anger or more discourtesy, you simply make an effort to remind everyone that doing the right thing should be everyone’s goal. Considering the other options, overt attacks or ignoring, I think it’s a far better choice. Attacking escalates the situation and leaves people frustrated or annoyed. Ignoring does nothing to actually solve the problem, which makes you part of the problem. This seems to be a nice middle ground. That said, there’s no need to do this if you’re that patient with other players, but I seem to remember your fair share of bad dungeon runs, too. Perhaps the Force has helped you find greater balance than I have; I seem to become more and more imbalanced towards that kind of callous discourtesy. (;

      Thanks for the comment!

    • November 18, 2012 11:46 am

      Actually, this discussion has made me realise how much more zen I’ve become since playing TOR, because I do remember being a lot more suspicious of pugs back in WoW. 🙂 But when you’re surrounded by people who are a lot more easy-going and less openly judgemental, it rubs off after a while.

      Anyway, what I was really trying to say was that this post seemed disconnected from your last one (to me anyway): after saying that the WoW community has become extremely fractured, you suddenly pose that everyone could be united under the motto of simply doing “the right thing”, even though different people might have a completely different ideas of what “the right thing” even is in this case. One person’s jerk might be another one’s shining example of how everyone should be acting.

    • November 19, 2012 12:06 pm

      “One person’s jerk might be another one’s shining example of how everyone should be acting.”

      Outside of someone telling someone else how bad their DPS is and they need to fix it or how they’re screwing up and wiping the group, I’m not sure that’s really ever the case.

      And in those cases, you have a whole spectrum from

      “Hey X, your DPS seems to be a bit low, are you new to that spec? How can we help you?”


      “Hey X, you’re doing 15k DPS and should be doing 30k minimum, you need to bring it up”


      “Hey X, you suck at DPS. Kthxbai.”

      But the only way I can see someone trying to justify auto-attacking is with something like “Well, THEY’RE not trying, so why should I?” And that’s clearly not a position that anyone thinks *everyone* should hold. People would clearly prefer that everyone try and do well.

      Also, thanks for the reply, Stubborn, I responded and edited my main post to clarify something

    • November 19, 2012 1:18 pm

      One person’s “gogogo” jerk is another one’s amazing player that pulls quickly and keeps the run interesting.
      One person’s “jerk who refuses to kill the boss” is another one’s hero for making the run as fast as possible.
      One person’s loot ninja can be a hero to his friends, to whom he trades his winnings afterwards.
      One person’s active world PvPer is another one’s nasty ganker.

      Just a few examples I can think of off the top of my head.

    • November 19, 2012 1:45 pm

      I think this is actually meant for Balkoth, but I’ll jump in anyway and point out that there’s plenty of middle ground on all of these situations.

      The “gogogoer” can simply communicate his plan and ask everyone if it’s okay, and if it’s not, he doesn’t. I did that as a tank a lot when my wife was healing and I knew we could chain pull. I let people know ahead of time that was my plan, asked if it was okay, and if it wasn’t (it always was), didn’t. I gave some simple advice to deal with chain pulls – “if you get aggro, run TO me, not AWAY from me” – and got started. A moment of communication there clears up the problem wonderfully.

      The non-boss-killer similarly can just ask, and if it’s not okay with everyone to skip, put it to a vote. Winning and losing are BOTH parts of a democracy, and if 3 of the 4 other people in the group want to do the boss, the tank or healer should really just go do it. That’s being fair, and being unfair is jerkish behavior, regardless of perception. So there, just a simple question and vote with the caveat of accepting the outcome – which will usually be to skip the boss anyway since it only happens in later tier levels.

      Ninjaing loot is always wrong; I don’t care about his friends’ perception. Basing the acceptability of moral judgments on the perception of a tiny group is a dangerous affair, so I don’t really consider this a valid point; it’s just bad all the way around, and the friends know it, even if they benefited. If you want reasons why, I’ll give them, but they’ll be as outlandish as the example.

      As much as I hate getting ganked, the rules are clear: if you’re on a pvp server, you signed off on it. With that in mind, I’d argue there isn’t any difference between those two, even perceptually. They’re the same thing; open world pvp IS nasty ganking; they’re synonymous.

      So in half of those cases a little communication would go a wrong way, and if the player’s not willing to do that communication, then he is being at least a little selfish if not an outright jerk. In the other two, I’d dispute the comparison either as totally inaccurate or completely the same.

      This may all come back to our beliefs on moral ambiguity; I don’t think perception plays that much of a role in right and wrong. I believe in moral certitude, that most things simply are right or wrong. Others prefer a lot of grey areas. To each their own; I can be tolerant and inclusive, as we’ll see tomorrow!

      Thanks for the comment, even if it wasn’t meant for me! (:

    • November 20, 2012 9:28 am

      @Shintar: Interesting take on this. But I do believe there are bad ways and better ways to behave towards other, and in all situations respect is what’s being asked for. The ninja looter may have honor amongst thieves, but no one wants stuff taken from them. He’s wrong, no matter how many robin hoods he represents.

      @Stubborn: I agree with you except on one point — being on a PvP server is *not* consent to abuse. Never. Just extrapolate that argument onto any situation in life ever and you’ll see how bad this line of thinking is. Abuse is abuses, and is the fault of the abuser. No one consents to being abused in the sense we meant it here (masochists and sadists aside). I join a PvP server for the excitement of open world combat, not to have level 80s gank my level 30s or corpse camp me. These are examples of abuse and it *isn’t* the way the game is intended to be played. Why? Because it violates the principle above: mutual respect. That stops being mutual when one player decides they’ve had enough. The other ought to respect that and move on.

      Does having a drink at a dance bar mean I’m consenting to have some drug dropped in it?

      Does crossing a street mean I consent to being hit by a car?

      How does joining a PvP server consent to being griefed? Volunteering to join the server doesn’t confer rights on griefers to grief. That’s just abuse.

      @Balkoth: Completely agree, I think 🙂

    • November 20, 2012 11:09 am

      Ganking and camping are two very different situations. She said gank, not camp, so I responded to her point. Camping, like ninjaing, is certainly abusive, and I would put it right alongside the ninjaing argument that was presented. No one LIKES a level 80 dropping down and killing a 30, but it happens as part of the way open world PvP works; that’s hardly abusive, even if it is annoying. Let’s not read too much into that.

    • November 20, 2012 10:28 am

      For the record, I too think that ninja looting is bad. 🙂 My point with those examples was that with all of the issues I mentioned, I’ve seen clearly intelligent people argue eloquently on both sides of the debate that their way is clearly right and that the other side is wrong and inconsiderate of their needs.

    • November 20, 2012 11:14 am

      I know you do 😛 I just can’t see intelligent people arguing convincingly the side of the ninja looter; I can see jerks trying to build a bullshit argument about it, something I can spot pretty easily after teaching writing for so many years. The old “If you can’t dazzle them with wit, baffle them with bullshit.”

      I see greedy kids doing so, and I’d call them such if provoked, because I’m not nearly as zen as I wish to be. No faux-intellgent argument is going to cover ninjaing, even if they want to pretend it does; that’s the problem with getting caught up in debate with jerks and why I’d just assume to move to “honor the game” and leave it at that. Very little can change other people’s behavior, so we might as well do what little we can and move on.

    • November 20, 2012 7:41 pm

      @Stubborn: Not reading too much, but the context seemed to indicate that abuse was the subject, not the concept of surprise attacks on a friendly PvP server. The terms “nasty ganker” contrasted with the “normal” PvPer seemed to me a comparison between an abusive player and a non-abusive player. The whole context of the discussion is bad apples in dungeon runs so I don’t think it off at all that I thought we were talking about abuse here.

      My bad nonetheless if you guys were referring to good ole, non-abusive players.

    • November 21, 2012 12:30 pm

      Perhaps I misinterpreted what she meant by “nasty ganker,” since that’s Shintar’s wording, but since we were discussing situations that could be viewed from two directions, I assumed she didn’t mean a corpse-camping villain; I don’t know that anyone would try to justify that as acceptable behavior. I simply assumed she meant more something in the middle ground.

  3. November 17, 2012 9:54 pm

    Shintar, I find your comment strange. If a person was in a dungeon group with you and just AFKed, would you say “Well, all he’s done is prolong my dungeon run by a few minutes?” If not, how is that effectively different from auto-attacking for 10% of what he should be doing (and thus functionally being AFK)?

    Stubborn, I wrote a post inspired by this article here:

    One of the points I made is that within heroic raiders, there’s probably plenty of them feeling like giving the middle finger to the game rather than honoring it. And for somewhat valid reasons, though I don’t think it excuses their behavior.

    And if that group is feeling like doing it, is it any surprise other groups may feel the same (even for less valid reasons)?

    • November 18, 2012 3:46 am

      If a person was in a dungeon group with you and just AFKed, would you say “Well, all he’s done is prolong my dungeon run by a few minutes?”

      Errr, yes? What else would that be doing? I suppose if they didn’t come back I’d look into replacing them because there is a difference between participation and complete non-participation, but I wouldn’t automatically assume any malice behind it.

      I’m just not sure that actively looking for ways to view other players as enemies is an ideal starting point for improving community. To me, it seems to be in direct conflict with the previous post about trying to find common ground.

    • RimeCat permalink
      November 18, 2012 4:13 pm

      This doesn’t really look trying make them enemies but to understand that in group activities there are group-expected norms. Imagine you are driving down the road and hit a random pack of cars – you’ve just joined a PuG. Normally, everyone more-or-less travels at the same relative speed and obeys rules on how close to follow, not to swerve wildly, and the like. The “go,go,go” moron is the person who pulls to the pack carrying way too much speed and cuts people off trying to get through to save some of his precious time. The person who just auto-attacks is the one who pulls in and slows down to a tenth of the pack’s speed.

      Back to the PuG, if you can clear the instance without that person he is not causing active harm but is still griefing because he expects four other people to adjust for his benefit. I’ve no personal problem with people who under-perform, even if it’s for obvious reasons. Try and participate, and don’t do stupid things like pull for the tank, and who really cares if your numbers are bad. Once it becomes obvious that you are actively trying to hurt the rest of us, and auto-attacking counts for that, I’m going to be against you and try to get a kick.

    • November 20, 2012 9:45 am

      @Shintar: Ah, I think I finally see what you mean here. You’ve got a problem with pre-judgement, of assuming certain actions taken by a person are conscious actions of a jerk.

      That’s hard. Responsible and considerate people are often worn thin by the oblivious and the aloof, yet I think that’s exactly what it means to have patience: to be able to take all things into consideration in a mature way without unwarranted assumptions.

    • November 20, 2012 10:37 am

      Thanks, Doone, I’m glad I finally managed to convey my point to someone (lol). 🙂 I have no problem with the idea of trying to set a good example. However, I think a really good example should start before we even get to labelling a player as a jerk just because he doesn’t play the way we think he should. How much harm is he really causing? Could he have completely innocent reasons for acting the way he does? etc.

    • November 20, 2012 11:17 am

      To be fair, did say in my example that as a player you’d ascertained he was clearly behaving that way for nasty reasons, not from ignorance. That’s part of honoring the game, too, doing your due diligence to make sure that you’re not the one who’s being the jerk by attacking someone over nothing. I agree that if it’s about game style or innocent reasons that you figure that out and work it out on your own; it’s only mean to be a way to deal with people who are clearly and without doubt being a jerk. 9 times out of 10 (clearly I’ve done statistical research on this and all my numbers are completely valid (; ) your gut tells you the difference, and that 10th time a little research can go a long way. I hope my post today clarifies some of this.

  4. RimeCat permalink
    November 18, 2012 4:23 pm

    In an actual community I agree with you. The best way to change a society for good or bad is to provide consistent examples of the desired behavior and to call-out behavior that is contrary to your desires. Of course, in an actual community there are consequences for behavior and consistently violating social norms can result in penalties up to loss of life.

    This feels very circular but we are back where we began weeks ago. In a guild you can certainly try to achieve a community norm that is very much more dignified and civilized than the WoW standard because you have the authority to exile people who refuse to behave. For general behavior the best we can do is try to set an example knowing that those who are causing the problems will not pay attention, other than to mock our efforts.

    Is it worth it? Personally, I refuse to lower myself to their level but I also refuse to place any hope in changing those players. They have made their decisions and are knowingly engaging in this activity, safe that they are (effectively) immune to punishment as the man holding the stick has deliberately turned his head.

    • November 19, 2012 12:54 pm

      “I also refuse to place any hope in changing those players.” Why? What does it cost us to do so? Yes, it can be a little frustrating to watch the community continue to dissolve around us, but if it’s going to happen anyway, then what have we really lost? If nothing else, at least we can say we tried.

      And I agree with your basic sentiment, that little will change until penalties more similar to real communities are offered up. That, I think, might be worth not hoping for, as I believe the bottom line of business may prevent that forever. Unless everyone agrees to vote with their wallet – which clearly we haven’t – I don’t see much impact on Blizz regardless of the amount and fervor of our discussions.

      Thanks for the comment!

    • RimeCat permalink
      November 19, 2012 7:48 pm

      I’ve thought about this for a bit and I think it comes down to the way our professions have imprinted on our attitudes. You are a professor and, i would imagine, share the idea that everyone can be taught. Most of the teachers I’ve met who really believe in the job seem to feel that way. I’m a project manager and systems engineer. Part of my job, a big part, is analyzing the social network of my projects and determining who is helpful, who is indifferent, and who will hurt us. Internally and externally. One of the things I’ve learned over the years is that some people cannot be changed. You can mentor and counsel but in the end they have decided to be the way they are and you have to either remove them from the team or risk the project.

      I place the WoW trolls into that pool. They are knowingly engaging in hurtful behavior because they can. Nothing I do or say will change that. I’ve elected not to descend to their level but I harbor no illusions that a positive example is going to change their trollishness. I lack the power to remove them but I can do what I do with external threats and try to isolate them. The only tool I have for this is /ignore and I use it freely.

  5. November 20, 2012 9:50 am

    Lively discussion! I told you this was a great topic 😀 lol

    @Stubborn v. Rimecat: I think what Rimecat is saying is everyone has personal responsibility for their behavior and decisions. I think I agree with them that it’s impossible to make direct, deliberate efforts to change someone. They have to be willing and able to change themselves or our efforts will be for naught.

    That said, I agree we have to first try and find out if it’s possible. But once you’ve partied with that dungeon griefer a few times, subjecting yourself to more is just self-abuse. You’re not going to change that one by beating your head against the wall rude.


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