When I moved to Michigan last month, I decided that one way I could bide my time while waiting for school to start would be by checking out World of Warcraft. Not only am I an avid RPG fan going back 20 years to the days of the original Dragon Warrior and Final Fantasy, but online gaming research is a hot topic within my PhD program. So not only would I be having fun, but I’d be advancing my academic knowledge, I told myself. (Fabulous excuse, I know.)
At first, I started a character on a random server, not really understanding the whole concept of servers and how your character is locked to that server (unless you’re willing to pay the relocation fee). In fact, I didn’t really ask anyone for advice or look up anything online at first, choosing instead to just dive in. The game is rather self-explanatory on a basic level. As you get into the nuances, however, it can become very complicated. Especially when you are interacting with other players.
So I’ve been playing for almost a month now and have several characters on different servers so I can play with various friends. When playing alone in the last week though, I’ve had a couple rude awakenings that have shone me a very fascinating aspect of WoW community that surprises me, even with my research focus on online communities.
One would think that with so many players (10 million +), people would not be very organized. At the very least, one would expect there to be a high degree of things like flaming and lack of courtesy. This, however, is far from the truth. Instead, it is I, someone who thinks of herself as a generally courteous and polite person in the real world, who is repeatedly committing offenses and being reprimanded for not being “nice enough.” This amazes me. And people have no sympathy for my ignorance either.
Take tonight, for example. Two other players asked me to join a group. I didn’t need to join, as I was finishing a low level quest, but I accepted because I thought that it might speed up the process. For a reason I am not aware of, they set the looting option to free-for-all. I didn’t notice, because the only other times I’ve ever joined a group, it’s been set so that it is spread out among the group members. Yes, I should have realized this was not the case when I could loot all the enemies, but I just assumed since one of the two players was a high level player (level 65) and the other wasn’t jumping to loot the enemies, that they had gotten what they needed. When I got the item I was looking for, I asked if they still needed my help, they said no, and I left. Five minutes later, I am assaulted textually by one of the group members about how rude it was that I ninja looted everything when he needed an item (the same one I was trying to get coincidentally). I apologized and said that I had asked if they needed help. He proceeded to get very angry about it and how horrible what I did was. I said I was new to the game, not aware of all the rules, and asked why no one said anything as I “ninja looted” away. He decided to ignore this question and continued harassing me for a good 7-10 minutes, mainly just to drive the point home that I was horrible. I kept saying that if anyone had said anything, I would have stopped. Finally, I told him that now I know better and basically thanked him for reprimanding me. That seemed to placate him, and he wished me well. Very weird.
What I perceive from this interaction is that it is very important to the community of players (and perhaps critical to the world’s stability) that these unwritten rules of interaction be followed. Deviation from these rules needs to be punished quickly to ensure that no further infractions occur. This other player, who didn’t know me, had no reason to pursue the matter so far. I can’t imagine I affronted him to such a degree that he wouldn’t be able to sleep tonight, yet he still carried on a long conversation with me. And I actually felt bad afterward! Mission accomplished, I guess.
I also think it’s pretty safe to assume that the vast majority of players have been playing the game for a long time and thus know the “rules” inside and out. So maybe it made sense for this other player to assume that I was a veteran player who was simply taking advantage of the situation. This makes play even more difficult for new players like myself who may be venturing through the game without someone to guide them. While I certainly don’t forsee this instance of WoW “hazing” (for lack of a better term) to deter me from playing the game, it certainly does not make me feel like I am being welcomed with open arms. I guess in the realm of WoW, respect must be earned in hours of play. And I’m thinking I probably need a few thousand more hours of playing before I have half of it figured out.