The Kindness of Gamers



This will probably be frowned upon as the most carebear post in the history of this blog. But you know what? I don’t give a flying mount… because these are the virtues that I live by.

I wasn’t going to comment on the PvP Uncensored article, even if my views differ greatly, because I don’t like conflict. I’m fluffy like that. I’d like to thank A Counter-Rant for giving me some thoughts and courage to write this. I think this article really has nothing to do with the original topic of PvP in gaming, but more about the way we gamers view each other in an interactive online environment.

I’m not ashamed to say that when I play a game, I play with as much kindness and respect towards every avatar out there. 

You know why?

There’s living, breathing person sitting behind that avatar.

And you have no idea what that someone is going through in their lives. You don’t know what a few kind words and a bit of encouragement can do for that person. In contrast, you also don’t know what hardships you’re compounding when you bully, grief or act hostile towards someone’s avatar in a game.

A Virtual Character in a Virtual World

I don’t mean to pick at Izlain when I quote the post here, but it was the most striking part of the article to me. Any argument made in support of PvP totally dissolved in my mind because this is what I took away from the discussion:

At the end of the day, a virtual character in a virtual world is still nothing but a bunch of pixels on a screen, and though a real live person is controlling said mass of pixels, if they are so incapable of separating their emotional stability from their avatar, I don’t think its me with the problem. I think they might need to re-evaluate why they play games in the first place. I have absolutely no emotional attachment to avatars in games.  I may play them for hours, but in the end it’s just a game and it’s not a big deal if they die a time or two in a play session.

I think I sat there stunned for a moment after reading that. I suppose, under this definition, I must have a problem.

Because I see it exactly opposite.

Maybe it’s because I’m a fiction writer, and we’re all a little odd. The characters I write in my stories, some having existed over 20 years now, are a part of my life. They’ve developed and grown over time, and reflect many aspects of myself in ways that I just can’t impart on someone who isn’t a writer and doesn’t have that connection to a fictional character.

Why do I bring this up? Because for some folks, I’m sure they connect to their avatars in the same sort of way.

I have this quote hanging on my wall at home, and I really believe in it.

Yes, it might be a virtual character in a virtual world. But some people spend lots of time (and real money) to customize a character, imagine a character back story, develop that character through in-game mechanics (leveling), and sometimes in-game situations with other players (role play). They take a lot of pride in that character, and sometimes that character is a way of connecting socially with others when the player behind the character has difficulties doing so. Some people play the same character for years and years and years… and the bond that forms with that character, and what that character represents is much stronger than you might realize.

My in-game character is an extension of who I am. That character represents not just me, but my guild, and the values I stand for. If that virtual character interacts in a mean way with someone else, that’s really me being mean to someone else. There’s no getting around that. I think we all know which behaviors are socially correct, and I don’t think that just because a zone is marked for open PvP, those norms change.

I feel that when I purposely do something to hurt someone’s in-game character, I am by extension doing something to hurt the person who plays that character.

Now, the other player may or may not see it that way. But if that someone is a stranger to me, I don’t know how my actions will effect that person emotionally. Therefore, my default for everyone is the same – I try to treat them with kindness.

(Yes, even the little jerk-hats. Because jerk-hats probably have a reason for being what they are.)

I’m not writing this to attempt to sway anyone’s opinion. I’ve seen the way kindness the MMO community has faltered and faded over time, and often it’s not pretty. In fact, when someone does take the time to be kind, I’m usually surprised by it.

I think it’s just so easy to dismiss the person on the other side of the screen because we hide behind virtual avatars and virtual names. I wonder if it would be the same if folks could see the face of the person they’re camping or griefing while they’re committing these acts. At least, I hope that seeing the gamer behind an avatar would change something.

Or is that me being too optimistic?


  1. I’ve learned over the years that there are two vastly different ways of viewing gaming landscapes. My problem is I never view people as just pixels… I view them as individuals with hopes and dreams and goals, and as such I tread lightly when imposing myself into their world. I don’t see that as strange or bizarre, what I do find odd is interacting with others without an appreciate for how you effect them. There really is no bridging this gap, so I tend to avoid the people that view others as pixels… and collect in my van full of candy the folks that tend to be more community focused. In part it can be summed up as viewing the world from a self centered point of view, or from a point of view of how you fit into a much larger ecosystem.

    I play games to meet new people, and do interesting things with them. Sure I bring a bunch of people into each game I play, but at the end of the day I want to be part of the community, not just someone that exists within it fundamentally separate from it. I like Iz as a person, but just in reading his posts and listening to the podcast I realized long ago that he falls into a camp diametrically opposed to the camp I fall in. So while he is a great guy he is someone I would likely never be in the same guild with. In fact I have removed folks from my guilds in the past for having a “people are pixels” type attitude in their interactions with other players.

    Maybe I am strange, but I realize there is not just one way of approaching online interaction. Just because you only exist digitally in my world, does not mean I value you less as a person.

    1. I agree with you — community is a very important aspect of gaming to me. I do everything I can to make the game a better place for other people because I enjoy seeing someone happy with their in-world experience.

      I’m not sure I can fathom the “people are pixels” mentality, to be honest, though I know and accept it exists. I think it boils down to different types of games, too. In competitive MOBAs, for example, I wouldn’t be as attached to an avatar, because the concept of the game is to go in there and beat people up and get beat up. There’s still some social norms and just basic sportsmanship to adhere to, though.

      I admit that I don’t know Iz very well, and he probably doesn’t know me either. So I’m trying not to sound like I’m judging him for this one little paragraph of text. He’s welcome to have his views of avatars, and I agree to disagree. But like you, I don’t know that I would mesh well with that viewpoint in a community-based unit, such as a guild.

      1. The funny part about it all is that we all would get along fine in PvE-centric content, or playing on the same team in a MOBA or co-opping in some other form of game. Yeah, I’m pro-PvP, but in most games it’s relegated to the sidelines, so you wouldn’t see me while I was doing it. In all examples outside of OWPvP, ganking and counter-ganking and camping and griefing aren’t an issue whatsoever. Also, when joining in a MOBA, Call of Duty-type game, or OWPvP, you’re consenting to the combat. Since you guys would never be there in the first place, it’s sort of irrelevant.

        To be clear, I don’t think of people as pixels, and I wouldn’t treat anyone in that way. My point was more that I don’t have an emotional attachment to my avatar, and I find it hard to understand how others do. That’s on me. But like you said in MOBAs you aren’t attached to that avatar, I treat my MMO characters in the same fashion. I’ve spent a lot more money on MOBAs than MMOs too. I just feel there’s a distinction between the person and the pixels but my meaning was probably lost in the rant.

        Both of you sound like awesome, nice people and I don’t judge you for being “fluffy,” I was more angry about what I understood as an attack on my character in RL because I enjoy the grey-areas surrounding PvP. I’d welcome the opportunity to play with either of you, though it sounds like your minds are already made up about me.

        1. Aw, Iz, let me apologize. I never meant to infer that I’d not want to hang out or play with you. I should rephrase my comment: I wouldn’t mesh well with someone who didn’t treat people like people just because we’re in an online environment.

          You don’t strike me as that kind of person. You seem to be someone who logically separates yourself, and other folks, from their avatar identity. I get that, and I think that it’s unhealthy for people to identify with their avatars too much (we are not our avatar, our avatar is not ourselves).

          At the same time, there are emotional folks who don’t have the logical approach you do, and do see attacks on their in-game identity the same as a personal attack, especially when it’s uncalled for and consistent griefing.

          I agree, this depends on the game’s environment. If you walk into a MOBA (which I’ve never played, btw) and cry when you get killed… well… what did you expect? The same if you walk into a conflicted zone in ArcheAge. You’re giving your consent to a PvP environment in that situation (though there’s a special place in jail for those who same faction kill, IMHO).

          But even then, I think there’s a line between PKing a red and going out of your way to be cruel to someone in a PvP environment. There’s a way to PK with honor and sportsmanship, and I’m totally understanding about that sort of thing.

          Anyhow. I think it would do good for us emotional types to understand there’s logical folks out there who aren’t PKing because they are being mean. On the flip side, I think it’s also important for logical folks to understand that some people do form attachments with avatars, and that doesn’t make them a weird or emotionally unstable person, it’s just the way they are.

          I’d love to discuss your thoughts on this more, if you have anything else on your mind! Thanks for your comment!

  2. Kill an opposing faction character in an MMO, then type “noob” or “lol” in /say. I’ve seen it. I’ve had it happen to me. It’s not a bunch of pixels saying this. Sure, it displays as pixels… but it’s not xxNoobxx Pwnzerx that “says” this – it’s a human being that at that moment in time chose to interact with another human being by killing their avatar.

    Log in to your MMO du jour and type “Good morning!” in /gchat. I’ve seen it. I’ve done it. It’s not a bunch of pixels saying this. Sure, it displays as pixels… but it’s not Sagacyte Luxaloix that “says” this – it’s a human being that at that moment in time chose to interact with other human beings by greeting them in his guild.

    Too often we forget that we are playing with other people.

    And I completely agree: my character is an extension of myself. When I explain strategy for a boss, it’s me explaining. When I chide a party member, it’s me chiding. Being kind with other “pixels” is you being kind… and the opposite is also true.

    1. Good to know I’m not alone.

      When I log in and say, “Hey there, FC! How’s your day!” I really want to know what’s going on with folks. And if they have something to say, I want to hear. It might just be that you’re the first person that’s taken any interest in their life that day, and they really need someone to care about something going on.

  3. My 1st ever MMO was SWG. That game had the biggest social component of any I played, what with the required social interactions in the cantinas to remove the “battle fatigue.” So I chatted with people in there and got to know them and see them as people. Additionally, my “PA” was composed of IRL co-workers and friends, so I already knew all of them too.

    I think this perhaps shaped my lack of desire to ever pvp in that game. I knew everyone I saw, it seemed, so why would I want to kill them?

    Then I moved on to EQ2 where pvp wasn’t an option in any way shape or form and factions were a formality. I was home there for 6 years.

    Moved on to Rift. PvP existed, but was extremely optional (just like it had been in SWG). A couple of friends did some low-level warzones one evening and dragged me along. And when all was said and done I was always in the top 3 on the leaderboards, usually in every category. B asked “How’d you get so good at pvp?” No idea — I’d never done it before. Pretty much just stayed close to other people so I wouldn’t be gank-swarmed, had a full suit of level-appropriate gear, and was playing a priest using warden and justicar souls back when warden could spam waterjet, so every spammed dps thing I tossed out healed me and anyone close to me. Worked pretty well.

    And was also pointless and boring as all hell. They never could convince my to join a warzone with them ever again.

    PvP is simply not for me.

    1. How ironic that you were so good at something you hardly did! I guess we surprise ourselves sometimes! 🙂

      I’ve played PvP in some games in the past – Warhammer Online, LotRO – and while I didn’t have an unpleasant time, and I wasn’t terrible at it, it just doesn’t appeal to me. But I can see how it can appeal to others – it’s more challenging to fight a real person than it is to fight computer AI.

      1. And see there I disagree. In my experience any “serious pvp’er” always uses “the optimum pvp build” using “the optimum skills and counters” and thus is every last bit as predictable as any AI. But the AI doesn’t go out of its way to kill me, nor does it trash talk me if or when it kills me either, so it’s far less annoying.

        FWIW, I also tried some warzones in EQ2 when they released, tried it out in a few other games I’ve “touristed through”, and I even played Eve for 3 years with over a year of that in nullsec. I’ve done plenty pvp since those zones in Rift. I just never got any kind of rush from it. Just doesn’t do it for me.

        1. I guess you have a point with that. I’ve always heard that was the draw of PvP. I haven’t done it enough to confirm for myself. 🙂

  4. It’s funny that I’m actually kind of similar… I do view characters as more than just pixels. I get a connection to my character, often emotionally. You grow with them and even transpose many of your own ideals onto them. Weirdly I’m also rather kind, I’ve healed and buffed enemy people before, random guilds. I’ve had conversations with such people before too. In archeage I’ve even given some cart lifts to lone reds in Hellswamp.. Just because. I bare no ill will towards them at all.

    But then I diverge from that into the field of pvp. I know there are players behind these pixels, and that’s exactly the point. I find that kind of fighting absolutely exhilarating. I mean no ill will, as it’s a game to me. I can attack, kill and also have fun with the exact same people. I made good friends with a couple people in Tera that were ganking me, and me them just because of how much time we spent fighting each other.

    I guess my point is such things often don’t have a malevolent aim. it’s just a game after all and I guess that’s where the divergence happens. Not in how you view the people, but how you view the game itself.

    1. I totally get you on this. I did briefly PvP in LotRO and waay, waay back in Warhammer Online. I think Warhammer was my first real team PvP experience, and as a healer, I wasn’t too bad at it. I even got compliments on my heals. I was a terrible Witch Hunter, though… but dat hat! Really. 🙂

      In both games, you’d see friendly banter between the factions on the forums, and how folks talked about looking forward to meeting each other on the battlefield. In LotRO, you started to learn other players’ names, and rivalries were born over time. I won’t say that no one ever lost their cool, or that there weren’t any trolls out there, but it’s interesting how people who enjoy the competition sometimes end up becoming friends.

  5. I’d like to make a few points here.
    1) Yes, there is a difference between the player and the avatar.
    Even if you’ve modelled your avatar after your favourite character in a book (possibly your own), or even after yourself, games allow you to expose yourself to various interesting and generally dangerous scenarios from the comfort of your desk chair. your adventurous avatar might get stabbed, mauled, burned and even die without physical harm to the player. I doubt there’s any of us who have never exposed their avatar to dangers we wouldn’t expose ourselves or anyone we care about to. Which means we treat our own avatars different from how we treat real people. Then why expect others to treat your avatar like a real person? However…

    2) Any social interaction in a game involves real people.
    I don’t think this is news to anyone here, but unless you’re roleplaying, whatever form of communication (text, voice, emotes) you use in the game, you communicate to the player, not the avatar. Taking my previous point into account, this means there’s a big difference between stabbing someone’s avatar and spewing foul language at the player. Which means…

    3) Being a PvPer absolutely doesn’t mean you’re not a kind or caring person. Think about your favourite competitive sport, whether it’s football, hockey or even chess: someone is going to lose and someone is going to win, that’s the nature of the game. This does not prevent any feelings of mutual respect or friendship among competitors.

    My sport of choice is the one that comes closest to the MMO duel: fencing. When I’m in a competition, I will do whatever the rules of the game allow in order to stab my opponent and avoid getting hit myself. Thanks to all the protective gear, I don’t have to worry about physically harming my opponent and I can’t even see his/her face (see point 1 of my argument). However, once the match is over, we will take off our protective masks, shake hands and either thank the opponent for the match or congratulate his/her victory (see point 2 of my argument).

    Finally: the meaning of terms like ‘ganking’ and ‘griefing’ can vary wildly between game settings. As Izlain points out, nobody should complain about getting killed repeatedly in Call of Duty, MOBAs and other competitive combat games. But even in OWPvP, there are often unwritten rules formed by a community. Camping corpses or spawn points is generally frowned upon, as it’s lazy, unfair and shows poor sportsmanship.

    To conclude: If you’re playing a competitive game, you can expect other people to seek out competition. Here, you can harm another’s avatar without ill will towards the player. Declining to compete might even be considered rude. MMO’s are more complex in this matter, as they tend to be both competitive and cooperative at the same time. Thus, being kind and helpful can mean offering assistance with a difficult quest. It can also mean accepting that duel request a stranger just sent you.

    1. I do hope folks know there’s a difference between them and their avatar. I don’t think it’s healthy for those who can’t draw a line between virtual and reality. However, I still stand by the thought that my intentions and what I personally do to an avatar can have an emotional effect on the player of that avatar.

      I’m not so much talking about PKing in this instance, but just being a nasty person towards someone online. Just because they can’t see our face or don’t know our real name doesn’t mean we have a right to bully and traumatize other folks.

      I agree this is different in different environments. You walk into a MOBA and the whole idea is centered around a competitive situation. But, as you said, there are still social norms and rules of sportsmanship to abide by.

      For example, when I play Hearthstone, my goal is to eliminate the other player. I don’t feel bad for doing this or having this mindset. The other player is there to match wits with me and will eliminate me any chance they get. But neither do I see them as an “enemy” that I should take my bad moods out on (I never play that kind of game in a bad mood).

      The competition is the fun in that game, and I do think it’s fun (for me in small bouts). When I get crushed, I enjoy complimenting through a “Well Played” because chances are, they really built a good deck with synergy, and I know that I’m still a noob in that area. That’s okay, though!

      I find that when I give a “Well Played,” I often get them in return, too. Those are the matches I enjoy because I know someone on the other end isn’t taking it too seriously, and we’re just there to have fun, whether we win or lose.

      1. I fully agree with you here, but I’ll try to elaborate a bit here on my thought that it is not a simple matter of ‘be nice’ in MMO’s.

        My basic premise is that a variety of in-game goals, interests and playstyles lead to different definitions of kindness.

        I also didn’t mean to focus on PvP as much as I did. There are other forms of competition in MMO’s, often in the form of status symbols; the race be the first to defeat a new boss, to acquire the best gear or that unique mount or pet.

        Of particular interest to me is the competition for land in ArcheAge (as a student of Geography & Planning). The game’s promise of ‘build a house anywhere in the world’ got trampled underfoot by simple scarcity. The freedom offered undermined itself in a beautiful example of the case “ultimate freedom is the ability to trample on the freedom of others” (I probably paraphrased, rather than quoted that).

        As long as we stick to a non-instanced, open world, this rule extends to many other matters of scarcity: mining nodes, mob respawn rates, loot drops, etc. Not even that beautiful quote on your wall is exempt, for I cannot help but think that the weeds don’t think you’re kind at all.

        As long as it doesn’t go beyond the exchange of polite words, kindness is cheap. On the other hand, you are absolutely right that words of kindness can be scarce amongst gamers and we could use some more of it. I guess that in many cases, it is a simple matter of ‘be nice’.

        I would like to add to that: ‘be context-sensitive’. The type of game you’re in and even the space within a game can define what is acceptable behaviour and what not.

        1. The problem with AA land is that it gives the impression of “build a house anywhere in the world,” but once you get in game, you realize that’s false. I understand that you don’t want houses plastered all over every inch of the in-game land. That’s not desirable or feasible.

          However, all AA does is take a little section of a zone, fence it in and say: everything inside is claimable land for a house of this type (small, medium, large, farms, etc.). And then everyone just dumps a jumble of houses and farms in that little enclosed area, which becomes a nightmare to navigate through if you’ve built somewhere inside.

          Every now and then you see some tiny little out of the way zoned spot where a lucky person has placed their single house and farm in a scenic place. But it’s very rare, and those areas are very small and desirable. The rest of the folks deal with the jumbled housing zones.

          Also, there are a lot of areas that I feel could be expanded into additional housing ares. Places where there’s just nothing but open land – no mobs, no quests that go there. No one is going to plant unprotected farms there, because they’re too out in the open. Wasted space, overall, that could be used for something more important, like making paying customers happy.

  6. I’m glad to see so much general agreement that there’s definitely such a thing as harmful behavior in PvP environments. I think sometimes the criticism can seem personal, but I don’t think anyone intends to call anyone a sociopath. Still, anti-social behavior can come even from well adjusted people because societal norms sometimes uphold it.

    I think the most familiar example is trash-talking. Even professional sports recognize the difference between friendly banter and trash talking. But, generally speaking, culture treats it as part of competitive games — which is nonsense. So it can be difficult to distinguish banter from the anti-sociality of trash talking.

    I tend to have a similar mind set as you do, Aywren. I find it very hard to act like avatars aren’t people.

    1. I agree, it’s good to see folks who acknowledge and agree that there are kinder ways to behave in online gaming. I guess seeing the forums, and sometimes even in-game local chat, it’s easy to believe most gamers don’t care how they effect other players as long as they achieve their own goals.

  7. I’m not sure where I stand anymore, exactly. I just know that there is behaviour that goes beyond what is necessary for a game, and it is undesirable. When you are dealing with strangers, erring on the side of caution and not being a dick should be the default. Context is everything, though. Not least of which, is the game environment, by which I mean what reasons are there for behaving in an anti-social way, and are they good reasons? “Because I can” or “because I am allowed to by the mechanics” is not good enough.

    I seem to have been lumped in with the ultra-carebear group with you and Belghast, Aywren. I don’t think I am that close to your position. I will happily attack other players if there is a good reason to. I’d be willing to take up a life of piracy in AA, for example, if that was viable solo.

    Argh. I am having trouble articulating exactly what my position is. A general rule of thumb is that if your enjoyment comes from the suffering of other players, then you are a problem to the community. You have a responsibility to not treat others like crap, unless you are very explicitly engaging in roleplay and everyone understands that. Conversely, you have a responsibility to understand the environment of the game and not have unrealistic expectations. As noted above, going into LoL and crying that you died is just silly. But you should totally expect civility in the chat towards you as you die (repeatedly).

    During my brief few months in EVE I ended up in lowsec for a while, where I was slow to react to new traffic in the system and ended up getting attacked and neutralised. The attacker demanded a ransom, I paid, they let me go. It was all very civil and while I wasn’t happy about the loss of ISK, I didn’t finish the encounter with a bad taste in my mouth, like I have with so many LoL games and WoW battlegrounds. That kind of experience is great, and I am all for it being allowed in MMOs. It should be discouraged, with severe in-game penalties, but it should be allowed.

    I don’t know. I’m afraid I’m not as nice as you are, Aywren, but I’m not with the PvP sociopaths. I’m not quite with the likes of Eri and Izlain, in that I don’t think it is fun to go looking for trouble (in the open world – arenas, etc are another matter), or to punch down at all. I’ve always played PvP modes or games since I started playing games, and ever since they’ve branched out beyond Doom, I’ve loved objective-based modes or games over simple deathmatch.

    1. It’s totally fine that you are who you are. I didn’t write this article expecting everyone to be like me. I’m a bit of an extreme, I suppose, but that’s a quirk of my nature. In my experience knowing you, in and out of games, you’ve been thoughtful, generous, and have a lot of good things to say.

      I don’t think that playing as a pirate makes someone a bad person. I think how you conduct yourself as a pirate is more important.

      Will you kill other players and take their stuff? Absolutely, because that’s the nature of the faction you’ve chosen. IMHO, players know that pirates are a threat when they sail off the mainland in AA. In fact, for some players, having the threat of pirates makes the game more exciting and rewarding, therefore, you could argue pirates are a positive part of the community. But as in your EVE example, there’s still kinder and more honorable ways to interact with the enemy faction.

      I have an issue with those who go out of their way to ruin someone’s fun in order to get their own kicks. I think that’s a common ground we agree on, and that’s what I find important.

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