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?