Thursday, 7 January 2016

The day on which virtual people made me cry

Heather of Pretty Little Sith wrote about her recent traumatizing experience in Star Wars: The Old Republic:
 "A few weeks ago, several members of my guild (...) quit the guild. I was unreasonably upset about it! I cried a few times, which is absolutely a ridiculous thing to do over something that happens in a game." 
It reminded me of how I once felt the same in Lord of the Rings Online, after an event that was at least as, if not even more, silly. Now I think back at it, the reason feels ridiculous, but back in the day I felt so involved with the game that it was all very real to me.

Heather, about why she felt so hurt:
"I knew something was wrong when people started questioning the loot and having arguments. However, I wasn't expecting people to just leave–some dramatically, some silently–and to not even see a goodbye from anyone. I guess I don’t really matter; I'm not “real.” I'm only pixels on a screen and a voice in Mumble. But I had played with some of them for a long time, multiple times a week for a long time, and I felt hurt."
While Heather plays SWTOR and my experience was in LOTRO, I feel they are similar in that they are an example of how MMOs in general can affect us on a personal level.

So what happened? One evening I was playing LOTRO and was asked by a member of a befriended kinship (the LOTRO equivalent of a guild) if I wanted to help out with a Watcher run. They had 11 out of 12 people and desperately needed a lore-master. So far so good.

You should know that these were the early days of Moria. Beating the Watcher raid was a real accomplishment - not many kinships were doing it - and I had managed it with this particular kinship once or twice. I was officer in a casual kinship that was too small to do raiding on its own, so I took whatever chance there was to raid with others. LOTRO was my first MMO and I was taking my first steps into challenging group play. It was all really scary and exciting, and I had come to think of the members of this befriended kinship, with whom I ventured out to do hardmode instances as well, as my friends. 

So they wanted to do the Watcher and needed a competent lore-master for it - but then they told me I was not allowed to roll for anything, because they had promised all the loot to a fellow kinship member. Much to my own surprise, I broke down in tears behind the computer at this point. Aware of the sillyness of my reaction, I tried to understand what I felt.

Firstly, it felt a bit unfair. How was I ever going to get that Moria set bonus if I wasn't allowed to roll? I already had so few chances to raid - the fellow members of my own kinship were lovely but simply not raiding material. And killing the Watcher was the only way to get that gear. But that was not it: I was ultimately more interested in the experience and the challenge than the loot. What was making me sad was the feeling that I was worth less to them just because I wasn't a member of their kinship. I knew they would never organize the same thing for me as they did for that member, and it felt wrong.

I told them to take somebody else because it didn't feel right to me, but they kept insisting and insisting because they actually couldn't find anyone else. They went on for an hour or so. I had never felt so miserable and stressed in an MMO before.

In hindsight I took it all way too serious, but it was only a natural result of the passion I felt for the game and the involvement I experienced with that online community at the time. It makes me feel a bit like a granny writing this down, but I was young, naive and idealistic and had yet to learn a thing or two about virtual environments. When you look back at your first MMO through rose-tinted glasses, it is easy to forget the downsides that such deep immersion brings. There is a reason I take online gameplay less serious nowadays.

When Heather writes: "I'm only pixels on a screen and a voice in Mumble", I almost hear her saying "but I thought I was more, we all were more". That was exactly the sentiment I felt on that day in LOTRO.

What is the solution then? Should we not care about the people we play with in MMOs? Should we treat them as nothing more than pixels?

While that would work, and possibly is the easiest way to avoid getting hurt, connecting to people is one of the reasons I like to play MMOs in the first place. I feel more confident now, and the same wouldn't happen to me again. I found my crowd: I've surrounded myself with people I care about in-game and I like to think that I mean more to them than pixels as well. And yes, if we take on a pug for a raid, they usually go home with something.

Did anyone ever make you cry in an MMO?


  1. I don't think we should diminish others across the screen in response to them apparently not caring about us. That just winds up in the long run to everyone treating each other as pixels and not people, which wouldn't be a very pleasant environment at all.

    I think we just need to be aware that we do project our own feelings and thoughts onto other people, very much more so across the interwebs. What we think about others and how we interpret their actions may not actually be the same as what the other party thinks or feels about their actions.

    That said, imo, it is very much valuing yourself and your thoughts and feelings to be open to those emotions (as long as you bear in mind that the same may not be felt in the exact same way across the screen.)

    Those emotions you're feeling are real. Even if they are prompted by an event that isn't quite 'real' or only exists in your head as an interpretation. It is okay to feel that way.

    Many years ago, I was stricken by a completely unexpected grief when I was in a MUd waiting for an event organizer to log on and start a planned event. Said person was late and never showed up. Later, we only saw a note that was apparently posted by their spouse, saying that this person had been in a car accident and died.

    I wasn't even close at all. I didn't know this person except by avatar name. But simply because I had been waiting for this person to log on, and they didn't make the appointment, I was somehow hit by a massive sense of loss and burst into heartrending tears. The incident just hit me in the feels, for whatever reason.

    I heard a rumor later that this person had actually faked their own death and posted that note themselves to see what kind of reaction they might get. I don't actually know if that was true or not.

    I came to the eventual conclusion that, regardless, what -I- felt was real and it was okay to mourn, and acknowledge that sense of personal loss that I was feeling. What really happened on the other side of the screen is their business; what happens on this side of the screen is mine.

  2. Like I said in my comment to her. Even though we are miles and miles apart, behind a computer screen, whatever. The interactions we have are real enough. To connect to another human being is well being human. While some feel the need to whip out the "My stick is bigger than yours mentality", the rest of us try to remember what it was like being new, shy, whatever, and we try to connect with that other person even through a video game, virtual whatever. Etc. I connect through these comments, my own blog, and facebook. It's easier for some of us to connect to others online, then say RL.....Hmmm I smell a blog topic here.

  3. This is a really great post because it crystallizes something that I feel is rarely acknowledged let alone asserted: "When you look back at your first MMO through rose-tinted glasses, it is easy to forget the downsides that such deep immersion brings."

    We had years of emotional roller-coasters Chez Bhagpuss, in EQ, DAOC and EQ2 especially. We had personal trauma (lost characters, nightmare corpse runs), guild drama (seemingly endless), weird stalking and stranger danger... you name it, one or both of us experienced it in that first half-decade.

    There were times when I couldn't or wouldn't log in certain characters, play on particular servers or even play actual MMOs either for fear of the emotional maelstrom I might log into or from anxiety and upset that had already happened last time I played.

    Yes, it was all more intense, more immersive, more "real" but often, too often, not in any kind of good way. As MMOs became less of a social experiment and more of a leisure activity these pressures eased. I was, and remain, very happy that modern MMOs facilitate a more self-directed, solipsistic experience. It's so much happier for me, that way, even if it isn't creating the same "life experiences" it used to.

    And, of course, all the old intensity is still there if you want it - it's just so much easier now to enjoy the imaginary worlds and the pretend people without all those genuine emotions getting in the way.

  4. An evening in WoW made me cry back in the Burning Crusade days - my guild had been working on Kael'thas Sunstrider for a while (a very tough raid end boss) but that night I had to bow out because my PC was crapping itself. Later I found out that they'd finally got the kill that night... and I cried, and I felt dumb about it. It wasn't anything anyone did (after all it was my PC's fault), but I was really heartbroken to miss out on that great shared guild moment.

  5. Personally, I never cried because of a game. But I certainly felt angry, upset, even felt betrayed and depressed too. Much as I hate to admit it I caused my share of drama as well.

    I think that made me (even more) picky about what kind of people I hang around with nowadays.

  6. This post is super relatable for me. I've cried an awful lot over things that I experienced in WoW, and I've felt silly every single time. For me it was always a matter of trying to be respectful to the people I was playing with and getting none of that in return. I definitely agree that it's easy to disregard others and their feelings simply because they aren't 'real' but the social aspect was always one of my favorite things about MMOs too so I'll keep the faith:P Also, screw helping a raid group and not being allowed to roll!

  7. Never cried for a game except this one time when I was real young. I died near the end of Super Mario Bros 3 which of course enraged my 8-year old self so I started swinging my Nintendo controller around like it was a lasso. It ended up wrapping around my neck and then finally coming back around and smashing me in the face.

    Those Nintendo controllers were sharp though.

  8. Never cried but there's definitely been some stress!

  9. I'm sure I have cried at some asshat in a game, probably many times. Fortunately I cannot dredge up any of the exact instances right now. That's a good thing, right?


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