When the subject of this Poll became apparent, more than one person responded with incredulity: what’s the point of a survey when you already know the result? However, more people asked when I’d be asking players if they’d own up to ever abusing somebody else in Azeroth. For those of you who did enquire, that Poll will happen next week, because it is a natural follow-up to this question:
This is always going to be a sensitive subject. I have lost count of the people I know who’ve been stalked in this game, forced to alter their lives because somebody else couldn’t take no for an answer, or wouldn’t let go after a relationship went south. That’s the problem with a game this immersive and all-consuming. Everything can become a casualty when the emotional overtakes everything else, and it isn’t just one group of people who suffer. Across binary and non-binary relationships, abuse has no borders, and rarely takes prisoners.
What was more concerning was that some people simply accept abuse as part and parcel of the gaming landscape. Sprig’s comments weren’t isolated, a number of people DM-d me privately to explain that sometimes, in order to play the way they wanted, a certain level of abuse was simply considered as part of the experience. He was good enough to let me use the Tweet, and I hope I can be sympathetic enough as I do so.
This then throws up a logical follow-up: what exactly do you define as abuse to begin with? Anyone can call you a scrub, or question your parentage in the heat of a PvP game. However it takes a special kind of person to write in-game mail full of abuse to someone when they make a mistake on the AH meaning their item’s listed for a pittance. It is a particular form of evil that stands outside the Neutral AH in the days before it was part of the whole network sniping players as they try to send items from Alliance to Horde, and then sets up a website full of the conversations had with players once they work out their items have been ‘intercepted.’ These people really are true abusers, and often show little or no remorse for their actions. After all, this is only a game.
Most of the people I’ve spoken to have been very mature and objective over their opinion: I’ve also seen people happily admit that no, they’ve never been abused and are often mystified at the amount of people who say that they are. It is quite likely your level of in game immersion has a lot to do with this, but more importantly if you are lucky enough to pitch up with a decent group of people, abuse is something you can easily avoid long-term. Many Guilds and Raid teams forged friendships that have lasted decades, after all, and this allows a level to be reached where tolerance and inclusivity are front and centre. There are people still trying to do just this even now: new micro-communities who fully understand what is required to build safe, accommodating spaces in which to flourish.
This is the moment where I remind everybody that this is a very small poll size, your definition of ‘abuse’ will and does vary, and that if your discomfort does get too much I know the mechanics in place for dealing with offenders is far better than has ever been the case in over a decade. If, for the sake of argument, Warcraft is considered as a social media client (it has a chat channel, you can arrange events in it and now you can post your adventures to other Social media platforms) as well as a game, both the tolerance for abuse and the amount of it is probably only a reflection on current trends elsewhere. All the major Social media platforms are now promising to introduce far more robust means of reporting abuse, and yet Warcraft already lags behind other IP’s in it’s own organisation. Giving players a chance to appear offline, for instance, and better improving Battle.net functionality have long been asked for, but are yet to be delivered.
However, and this must be said carefully, players are as much to blame as the company who provides the platform. If you tolerate abuse, if you contribute to it or, most importantly if you overlook it when it happens to someone else… you are part of the problem. Picking on easy targets because of mistakes, blaming others for your own failings and, most significantly, deciding that your way of playing is somehow more worthy or significant than other people’s is how abuse begins. That means I’m to blame too: asserting raiding isn’t necessary, flying not required to play this game… all the abuse garnered in all the time written here has, like it or not, at least been partly of my own doing.
When you accept you are part of the problem, it becomes easier to find a solution.
The fact remains though that so much abuse online is unprovoked, particularly viscous and appears to be instigated without thought. Those who take the time to think and plan end up as the only ones authorities are ever likely to catch: until worldwide law enforcement is able to consistently co-ordinate their efforts, it will remain difficult to truly intercept long-term offenders. What I find most disturbing is that many people seem to now take both pleasure and notoriety by being the shitty player, to the point where it becomes part of their personality. It’s neither big nor clever to be that person, and the anonymity you think exists may not do so for much longer.
Being decent takes no effort, and will change a person’s day. Abuse just makes everybody suffer, and is the coward’s way out.