Recently, Leala brought home a copy of "World of Warcraft and Philosophy", a book that connects to and uses World of Warcraft as an example to explain philosophy. I have always been interested in philosophy, as well as basic psychology, but have always felt a little embarrassed about the interest. Let's be honest here: it can be a pretty pretentious and silly pursuit.
But, the book is well-written and I am surprised at how much I follow certain standard examples in the book, and how many people I know follow certain standard examples. After all, this stuff is based on hundreds (thousands in some cases?) of years of human study. It's not rocket science, but well-documented science. Still, I am weary of using the terms from the book, as I am not reading it straight through, and I do not want to just copy and paste what the author worked hard on writing. Also I feel a little silly using terms that I rarely would outside of my discussions with Leala.
So, I am going to just use whatever words I want. There is a part in the book that talks about a person that makes up their own rules, for good or bad, and I am definitely one of them.
In this blog I want to actually talk about something that, as far as I remember, has not been covered by the book yet. I am talking about certain "characters" in your book. Your "book" is basically your life and how you see it, and these "characters" can be the post-man with his funny moustache and silly sense of humor, your co-worker with her habit of sneezing funny, or whatever other characteristics or backgrounds you have imposed on or noticed that come from the other people in your life. For example, no one knows my wife better than me, and vice-versa, but she is still a series of memories, stories and presumptions that make up a (very strong) character in my "book."
When people take on these characters, and when other people form these people as these type of characters in their books, it can be obvious as to what kind of character they are or have become to other people. When you log into your favorite MMO, and if you are part of a guild, then I am sure that you have certain characters in your guild. After all, usually the most you get to physically "see" of the person is their voice on Vent or their picture, so you are truly formulating (their representation in your "book") all sorts of characteristics about that person. Sometimes, certain characters pick up on these characteristics that you have given ("...you're the funniest guy in the guild" ) them and they use them to form those actual characteristics in deeper ways or to strengthen those characteristics that you picked up on.
In other words, the guild ***hole starts to notice that he is the guild ***hole according to other players, and decides to run with it.
My wife's guild is truly fascinating to watch from outside. While I carry a great amount of power in the guild (I can invite in or kick out anyone I want, I have access to everything in the guild bank) I rarely log in or rarely subscribe to her game. Still, I get to hear all the stories and all of the drama that happens in this once "social" guild. To me, the turning point came when they decided to start raiding, even though it was on a small scale.
Of course, many of you could see this as another attempt by me to slam raiding, but I never slam raiding. I slam players that get obsessed with raiding (or, for the record, any other activity.)
They are now up to 2 days only of raiding, but they have done well. They are usually very organized and rarely have any "loot drama." Recently, however, some players have wanted to raid more (as is usually the case with raiding, players start to see it as the only activity to do) and it started to create stresses in the guild. On the guild forums, there is almost always a discussion going on about raiding, and in almost every discussion there is almost always a certain player that gives his two cents. His two cents are usually well-written and thought out, but almost always full of p*** and vinegar.
His arguments are always worded very carefully, though, always leaving a backdoor in case anyone gets offended. He always leaves himself a sentence or two that would be the equivalent of "Don't get me wrong, I love the guy.." which are verbal waivers that he makes anyone sign that decides to read one of his posts. This way, if someone takes offense, he get drop back a few feet and say "Didn't you notice that I said ______ here? See? I didn't mean anything by all that p***ing and moaning!"
To the other players in the guild, he has not only become this character, this p***ed off character, but he has started to craft it and to take on more and more of those characteristics. There is almost some subtle "body language" that is passed on through their texts that tells him "You are the guild ***hole" like the chemical communications that are passed through communal trees when bugs attack one of their own.
It becomes a habit, next. Not only is logging in becoming a habit, but acting a certain way becomes a habit. Dramatic people are expected to be dramatic and they are. Natural leaders are expected to lead, and even without huge amounts of ability they will try to lead. Like smoking, the habits become even more ingrained on the individual when they are done at certain key times every day: logging in after work around 7 pm. Logging in to the forums at lunch at 12:30 pm. Logging off at 11:30 PM every evening. The game becomes a habit, and so does taking on these characteristics.
And even the guild ***hole "enjoys" these characteristics. There have been studies to prove that, in certain types of abusive relationships, the abused actually grow so used to the abuse and drama that they actually see it as part of their day. It's not as though they "enjoy" it, but that they become so used to it that it begins to give their life a meaning, a purpose, or gives them a characteristic.
But recently, the guild ***hole pushed once again. Granted, no one in the guild ever calls names. That is one of the golden rules, and will get you immediate banning and ignoring, but he just pulled another one of his "I will argue with anything at all that you say. I mean anything."
I decided enough was enough, and that the relationship (even one as casual as this online guild friendship) was requiring too much energy and was slowly giving him more and more power as "the guild ***hole."
I logged in and booted his argumentative a** from the guild.
What followed was a series of pleading and dramatics coming from him and some of his friends in the guild, and I think I know why.
The drama that followed came from, again, characters that were known to be dramatic. This is not a bad characteristic, if used properly, but it can quickly become just as disruptive as the guild ***hole. What happened, I believe, is that throughout his history in the guild and through all the negative posts he made and snide remarks he made, he grew so used to being that character that it became a habit. A habit, especially one formed so strongly (there wasn't a raid this guy missed and he probably played every night) is not hard to break because it is a good or bad habit, or because it does anything negative or positive for you, but because it was becoming the form that this guy followed. It was something that he relied on to tell him "...this is how I react."
I destroyed that character within about 4 pushes of buttons, a character that he had worked hard on creating for maybe a year or more.
This is why ignoring forum trolls/comment trolls works so well. Not only are you no longer aware of them and no longer forming their character in your book, but the character is no longer being formed for them, and cannot gain any more power in their life. When locked away from the area that they behave this way in (the forum, the blog, the guild) the might even see their behavior as toxic and work to change it or to at least form a different behavior.
For example, there is man that has followed me from the official Vanguard forums all the way to my official blog to other areas that I post in. He continues to change his account once one gets banned, just so he can either give my posts a negative rating or to leave some snide remark in the comments section. He has emailed me several times to tell me that he does this, and despite being banned already, he has found ways to get around bans (not hard to do.)
The interesting thing about this character is that I have grown to love his comments/emails/posts. He has become very unstable, giving me positive comments occasionally, only to follow with the worst comment I have ever read, maybe within the period of a day or two. He continues to do this even though I do not respond to him at all, and he even has begun to tell me that he works for the industry and that he has seen me and followed me in person at industry events.
Now, many might think that this is a call for alarm. And yes, I keep my ears perked for any signs that it is going too far. But he seems to value my allowing him to create this character for himself, he seems to need to think that I am not only valuing his input, but actually taking it to heart. Even within the span of one email, he will switch from hateful to hopeful for me:
"VERY apparent your not a christian. Also very apparent your not a writer either. I think I'll get you a box of kleenex for christmas, you have been picking that nose for some time now...
I'd wish you a merry christmas, but apparently thats meaningless to you. "
I take from this letter that he is a Christian, or at least I figure that even he would know that he cannot scold me for not being a Christian while he is not. Then, he switches to a third-grade insult about an icon I use on the website, one in which I am fingering my nose. This surprised me, but then again it surprises me anytime someone insults something that is so obviously...insult-able.
Then, look at that last sentence. "I'd wish you a merry christmas". Funny again, being that he scolds me for not being a Christian, yet doesn't capitalize "Christmas" like any Christian would. But look at what he is wishing: to send me warm regards. He has a need for me to see him as a source of something good or bad, be it opinions or something else, but still a source. He needs me to think about him. The ***hole cannot exist without someone to be an ***hole to. Interestingly, as well, most ***hole posts or emails start with a subject line. For example, the subject line of the above email was "Yeah, it's apparent..." meaning that he took the time, for my benefit, to fill out a subject line so I would know what to expect within the email. Otherwise, he could have just left it with a single dot ( . ) in the subject line, or at least put "File under: ***hole/Obsessed ***hole." When you send a bomb to the post office, do you put on the package "Warning: bomb inside"? This shows me that the event or action of sending me a hateful email is not filled with actual malice, but from a habit that is formed from a need for something to tell this fellow how to behave. This man needs to have this identity, despite how little or much the behavior effects his life.
While I have tried to get him banned several times, and succeeded at least twice, I have collected his emails, comments and posts and will probably hold on to them for some time. They go on and on, and span everything from hate to love for me. And despite me wanting to simply ignore the fellow, I cannot in all cases. But over the last year his insane thoughts have become so fascinating (I mean that in the least pretentious way possible) that I look forward to them. It reminds me of asking one of my nieces or nephew's a question like "How much does a car cost?" just so I can receive some hilarious and surreal answer that actually speaks a lot to how the child sees the world.
These characters, these online "***hole" characters are relatively new if you ask me. The Internet in it's popular form is something very new. There are children that have now grown up with it, forming habits based around it, and even learning social behaviors from it. This can be good in some cases (meeting all sorts of people from all over the world, broadening the boundaries of the child) and very, very bad in some cases (when someone is not physically in the room, you can treat them however you want.)
In a way, I enjoy having them around. I enjoy all types of characters. But, I cannot allow them to go on when they begin to become toxic to more people than not. Even if they are starting to infect one other person, it is probably time to shut them down. The easiest way to do this, of course, is to ignore them and to simply get rid of them. The funny thing about "***hole" groups, guilds or groupings of players that play massive pranks or "grief" other players is that without the Internet, without that ability to be physically removed from other people, they are disarmed quickly. Some of them form entire social lives around the Internet, or form their characters based solely on their behavior online. Taking that away from some of them (someone like the man that continues to follow me around) would possibly be very harmful to their ego or to their sense of self. Watch a heavy smoker try to quit, and you would have some idea as to how they would react if you turned off their electricity.
It's sad, in some ways, but also a sign of the times. The Internet will become just as much a haven for horrible people as it will a tool for wonderful social interactions.