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Sanya Weathers's MMO Underbelly: Progress In Open Chat?

Today’s edition of the MMO Underbelly focuses on the real dirty side – the way people behave in open chat. But is it getting cleaner?

I play LotRO on one of the most popular servers, and last night I found myself in the game's most popular zone.

If there is a lowest common denominator in LotRO, I was smack in the middle of it. Also, I was doing a quest that involved standing still in one place for twenty minutes hitting a single button.


...also fishes in MMOs.

Show me a deed completion junkie, and I'll show you someone with an advanced, unmedicated case of OCD.

Anyway, I had plenty of time to read the chat. The advice channel was featuring a guy whose graphics were fine in low-demand situations, but choking when the player entered combat mode. Lots of people made constructive suggestions, but the guy with the problem was getting frustrated. After being told as gently as possible that perhaps he needed new drivers for his Nvidia card, he lost his temper for a second and snapped, “Nvidia is gay.”

That sort of thing just irritates me no end. Yes, in many ways I am politically correct, and no, I’m not ashamed of it. See, I write for a living. Words have meaning to me. When you say someone who is physically weak “throws like a girl,” that you got a good bargain by “Jewing the seller down,” and that something contemptible is “gay,” your speech reflects at best the result of a sick, bigoted culture. At worst your speech is saying you are sick and bigoted.

Besides, I have a t-shirt that says, “Not Bigoted, Just A Bitch.”

I try to assume the best about people, even online, and many times people are just ignorant, not bigots. So I draw their attention to what they said, and hope that I’ve made them consider their words in a new light. This is the internet, after all. Anonymous jerks sitting alone have to turn to other anonymous jerks sitting alone for their social behavior modification.

So I started to type a real response, when I caught a virtual fish. (O… C… D. What can I say.) I hit my button to reel in the fish, and tapped it again to cast my line. And that’s when I saw all the responses that had come up in the time it took me to hit Shift+1 twice.


Don Imus

“Never had a problem with them personally :P”

“You say gay like it’s a bad thing.”

“If by gay, you mean a happy company, yes, but if by gay you mean homosexual… how does that work?”

“How about flamboyantly happy?”

Now here was the crazy part: Not only did the guy with the crappy card not get defensive, but he actually summoned up a response: “Cause it’s jealous… wants me, won’t let me interact with anyone, stops me on games.”

I shook my head in confusion. I’d been in this zone’s OOC chat before, and while its norm is about ten thousand feet above the norm in, shall we say, “a more popular MMO’s open chat,” it’s still made up of a few hundred anonymous people sitting alone in their basements. Here were people making the point that the use of an adjective as a pejorative was not okay, making the point with humor, and the person at fault was backing down with more humor. Sure, it’s the bare minimum for civil public discourse, but who expects civil public discourse?

And then things really went insane. A discussion of the profanity filter began, and one charming fragment of untreated excrement decided to make a point and use an unacceptable word for “a person of African descent.” My past experience with open chat channels primed me to expect a discussion of how that word is no worse than the nasty word for gay, or even using “retard” as a noun instead of a verb. It’s an open chat chestnut, comes up once a season.

Not this time. Open public condemnation followed dozens of people hitting the report button, and the guy was banned in under two minutes.

What? I had to check to make sure I was in fact logged into an MMO.

I told this story to a new friend working community for an Asian free to play, expecting shock and awe. She said with a gasp, “Someone actually said the n-word in open chat and thought he’d get away with it?”

No, I didn’t check her driver’s license to see if she was born yesterday, but I wanted to.

Finally, another friend sent me a paraphrased copy of a customer service ticket that had passed through his team. It said, basically, that the customer didn’t need a response or restitution for a bug, because he couldn’t care less about a make-believe item. He just wanted to report the bug.

Are pigs flying? Is hell freezing over? Are politicians about to vote that marriage between setters and pointers is sacred *and* remain faithful to their wives at the same time?


CSR! You shall not pass!

The really amazing thing is that this is summertime. Let me explain. Video game customer service people live on a reversed schedule. When the rest of the world is getting off work, the biggest shift of CSRs is coming on line. Where other businesses rely on a skeleton crew for weekend needs, the full CS team is on the job for Saturday and Sunday. Holidays aren’t a time for slacking. And when school lets out for summer vacation, your friendly MMO CSR doesn’t kick back with a hammock and a frosty drink. He pulls overtime, because it’s always been true – no school the next day equals no parents telling Junior to get off the computer equals more customer service tickets. And considering that middle aged men and women act like rabid weasels when their MMO adrenaline gets going, expecting better from the preteens is a losing game.


Still roughly the same temperament
as the internet. Thankfully.

The key to getting a fellow player to calm down and speak with courtesy, or at least sheathed claws, is getting him to realize that you are a real person, really listening. Both the CSRs and the customers alike can forget human courtesy without visual cues. That’s why the better customer service options in MMOs will still send a CSR in avatar form to the scene of trouble – it triggers everyone involved to remember that we’re all humans, not faceless cogs in the machine.

Anecdotal data is a contradiction in terms. For so many examples of common human decency to swirl around me at once is downright intoxicating.

But I’ll sober up soon. After all, when I pinged a friend to get a recent highlight from AoC’s open chat, he cut and pasted someone’s non-ironic snippet "join my guild or we will rape you.”

Thank goodness. I don’t know what I’d do with a warm fuzzy internet.

Sanya Weathers / I''ve been complaining about video games for fifteen years. Fifteen years, people. In internet years, I''m not just old, I''m DEAD.

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