For years, the WoW community has been one of the worst communities in MMO history. Players on the official Blizzard forums routinely indulge sophomoric acts of flaming, personal attacks and other assorted displays of concentrated stupidity. This week a WoW Insider columnist named Mark Crump decided to join their ranks by ridiculing a WoW player that innocently asked a legitimate question for the weekly Ask WoW Insider column.
The victim here was a stay at home mother named Tayluca; she had submitted a letter to WoW Insider explaining her situation and asking for tips for more ways to help the WoW community. Not only did Mark Crump (and some readers) make fun of this lady by questioning the amount of hours she plays WoW each day, he used a photo of Clara (played by actress Robin Thorsen) who portrays a stereotypical overweight stay at home mom that ignores her children while playing WoW in the popular online-sitcom The Guild.
In typical Blizzard official forum WoW community style, some readers made disparaging remarks about the lady’s weight which later prompted WoW Insider to remove the photo. Other posters started questioning her parenting skills. Thankfully many people came to her defense. Eventually the stay at home mom replied herself and clarified that she had “16 free hours” each day to fill up which represented her total time including raising the kids and other duties — not that she needed more ideas on how to fill 16 hours by playing WoW. She did an admirable job of defending herself. Here’s just a portion of what she said:
I spent a good amount of time this morning over my coffee considering if I should bother replying to this topic at the risk of being insanely flamed or harassed. But I have to say, I am completely embarrassed and horrified that the very first time I have EVER written ANY blog asking for advice, I am ridiculed and flamed by the very person I was seeking assistance from. I think it’s awesome (read: sarcasm) that I went from asking how to help the community to being a neglectful, wow-addicted, parent (or troll, apparently undecided) with no sense of time management. Quick! Lock me up before my children turn into game-a-holics! Maybe it runs in the family!!
Some Civility Please
This unfortunate incident raises some important questions about the poor caliber of the WoW community and how it seems to have infected the sensibility of some people who report on WoW for established WoW news sites like WoW Insider. Although personal attacks and making fun of people are the order of the day on the official Blizzard WoW forums, we should expect more civility and professionalism from reporters and commentators. They should rise above the subject matter that they are covering and display some journalistic integrity and ethics. Just because the Web is relatively new compared to older established forms of media doesn’t mean we should expect any less from them — especially from a company like Weblogs Inc who hosts WoW Insider, Massively, PS3 Fanboy and many other news sites.
Blizzard Sets the Tone
Finally I’d like to talk about Blizzard’s responsibility in all of this as the de facto dominant force in the MMO world. For the past 4 years from beta to the present day, they have promoted, tolerated and coddled unacceptable behavior on their official WoW discussion forums. From hate speech to key-logger scams, the forums are a cesspool of every imaginable kind of baseness and incivility that a human being could possible imagine. The executives at Blizzard know this full well, yet they do nothing to proactively police the forums.
Many offending posts linger for hours and even days before the Blizzard forum employees get to them. A strict zero tolerance forum policy would easily clean up the official forums in one week. If that were actually done, the forums might actually be worth visiting. Good people who are currently drowned out by the noise would return to the forums and start helping others without fear of harassment.
Companies Need to Recognize and Support Helpful Players
Another more important issue goes to the heart of the question asked by Tayluca: why isn’t there some kind of official Blizzard program to recognize the contributions of players who give of their time to help the community? Why aren’t MMO companies offering to help and promote the selfless players among us that want only to make our virtual worlds a better place? Players who help other players makes for a profoundly richer and more meaningful play experience in MMO’s.
Solutions: Volunteer Program
To their credit, Sony Online Entertainment has a volunteer Guide program for both EverQuest and EverQuest II. As a former Senior Guild who spent 4 years in the program, I can tell you we had many wonderful Guides and Senior Guides who fit the profile of Tayluca. Many were in fact, stay at home moms who had lots of free time and found a great outlet in the form of the Guide Program. There they could truly make a difference and help out other players — at no cost to the company! Having some form of organized structure that rewards and assists these kinds of good players would go a long way in rehabilitating the currently dysfunctional WoW community.
How about it Blizzard? Show some class and do something positive for the community for a change.
It’s a sad day in the MMO world when good people who strive to help their fellow players are treated with disrespect by a self-appointed Dr. Phil. There’s a creeping shadow of mean-spiritedness and incivility that has seeped into the MMO community lately. What have we come to when people can sit in judgment of someone who has served our country in the military and is serving our society by being a stay at home mom. God bless people who stay at home to raise their own kids. If they want to play some WoW to pass the time then all the more power to them. Mark Crump needs to man up and do the right thing by apologizing to that lady for the disrespectful way he treated her.
Dennis Dyack from Silicon Knights talks quite eloquently about the problems with forums and other online ‘communities’ on the 7/03/2008 1up yours podcast (summary here: http://www.1up.com/do/newsStory?cId=3168552 and podcast in here: http://www.1up.com/do/minisite?cId=3149993). He made a stand on the neoGAF forums calling out some of the community with poor behaviour and his reasoning and what influenced his decision is covered at the end of the podcast – I found it really interesting listening, although others may find it a bit too full on.
He lays a large portion of the blame at the community managers/moderators door, and I’d tend to agree with him. Admittedly dealing with the WoW community would be a herculean task with sisyphean results but they are the only ones responsible for the ‘tone’ of the community. By not providing any real regulation they have allowed the weeds to flourish damaging what could have been a wonderful resource. As Dennis mentions in the podcast and as Penny Arcade wonderfully summarised in their Green Blackboards and Other Anomalies strip (warning, nsfw language used : http://www.penny-arcade.com/comic/2004/03/19/ ) there is no real reciprocity in forum communications – you can’t see the face or sense the emotions of the people you are communicating with, and this leads to miscommunications and generally poor behaviour.
Personally I steer clear of the game forums unless a specific search has led me to them for the answers I seek.
Herculean task? Sisyphean results? Hardly.
It only needs three things:
– A drastic forum policy
– The will to enforce it
– Moderators who are always above the fray (as opposed to CRs)
Blizzard is often found wanting on the latter two. The line between CRs and forum moderators is blurred at best, or rather, the CRs also act as moderators AND as teachers or lessons givers.
You want a civil community? Mods only moderate, but do it swiftly and brutally. A post running afoul of moderation rules gets promptly deleted, or simply replaced with a blue “this post has been removed due to violation of our code of conduct.” First strike a personal warning, second strike a 3 day ban, 3rd strike a permaban. Conversely, CRs get only one single right, thread locking. Make your policies so that tone and topicality is covered, never so that you could be accused to dodge embarrassing discussion.
When moderating, never pass public judgement on you moderate, only quote the relevant code of conduct section, to avoid generating jeering, cheerleading or supporting rallies. Don’t even include advice about how to post better.
Conversely, a CR who starts spiralling down in the Tseric downfall needs to be equally moderated (and invited to a discussion with his manager IMO). Taunting the community, trolling back, whatever cannot happen.
That (and the appropriate manpower to deliver it) is all it takes, really. Currently the CRs are part of the problem, but 4 years of leniency are at the heart of it.