Syp’s out of town this week and has turned the keys to Bio Break over to fellow bloggers. Today’s post is from the Godmother of Alt:ernative.
Before I start, I’d like to thank Syp for this opportunity to come and take over his blog for a day.
Then I’d like to get out my soapbox.
I’m not a big fan of labels in gaming. I am in my fourties, mother to two children, and acutely aware that the majority of people I randomly bump into online in MMOs consider me to be a man, I assume because they are. Of course, this is as narrow minded a logic leap in its own way for me as it would be for them. It would be foolish however to believe that there are legions of mothers playing MMOs: I know enough about demographics to grasp I am very much in a minority. I can stand in the school playground when I go to pick up my pair (both still at primary school, though the eldest is about to go to Grammar School in September) and listen to what passes for ‘normal’ conversation, the things the other mothers are concerning themselves with. Every day this happens I am reassured that I’m really rather comfortable with the way I am.
There should be no need for people to assume anything when playing online, but ultimately it happens with frightening regularity. Part of the problem I think comes from the awareness of the people playing: if most are young enough to be my son/daughter, there’s going to be a generation gap that could be problematic for some to overcome. I can cross that divide with the benefit of experience, but going the other way is often not nearly as easy: however I don’t want to start throwing ageist epithets around with gender ones. I find myself in an interesting position: where I feel the need to indicate my age to begin this article, when I’m online I keep that card very close to my chest. In game after all I am ageless, and that brings with it a sense of freedom I rarely experience anywhere else either virtually or otherwise.
An MMO is a place where your ability to play is your initial ‘personality’: meet a random person in an instance and it is not like a pub or a nightclub, even if similar signals are there to pick up. Does the character look competant? Do they wear the gear for their class? Are they aware of mechanics? If not, do they ask or simply follow along? All these things come together to form a view of the avatar but without a lot of the normal stereotypical labelling that we’ll perform in daily life. What matters most is your ability to play the game, to perform the tasks asked of you and (more often than not) deal with the division of loot in a polite and fair manner. Age and sex should not ever be an issue in such short-term encounters, but often they are, and this is normally the point in Warcraft where if it became so I’ll leave a group. I’ll often think whether I should say something if comments are overtly sexist or demeaning, and then I find myself reasoning that my energy would probably be better spent being directed at people who would listen. My gaming etiquette is in stark contrast to that of my son’s, I have noticed: he is still polite and insists on good grammar when typing (he has learnt well from his mother) but he is far less connected to things than I have ever been. Immersion is distinctly different, and that is (I think) because he plays not for the experience of being with other people, but just because it is a game.
I have been spoilt by spending seven years in Warcraft, with the same group of people who began the journey with me back in Vanilla. That association has effectively tainted much of my gaming experience since, and I know many people who have never ‘played that way’. Again, I have a label, but this one I am rather keen on keeping, because I think longevity is a quality that many MMO’s fail to inspire because of the social environments they create. I feel that the magic quality that so many new games try and foster has this ‘community’ feel at its core. SW:TOR seems to have worked very hard to create this feeling from the get-go but suffers I think from the ‘sci-fi’ label its inspiring franchise carries with it. The Secret World, which I know Syp is enjoying as I am, may yet have a community feel about it, I’ll need to progress past Level One to find out. What TSW does do, and I think this could end up being one of its key strengths, is that it assumes a lot of you as a player. You will need to do the work, read up on what you are expected to do: very little is spoon fed. Making an assumption your player base is intelligent and capable is a bold move in these days of explaining everything with a side order of tutorial.
Needless to say, the less labels my games pin on me the better I feel. It encourages me to do the same, and I hope that is true across the spectrum of players. Certainly there seems to be a growing disquiet with the ‘nameless’ trolling and abuse that often accompanies people’s attempts to make a difference or break down labelling conventions. People want to remove labels they feel are restrictive, pointless or simply unnecessary in the 21st century, and long may this continue.
If you ask me how old I am online as a result, I promise I’ll give you an honest answer