How Not to Be an Absolute Jerk in an Online Multi-Player Roleplaying Game

If you play online roleplaying games, you have met the kind of people that I’m thinking of here: obnoxious, rude (yes, there’s a difference), arrogant, touchy, whiny, and prone to completely inappropriate emotional responses to problems. You don’t like those people, right? Sure you don’t — but what if you are one of those people? Because you could actually be one of those people, and you just don’t realize it. Many, many, many people become different people online. And not for the better.

Assuming that you care — there is a certain type of person that revels in being awful online, because somehow that doesn’t seem “real” to them — there are a few things that you can do to stop… what’s that? “Why should anybody care about being perceived like a jerk online?” Good heavens, does this need to be spelled out?  Virtually all development in online social interaction vis-à-vis gaming is in the field of how to quietly and unobtrusively separate out the jerks from everybody else and let them stew in private. Just because it doesn’t always look like the jerks are being isolated doesn’t mean that it’s not effective on an individual basis. Put another way: jerks may be legion on the Internet, but that won’t stop you from getting a poor reputation and nobody liking you and nobody ever inviting you to go have adventures.

So, anyway, as I was saying: there are things you can do to stop being the sort of person that gets put on ignore within two minutes of your name appearing in a chat window. They’re not magic bullets, these things. And there’s a strong common-sense element to them. Still: a great place to start, yes?

First: you are not a professional gamer. Don’t laugh, they exist. You’re just not one of them. That means that you’re raiding dungeons on your own time… and so is everybody that you’re playing with. A related point to this is that you are also not Paul Anka (language warning). You do not in fact slice like a hammer; more to the point, you don’t actually have the right to yell at other gamers even when you’re right. Lastly (on this point): you are not a beautiful and unique snowflake. Well, OK, maybe you are… but you still don’t have a special permit signed by God that allows you to take your bad mood out on the rest of the Internet.

Now that we’ve established that you are, in point of fact, not entitled to let out your inner eight-year-old in a dungeon raid, how do you learn to behave?  Well, there are many things that people have learned to do in order to be nicer people, but that takes time and effort and possibly motivation. You need help now. And there’s a secret technique! …It’s called “shutting up.”

Did you hate how that last total party kill went down? Shut up. Do you think that your fellow-players are stupid noobs who can’t keep track of the adds? Shut up. Did you just waste thirty minutes of your valuable time watching people not get the rotation right? Shut up. Don’t like the loot? Shut up. Don’t like the way that the tank/healer/damage-per-second (DPS) players did their jobs? Shut up. Hate your guild / cabal / faction? Shut up, shut up, shut up. Don’t hit “Enter” in the chat window. Don’t enable the mike on your headset. Don’t leave bitter posts in the forum. Yes. Stew in silence. Complain offline, where it won’t bother anybody, and people can tell you nicely that you’re freaking out over unimportant things.

Note that this will not make you a better person. But you don’t want to be a better person, per se — you want to be able to hide that you’re inclined to be kind of awful when you get in front of a console or computer screen. Honestly, from the point of view of people who aren’t inclined to be kind of awful, having jerks learn to hide their jerkiness better is perhaps sufficient. Or at least a step in the right direction.  Never underestimate the power of hypocrisy to drive a genuine improvement in societal and cultural environments.  And no, that’s not a joke, although in Western civilization right now it’s perilously close to blasphemy…