The Guild Counsel: A color-blind world

EverQuest II guild
A couple of interesting points came out of last week's review of The Raid, and I'm going to use them as a springboard for this week's column. There were two topics that dominated the discussion: one was Edward Castronova's analogy of raiding as sport and the downing of the Lich King as a World Cup Championship victory. The other was about the use of inappropriate language in game, including some racist and sexist remarks.

In this week's Guild Counsel, we'll look at soccer and sexism, and we'll see why Castronova was worth hearing out and why there's a big difference between what players say and what they do.

First off, I feel I need to clear up some confusion on the whole World Cup quote that I printed in my last column. I think one of the problems is that some people commented under the assumption that he was one of the members in the guild. He wasn't, and while he has played MMOs, the reason he was on the documentary was to provide a little insight into the deeper issues of raiding. Veteran gamers might recall his early work on MMOs and virtual world economies; he discovered that the GNP of EverQuest in 2001 was on par with several real-world nations and that the in game currency of Norrath was worth more than real world currencies like the Yen or the Lira. His books, Synthetic Worlds and Exodus to the Virtual World, are both worth checking out.

The documentary was intended for a non-gaming audience, and Castronova was simply explaining what raiding was for those who don't know anything about it. As any hardcore raider will admit, the competitive endgame does resemble a sport, like soccer. If you take that line of reasoning further, the race to complete all of the content is such an intense challenge that completing it is like winning the soccer equivalent of victory, the World Cup Championship. Both are the apex of accomplishment, which seemed to be Castronova's point. All other conclusions about physical skill and the impact on the GDP notwithstanding, it was just a simple analogy that helped explain raiding to non-gamers.

Let's shift gears a bit to the second point, which was about some of the language used in the documentary. It's not pretty, and it's safe to say that few of us would use it among our friends and peers. But at the same time, this film is a documentary, not a promotional clip on raiding, and the language the participants use is a part of the competitive raiding guild scene. If this film is supposed to be a snapshot of what it was like in the year 2010, you can't leave out the crude language and still paint an accurate picture.

What's funny is that stereotypes are all around us in virtual worlds. Dwarves are stereotyped as loud, uncouth, and slow. Elves are smart, slender, and graceful. Ogres are dirty, unintelligent, and brutal. MMOs in other genres also have stereotypes, and there are often distinct divisions based on those various in-game races and factions. In World of Warcraft, for example, a Dwarf and an Undead would never hang out together. But that type of bias is OK because it isn't real.

The crude language used by players in game is deplorable, and it's always been a huge wart on the face of MMOs. But while players have scraped the bottom of the barrel at times when it comes to language, they've been surprisingly open-minded when playing, perhaps even more so than in real life. And that's something that's always existed in MMOs. Back in 2003, for example, Nick Yee's study at the Daedalus Project showed that females were more likely to be in leadership positions in guilds than males. Over at the Star Wars: The Old Republic forums, players voted overwhelmingly that they had no problem with a woman running their guilds. The glass ceiling debate that comes up in real life is non-existent in virtual worlds, and that's true for many other issues of race and sex that come up in real life.

Vanguard guild
This is why I don't get concerned when I hear the chat because there's a distinct difference in what people say and what people do in-game. It's ironic that someone who'd call a female mob a "b*tch" is fine with having a female guild leader. Take it a step further and consider that there are guilds with rosters that include men, women, gays, lesbians, young people, old people, disabled people, rich people, poor people, and even the most liberal and conservative people possible, all playing under the same roof and having a rousing good time. Name one other activity in which you have that complete lack of bias. This is what makes MMOs so great, and it gets overshadowed by the loud and unfortunate language.

I'm very curious to see whether we'll hear any reaction from those players featured in The Raid. While he hasn't publicly commented, I'd be willing to bet that the feedback has already affected Greyhammer and his guildmates. We heard him at his worst, using all sorts of invectives and almost being proud of it. But he's guilded with the same types of people that he's regularly insulting with his language, which means he's probably not racist, but that other "R" word: rude.

Anonymity on the internet is both a curse and a blessing. It allows people in MMOs to say things that aren't allowed to in real life, but it also allows people to filter out pre-conditioned bias to see people for who they really are, rather than who they're perceived to be. We could strip that anonymity away, and that would likely cut way down on the crude language, but it would also allow all sorts of prejudices (conscious or not) to seep into virtual worlds. But hopefully as games, and gamers, continue to mature, those rough edges will smooth themselves out.

Do you have a guild problem that you just can't seem to resolve? Have a guild issue that you'd like to discuss? Every week, Karen Bryan takes on reader questions about guild management right here in The Guild Counsel column. She'll offer advice, give practical tips, and even provide a shoulder to lean on for those who are taking up the challenging task of running a guild.SW

This article was originally published on Massively.