Monday, July 30, 2007

Azeroth Interrupted: A plea for tolerance

This past week, I was browsing the WoW European forums and came across a post about the Evil Children of Goldshire. For those of you who don't know, there are some children that sometimes appear on the second floor of the house outside of Goldshire. They are arranged in a pentagram and there is a 666 on the fireplace. Also, some eerie music plays when you are in the room with them. Someone complained about this kind of content being unnecessary to the game and the rest of the posts devolved into flaming him for his religious beliefs.

Coincidentally, a similar incident happened this past week in a knit-along that I am participating in. A brief explanation for muggle readers: a knit-along is a list group or other online communication tool where people follow a pattern at the same time and discuss their progress, etc. It is kind of like MMO knitting. This particular knit-along is the Mystery Stole 3, where we don't know what the item is going to look like until we finish it and we don't know what the theme is -- this designer always has a theme or backstory behind her designs. But, of course, people like to guess ahead of time and one of the guesses was that it was demonic in nature. So someone in the list group of 7000+ people complained that if that were the case, she didn't want to continue on something that was against her religion and then a similar flamestorm to the WoW post occurred.

What it all boils down to is that we all don't want to be offended in our refuge from the issues we have to deal with in real life. WoW is an escape and when we get offended and/or personally attacked, then our escape becomes another source of stress instead. The best thing to do, of course, is not to bring up religion at all, since it is an extremely volatile topic. But it happens and I'd like to break it down in detail to help both sides tolerate each other and possibly reduce the occurrence of these religious flamewars. Yes, I am sometimes unrealistically optimistic.

To the Non-Believers:

The thing you must remember about Believers is that they really, really believe what they are saying and there is nothing you are going to say to change that. Nor should you. Just as you don't want them trying to convert you, they don't want you trying to convert them. You probably believe in something for which there is no hard proof. Perhaps it is intelligent life on other planets or psychic abilities in some humans or that there will be more seasons of Firefly. (I want to believe.) Regardless, if you state your beliefs as if they were facts, you don't want to be flamed for them.

Here is another way to think about Believers. You most likely have someone you care about that is a Believer. -- a family member or a friend or a mentor. Your Gramma probably believes. Would you like other people to treat your Gramma the way you are treating Believers?

Believers wouldn't state things like "the whole pents and triple six thing is very uncalled for I.M.O. and should be removed" unless it were extremely offensive to them. Try to think of something in game that you could come across that would offend you -- perhaps someone named after a horribly violent act or a guild name that makes fun of an illness that someone you love suffers from. Put yourself in their shoes and treat them accordingly. Or best yet, don't even pick up the gauntlet -- ignore them and move on. Flaming someone for putting religion in your game or game forums continues the religious topic. Ignoring a religious statement helps to bury it.

To the Believers:

Non-Believers are constantly inundated with religion in real life, particularly in the U.S. God is on U.S. currency and in every speech from the current leader of "the free world". You may believe that is as it should be, but Non-Believers who believe in the separation of Church and State are offended. Entertainment on U.S. airwaves is being censored because of a religious-based, government-enforced morality. Non-Believers play video games to enjoy a somewhat uncensored form of entertainment and escape from real life things they cannot change, but want to. When you state your religious belief as fact in WoW or the WoW forums, you are forcing religion on people who are trying to escape from it (among other things). And they react accordingly.

Non-Believers may actually believe. They often do. But they believe differently or just don't want religious discussions in their WoW forums, where they are inappropriate. They are wrong to flame you, but you are wrong to have brought religion or politics or any controversial real life topic to the forums in the first place.

WoW is a game where you summon demons and cast spells and do other things that the head of your place of worship would probably disapprove of. Death does not lead to an afterlife, but instead to a choice of resurrections. The Warcraft world was created, not by your deity, but by a combination of gods -- similar to Earth's ancient mythologies. Most importantly, this is a fictional world spawned from the imagination of several people, regardless of their beliefs. You play WoW knowing all these things that are against your faith are there. If you discover something that you find particularly offensive, send an email to Blizzard, but please do not complain in a public forum or in-game channel. You will only be bringing religion to a place where it doesn't belong and others will flame you for it.

To Everyone:

Even on non-RP servers, when you bring any non-WoW topic to the public channels you are reducing the enjoyment of many others. Talking about whatever sports game just ended will suck the fun of the people who are playing in order to forget about their team's loss. Discussing the bad day you had at work makes people think of their work stress and reduces everyone's immersion into WoW. Don't even get me started about movie and book spoilers.

Just as you should keep your work and home stresses separate, so should you keep your real life and WoW issues separate. It's better for you and it's better for everyone else. If someone brings anything you don't want to hear into your WoW experience, ignore them and continue to enjoy yourself. If you bring your non-Warcraft beliefs and activities into public WoW channels and forums, then expect to be at the wrong end of many people's anger.

Overall, regardless of your beliefs, in-game or on Earth, if you treat others the way you want to be treated, you and everyone else will be better off.

Robin Torres juggles one level 70 Tauren Druid, multiple alts across multiple servers, two cats, one toddler, one loot-addicted husband and a yarn dependency. After years of attempting to balance MMOs with real life, Robin lightheartedly shares the wisdom gleaned from her experiences. If you would like to ask Robin's advice or if you have a story you wish to share, please email Robin.Torres AT weblogsinc DOT com for a possible future column.

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