by: Benjamin Sell
; edited by: Michael Hartman
; updated: 4/17/2012
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Anyone who has spent any time playing games online is familiar with the scourge of the internet: the jerks. They ridicule your gear and playstyle while simultaneously revealing their own insecurities.
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We’ve all encountered them. The grumpy elitists who feel the need to mock and ridicule anyone whose achievements aren’t as significant as they perceive their own to be (self-delusion not withstanding).
They sit in trade chat and belittle anyone who has the audacity to seek help with an innocent question and promptly boot anyone from the guild who doesn’t meet their exacting standards for damage or healing ability.
They mock your gear and spec, calling you a noob for being a casual player or not knowing all the latest PvP tactics.
To them, it’s more than a game, it’s their entire life.
It’s unfortunate, because the vast majority of MMO players are just normal people looking to have a good time, take down some mobs, and maybe pick up a new piece of armor or two. Most players are very helpful, and quite willing to answer questions or help a passing lowbie out with quest advice or a free buff.
This article is not about those people. It’s about the bad apples that ruin the entire bunch. The callous and grating people who, while small in number, can quickly ruin the game experience for everyone.
Yes, I’m talking about the jerks.
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Perhaps the best explanation of this phenomenon comes from the guys at Penny Arcade. Way back in 2004, Gabe and Tycho posited the “Greater Internet F-wad Theory." (Fair warning, the link contains NSFW language.)
Basically, the G.I.F.T. states that the sheltering anonymity provided by the internet, coupled with a ready-made audience, somehow transforms otherwise normal people into total F-wads. Without the consequences that would accompany such behavior in real life, people are free to be the enormous misanthropes they have always dreamed of being.
In order to stand out from the rest of the anonymous mass, people can act out in a negative fashion in order to receive attention. Some think that it’s funny; others actually believe some of the crap they spew. It’s sad that some people are actually as racist/small minded as they appear on the internet; let’s hope they at least manage to disguise it better in real life.
The G.I.F.T. is actually just a clever way of describing what psychologists call the “disinhibition effect." The lack of any discernible authority, coupled with the “invisibility factor" or fact that people you are speaking to cannot actually see you, leads people to say and do things they would never even consider in real life.
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It's More Than a Game
To the majority of players a game like World of Warcraft or Warhammer Online is just that, a game. It’s a fun diversion from the real world, a place to blow off some steam or get your mind off the stresses of everyday life. It’s a secondary existence, an escape from reality.
For some people, the opposite becomes true. Real life is just an annoying distraction from their online existence. These people are either so engrossed by the game itself or have such undesirable lives that the game becomes their priority. Work is just a way of earning enough money to keep their internet connection and subscription going. School is just an annoyance that takes them away from the place where they want to be.
Online, these people are more than just the guy who works at the grocery store or the girl who sits behind you in physics class. They begin to feel that the power and prestige of their character improve themselves somehow, and they become addicted to the sensation, constantly seeking further advancement.
When something is this important to a person, they are of course going to defend it vehemently. When the game is all you live for, your psyche simply cannot tolerate anyone diminishing your experience. This can manifest itself in a hatred of newbies who don’t deserve to play “your" game or just a general maliciousness toward the general public.
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Of Forum Trolls and Attention Seekers
Anyone who doesn’t think that there are many jerks in MMO games has only to spend a few minutes browsing the WoW forums to have their opinion shattered. Almost every honest inquiry or suggestion is followed by page after page of insulting comments about spec, gear, sexual orientation, or certain exploits with the poster’s mother.
There are those who attempt to wade in and actually provide constructive comments or answers, but the deluge of rude and insulting comments is usually enough to scare off all but the most hardy of posters.
I don’t know what’s worse, the fact that people are actually so deluded as to think that insulting someone’s in-game character is somehow personally degrading or that people actually take these insults to heart.
It’s a game. Who cares if you don’t like the way I have spec’d my Druid or that I don’t have the free time to spend grinding reputation to obtain that rare companion pet? Like the majority of players, I am here to have a good time, not to impress some self-appointed authority with nothing better to do than scour the armory for reasons to criticize people.
The reality is, these so-called jerks are a very small minority of the total population of any given game. Most people are helpful, normal, well-balanced individuals just looking to get a group together and take down some objective that would be impossible to tackle alone.
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A Very, Very Vocal Minority
The problem is that the jerk minority is a very vocal faction, and their influence usually outweighs the large number of perfectly helpful people in the game, leading them to simply turn off global channels to avoid the stuff these people spew. Unfortunately, this means that fewer and fewer people are now available to help those with legitimate concerns.
The only real way to deal with jerks is to simply ignore them. Either mute them in-game or simply don’t respond to their nonsense. Don’t group with them, and make sure you let your friends know anytime you run into one of these unsavory characters.
Don’t let a small group of vocal miscreants ruin the experience for you. The same things that give these jerks power can also work to your advantage. The online experience may enable them to reach a wider audience, but the beauty of technology is that you can simply mute them and go about your business.