February 16, 2007, Category: Essays

Although I know I can never escape prejudice, I try desperately to manage it. I don’t consider myself a racists or a bigot, yet while playing a computer game I realized how easy I can become hostile and judgmental.

World of Bigotrycraft

Tim Hardaway’s recent comments regarding homosexuals got me thinking. I’ve often wondered how some people can feel so much hatred and anger for others. I’ve seen movies where former Vietnam Vets speak with extreme hostility toward Vietnamese. If they every cross with a Vietnamese person it can even result in violence. I have struggled to understand this dynamic. How can somebody hold on to so much anger?

World of WarcraftRecently, I had an opportunity to gain some insight. I play an online game called “World of Warcraft,” commonly referred to as “WOW.” If you aren’t one of the eight million people who play this game, hold your judgment until you finish reading…I’ll give you some background.

The effects of this alternate reality of this world aren’t limited to the imagination. Marriages have been formed and dissolved, lawsuits have been filed, and in-game items have been traded and purchased using real world currency. In fact, I have spoken with a 21 year old man who works in an office in China with 40 others. They play WOW eighteen hours a day. They grind away in the game earning gold, the currency of WOW. The gold is sent to their supervisor’s in-game character and then marketed in the real world for $20 per 100. In this WOW Sweatshop, he earns $200 per month and is thankful to have a job to support his family. But that’s another article.

In WOW, I play a short little gnome named ZieZee. As a gnome, I am part of the “Alliance,” and therefore allied with the human, dwarf, and night elf races. Most of the others characters I encounter are real people sitting at their computers plucking away at a keyboard while exploring a vast world of swords, magic, monsters, dungeons, cities, etc. I can chat with them, team up with others finish quests, or even form guilds comprised of hundreds of individuals all working together.

On the other side are players who create characters that are Orcs, Trolls, Tauren (big Ogre-like creatures), or Undead. They are known as the Horde and enemy of the Alliance. The two sides cannot communicate, group up, or collaborate. In some worlds (there are multiple WOW worlds that you can join), you can freely attack and kill members of the opposing faction. Initially, I created a character in one of these worlds. Later I decided it did not suit my personality and transferred to a friendlier place.

As I explored the land, I become progressively more powerful. Characters who have played for months or years can easily mow through armies of lower characters and I often ran across these more powerful characters. Alliance characters would often lend me a hand with a difficult beast. Hoard characters, however, would often charge, attack, and kill me. Dying, although not the end of the game, is an inconvenient process.

I wasn’t interested in the player vs. player aspect of the game. I left lower Horde members alone and let them go on their merry way. As they cautiously kept their distance I often waved or smiled to indicate I meant them no harm, although their distrust kept them away. Communication between factions is limited to basic physical actions. Although I didn’t harass lower Horde, I didn’t find the same courtesy from their bigger brothers and sisters. I found myself being attacked from behind, attacked while opening a chest, and attacked while just walking down the path time and time again. With each brutal ambush, I my anger increased. I found myself hating the Horde; really hating them. I noticed my face automatically jumped to a bitter scowl whenever I saw one. Fear griped me when I saw them on a distant hill. I truly developed an extreme prejudice for the races that made up the Horde.

I abandoned my friendly nature and begin fighting back. I’d join others in raiding Horde villages, killing other players. It felt good to get even. They had caused me too much pain and suffering.

Then one day as I was out adventuring, I came across a Horde undead Priestess gathering Herbs for her potions. I went into stealth mode (an ability my character has) and snuck up behind her. Although I was ready to attack with my backstab ability and she was seconds away from death, I hesitated. I followed her for about four minutes as she picked her flowers and my hate and anger for the Horde wavered. I couldn’t kill her. And not only that, I couldn’t play this game anymore.

I know it’s just a game and all pretend, it doesn’t matter, right? No, it doesn’t, but it still didn’t resonate with me. I didn’t like feeling the anger, hostility, and fear that surfaced during my interactions with the Horde. I didn’t like the vengeance that drove me to sneak up to assassinate the Undead Priestess. Even if it was a game, it was so far out of character for me that I couldn’t do it anymore.

I snuck around in front of her, holstered my two poison tipped daggers, took off my armor, and unstealthed…appearing for her. Now I was helpless. I’m sure she realized I could have killed her easily while I was stealthed, but now a few quick spells and I’d be the dead one. I waved and sat down on the grass. She didn’t move, but instead stared dubiously at me. I watched the screen curiously. It took several moments but then she sat down in front of me. Using the basic physical gestures allowed, evoked by typing “slash commands” we communicated. /wink, /smile, /laugh, /hug, and finally, /dance. In the end we waved goodbye and went our separate ways. It felt really good.

I paid to have my character transferred to another world, where you couldn’t mercilessly attack the members of the other faction. Sine then, the game has been much more enjoyable for me. Why I ever played in a world driven by hate and violence I don’t know. I guess I hoped that I could somehow find a way to cope and survive. Maybe I thought I could make a difference. It sounds stupid because it’s just a game. But really, it’s not just a game, which is why I struggled with it. It is real social attitudes manifested in a pretend world. It’s examples of the real problems we have in our world. And it drummed up real feelings of hatred, vengeance, and anger within me. Had I started playing WOW with the intent of fighting bitter enemies, I would have handled it better. But I wanted to play to have fun, explore, and socialize.

Yes, it is just a game, but now I think I can understand, a little, the hatred and anger experienced by real people in the real world. I know why in Seattle a few years ago an African American man bitterly told me to get out of his shop because the “white man’s shop is down the road.” He didn’t want to share his African carving and artwork with me because of the anger and hostility that burned in him merely because my skin is white. His history has burned that in to him. The war in Vietnam burned it into others. It’s too bad we can’t just switch to a new game server where that doesn’t exist. It takes vulnerability…putting away our daggers and standing in front of one another exposed. And in real life, that’s a scary thing to do.

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2 thoughts on “World of Bigotrycraft

  • By aubree - Reply

    haha that makes me laugh everytime =p

  • By Mateeah - Reply

    I am glad you didn’t kill that priest, could’ve been me except that I am alliance 😉

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