Through the course of playing World of Warcraft for over four years, I've met a ton of great people that I am thrilled to have gotten to know over time. And I've also watched some friendships crash and burn spectacularly. That's the thing about MMOs -- there's all these other people involved. And things don't always turn out for the best when clashing agendas and differences of opinion insert themselves, especially in a raiding context. It seems like for every good friend you make, you also earn yourself a frenemy.
I haven't actively played my Alliance toons in over a year, yet I still try to log in at least once a week to chit chat with the peeps in my friends and family guild (/wave at Milchar and Thardon), and my favorite druid lady. Horde-side, I've made some great friends with whom I have spent way to much time chatting online. And then there are all the bloggers and twitter folks (looks at Deimonia and Psynister in particular.) I've come up with so many great ideas for things to write about and just, frankly, had such a great time as a result of meeting you guys online. This is one way in which I can say WoW has enriched my life -- it's brought me into contact with a great group of folks that I share a wide variety of other interests with as well, whom I would not have otherwise met. That's priceless.
Over brunch one weekend, a friend of ours who played Warcraft from BETA through the end of BC before calling it quits, mentioned that as being one of the reasons he'd stopped playing. He'd been part of a tight knit casual guild that was comprised largely of some of his former techie colleagues. That guild fell apart due to the GM's burnout and some real life friction the friends were having as an outcome of in-game behaviors. Basically, one of their guildies become a little monster once he was behind his keyboard. To the point that people didn't want to hang out with him IRL due to getting so angry with him in game for his bad attitude and greediness.
When a friend wants to start playing WoW, my first impulse is always to invite them to our alt guild, give them some bags, reroll an alt and play with them. I get excited sharing my love of the game with friends. But at this point in time, I am pretty dead set against encouraging a RL friend to apply to my main's guild, due to my most recent experience with that. For me, if I am a personal reference for an applicant in my guild, I feel that means I am at least partially responsible for ensuring they are a good fit, and ensuring they know what's expected of them behavior-wise in the guild. If your RL friend turns out to be someone who flakes on raids, gets saved to other raid IDs when scheduled for a guild raid, and generally acts like a greedy jerk when ever something shiny and purple drops, it reflects on you. And after having seen that happen even once, I know I just can't stomach it again. In that specific case, we *don't* hang out with that person IRL any more. Because it became all too clear we had vastly differing ideas on what constitutes acceptable, courteous behavior.
Virtual friendships can also have as much drama as the RL friend turned cyberjerk. Often, it's guild forums that turn virtual friends into cyber enemies. It's easy to come across as being condescending when replying to someone's comments, regardless of your intent. And it's also easy to come across as purposefully shutting down discussion when it doesn't agree with your point of view. And worse yet, some folks tread into the area of making personal attack comments against anyone who does post an opposing viewpoint. And that can completely shut down productive dialogue within your guild, and drive permanent wedges between folks who were formerly friends. And that's poison for any guild, and doubly so for a raiding team that must rely upon and trust each other.
How to Avoid the Pitfalls
- DBAD is the first rule of thumb. Behave towards others how you would behave towards your friends and family IRL. Yes, this is a just a game, and we are all a bunch of pixels, but there is a real live person behind that avatar, and it is your responsibility to remember that.
- Text is not always the best way to have a thorough discussion on a complicated issue. It is great to get things down in writing when you are ready to fine tune, but it can also easily lead to misunderstandings and drama because it lacks the nuances of speech.
- When things get hairy -- get on that Vent server. A 5-minute conversation can often resolve a several day, multi-thread misunderstanding.
- When something makes you really angry, give yourself a time out. Log out for 5 minutes. Draft that forum reply in a text editor and let it sit there for a few minutes. Give yourself a little bit of time and space to accurately evaluate your best next step. Often, doing nothing serves you a lot better than making a quick, off-the-cuff reply. Recent Internet dramas reminded me of this point.
- When you find you are upset with a friend on an ongoing basis about an issue, make time to talk to them about it, either in game or over vent. The longer you keep your annoyance to yourself, the greater the likelihood you'll blow up and put that friendship into the "beyond repair" pile.
- Remember that this is a game. The purpose is to have fun, with your friends. When it becomes a chore, or you feel you are at war with folks on the forums, or you are dreading logging in, this means it's time to take a break. You don't do yourself any favors when you log in and subject other folks to yourself while you are in that mindset.
- Give others -- and yourself a second chance. If you are a jerk to someone, apologize for your behavior, and try not to replicate that behavior. If someone apologizes to you, accept it and move on.