An Assessment of Online Interactions

If you don't leave your waiter or waitress a tip in the United States, they're probably not going to be too pleased with you. But in countries like Japan, if you DO leave your waiter or waitress a tip, they probably won't be too pleased with you either. The world is full of diverse cultures, values, and belief systems. You can find a differing opinion on any topic. So what happens when you take all of these differences and insert them into one online universe?

Many of these sub-topics could be (and some have been) their own posts. However, I will primarily be giving an overview of how we interact with other people in the Spiral.

In-Game Interactions

Any MMO requires some interaction. Sure, you can probably solo most of a game, particularly if you're using the right class or school. However, bumping into someone else is unavoidable. How we interact with others and respond to different types of people varies greatly.

A Digital Age

Not any too long ago, the internet would have been a total taboo. At least in the United States. Talking to strangers was always something your parents told you never to do, and yet it's the name of the game online. In many other countries, there is no skepticism in opening the door to a stranger. In fact, when I traveled to Ethiopia this past January, anyone and everyone you run into invites you inside their home for a four-course coffee ceremony. Total strangers.

In many ways, we're still in this transitional period of defining what safe internet usage looks like, and just how far we can go with our online interactions. Everyone has very different definitions of what is and isn't safe. Some communities of people employ regulations to open the door for interactions within a safe environment. 

Take Wizard101 and Pirate101, for example. Rather than filter particular words out, their chat system instead disallows all words and then whitelists anything you're actually allowed to say. The three tiers of chat mean that players of any age can safely play the game without worrying about the cursing or verbal attacks found in other games. Even older players get tired of that, and so Wizard101 and Pirate101's environment can be totally refreshing.

Age Differences

While it might be taboo to invite strangers into your home in the United States, it is not in other countries. However, not all of what's socially acceptable is defined just by location. There's another factor that we don't often consider - age. On one hand, that means an understanding of what is and is not acceptable to others, but if we are the ones defining that in the first place, then it makes sense that people of different ages can have different standards of acceptable actions.

What does that mean for KingsIsle games? The company, but Wizard101 in particular, advertises that the game is enjoyable for ages 5 to 105 - and I daresay we have that age range in players. What that means is that there's always that younger player (or older troll) who will come parading into your battle and casting Firecat... in Azteca. The problem you encounter in that situation is that you have no way of knowing which one it is - young enthusiast or old troll. Then really, what do you say? Use better spells? Get better at the game? You risk destroying a vital enthusiasm or enraging an angry troll.

Etiquette and Unspoken Rules

This sort of scenario plays out again and again as you progress through the game, and it's enlightening not only to see how different people act when THEY parade into your battle, but also how others respond. You find that there are any number of different kinds of people playing Wizard101 and Pirate101.

There are quite a few expectations of players in a battle, if you think about it. First, if someone shares a strategy with you and tells you to bring particular cards or treasure cards, you're expected to follow and use that strategy. You're supposed to ask before you teleport to your friends or run into a random battle. You're supposed to be conscious of whether or not you're "allowed" to attack or use someone else's trap. You should know whether this is a battle in which you can have fun with different spells or if you're using a very precise approach. You should know what's appropriate to suggest to others in battles. You should know what is and isn't a scam in the Commons. 

These things don't just vary by age - they vary from player to player. Think about it - when you first logged in, these weren't on some rule sheet or secret back page of your spellbook. No one outlined them for you or told you that you had to know them. While there is a certain leniency with new players and certain groups of people (Mercenaries for Hire, for example, always goes out of their way to accommodate the person they are assisting) are very accepting, there is also an expectation that you follow these unspoken rules as you reach the higher levels. Some bloggers and site owners, like Vanessa Mythdust, do a great job outlining for you some of these expectations.

Developing a Community

There are many players who live their whole MMO lives within the game. With Wizard101 and Pirate101, that works out pretty well. However, many discover that there's an entire community of wizards and pirates waiting to assist them and support them in every way. Of course, every rose has its thorn.

Discovering Personalities

In the professional world, we often select jobs which fit our personality types, and sometimes that means not dealing with people or clients. However, when you begin interacting in a community with other people, you find out very quickly that there is every walk of life online. 

Truthfully, even veteran client workers may not be fully prepared to deal with what they find on the internet, because most people are not held to the same standard. That is to say, you don't submit a resume to join the internet (believe me, many would be rejected). The appearance of anonymity, even in using a character persona, can be empowering, and not always in good ways.

Social Media

A lot of the smaller groups in our community are well-controlled and safe environments. Jester, for example, originally started Wizard101 Central because he wanted a safe place for his daughter to interact with others. Sites like Central, along with most other fansites - both official and unofficial - are safe spaces for people to interact and share their ideas because they're monitored and carefully watched to avoid any of the problems you'd encounter elsewhere. Because even in the game where chat is safe, you aren't protected from people who are simply rude. Here, you are.

On social media, this is not the case. While there are some guidelines on what is and is not acceptable on the internet, for the most part, people can run wild. There are very large groups across every platform imaginable - not just Facebook, Youtube, and Twitter, but Instagram, Discord, Tumblr, DeviantArt, and more. Here, even outlier groups which would not be acceptable in-game or on fansites can flourish. 

Little did you know, there are some unwritten social media rules as well. Of course, factors like age and location play into awareness of these just as much as they do in the game. We are trained not to "feed the trolls." Avoiding confrontation is not just advisable on the internet, but it's also interwoven into many people's personalities. They would have similar responses in real life. What that can sometimes translate to is feeling rather alone in a sea of attacks. If an elephant steps on a mouse, the mouse does not appreciate your neutrality.

We become trained to utilize the block button and to unfollow accounts we don't like, but that can have some potentially dangerous implications. On one hand, harassment is unacceptable and should be dealt with using this convenient button. However, if you disagree with someone or just don't particularly want to hear from them, you have to be careful. There's a lesson here - in real life, there is no block button. You will spend a lot of time forced to work with people you don't enjoy and disagree with, and there's no easy way out. 

Building an Empire?

With sites like Twitter and Youtube, numbers play a big role. This is true even on blogs. Your statistics tell you what people like to read or watch, which tweets people most enjoy, and what kind of content is going to be most engaging in the future. Most all of us are here in the Spiral for entertainment, after all.

However, sometimes there's this perception of particular people or groups of people who have more influence in the community that they are some sort of celebrity. It's a bit of a prickly topic, but one worth addressing. We have to remember some key ideas here. Everyone is just a person. They've joined in on this online journey and they're no different than anyone else. Don't be afraid to approach the people whose content you enjoy, because chances are, it will make their day and they will be more than happy to chat with you.

Also remember this - numbers are not everything. They provide us with some valuable information, but they can also be skewed. Everything online can be purchased. From followers to Youtube subscribers, to views, likes and more. Everything can be fabricated. That's a major danger of the internet, though, and one we have all known from the beginning. Not everyone is who they seem to be. It's a constant warning that we apply to people but not always to popularity. Our community is not a hierarchy, it's, well... a community.

Differing Opinions

Inevitably you will run into people you disagree with online. Possibly that's me with parts of this post. It's not a question of if, or really even of when. They're already there. Can you feel their rays of disagreement? 

Suddenly personalities start playing a larger role in how we deal with people we don't agree with. You will always find them in games but even more so on the internet. It's amazing how passionate some people are about their ideas, but my philosophy has always been that people who are passionate about their ideas are much better than anyone who honestly doesn't care.

Here's a lesson we could all learn - young, old, from here or there, no matter who you are. We need to work harder to fight ideas and not people. Keep in mind that as much you might want wands in fishing chests and the next guy might not, it doesn't mean you're eternal enemies, it means you disagree on a single aspect of the game. Attacking others is unproductive, when chances are that they'll just chat with you if you ask. It's important to remember that there are likely people who truly dislike you and/or want to harm you out there. The people who you simply have different ideas than are not true enemies, and you may need them.

Harassment is simply never acceptable. Particularly just because you disagree with someone. Remember that if a fellow community member is undergoing this kind of harassment, you would do well not to be a bystander. That's one of the fundamental anti-bullying concepts. If you aren't part of a solution, you're part of the problem.

Personal Connections

Oftentimes, the worlds of Wizard101 and Pirate101 can do impressive and unexpected things. For example, there is no rule that random acts of kindness can't happen online. Despite not often using audio to communicate online, happiness can still be contagious. You don't have to see beyond a pixel mask to care about someone. That's been proven time and time again in the KingsIsle community. One of my favorite examples is fansite owners Alric Ravensinger and Sorceress Miklai, who have developed a real relationship that started as an MMO experience. 

Digging Deeper

If you're still with me, I'm impressed. You've made it through the safe zone, and now things get a little bit rougher. Not everything is cut and dry, nor the most discussed of topics.

The Politics of Gaming

Behind every system, there is a form of structure that makes it work. Not all of the components are always necessary, and that's where those differing opinions come in. Behind the fansite system, there are certain pieces of information and processes that remain hidden. Behind the framework of Wizard101 and Pirate101, there are certain methods that are secret. 

Where we most visibly see these kind of scenarios play out among our community, however, is in content. What is shared, when it's shared, who shares it, and so forth. You see, just like everything else, there are also some unspoken fansite rules. Sometimes you're running around blind until you hit an invisible wall that you weren't expecting - that's the danger of ambition and thinking outside the box.

The biggest shocks to players and viewers and readers shouldn't necessarily be what happens behind closed doors, even if it can be a concern sometimes. It should be what people are willing or not willing to do publicly. Let's be honest, there are certain individuals, for example, in the presidential election whose attributes we can imagine unfold behind closed doors, but when put on display so widely, are appalling. If you are observing some sort of unethical move on the part of public figures in the community that is not being addressed, that can be cause for concern.

Company-Player Interactions

One of the hottest topics around right now is Pirate101's Book 15. It's the next stage of the story, and it's been the talk of the town for pirate players. There have been several sizable updates since the release of Marleybone and Aquila, including major quest expansions, new farming areas and bosses, PvP, and more, as well as a number of improvements to the game. However, the lack of a storyline book has some people worried and others frustrated.

Anxiety about a game you love is absolutely warranted, but it's been a little less than pleasant for Pirate101 and KingsIsle, who are often spammed with requests for the book upon announcing a new pet, mount, or any update, really. These are primarily derived either from people who don't realize that this is an unacceptable way to communicate with social media managers (not even the actual developers responsible for production schedule), or people who honestly feel it IS an acceptable way to vent their frustration.

Even those not engaging in such activities enjoy the occasional laugh over when Book 15 will arrive, but that doesn't mean everyone's a skeptic, even if for no other reason than enjoying the game. People like Edward Lifegem and Autumn Walker have been long-time supporters of Pirate101 through thick and thin.

"Just A Game"

I hear the phrase "just a game" thrown around so often in the community. It's just a game, why does it matter? What's the significance? And while I think there's a lot to answer that question with, some of the reasoning is contained within this post. Whether it be using it as a stepping stone for real-world interactions or simply exploring a totally new world of communication, Wizard101 and Pirate101 provide important experiences for everyone.

The most vital thing to remember is this. The community and the people in it are NOT just a game. Wizard101 and Pirate101 may serve at entertainment, but so many aspects of them are an important part of what we do here. Remember that people's feelings, how you treat them, how you interact with them, and how you choose to use the knowledge and influence at your disposal are very, very real, and they have real impacts beyond the game, too.

Thanks for reading and see you in the Spiral!

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