Tuesday, September 9, 2014

A Personal Choice

The human above crafted this post.

"The term Follower is so apt a word...A follower implies the existence of a leader, and the act of following implies the absence of resistance."

It’s been roughly two years since I sort of stumbled into the Warcraft interest group (WIG) on Twitter. The WIG is my term for a loosely defined body comprised of anyone who primarily chats about World of Warcraft. Of course, the social community in WoW extends well beyond the boundaries of Twitter and that definition, but I'm speaking to my own experience in this space.

When I first created a Warcraft-related account for Twitter, I was at the cusp of an unsuccessful attempt (the second) to earn a spot on the WoW Insider team. In the process of getting myself ready, I bumped into a large section of people who loved talking about Warcraft outside of the game just as much as I did: fans, developers, and content creators. A lot of times those labels overlapped. It was the coolest thing ever. Players from around the world, from both factions, from different backgrounds with different preferences, all engaging with one another over a shared passion.

Well, that’s the rose-colored-glasses-wearing-bird’s-eye view.

The WIG on Twitter can at times appear as splintered as the average high school sophomore class. Which isn’t surprising: cliques are everywhere you look. They’re in your town, in your family, in your workplace. They’re probably in your guild. And they’re a pretty normal occurrence. As human beings we tend to have a natural desire to surround ourselves with people who reflect and reinforce our own ideals, who are more like us. Hell, it’s a survival mechanism. But it can be dangerous, as it is easy to forget there are others unlike you, with their own collection of experiences that shape their worldview.

When I found the WIG here, it filled a social void I wasn’t getting in-game. Sure, I played amongst friends, but their passion never seemed to match mine. The guild I was in was slowly falling apart, the list of in-game friends dwindling due to life responsibilities, boredom or a combination of the two. But I wasn’t done with Warcraft. I was still in love, still making the time, still wanting to be involved. The people in the WIG further inspired me to try different things, to entertain alternative viewpoints as they related to the game we love to play, to create content and share my own voice.

Of course, when you have so many voices in one place, there’s inevitably going to be differing viewpoints---which is good. True debate is healthy. The problem, though, as I’ve seen too often since becoming more entrenched here, is that there’s little true debate when two opposing viewpoints collide. In fact, the debates often resemble what you’d see from high school sophomores...who aren’t at all interested in joining the school’s debate team. Who've failed to understand that the main element of a debate isn’t about being right.

Just because a viewpoint differs from your own doesn’t inherently make it wrong. Just because someone holds an opposing viewpoint doesn’t make them uneducated, or any other lazy, ad hominem you can throw at them. These notions are antithesis of debate.

What does it mean when two people look at the same pieces of evidence, yet arrive at two wildly different, valid conclusions? In the real world it happens all the time and the earth doesn't come to a stand still. But within the WIG, too often it signifies one or all parties will cut the other from their lives (insert “that escalated quickly” meme). The term Follower is so apt a word based on what I witness here on a weekly basis. A follower implies the existence of a leader, and the act of following implies the absence of resistance.

Can we not have a mature conversation anymore? Can people not separate their own self-worth from the widespread acceptance or rejection of an opinion they hold? Must these arguments (and calling them arguments grants more validity than they have) consistently devolve into name-calling and blocking of one another? I’m not talking about cases where blocking is appropriate (harassment, willful douchebaggery); rather the instances where it appears respectful discussion is being solicited, yet it abruptly ends with the playground equivalent of “we can’t be friends.”

I feel sorry for people whose default response is to silence the voices that respectfully disagree with them. The voices that force them to more deeply examine their own opinions and biases. Not only is there the missed potential for personal growth---after all debates are supposed to be educational at their core---but you’ve just excised someone from your life for...what? Because their collective experience has led them to believe something that clashes with your own, and they’ve the audacity to express it?

I used to frequent a web forum devoted to conspiracies and the paranormal. But I stopped going there regularly a couple of years ago because of what became all too familiar: I’d fail to find even a single discussion that didn’t involve attacks targeting people's opinions and perceptions about a story or event. For whatever reason, people failed to address the actual subject of the discussion and would instead focus on the credibility or education of the person who brought the subject to the table.

Person A: Ooh that’s a nasty, deep shade of blue.
Person B: Idiot! Get glasses. It’s clearly black.
Person A: Well when I compared it to color swatches, it looked black at first but…
Person B: Gosh you’re clueless. I can’t hold a debate with you.

This. Gets. Nothing. Done. In fact, it's harmful.

The discussions end up far off from where they started, the thread author wonders why they bother any more, and the people who’ve deemed themselves an authority are fueled by their righteous indignation towards all those uneducated sops who are too dumb to see things as they do.

The negativity I see on Twitter week to week is emotionally draining. Perhaps, though, that’s partly because my in-game situation has changed. Trade chat is permanently turned off because I’ve manage to find and help grow a guild filled with excellent, mature and respectful players who have all pledged to be part of something bigger than the individual. In practice, this means they’re going to do everything they can to make sure their fellow players’ experiences are positive ones---even when things don’t go their way.

There have been countless issues worth discussing in the past year regarding the video game industry, and I’ve seen plenty of perfect examples of reasoned debate that ended with involved parties in disagreement, but avoided the now-we’re-sworn-enemies conclusion.

One of the truly sad parts in all of this is that some people have a message that needs to be heard, but that message gets lost in the tone of delivery. Anyone can yell on the internet, but that’s not the best way to gain an audience. What’s more, sometimes the delivery of the message is so disrespectful and aggressive that the message itself is damaged. What response can be expected if you grab someone by the throat, screaming about what they should/shouldn’t do to help your cause? Shitting on your fellow person in the process of getting a point across is immature, it’s insulting to everyone who’s unlucky enough to witness it, it’s often detrimental to the subject at hand.

This behavior has no place among adults.

Then again, maybe I’m simply standing in the wrong (or right) place. Maybe a number of people who see this post will wonder what the hell I’m even talking about. I envy you if you haven’t seen your online friends turn on each other like wild dogs over a difference in interpretation involving a friggin’ video game.

The nastiness is what tends to stick in my mind in place of the overwhelmingly good amount of interactions I witness here on a daily basis; mostly because the nastiness doesn’t have to happen. Each of us can choose a position while being respectful of the feelings of the people standing in opposite corners. But that starts with a personal choice to be better, to treat everyone with respect.

I offer our guild motto in closing: be excellent to each other. Remember that being excellent to someone and disagreeing with them are not mutually exclusive notions. And if you surround yourself with only like-minded thinkers---with followers---while silencing opposing voices, it doesn’t mean you’ve won the debate; rather, you’ve effectively killed it before it had a chance to become anything.

In a space that is social by design, the casualties of that action are likely much farther-reaching than you may realize.

You want evidence? Scroll to top.


  1. I totally and utterly agree with every single sentiment echoed in this post.

  2. I'd like to say that you're standing in the wrong corner, that it is different, and that what you saw is just isolated cases. But as of recent, I came across this behaviour myself. When somebody disagrees with me, and I engage in conversation they take offence simply because I look at the whole matter from a different point of view than them. Queue blocking, and unfollowing. I am firm believer in the golden rule.

    I'm fine with that personally. I find it counterproductive, but if others refuse to listen to anyone that does not share their view of the world, there is nothing I can do about it other than let them be. If they wish to live in an echo chamber, I am not going to stop them. Personally, I prefer a chaotic cacophony of different voices on multitude of various topics. But to each his own I guess.

  3. Great post and something I heartily agree with. Like you I have strived to make my guild that sort of place and I applaud you for your ideals.