Posts Tagged ‘Cruelty’

A Funeral–and Massacre–in Cyberspace

April 23, 2009

Julian Dibbell’s “A Rape in Cyberspace” describes an incident involving a virtual sexual assault. The rape was taken seriously and affected the people involved like it happened in what I commonly refer to as the “mundane world,” or Real Life. While this article and the description of the events that transpired may seem petty and insignificant to non-gamers, I understand what happened. Being a former gamer in several different online universes, including a text-based MUD (which turned out to be the most satisfying online gaming experience of all), I realize how the virtual world can begin to merge with the real world–and how gamers can experience of intense emotion and even sincere sorrow when one of their comrades is wronged.

Back when Massively Multiplayer Online Role-playing Games (or MMORPGS, which include MUDs) hit the mainstream, I created a character in a game called The Dark Age of Camelot. The game is very similar to World of Warcraft in that it takes place in a medieval-based, magical world populated by many different races of people. With the racial diversity that was present in the game came problems that are common in the mundane world. Though they could have been acting the part of their character, certain users were genuinely racist and used “derogatory” terms for certain races of creatures. Their treated other races differently. Though it seems silly to compare contempt for gnomes or trolls to the savage racism that we experience in daily life (and even at Rowan), the parallel is still stunning and reflects on our human nature. The cruelty that people are capable of when they are safe behind a computer monitor and an internet connection does not limit itself to racism.

The members of “guilds,” or groups of united players that game together, can become deeply attached to one another. During my gaming experience, I encountered a funeral service for a real person. During the funeral, a long line of mourners took turns viewing the “body” of the character (apparently someone in real life knew the deceased gamer personally, logged into her account, and made the character fall “asleep” on the ground). It was a touching moment. People who never even met the person in the mundane world took time out of their lives to pay their respects to a digital friend. Gamers of different factions, who would normally be trying to slaughter one another for points, had a temporary cease fire for this memorial. Moved by this, I looked around the internet for player-made videos of other accounts of this kind of compassion. 

I found this video of a funeral in World of Warcraft:

In this video, a funeral procession for a girl who died of cancer is broken up by a “raid” from the opposite faction. The mourners are effectively slaughtered. It’s ironic. It’s something that would have happened in a movie. And most of all, it’s disturbing.

Would actions like this fly in MUDs like LambdaMOO? Or would every player involved in that raid be “toaded” and kicked out of the game? Was this act of barbarianism just a release, as Mr. Bungle partially reasons regarding the rape he committed, or was the massacre a genuine display of cruelty and disrespect? When does the game stop, and the mundane world come back into play?