Andrew Barker
December Editorial: Tanking is a Thankless Job
Andrew explores the lack of manners in online games.
12.28.11 - 9:49 PM

Playing video games online with other people is a curious thing. I'd guess that over the last few years most if not all of you have played online at one point or another. Whether you're dishing out headshots in Counter-Strike, pwning n00bs with your Level 85 Night-Elf Mohawk in World of Warcraft, firing red shells like a madman in Mario Kart, or maybe just hanging out with friends in Animal Crossing, you've likely seen the insanity that comes when you're playing with other people around the world. Sometimes it can be great fun; you meet and team up with some awesome people or perhaps get to kill some awesome people. Either way, you're glad you spent those last few dollars on your Xbox Live Subscription rather than the food they were set aside for. Then there are those other times. The times where there's non-stop yelling, watching a ninja run off with your loot, or just being stalked by some crazy guy because you're actually a girl. Even among all this chaos, there is a thin line known as online etiquette. The question is: which side are you on? Are you a well-mannered gentleman, or an anonymity-abusing troll?

Manners tend to be lost when it comes to the internet and online games. Whether it's the anonymity or people simply can't be bothered, it generally appears that no one was taught by their mother to say please and thank you. On the rare occasion when someone really goes out of their way for me online or helps me for nothing in return, I am genuinely shocked - sometimes even suspicious! And though real life can be like that as well, I find it far more surprising for someone to be generous online.

When I first wrote this editorial (over a year before it was posted), I had just resumed playing World of Warcraft after a three year hiatus. I wanted to try out something new and thought I'd give a paladin a try. As a defender of the light, I decided I'd play the role of a protector. This means I trained my skills so that, in a group situation, I could hold the focus of all enemies on myself while others worked on killing them. This is commonly known as tanking. As I had only ever been a damage dealer (DPS), I had some delusions about how easy tanking might be. Those were quickly shattered after my first dungeon. DPS players attacked all the wrong targets and pulled extra ones in, healers cast the wrong spells and ran out of mana, hunters had zero control over their pets, which ran off and pulled more and more enemies in. It's enough to drive you crazy, and whose fault is it when everyone dies? The tank or the healer, of course, because they couldn't manage to hold the attention of all the enemies or keep the crazy DPS alive. It's infuriating at times. This quickly erupts into anger as no one likes dying. The fact that it's "just a game" is forgotten and irrelevant.

Even when a dungeon goes successfully, most people will just disappear without even a word of thanks. On the rare occasion when people are polite, who gets the praise at the end? "Great healing [insert healer name here]! You rock!" Or, perhaps, "Man, you DPS dudes did great! You slaughtered that boss in no time!" Across all my time in World of Warcraft, I can count on one hand the amount of times I've heard a tank thanked or, as much as I hate to say it, have thanked one myself. I simply didn't appreciate how difficult their job could be before my own experiences. Tanks slug away at enemies for an hour whilst taking abuse from other players. These stalwart defenders are forced not only to use their shields on the oncoming demons, but even on their own teammates' flaming attacks.

Within a few hours outside of a group situation, I was reintroduced to spamming over the chat channels. Short of turning the whole thing off, the constant bickering between players was unavoidable. A quick trip to a player vs. player Battleground quickly reminded me of how everyone loves to scream at each other when they're on the losing side. Being yelled at just because some guy is mad he's losing can quickly become tiresome. Frankly, it got me wondering. If everyone was supportive of each other rather than abusive, would we be able to crush our opposition? So, being the positive thinker that I am, I cheered everyone on during our next match. I congratulated people when they captured a flag or scored a great kill. I thanked people when they saved me from a rogue's backstab or a warlock's fearing power. And, every now and then, I'd throw in a few words of strategy here and there. You know what? People listened to me. Even better, we won by a landslide. Not because I'm a genius strategist, but because everyone worked together. All these people who had never met before, and would likely never meet again, managed to pull together for a common cause. It was a great feeling. How many times did this work? Just once. Why? I can answer you in just one word: trolls.

To be fair, not everyone who hurls abuse online is a troll. They might be angry, have had a bad day, or simply lack self-control. For the few of you who may not know, a troll is someone who purposely goes out of their way to insult or harass people just to provoke them. Like what you probably do to your younger siblings, but with more malice. Trolling is rife on just about any game that allows you to talk to each other. MMOs likely see the worst of it, but other games certainly experience their share. Why people do it boggles my mind. I assume they are extremely bored and don't know how to use their energy constructively. Adding to the problem, most people don't know how to deal with trolls very well. A common internet saying goes: "do not feed the trolls." Unfortunately, most people do feed them, and they feed them a feast. Trolls want nothing more than for you to spam back at them and start a flame war. How do you deal with a troll? You ignore them and leave them alone.

Elitism is something you are more likely to run into on higher levels in MMORPGs or when playing specialised PvP games such as Counter-Strike or League of Legends. These people think they always know best, even if they don't, and will harass you over the smallest little details. If you've ever been in an experienced team during a shooting death match, I'm sure you're aware of how important headshots are. Some players are skilled enough that they can kill you with one shot to the head before you even have time to aim. Unless you can shoot back as accurately, you won't stand a chance. Having a low kill count is not only embarrassing when you view the score table, but can even get you kicked from a server. I always thought games were meant to be about having fun, but that's apparently not true in all instances. As a result, what many people do is "camp." This is where you sit in one well-situated spot where you can easily kill unsuspecting players. Camping is looked down upon, and other players will hate you for it. It's an unwritten rule that camping is forbidden, but is it a legitimate tactic? Of course! Who tends to get angry about camping? Elitists and the people you kill by doing it. But then, I suppose I'd be pretty mad if someone shot me in the head before I saw them too!

I hate to keep bringing my examples back to Warcraft, but it's just the best example. There was one occasion where I took my Hunter through a high-level heroic dungeon. Most of our group barely had good enough equipment to do it. As a result, we died on numerous occasions. Eventually, after getting fed up, I asked our healer to focus more on healing our tank rather than me and the rest of our damage-dealers. Rather than asking me to explain why, politely disagreeing, or simply giving it a try, he replied; "Well, your damage isn't as good as it should be for your gear! You're no good!" (That is the modified PG-rated version, of course.) I was topping the damage chart, but that wasn't good enough for him, apparently. Everyone was probably on edge from all the deaths, but it's this sort meaningless anger that makes playing online a drag. It's even worse when someone who isn't even your class tells you what to do. Naturally, you think you have a better grasp of your class than them. Whether that's true or not is another matter, but having a Warrior tell you that you've put points into the wrong skill as a Priest can be quite insulting. It's usually unnecessary, too. People can play a game however they want. Unless you are asked for advice, it's usually better not to give any except in a dire situation. Some people can take advice reasonably, but most quickly take offence.

So what does all this mean? Nothing, really. But next time you play online, try to remember that it's just a game. Have some fun and enjoy yourself. Even if you're losing, hang in there and keep it cool. Next round, you might just be a winner. Don't let stupid people bother you, but try to remember to be polite yourself. If you're kind to people, you'll find they'll often return the favour. At the very least, you might make a new friend to team up with! And remember these three things: whatever you do, don't feed the trolls; be a team player; and if someone helps you out online or does a good job, remember to thank them.