Hi there. Sometimes I play an online game. And this is just a little break from whatever I am doing… but it can also turn out to be a fascinating social experiment. This happened to me a little while ago, and it wasn’t intended, it just happened.
In this game you log in and click a button to join a randomized group of people to kill monsters together. Waiting in line can take between one and twenty minutes normally, and clearing this dungeon or instance as it’s called usually take between ten and twenty minutes. It depends.
I play several different characters in this game. Every character has a race, a class, a gender, a level, a name, and a few other factors. The by far most important is the class. One of these characters I play is a human priest. And she got discriminated for a while. What happened was that people started kicking her from groups.
You see, these groups of people consist of five players: Five real human beings. And if some of them are not happy with one of them, then they have the power to kick this person out. And this is a good thing in itself. But it’s supposed to work like if someone is rude to the others, do hate-speech or whatever, or don’t do their share of the work, then that person should get kicked out. I mean, if they don’t do any damage to the monsters, or if they endanger the group by doing stupid stuff or something like that. But my priest got kicked out for no good reason.
First of all, it wasn’t about me. Because my other characters didn’t get kicked out. If it was me that people didn’t like, this would happen to all my characters. But it only happened to the priest. And she did do her part: She didn’t endanger her group by pulling random monsters, and she did do quite a bit of damage to them, so it wasn’t that either. It wasn’t something strange about her name or the way she was dressed, or anything like that. So while it was annoying at first, this also was very interesting to me. I was curious, like, why are these people kicking my character?
As it turned out, my priest was subjected to two different facets of categorism. It was prejudice and normativity. And people did this based on two factors: Her gender and her so-called specialization.
You see, when a priest signs up for joining a group, she can sign up either as one of the damage-dealers, or as the healer who hs the responsibility to keep everybody alive. I signed up as a damage-dealer because I wanted to relax. I didn’t want to have responsibility for other player’s health at the time. And people who are holy or dicipline priests of the light usually signup as healers, while dark shadowpriests sign up as damage-dealers.
Dicipline priests are entirely capable of being damage-dealers. They are not among the best, but they can be quite good. In the last group that kicked me, I was doing 20% of the damage, and a few days later I played as my mage… And the dicipline priest in that group did 30% of the groups total damage. So, yeah, no problem there. But people don’t expect it! And people don’t expect women to do damage. They expect women to take the back seat and just support the others while THEY have fun.
Of course, female players are not usually considered to be female. On the contrary, people assume that a female character is played by a male player. However, it really depends. Because we also have this stereotype that a male player is better than a female player. And this can lead to the really odd situation that if a female character is played in a “good” way… that is, either objectively good or simply conform to people’s expectations, then she is assumed to be played by a male player. But if she plays “badly”, as in actually badly OR in a way that people don’t expect and therefore assume to be bad… then they assume that she is some… “bimbo” or something like that. A real life woman who is bad at playing games.
People get kicked from groups for not doing damage or for pulling the wrong monsters. My character didn’t do that, but she got kicked for it anyway, because of prejudice. People didn’t bother to check the damage meters, they simply assumed that she wasn’t doing any damage – because she was dicipline, and because she was female.
She didn’t pull any wrong monsters, but people assumed that she would do that and kicked her preemptively because they didn’t want a bad player – a bimbo – in their group. Here we have the prejudice. We also had normativity, a matter of how things are “supposed to be”. According to some people, it is WRONG to be a damage-dealer as dicipline. Not because it doesn’t work, but because “it is not how things are intended to be”.
Blizzard, the company who made World of Warcraft, has not made any rule that you can’t be a damage-dealer as dicipline. On the contrary, it’s their very system that allow you to sign up as either a damage-dealer or a healer. But people have their vision of how the world is supposed to be. This is very much like religious fundamentalism, where people think that everything must be in a certain way – everyone who doesn’t conform to their stereotypes are wrong… because… well… just because! That’s the way things are supposed to be.
It’s much more reasonable to think like that in a computer game than it is in real life. The world of Warcraft IS an intelligently designed world. The world DOES operate in rather simple patterns: And my friend who argued that it’s “insulting” to play as a damage-dealing discipline priest because you could do more damage as shadow, she does have a point.
Lets make a comparison between categorizations in World of Warcraft and categorizations in real life. For example, lets take what kind of priest you are in world of warcraft and what kind of gender you are in real life.
The first difference is that real life is so much more diverse. When people think in stereotypes, they are pretty much wrong. People say that men are stronger than women, for example, this does have a point: The AVERAGE maie-identified person is physically stronger than the average female-identified person. But this is a matter of statistics. Categorical gender differences, that’s quite a problematic issue. On the other hand, different kinds of priests: Well, what bonuses they have and what spells they have, those are very objective.
The other bigger difference, much larger than the first, is that it is so very easy to change who you are in world of warcraft. A few mouseclicks here, a few mouseclicks there, and you are someone completely different. You can switch between different characters, and you can reinvent your current character in many different ways. It’s much less to ask someone to change themselves.
Lets say that gender in real life means a plus 10% bonus to physical strength and endurance. If you could just walk through a portal and change you gender, then I’m sure some people would demand that if you are going to work as a firefighter or whatever then you much switch gender to male to get that extra 10% bonus. I don’t think I would agree with that demand, but I could understand it. It would be quite different from making the rather common demand that only men should be allowed to be firefighters or whatever.
In the case of my priest in the game, the solution was rather simple. I could keep playing the way I liked: As a damage-dealing discipline priest. I simply added a little welcoming message that I clicked every time I joined a group. Explaining that my damage might make some healing as a side effect, and that I mention this simply so that it won’t confuse anyone. This was a polite way of saying that if you think I don’t do enough damage, check the damage meter instead of assuming things.
It worked quite fine. As long as I didn’t bring up the subject again, people would just shut up and go about their business. If I did bring it up, it could become quite heated arguments sometimes, with people being angry with me for playing the role I did. Not for how I played it, but that I played it at all. Quite interesting.
The thing became so much more interesting and so much less annoying because of the circumstances I have explained. This is scientific experiment circumstances really, where we have cut away all other factors – and on top of everything made randomized groups. Really good way of exploring prejudice and normativity.
But there’s another side of that coin. The reason this wasn’t such a problem for me was because of these factors. It was so random, and I could compare with my other characters, so I didn’t have to take anything personally – and I could just relog whenever I got bored with the situation.
Now, think of a person in real life. When people have prejudice or normativity againt women, or people of color, or gay people, or whatever, we have the same situation. That we meet random people all the time in real life. When ONE person slam a door in your face or give you a dirty look, that’s not even discrimination, that’s just one person bring rude. But when it happens over and over and over because some prejudices are shared within the society, it becomes a problem. A huge problem. Imagine having that problem every single facking day.
If you don’t have that problem, you can use this as a though experiment to think about how it feels. And if you have that problem by one categorization, you need to understand that this is not about your particular categorization. It’s about people having prejudice or normativity based on one categorization – and it’s the same thing when it happens to people from another category.
I mentioned specifically three categories: Women, people of color and gay people. So, what about men, heterosexuals and white people? Well, in western society in m opinion, we have much less prejudice against these categories. They are normative in themselves. Yes, it does happen that people get treated specially in a bad way because of one of thee three categories. Bu it doesn’t happen all the time, like it happens to the three categories I mentioned first.
I’m talking about western culture here. When I lived in Indonesia, I was always seen as somethig peculiar and exotic and all that kind of stuff because I was white. That was an interesting experience. And it wasn’t a problem for me, for two reasons. One was that it wasn’t a category that people despised so much, it was not that people thought that I was stupid or incompetent because of my skin-color. I was just odd and different and so on.
The other reason, maybe bigger than the first, was that I would go back to Sweden eventually.
Oh yeah, we have a third reason too: I was already adult. It’s much harder growing up being different than coming as an adult to a situation where you are different. This is just an example. Everybody is normative in many situations, and everybody is outsider and odd and different in many situations. But this is something we need to think about, and we humans need to care for each other. Go beyond our prejudices and try to dismantle unnecessary normativity.
We will never be entirely free from normativity or prejudice; our brains need those ways of thinking, the are shortcuts that make things easier. And that’s okay, when it doesn’t happen at people’s expense. But we have to be careful with it.
In the end, I stopped playing my priest. Not because I had to, but because I couldn’t relax playing her. It wasn’t fun, knowing that people would hold it against you if you did any mistakes – hold it against you in ways they wouldn’t do if you played a more mainstream character.
I have that option, that very simple option, of switching to another kind of character. In real life, people don’t have that option. They are who they are. We can’t just click a button to change our gender or sexual orientation or our education history or anything like that. We are who we are, and yes, we do change a bit over time, we do have a bit of influence over how we change, but it’s not like snapping your fingers.
We need to understand that all three layers of reality are real. Physical reality outside of people. Social reality between people. And psychological reality within people. Each of us has our own thoughts and feelings, and these needs to be respected. And we make our own choices. But these choices affect each other beyond what the individual individual do.
Some people seem to think that either individuals exists or social structures exists. But the truth is that we have both. The problems that my priest encountered was individuals making minor individual decisions. But the problem was that these individual decisions were part of a social structure.
I don’t think that it ever happened that the same person kicked my priest out twice. It was different people every time. But this only made it worse. So when we interact with other people, we need to consider ourselves as individuals, and we need to consider the other person as an individual. But we also need to consider the many social structures that we are part of. How our actions become a part of these structures. How they can help or hurt people, in context.
That’s all I have to say for now.
Live long, and prosper.