Random Anecdote of the Day:
I was walking to class (I live about a block from the university) when a young man hailed me with “Hey pretty lady!”. Now, I’m a fairly modest person and I don’t often consider myself “pretty”, especially not enough to be noticed. But I smiled and said hi because I was the only one around unless he was talking to the old guy waving an ad behind me. He asked me where I was headed and what classes I was taking and what I liked to do on weekends…and then he asked me for my number. Up til then I assumed he was just friendly, but I guess my naivety finally popped at that point. I declined, politely. I have a boyfriend and no real reason to look beyond him…but it got me thinking. At what point does friendly merge into flirting? And was I completely wrong and he just saw an opportunity to be friends? I tend to regard all men with a small degree of distrust largely because I have been teased in my life by boys (elementary school is tough shit) but is that really fair? Probably not. But these are musings for another time and place. Let’s get down to business.
Let’s get a few definitions going here so that everyone is on the same page. First, we need to define anxiety. It’s a very convoluted idea that triggers connotations of “insanity” or “instability”. This is far from correct. Anxiety is our body’s natural, expected response to an uncomfortable or stressful situation. It is when we begin feeling anxiety beyond these expected boundaries that it becomes problematic. For this post, I am going to address the idea of anxiety as triggered in the virtual gaming environment. I would like to stress that I’m an expert and doctor on nothing, and this is meant in anecdotal terms. If you think you may be experiencing anxiety issues, I urge you to seek professional help, which you will not find on this blog or anywhere on the internet.
World of Warcraft, and the MMO sector as a whole, offers us a unique experience in that they bring a completely separate environment complete with social interactions, cliques, economies, and even the occasional romance. While these virtual worlds should not be confused with the real world and our real life, they offer many cross-overs that genuinely reflect what we experience in our real life. For many people, an online gaming environment is as real and as important to them as anything in the real world. Whether you condone or condemn this line of thinking, it is hard to deny that there are aspects of the social gaming platform that directly mimic real world scenarios. For this reason, experiencing anxiety in an online game is not only understandable, but sometimes expected.
With this in mind, let’s take a closer look at World of Warcraft. WoW has the player population of a small country. 12 million people is an impressive gathering of people, especially when you consider that all of these people come together in the same community to partake in the same hobby. If your annual knitters meeting turned up 12 million participants, you can imagine the chaos that would ensue. So take it was a bit of pride that not only does WoW accommodate 12 million people, it provides reasonable and often downright ingenious ways to house, sort, entertain and moderate such a massive and diverse group of people.
WoW, like any society, is not without it’s problems. To name a few, there are: botters, scammers, hackers, ninjas, trolls, cheaters, and other generally unscrupulous people that turn a fun past time into the bowels of Hell. This is true of any society on any continent in any time period. And like those societies, WoW evolved methods of dealing with bad people. The consequences for their existence, however, cannot simply be expunged from the affected societies.
Let’s play pretend. Pretend the world you live in today is a completely utopian paradise. Your home city (whether it is in Canada or China or Germany) is entirely free of crime. Nobody steals. Nobody rapes. Nobody carries semi-automatic machine guns onto college campuses and goes on a spree. You’d feel pretty safe, wouldn’t you? You’re leave your front door unlocked after dark. You may even store your keys inside your car. You wouldn’t be suspicious of a man walking towards you in the street wearing a hooded jacket, because the definition of a utopia implies that this man means you absolutely no harm at all. There is no reason to experience any form of social anxiety if society is perfect. Now let’s reverse that, and bring it back to the real world we all live in. Crime rates are astronomical. Prisons are overflowing and criminals lurk in every city, town and street corner. You lock your door after you get home. You lock your car and you sure as hell don’t walk the same dark street as some hooded stranger. It’s a nasty reality we cope with every day by a series of defense mechanisms. Fight or flight is strong in us because we have to be able to analyze a situation in a split second and know when to stick up for our life and when to run and save it. Anxiety plays a key role in this power-play for survival. That hooded man walking down the street towards you. Does he make you feel anxious? He should. That’s your body telling you it doesn’t like this situation. It’s saying, “Hey. You listening? That guy makes me uncomfortable. I can’t see his hands. He could have a gun. He could be thinking about mugging us. Cross the street and keep an eye on him, dude.” And your body is very right. That elevated heart-rate, those clammy hands, and that odd feeling in your gut are your body’s way of heightening your senses for survival. It’s possible that man was just another ordinary person like you walking down the street with nothing more sinister than a pack of gum in his pockets, but it is equally possible that he was carrying a hand gun and a length of rope. You never know, and your body doesn’t want you to find out. It’s a method of self-preservation that has worked for us since our inception as a species.
Now let’s drag that analogy over to WoW. WoW is far from a utopian society, though it has far less serious crimes than our real world. Your fellow players cannot kill you, but they can do a myriad of other things that make us rightfully suspicious of them. And just like in the real world, our bodies are ready with varying degrees of responses to cope with these distrustful situations.
You may never have had a piece of loot ninja’d from you in your life. Chances are, though, you heard about it happening to friends or guild mates and you’re suspicious of its occurrence nonetheless. Do you look at other members in your group and (even subconsciously) try to predict who might be unfair loot competition for you? I do. Thankfully the new loot system doesn’t allow people to roll on armor that is not of their proficiency or of the appropriate stats, but there are ways around that system and it still allows for the unfair taking of loot. I tend to label people as ninjas by the way they act or talk within the group. And I have been quite accurate. It’s the same thing as labeling a hooded man on the street as a potential threat. Your mind is zeroing in on something that might be harmful to you and letting you know. Granted, a lost loot item is not exactly “harmful”, but it is the same concept.
Just like in our real world societies, the people in WoW are largely a benign, gracious, fair lot of individuals who play according to some moral standard that, while it may differ from your own by a degree or two, is not on the whole offensive or wrong. Then there are those who, for whatever reason they use to justify their behavior, mean you harm. They will scream and swear at you, they will take loot that is not rightfully theirs, they will stalk and harass and upset you. This may only ever happen to you once, but your body remembers that incident and records it in your body’s response system. The next time you are in a similar situation, your body prepares its self for what happened last time. This is where anxiety manifests. For example, last time you PUGed a raid you won a roll on some item and immediately received vocal terrorizing from some player who disagreed with the loot assignment. It’s not a fun occasion. Next time you are in a raid, you may experience anxiety when loot drops and you want to roll, afraid that some other asshat in the raid will duplicate the experience you’re dreading.
The above happens to me all the time. Very early on in my WoW career, I was booted from a group for rolling need on a pair of pants. They were leather +agility pants and I was a feral druid. No one else wanted them. They threw a fit anyway and went on an on about how “cheap” needing was and how I didn’t really need the pants. I was not in the wrong. But the event stuck with me and now every damn time I contemplate rolling on loot in any situation, I get anxious. I triple and quadruple check the stats of the item compared to my current item and I make a mental note of who else may want it and a multitude of other factors. Sometimes I just flat don’t roll. I would rather not get an upgrade than be singled out and thrashed by someone for my choice. By not rolling at all, I relieve my anxiety.
Looting is not the only thing that causes me anxiety, either. Just joining a PUG raid (or any 25 man raid) causes some degree of anxiety. Even though I know my role as a healer exceptionally well, and am well-versed in most boss fights, I’m still terrified that I will put one toe out of place and be bludgeoned to death by some dolt and his ego. To that end, I typically never speak in raids unless specifically addressed, and I almost always go PUGing with a friend or guildy that I trust. Someone I know, at least in private whispers, has my back on an issue. Have I ever actually been singled out and shrieked at in a raid? Nope. But I have witnessed it happening to other people and it is neither pleasant nor appropriate under any circumstance. Simple mistakes are the easiest to make and the quickest to bring down a raid, which is why I dread making even the tiniest move under such conditions. Add that to the fact that my 25-man raids have almost always included some sort of jerk, I am understandably anxious when the raid invite pops up.
I’m even nervous when replying to a “LFM” message in Trade chat. I always feel like they will deem me unworthy and laugh at my attempts at finding a raid. It’s a completely illogical fear. My Gearscore is acceptably high, I have most of the achievements everyone wants to see, and yet I’m still afraid that for some picky reason I didn’t think of, this person will find me unworthy of his raid group.
I could go on for years about how this directly relates to how I was treated by my peers growing up and how my introverted, shy personality factors in, but I won’t. Regardless of my personality flaws (being painfully shy will get you nowhere in life) I have managed to maneuver around these situations in life and below is some advice I would give persons in my similar situation. If you’re feeling anxious in the game, take a deep breath. It’s not nearly as scary as you perceive it to be.
- Know your role inside and out. There is a plethora of information available to you on the internet about your class or role, including spec advice and rotation advice and lists of great gear. Go find it! The better you understand what you are supposed to be doing, the less likely you are to be anxious about it.
- Focus on your job and no one else’s. You can’t be worrying about what Mage#2 is doing or how Druid#4 is going to do his job. Focus on your rotation, your numbers, your abilities, and let the rest of it go.
- Be prepared. This means different things in different settings. In a raid setting, make sure you have flasks for yourself and appropriate buff food. Have a basic understanding of the boss strategies before you get zoned in. This eliminates a lot of the anxiety than can accumulate beforehand when you sit and fret about not knowing what to do.
- Play with good people. Seriously. You wouldn’t attempt to interact with criminals in the real world, so why allow it in WoW? If you know and trust that the people you play with will respect you and treat you fairly, it can lead to much better things than trusting your fate to four strangers in a PUG.
- Safeguard yourself from jerks. If you’re really desperate to get a certain piece of loot, don’t leave it up to chance. If possible, put together a group of friends and let them know what specifically you’re after. Your chances of getting it will be much higher than if you trust those four random PUG people not to screw you over.
- Get a decent minimum gear score before attempting anything wild. As sad as it is that we rely today on an aggregate score to determine player value, it is nevertheless the system you must learn to beat. Most players nowadays tend to gravitate towards this arbitrary number system, so be one step ahead of them. Know your gear score. Know what gear score range is appropriate for which raid. Don’t set yourself up for ridicule and failure by trying to pop into an ICC group with fresh level 80 blue gear.
- If something does crop up, such as a nasty player slamming you for loot you won fairly, don’t engage. Take your concerns to the raid leader and state your position politely and concisely. If the problem persists, thank them for their time and leave.
Never forget that this is a game. While it may entail many attributes of a real life scenario, WoW is a game that should be played for fun and enjoyment. If you feel like this has been sucked from the experience, then turn off your computer and find something that you enjoy doing. Anxiety and stress are two things you dont need building up in your life, so don’t let a fun hobby turn into a catalyst for a nervous break down.