I was playing Star Wars The Old Republic the other day. It’s a video game, an MMORPG (MMO for short), which stands for Massive Multi-Player Online Role Playing Game. In these games, the player controls a digital character (also known as a playable avatar) that s/he moves around in a vast landscape, all within the world of the game. But at the same time, other players are also moving their avatars around in the same environment, interacting with other game elements and other players. Sometimes there are only a few players in a given area, sometimes there are hundreds (like in major cities).
So anyway, I was “on” my Jedi Knight, at the Ruins of Kaleth in a remote part of Tython, fighting off a set of enemy droids who were guarding a lootable treasure chest. Once I eliminated the threat, I could click on the chest and pick up the item (or items) within, that my character could potentially use or at least sell for a small profit. But as I was fighting off three hostiles, another player darted behind me and looted the chest while I was locked in combat. This taking advantage of the situation is called “ninja-ing” in gaming lingo, and it’s considered not only rude, but childish.
Normally I let that sort of thing go – it’s not worth making a fuss about because there’s no way to really get any justice for it – but I actually hadn’t seen that much ninja-ing in this game lately (which was refreshing) and I didn’t really want to let it go unnoticed. So while I didn’t call the player out by name, I did type into General Chat (or “GC”, which can be seen by anyone currently playing the game in that particular area), “Gee, thanks for taking the chest when I was fighting off the hostiles, dudette,” or something to that effect to let others know that someone was stealing loot.
To my surprise, the player who had ninja-ed the chest responded (I’ll give the player feminine pronouns – I have no idea if the person behind the avatar was male or female, but the character itself was female), saying “Yeah, that was me. I just barely made it in there in time. I don’t feel bad doing it cuz others have done it to me.” Of course, that got her a few derisive comments in return in GC. I didn’t say anything more, because I had made my point and prolonging a discussion would have been counter-productive at best and might have simply ended up as a trading of insults at worst, and who needs that when they are trying to play a game?
Oh, I wanted to say more, sure. I wanted to shoot back some scathing remark about how inappropriate it was to use the argument of “it was done to me so now I’m doing it to you” as a justification for bad behavior. How perpetuating an incivility is wrong regardless of the rationale. But honestly, I’m pretty sure she knew that and just didn’t care, which is why she didn’t mind ‘fessing up to it. (In fact, her response stopped just short of gloating.) And that’s what made me saddest of all.
It’s this shrugging off of accountability that feels the most insidious to me, more so than out and out hostility. This player’s “it was done to me so I do it to you” mentality can be filed right next to “It’s not my job”, and “it’s not my problem” as well as, of course, the converse of “I didn’t do it so I don’t have to deal with it”, as in, “Yeah, I know there is broken glass on the sidewalk in front of my house and litter in the street, but I didn’t put it there so I’m not going to pick it up.” So who is going to pick it up, eh? The jerk who tossed the Mickey D’s bag out their car window while driving by? The kid who dropped the candy wrapper without thinking because his parent’s didn’t teach him better? The squirrel who chewed open the plastic bag full of trash that was overflowing in the garbage can in the alley, scattering contents to the wind? Are any of them going to come back and pick up after themselves, huh? In the meantime, that broken glass and that litter says, “I don’t care” to anyone going by. I don’t care about my neighbors, I don’t care about dog paws or barefoot kids, I don’t care about my community, I don’t care about the people who might pass by, I don’t care about being safe or sanitary or how any of that might impact anyone else.
And that’s selfish. That’s what it boils down to – a rationalization of selfishness.
Well, guess what? If you are going to play an MMO, which in its very nature is Massive and Multi-Player, then you are going to be playing alongside others, end of story. Being selfish is the antithesis of being in that kind of game. Along that same line, if you are going to live in an urban community, then you can’t isolate yourself from that community simply because you don’t want to deal with what goes along with it – you are part of it simply by virtue of residing there (whether it’s your choice or not).
I mean, yeah, you can…. many do. But that’s selfish and sad, and a crying shame. Because often – most often – it’s so easy to change for the better of everyone. It takes such a small amount of effort, it’s laughable.
All you have to do is start by adding a “but”. Yeah, go ahead and giggle, but add a “but”. “It’s not my job” instead becomes “It’s not my job, but….” “…. but I will find someone who can help you.” “…. but let me see what I can do.” “…. but let’s see if we can come up with another option. After all, there are always options.”
“It’s not my problem” becomes “It’s not my problem, but I can be part of the solution.” “It’s not my problem, but let me at least find out who could best deal with it.” “It’s not my problem, but it’s impacting others and that is my problem.” “It’s not my problem, but I want to help.”
See how easy that is?
The “I didn’t do it so I’m not going to deal with it” becomes, “I didn’t do it but I’ll deal with it.” I’ll pick up the trash in the street. I’ll clean up that broken glass on the sidewalk. I’ll even – gross – pick up that dog poo on the boulevard so the next person getting out of their car doesn’t step in it. Is it fair? Hell, no. Does it exact payback on the perpetrator? No. But is it the right thing to do? Yes.
It’s the flipping right thing to do.
Maybe someday, the ninja gamer will stop saying “It was done to me so I’m going to do it to you” and instead say, “It was done to me but I’m not going to do it to you.” Maybe not. But I can say it. And my online community will be better for it. My gaming experience will be better for it. Even a galaxy far, far away may be better for it.
And that, my friend, is winning.