Fundamental Techniques in Handling People
1) Don't criticize, condemn or complain.
2) Give honest and sincere appreciation.
3) Arouse in the other person an eager want.
"We need a healer," says Scott. His voice is mostly clear, with just the hint of digital edge on it, as if he's been chewing on pixels for an hour. Depending on your point of view, he has.
I scan the Looking For Group menu on the left of my screen, looking at names. Nobby. Gudhealr. Puffypuff. The thought that I'm going to spend a couple of hours overcoming online challenges with players who can’t properly use a random name generator fills me with a particular sense of dread. I briefly flash back to pre-school, remembering the kids who tried to jam their Transformers into G.I. Joe jeeps.
I get a message from Nickrunner. "I got heals. Invite." He's a paladin and lacks the communication skills I typically look for in a person - politeness, complete sentences - but it's late and I want to run the damn instance.
I play World of Warcraft as a low-impact experience, something I can do while listening to music, running a load of laundry, or waiting for my girlfriend to finally finish fixing her hair. I also use it to keep in touch with my brother, Scott. We don’t discuss politics or get touchy-feely, but we enjoy killing ogres together while making jokes and mocking each other. WoW for me is very much a social game.
Being social with anonymous people on the Internet, however, is always a tricky thing. If I want to grind out my last few remaining levels, running around with Scott will work. But I want to crawl through the dungeons and see content I haven’t experienced, so I'll have to resort to a pick-up group. PUG. The acronym that strikes fear in the hearts of gamers.
When I socialize with strangers in an online game it means I’ve hit my last resort situation. I'd rather drive the filthy Horde out of Azeroth with my pre-existing social tribe, sharing in our common interests and hidden in-jokes, than try to make new friends. If I'm forced to choose between running infuriating fetch quests solo or organizing a decent 5-man run for an instance group - a process much like herding cats - I’ll typically go anti-social and play alone. In a game built around cooperative play and constant communication, there's something very, very wrong about that.
Here's our PUG for the evening:
- Nickrunner, the aforementioned 65 heal-specc’d paladin who’s not big on grammar.
- Darkhunter, an aptly-named 64 Night Elf hunter with a panther pet.
- Tubal, a 64 feral druid tank with a heart of gold that loves to break my sheep.
- Scott's 70 hunter. Note that this is his second level 70 hunter. He’s sensitive about it.
- My 67 frost mage, wrapped in cloth bandages and ready to die.
Deep in the Underbog, we're methodically pulling groups of three or four mobs. There's not a lot of conversation, certainly no witty banter. I start to understand how kids on Xbox Live find it so easy to slip into casual asshattery. It's like I'm not playing with other people at all. When Tubal pulls a group of monsters before Nickrunner has his mana pool back and wipes the group, the mood goes from the previous calm control to intra-group passive aggressive bitchiness. It’d be all too easy to type a mean message and drop from the group without considering anyone’s feelings.
But that doesn't happen.
Instead of falling apart in a haze of pithy tells and resentment, the group reforms and presses on, adjusting our tactics organically without dissecting what went wrong. We are a group of strangers who have very little invested in each other, working towards a common goal - the destruction of a plant-like creature just to gain a fancy rare item only one of us can use. Not only did we get that rare item, a plate shoulder piece awarded to the paladin, but we utterly decimated the evil flower-thing with minimal casualties: namely, me.
Tubal types a simple message at the end that speaks volumes of how relationships work in our modern age. "If you ever need anything tanked," he sends to group chat, "send me a tell!"
In person, the sentiment would be too forward, too awkward , Even in Azeroth we'll probably never join up again. But there's something there, something open and honest in his message that makes him all the more endearing, the new definition of friendship in an anonymous world.