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The Transfer of Stereotypes and Prejudice


These narratives on cultural identity are particularly provocative because the stereotypes are being carried into a world where real world nations do not exist. In fact, what becomes clear is that MMORPGs are an arena in which real world prejudices, stereotypes and conflicts play out. The following narrative on a 9/11 memorial in Ultima Online highlights just how real our virtual conflicts can be.

I live in the United States, and play on an Ultima Online 'shard' located there. On the first anniversary of 9/11, a player who apparently was in the military in the real world created a United States flag from 'fabric' on a particular bridge going into the main city of Ultima, 'Britain.'

As the various players saw the flag a strange thing began to happen. Some disgruntled players surfaced and began to deface this flag, verbally abusing the ones who created the flag and those who stood by watching. They seemed to be systematically changing the patterns and colors into what began to look like the Palestinian flag. In opposition, highly offended American players, several of whom claimed certain military affiliations, began to systematically change the colors back in the attempt to restore the graphic of the American flag. Game Masters were called, but as the topic was so very emotional and nationalistic, they wound up wiping their hands of it and pretty much leaving things to the players and the intense emotions of the day.

There were sharp exchanges, threats, and challenges to 'go to Fel' (for pvp) to resolve the issues from several groups. What followed was what I later referred to as 'The Battle of Britain Bridge.' After a few initial verbal scuffles, a silent but intense competition began with several players doggedly dying 'fabric' and laying down either a pattern of orange/green/white, or red/white/blue flags onto this bridge area.

The battle went on for hours, lasting all night by my time zone. One man, who said he was a US Marine in the real world, laid down US colors into a flag pattern for nearly 8 hours straight with the assistance of a couple of others. I watched this 'battle' for hours, giving a small bit of assistance from my convictions to 'my side' of the issue, but mainly watching the fascinating effect of real world conflicts spilling over into a virtual reality where all of us are grouped together and unaware of our 'real' identities.

I was truly overwhelmed after being a part of this unique battle and spent several days very emotionally affected by the conflict between the Americans trying to give a memorial to the fallen, and those who opposed the United States and openly celebrated the attacks made against the United States. I became intensely aware of the global nature of the online community from this point on. I have also never again felt 'safe' in this virtual world and am always now very aware that while this is a game, it is also very much a human reality, and that someone who may be what I would consider a dangerous enemy to my country may be right beside me killing dragons in Ultima Online. [UO, F, 46]

Virtual worlds do not free us from real world stereotypes and prejudices. Instead, our stereotypes and cultural identities seem to follow us even into worlds that are entirely woven from fantasy. In a world where we can be who we are not, do we learn from the prejudice and discriminations we experience, or does it merely serve to perpetuate and encourage existing stereotypes and prejudice?


 

Posted on January 11, 2005 | Comments (24) | TrackBack (2)


Comments

As a further comment regarding the sexual harrassment issue in EQ I know several women have complained of this, and I agree with them that to an extent the character designs could be seen as encouragement. I was suprised though that I have met 3 women in EQ who tried EQ2 and then moved back because the new characters, though graphically improved, are not as overtly sexual. What are we to make of this?

Posted by: Peter Miles on January 12, 2005 11:36 AM

Well to comment on Peter's comment -- perhaps the attention it draws is a double edged sword. On the one hand it is an irritant at time, in particular with troublesome players; however along with the irritation comes an ego boost - one which would be more prevalent amongst those who have self-worth issues. You see it quite often in online culture, objectifying women to an excess and there are always several girls who use the nature of people's reactions to bolster their own self-image.

To get back to my point, I would wager that the lack of overt sexual characteristics in the newer avatars has led them back to their more appealing online personae.

Anyhow..

Posted by: Liam McGintny on January 12, 2005 11:56 AM

"I have also never again felt 'safe' in this virtual world and am always now very aware that while this is a game, it is also very much a human reality, and that someone who may be what I would consider a dangerous enemy to my country may be right beside me killing dragons in Ultima Online."

...I have to say I'd think of that as a good thing; a breaking down of barriers, as long as nobody brings in real-world differences.

Posted by: Drew Shiel on January 12, 2005 3:33 PM

"and that someone who may be what I would consider a dangerous enemy to my country may be right beside me killing dragons in Ultima Online. [UO, F, 46]"

Please give me a break. Why is that again if these people just didnt want to see any nationality in the game, they are your enemys.. maybe the palestinian flag was just provocation..

Anyhow, I think everyone should leave their religious, geo political etc. opinions out of mmorpg games and boards. Those places arent virtual realitys of our real world... thank god

Posted by: Jay on January 13, 2005 1:47 AM

It doesn't make any sense to leave one's opinions "out of mmorpg games" .
Of course that everybody keeps his opinions in whatever environment he might be .

If somebody finds a particular symbol , word , concept offending in RL then he'll find it exactly as offending if it is seen on a computer screen via a MMORPG or otherwise .

People come in games , stades , libraries , pubs etc with the opinions they have .
The MMORPG are no exception .

Of course the MMORPG gives a big room and liberty to people who like to provoke and to create strong negative/violent emotions .
Yet even in this case there is no reason to put up with it only because it is a "game" .
A bastard is usually a bastard both in the virtual world and in the real world .

Posted by: Deadshade on January 13, 2005 3:04 AM

The other day i walked into a friend of a friends living room, where there was a woman talking quite calmly about how good it was all the niggers were dying in africa, and how the tsunami should have gotten more of the asians, because they need to die too. She was white, jewish and about 40ish.
It simply shocked me to think that such people actually exist, ive always assumed people were joking whenever they called each other gay / jewish / whatever. I didnt know such blatant hatred existed in some educated peoples conciences, and games offer a chance for these people to show their opinions. So i think it is quite likely the palestinian flag creators could actually have harbored great (unwarranted?) hatred towards america and its people. This scares me.

Posted by: htd on January 13, 2005 6:01 PM

Our belief system, which includes our prejudices and stereotypes, helps us understand the world in which we exist, whether correct or flawed. It is an integral part of learning and understanding. Much of our belief system is born in the real world, but can also be developed in virtual existence as it operates on specific contextual patterns.

A virtual world can create its own context based on learned behavior patterns, such as stereotypes associated with begging newbies, a lack of role-playing on a specific shard or server, an infamous guild, a loner self-serving character class, a cowardly realm, a twinked character, etc.

A virtual world can affect real world contexts based on in-game contexts through identifiable characteristics which map to the real world. For example, an identifiable ethnicity of a name (Nakamura or Peter or Hassan) a guild whose membership requires an attribute from the real world, like nationality, ethnicity, language fluency, use of different real-world languages or slang in chat (eg. Yiddish, Japanese, Spanish, English, etc.). Patterned behavior by such characteristics which map to a real world context, like nationality, could affect the belief system associated with the real-world context. For example, could negatively stereotyped behavior by the guild ProudItalians have an affect on a stereotype for Italians. In the case of the experienced Japanese of Final Fantasy versus the newbie Americans, such nationality characteristics could be isolated from the newbie characteristic as it may be more that American is more characteristic of newbie in Final Fantasy, rather than newbie be characteristic of an American. The outcome may be the same, but the belief systems have subtle differences. Such patterns could reinforce existing real-world stereotypes, though, if, say, a common stereotype among Japanese is that Americans are stupid, which is further reinforced by Americans consistently requiring assistance in Final Fantasy. The key is that characteristics must be clearly mappable between contexts for reinforcement. As another example, Japanese and American are identifiable traits in a game;Americans may have a stereotype of Japanese that they dress very festively. Playing Final Fantasy, many Japanese characters are dressed festively. This could reinforce the stereotype of Japanese.

A real-world context can affect a virtual world context. Game contexts of male and female avatars may be affected by real-world contexts of males and females. Gender equality such as that which exists in today's games reflect our society's values and beliefs. This context would be different had it been 1905, rather than 2005. Racial equalities may be different had it been 1805, rather than 2005. Racial, ethnic, and gender sensitivities may play a role in content design, such as avoiding creating dark-skinned races as slaves, providing disparate attributes between males and females, or potentially disrepecting or stereotyping other ethnicities, religions, or lifestyles (such as two male, or two female, avatars getting married). Could reverse stereotypes, in the game, backfeed a pattern to operate against real-world context? More than likely not, as reverse stereotyping may be perceived as an explicit in-game statement on a real-world context, thus injecting a real-world context on top of game context, which introduces the last topic...

A real-world context can be inserted into a virtual world, effectively turning the virtual world into a forum for real-world contexts. For example, elves in a pub discussing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or a fighter and mage debating the merits of the Green Bay Packers. The effectiveness of the forum is now subject to the vulnerabilities of the virtual world. Features such as anonymity, PvP, lack of /ignore feature, power hierarchies, and mutable environments can hinder debate and increase hostility. What if the person that you disagree with is your guild leader, or the one dispersing dungeon loot, or town mayor, or king. What if they were strong enough, and capable, of killing your character. In Ultima Online, when the U.S. flag was created with 'fabric', it's vulnerable mutability came with it, allowing any bystander to attempt to "desecrate" it. It is vulnerabilities of this level that invite grief play, regardless of particular opposing contexts. A grief player simply needs to pick a context which offends. Inserting deeply held beliefs into such a vulnerable forum is inviting others to offend them.

Posted by: Swinlo on January 13, 2005 10:26 PM

What's the problem with "objectifying female bodies?" Last time I checked, many millions of women use porn. Not just soft porn, but hardcore visual objectifying porn too. Lesbians objectify female bodies. Bisexual women do too. Who buys magazines like Cosmopolitan, which are all about being sexy? Mostly women. Who writes and publishes such magazines? Again, mostly women. Sorry, I just can't see this as a matter of "women being objectified and oppressed by the Patriarchy[tm]."

Also, if this objectification is so terrible, why do so many MEN hide behind female avatars? Geez, it must be really horrible if all these males can't help pretending to be female.

Posted by: Kaitlyn on January 14, 2005 12:22 AM

If any attitude here can be called "sexist," it's not finding females to be sexy. It's pretending that gaming is innately an overwhelmingly male pastime. It isn't.

Posted by: Kaitlyn on January 14, 2005 12:26 AM

I've been playing MMORPG's for 6 years now, 11 if you count MUDS. I can only think of a handful of characters I've made as "female" and of those, I didn't play many for to long. Primarily, I don't because I consider the character to be my "Avatar" into that world, recognizing that it's a game, but also, that it's the only way those people you meet there will view you. Also, I have a tendancy to be nicer to female characters than I am towards male, primarily I guess because that's how I am in RL. Other prejudices, as in race/religion/political standpoint, etc. don't really factor into my game, or my friendships.

Posted by: nobodyspecial on January 17, 2005 1:29 PM

The discrimination I find interesting is one dropped unnoticed in the comments and in game routinely. I recently started playing a new game, one with a very large free-to-play community mixed in with a pay-to-play group. The insult of choice there is not "gay" or "fag" or whatever, it's "noob." I don't recall "noob" or "newb" or any permutation of it being an insult 10 years ago. I think the change is due to a major shift in demographics from adult to kids.

I still cringe when I see someone called a "noob." Just because someone is playing a brand new character does not make the player a noob. But that's the usage.

Okay, I admit to using the term as a perjorative myself. I do discriminate though. If I call someone a "newb" or a "newbie," I am making a statement of fact, that the character is new and relatively low level.

If, on the other hand, I call someone a "noob," that IS directed at the player, and it means I think someone is unwilling to pay the required dues to play the game. They haven't RTFMed, they don't explore anything on their own, they don't do their homework, and the expect others to hand them the whole experience. I wish that meant the player was just young. It does not. It does not seem to be an age-specific phenomenon.

Yeah, often the characters involved are oddly high level too, but that's a side issue.

Posted by: Dan S on January 18, 2005 12:39 PM

I think people who take their national pride and their silly, homophobic, single-white-male (or single-Asian-female or whatever) prejudices into a game world that has been created for role-playing and having fun are the real losers in every sense of the word. These are the people that have completely missed the point of the game world, they break down something potentially beautiful and replace it with the ugly outside world that already exists.

I really hope game developers and game communities will begin to see the point of using every method available to ban or ignore these players as fully as possible. Remove their chatting privileges, suspend them, or give players the option to put them on their ignore list and thereby no longer see their avatar or its actions at all... there's so much that can be done which still is not being done by game developers. Make these players into the outcasts of the game world, they deserve it.

On the case of noobs and newbies... some people, in my opinion, are just hopeless. They beg higher level players for "FREE MONEY PLZ!!" and, indeed, expect everything to be explained to them, even those things that can be read in the manual. I ignore them as I do with the higher-level characters I mentioned in my first paragraph.

But what is wrong with being new to the game? Newbies are the future of every gaming community, and many fail to see that. Without the constant influx of new players the virtual world would eventually whither and die. I am still looking for a game where people do not act as if you're insane and ridiculous when you ask a question they already know the answer to.

Again, the people involved in keeping this discrimination alive should really be considered noobs themselves. How silly can you be not to realise that helping out others and communicating with them without the intent of gaining something from them is the most fun aspect of these mmorpgs?

Have you ever rescued a low-level character from a dungeon way above his or her level? Try it, and admit how good it feels when it works out. All of the sudden you're no longer a man or woman with a big sword, but a real hero. That's what role-playing is about!

Lora

Posted by: Lora Dunkirk on January 20, 2005 12:55 AM

I agree with Lora, helping out is what its all about. I've seen this thing first hand in World of Warcraft. A large community already existed from Beta players and when public release came around it was a mixed bag on what kind of response you got when asking a question. Though I also have to agree that there are players that want everything handed to them, and even I have typed "Look at your quest log", or "Try exploring a little". As much as I can though I try and help new players, because aside form my Guildmates for whom I have known for many years, there were quite a few players that helped me when I needed a clue as to what was going on in the virtual world around me.

Posted by: DemonMonarch on January 20, 2005 10:45 AM

don't you think it's ridiculous to assume that because someone hates jingoistic us flagwaving that they feel hostile towards your country? they feel hostile (not violent) towards your -actions-. notice the difference.

for every us serviceman dead in iraq, 100 iraqis have died. remember that.

Posted by: cillygrrl on January 26, 2005 5:54 AM

Stereotypes and Prejudices are natural events that occur with learning or the lack of learning the differences in the world.

I personally don't think that they should be written out of games or punish the players for expressing them.

It is possible to use a game as a learning tool. For example, if a male player plays a female character, he may begin to get a feel for how females are treated and thus understand a bit deeper and then reflect it back into his real life.

The same can be true for race, nationality, ect. However many attempts are to weed out the differences or punish players who try to bring them into the gaming world so the chances to learn become more difficult.

Many times an enemy is someone who doesn't fully understand you or take the time to understand you better, but instead seek your demise.

What about the perception of evil vs. good in games? Many times good is driven to destroy evil, but isn't the very act of destroying, an evil act in itself? Basically when you perceive something to be "evil" you have to become evil in the process to destroy it. Well then shouldn't you in turn be destroyed?

It's the kill the killer as justification for the killer who killed. One killing is "good" the other is "evil" but which one is it?

Posted by: Krumpel on January 28, 2005 1:22 PM

It is not that one is evil and one is good. Yes killing is an evil act. But its one is justifiyed in the eyes of one, vice versa.

For example the War on Terroisim (pardon spellings)

the bombing the terriosts are doing and 9/11 and such as. This was all justified in there eyes. They have, as far as they can see, a perfectly good reason to do it, (if somewhat misdirected).

The US then strike back. there reason, really, is revenge. Bringing peace and freedom to the world just happens to be something that comes out on the side lines. So the US take military forces out to look for the leader. etc etc.

It then becomes a tennis match of revenge killing, until one side, either realises gives in, or that that side no longer exists.

But all the while each side has its justifaction for doing so, Revenge or otherwise.

Foolish really.

But without revenge, how can one stand up for him/herself? If an act against them was commited?

Posted by: Killersponge on February 2, 2005 3:23 AM

Quote:
"Virtual worlds do not free us from real world stereotypes and prejudices. Instead, our stereotypes and cultural identities seem to follow us even into worlds that are entirely woven from fantasy."

I have resolved this for myself by declaring it a false dychotomy. For me, virtual worlds are simply another place that I inhabit, while I am there. While I am in virtual worlds, I may or may not be acting (role playing), but I don't consider them less than real.

Looking at it this way, it becomes obvious that my biases are not following me, they simply continue to be present. I assume the same of every other player.

Posted by: Mark on February 2, 2005 5:46 PM

I think a lot of male gamers have actually realised that pretending to be female on MMROPG's actually discourage's other males from attacking them
quote" The funniest experiment about 'not being me' was to play a female character. Strange how players were nice with me. They start conversations without reasons, gave me items, money or time. Some even died to save me. I guess a lot of MMORPG players are single men, that's why." [M, AO, 34]

Posted by: on March 19, 2005 11:16 AM

lol, I get that all the time. I think that might have a lot to do with the fact that I'm actually a girl, thought...I've run into a lot of people who outright asked me my RL gender.

Posted by: Alicia on March 22, 2005 2:30 AM

Fascinating topic.

Personally I wish game developers could find a way to simply limit the intrusion of the outside world. For me, when I played DAoc ... Albion and Hibernia and Midgard were the reality.

As I played, there was no Palestine or America to argue over, no Dallas Cowboys or Green Bay Packers. While I had some openly stated prejudices against warlocks and trolls ... I couldn't be racist against Blacks or Mexicans or Asians ... because they don't exist in that world.

At least to me.

It's really too bad it can't be that way for everyone. As a former Marine myself, I truly sympathize with the Americans raising Old Glory in tribute to 9/11 victims ... and if it had happened in THIS world (what we laughingly call "real life") and some punks had tried to deface the flag, I would have been happily inserting my boot in their ass ...

But in the virtual world ... well, I don't really want to see any nation's flag. I want to immerse myself in the lore of that world.

Really too bad this stuff can't be enforced a little more diligently. Like character names: I enjoyed grouping with Rexor and Firewind and Phoenixrisen ... but wasn't so keen on hanging out with guys named ThugPunk and Skaterzrule. Blech.

---------------------------

As for the discussion of "newbs" and "noobs" ... well, I was a perpetual noob. I never had talent in game and was always mediocre at RvR (PvP) ... and more to the point, with a family and a successful career, I knew I was never, ever going to be much beyond a noob.

So when some unemployed 25-year old college drop-out still living in his parents' basement called me a "noob" .... I took it as a profound compliment.

Posted by: Jake Knight on March 28, 2006 6:42 AM

I am not a gamer but I am a researcher of online communities. I find it interesting that various types of prejudice exist in this community since it appears that here a person can be a greater extension of themselves here. I suppose that is why this online community lends itself so openly to prejudice. I suppose those who exhibit prejudiced type behaviors in this community do it as well in their RL communities.

Posted by: Researcher on February 8, 2007 8:29 AM

Late to this debate, I know.

As a relatively new MMO player of a few months, I'm horrified at the common use of the word "rape" to describe killing an enemy player in PvP.

The word is mostly used be unconscious young white males who seem to have no sensitivity to the impact of the word on others. Add the fact that the majority of victims of rape are women, and the perpetrators are male, and the underlying sexism becomes apparent.

What especially grieves me is fellow female players, who tell me that they have become immune to hearing the word in MMOs.

I imagine that this use of the word "rape" is far more common than outside the game, and is perhaps an example of where MMO's are not just transferring stereotypes and prejudices, but increasing them.

Posted by: Charon on August 23, 2007 5:35 PM

black camel toe

Posted by: Usariacam on March 24, 2010 1:25 PM

real-world context can be inserted into a virtual world, effectively turning the virtual world into a forum for real-world contexts. For example, elves in a pub discussing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or a fighter and mage debating the merits of the Green Bay Packers. The effectiveness of the forum is now subject to the vulnerabilities of the virtual world. Features such as anonymity, PvP, lack of /ignore feature, power hierarchies, and mutable environments can hinder debate and increase hostility. What if the person that you disagree with is your guild leader, or the one dispersing dungeon loot, or town mayor, or king. What if they were strong enough, and capable, of killing your character. In Ultima Online, when the U.S. flag was created with 'fabric', it's vulnerable mutability came with it, allowing any bystander to attempt to "desecrate" it. It is vulnerabilities of this level that invite grief play, regardless of particular opposing contexts. A grief player simply needs to pick a context which offends. Inserting deeply held beliefs into such a vulnerable forum is inviting others to offend them.

Posted by: Ashraf Ahmed on January 30, 2012 1:29 PM
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