It was only this week that I fully understood the drama that’s a central part of guild life on WoW. I’m in a guild that’s very well organized and managed — the GM is online a lot, he’s responsive to problems, and he doesn’t tolerate sexist or racist guild chat or overly aggro behavior. Maybe it’s because the work of the GM, like other forms of emotional labor, is largely invisible that I hadn’t really thought about it until today. This week’s eruption involved an older player who responded in an unreasonable and aggressive manner to a very young player. I think that everyone online at the time was shocked by his sustained outburst, since it seemed out of all proportion to the poor n00b’s questions about soul shards. The traffic between virtual and non-virtual was palpable in this incident — some players attributed his behavior to a virtual relationship he was having with a putatively female guild member, a relationship itself that was said to be edging toward the non-virtual (he was talking of packing up and moving to live with her).
The other bit that I’ve been thinking about is the way in which all communication in these environments is what they described as “alter-abled” at the Oregon Country Fair last weekend. Trying to communicate with people who are palpably angry (based on their posts on guild chat, moreover), trying to manage personalities about which you have only superficial information (some of which may be misleading), it’s like missing a sense or senses.