Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Hazards of PvP: Humiliation

Humiliating another character without ALSO humiliating the player is a tricky business because, despite the general myth to the contrary, the human brain isn't wired to know the difference between in-game and out-of-game experiences.  While these situations do sometimes go well with everyone enjoying the moment, if the other player is too good at their job, the humiliation is too complete or the situation too intense (or triggering), things often progress to the "blame game" which can lead to a player complaining about the event for months, or even years, afterwards.

That's ... not a great place to be.

For anyone.

Yet it comes up a lot.

I think the trouble is, in part, the instinctive reactions our brains have to certain body language and facial expressions.  If I slam my fists down on the table and yell in your face, you will have a certain emotional response.  After the initial shock, it will likely be a much reduced one because you *know* I don't intend to hurt you, but that won't stop your brain from gearing up for the possibility that maybe I actually *am* angry.  If you know me, and we deal with each other happily enough later on, then that will help enormously against that reaction. 

But what if you don't know me?  What if we've just met?  What if you try to approach me with a smile to check in after game and I don't realise this and instead give you the cold shoulder and go do something else?  In truth, I could be distracted, have an urgent phone call, misread your body language or simply be socially awkward, introverted, or otherwise desperately needing a few minutes alone to recharge.

It may have *nothing* to do with you, but you won't know that.

And that's the trouble with issues like humiliation which are deeply unpleasant especially if it is over something you, as a player, legitimately thought was a good course of action.  Not only is it an unpleasant experience (though unpleasant emotions can be satisfyingly cathartic).  Now I'm not saying that every gaming experience needs to be pleasant.  I love me some horror gaming and fear is specifically an emotion that pushes you to *avoid* a situation, but part of what makes horror gaming so much fun is because deep down you know you're safe.

If I were to go to a horror game and truly fear for my life, truly think I might be attacked, then it wouldn't be so much fun anymore.

The same thing is the case with humiliation and other similar acts (such as character death) only the lines are far more blurry than with threats of actual bodily harm.

There is a chance that the other player does hate us, that they do want to ruin our fun for the power trip, that they are callously indifferent to the needs of other players, that they are willing to cheat or bribe other players as players to get what they want and that we are being treated unfairly as players, rather than as characters.

And since we have such a stigma (in Australia, at least) against feeling your character's emotions, we refuse to accept the fact that the humiliating situation might have stung because that's what being humiliated feels like.  No one was out to get us.  No one hates us.  That stinging sensation isn't a warning sign from out gut that there's actual players out to get us.  It's just there because the situation temporarily sucked.  It may have triggered memories of past humiliations or given someone new insight into what it's like to be in that spot. 

But with all that stigma out there, we can't admit that.  Admitting that we felt bad and it made us cross or angry is tantamount to saying: "AVOID ME FOR I AM A TERRIBLE PLAYER!"

Now who would want to do that?

So we externalise that pain and we paint the other players with it.  We justify our positions and our emotions rather than simply venting about the situation, admitting that the situation affected us, and then moving on.  And this is very much a shame as the worst thing you can do is to flat out refuse to consider that this might be normal and to instead seek out someone to blame as blame absolutely stone walls the only actual solution -- which is communication and opening yourself up to positive experiences with that other player to ensure that the negative message isn't the only one your brain gets in regards to that other player.

NOTE: This doesn't mean that there are no bad players who are out to spoil another's fun nor does it mean that there are no players who are overly sensitive and need to be handled with kid gloves lest they have a mini melt down.  I just don't believe that each and every player has to be one or the other.

Feelings happen.  Maybe it's just time we admitted that.

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