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edit: lol at trolls icu

Through all of my previous years as a gamer, I initially avoided mass multiplayer online (MMO) games. Considering that I used games to get away from people, playing with them seemed counterproductive. But over the past couple of years I’ve started expanding myself into the digital culture of MMOs, playing with people and getting to know them.

And now I’m starting to see why I avoided it in the first place.

Some people can be really cool and awesome, playing the games for the experience and interacting with people just to get to know them and make connections. I like these people, these people make me happy. But the further you get into a particular game, the more elitists you find, pushing their ideals of how people should perform and criticizing or even attacking other players for not conforming to their standards. This can be especially problematic in roleplaying games such as World of Warcraft (WoW), where you can create a large variety of alternate characters (generally known as alts). The higher level your character is, the closer it reaches to “end game”, where your character level is maxed and you start working toward more powerful gear, achievements and other accomplishments. There’s a high focus on dungeons (especially those of heroic difficulty), large-group raids, and player vs. player (PvP), be it in large or small groups (Battlegrounds and Arena, respectfully). If you make it to the max level and wish to participate in any of these end game activities, you are expected to perform.

What’s the problem with this? It assumes and makes judgment of people based on a preconceived idea of what they are capable of. It ignores the scope of a particular gamer’s abilities, their strengths and their limits.

The sheer number of addons available for WoW help, but these aren’t available for all games. And in some cases, they’re not condoned by the company that makes the game or the server you play on, and it can even be considered against their terms of service to use them – regardless of your reason. I ran into that problem with a server I played on for Ragnarok Online, where their rules stated that players couldn’t use third party software if it could or was being used to gain an unfair advantage. At the time I was using a program called Hotkey Master, which enabled me to paste commands into the chat panel and hit enter with a single push of a button, instead of having to type it out myself and lessen my overall game time because of the impact on my hands. While this could be seen as an unfair advantage, this very feature was available within the game – but it required you to press two keys on opposing sides of the keyboard simultaneously, which my hands couldn’t reach without strain or if I had my braces on. Especially since one hand had to be on the mouse at all times to move your character or target skills or enemies.

The response I got from the moderators was favorable, but the players not so much. Their attitudes demonstrated and reinforced the frame of thought that if you are not capable of playing the game the same way that they are, you are less valuable as a player. You do not count. Or worse – you’re asking for special favors, asking to get around breaking the rules, or to cheat. Just because you cannot play in the same fashion that they can, or you can’t keep up with them without assistance.

I’ve since moved on from this game but the attitudes are still prevalent in others. According to them, if you use the keyboard to play instead of the mouse, you’re not a real gamer (since clearly the keyboard is inferior to the flexibility of the mouse’s features in-game). Or you don’t know how to play your class or character right. Or if you don’t or can’t use certain features or addons that many consider to be essential to playing their class, you’re not playing your class right. If you’re not maxing out your damage-per-second (DPS) on a dungeon or raid boss, regardless of reason, you’re not playing your class right. You’re a less valuable player. If you cannot top the meters, be they for damage, healing or enemy player kills, you are a less valuable player.

I wish it was just strangers that do this. But I’ve gotten it from my own guild mates too. If I cannot remember or focus on the functionality of my class at a given moment, I am an amateur. But sometimes my attention cannot stay on one part of my screen, to watch my skills and focus on my role in the party. Sometimes I hyperfocus and forget to pay attention to the enemies that are appearing or being summoned, when I’m supposed to be switching my attention to them. Sometimes my hands start to tense and lock up and I’m not able to hit my hotkeys as fast as I usually do or respond as quickly to immediate situations. Sometimes my blood sugar crashes and I have to leave the party early. Sometimes I can’t log into Ventrilo or another voice communication program because I’m dealing with high levels of anxiety or sensory overload. Sometimes I hit a fatigue spike or pain crops up and I have to take a break.

All of these limits, in the eyes of elitists, can make me a less valuable player. And frequently do. All because I function differently than they do, and thus have to adjust how I play to accommodate.

And because of this, it affects how comfortable I am playing with other people in these games. It affects what features of the games I use, where I go both within and outside of them, how I communicate with other players. It makes the very activity that I use to retreat and distract myself from the harshness of reality and society around me just as harmful as the social interaction I’m trying to withdraw from, should the situation arise while I’m around.

There are still some really great people in these games, and I love meeting and getting to know them. I love playing with them. They make playing the games worth while despite the hardships that they in turn produce. But even in digital communities like this, I’m still a recluse in the end.

All because I’m disabled, and thus a less valuable player.

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