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Drama Mamas: The case of the underage scammer

Drama Mamas Lisa Poisso and Robin Torres are experienced gamers and real-life mamas -- and just as we don't want our precious babies to be the ones kicking and wailing on the floor of the checkout lane next to the candy, neither do we want you to become known as That Guy on your realm.

It's always more interesting when Lisa and I disagree. This week is very interesting. Let's get right to it.
So... Here's my story. The first part is probably pretty typical, but it's what I did in response that I'm conflicted about. I feel I could use the advice of someone who understands WoW.

I saw somebody advertising in trade that he was selling the ruby shades for 500g. I'm not sure why I thought even for a second that it might be real; even on a low-pop server, that's two orders of magnitude low. But I did, so I arranged to meet with the "seller". He expressed some hesitation about the 500g price and we negotiated a higher price - none of which turned out to matter, since it quickly became clear that he did not have the shades at all. At one point he put an item with the same icon as the shades (yes, I have seen the real ones) into the trade box.
So I took an approach which I have used on various manner of ill-behaved players before, and gave him a lecture. This was not just any lecture. I am not religious, but I imagine I would have made a Sunday-school teacher proud. I lead off with, paraphrasing, "I am going to waste more of your time than you wasted of mine," and touched on such topics as why attempting to rip people off is wrong, why the money one might hypothetically get by doing so would not give one satisfaction, and why it's not okay just because you're anonymous on the internet.

This in general worked pretty well. I think possibly he was more willing to put up with it because my character's name was female, but I suppose I'll never know. I know he was frustrated with me, because he said such things as "can u stop talkin to me !!!!!!!!!!!" and "STOP TALKIN TO ME NOW !!!!!!!!!!!!!!" (both verbatim quotes), and I suspect I had him in tears at one point. I finally released him after about fifteen or twenty minutes (he didn't know how to use ignore, and I had coolly mentioned that I was willing to make alts to keep bugging him if he tried that route, to discourage that line of thought), by which time his tone had changed considerably and I felt there was a fair chance he might actually understand some of my points.

So far, so good, right? When you play with the adults, you run the risk that somebody might moralize at you! After all, what I did was only words. And very polite words; I never called him anything dirty; the worst appellation I used was "troll". How can that be wrong? He deserved it. And the praise from guildies for putting a troll in his place certainly felt good.

But... Well... It came out in the course of the conversation that he was eleven years old. I believe this, as he had no reason to lie. And by the end of it he seemed to halfway think I was his friend, but I was still being rather brusque with him. I feel my tone could have been less harsh. I didn't intend to convey the message that he's inherently bad and can do no good - that will give him self-esteem problems and lead to bad stuff. I just wanted to convey that he was a good person who did a bad thing, and I think I went way overboard for that.

Could I have done some damage? I'd hate to think of this kid crying himself to sleep, or quitting the game, or something like that. I am entirely self-taught in my own school of unsolicited advice of this nature, so I've had no guidance for how much is enough.

I'm having trouble conveying exactly what the nature of my conflict here is. I guess I just want you to sign off and say it was okay, or that it wasn't - I, unlike an eleven-year-old, can handle criticism. Please let me know what you think!

Thanks,

Ironically Remorseful
Drama Mama Robin: Remorseful, you need to stop worrying about scarring this child now. So what if he did cry himself to sleep? He tried to scam you! One of the most important lessons kids need to learn is that their actions have consequences. Also, it's obvious you reached him. So no, he's not scarred. He's a better person for it. But let's say you went off on him less constructively. Let's say you were profanely insulting and made disparaging remarks about his sexual prowess or something. It's still doubtful you scarred him for life, he probably hears worse at school and it's not your fault that he's wandering around unsupervised on the internet.

We've talked about Unintentional Child Encounters before. Remember when Enraged Mom got aggroed by raunchy guild chat? I bet that kid's playground cred went up when he told his school friends the naughty stories he heard.

Here are some things to remember when recovering from a UCE:
  • Don't feel bad about behaving like an adult in a teen rated game, where we are all warned that online experience may vary. Many parents use video games as an electronic babysitter. They have no idea there are real people talking to their kid and think WoW is just another Super Mario Brothers. So they don't realize that their kid is encountering real people making age assumptions. If they are letting their kid (whether they know it or not) hang out with the grownups, then don't feel guilty about acting like one.
  • Kids are mean to each other. You think your yelling at this kid about scamming may have hurt his feelings? Even if you're right, it doesn't hurt as much as the kid he thought was his best friend dropping him as soon as the cool kid asked him to. The kids start forming cliques and making up nasty things to say to each other as early as kindergarten, if not before. (This was a bit of a shock to me. I don't remember it being like this in the ancient days of my early education.) Some stranger he can't see yelling at him is just not going to hurt as much as someone he has to deal with 5 days a week, several hours a day.
  • Children are resilient. There are so many more horrible things that can be going on in any child's life that are going to cause him emotional harm. And yet, so many children grow up to be responsible, productive adults. I mean, all of our childhoods sucked in one way or another, right? We just get over it or we seek help to get over it. Strangers yelling at them in video games is not one of those things children need to go to therapy for. It's just one of those things they will chalk up to experience and adjust their behavior accordingly.
How do you avoid UCEs? Well, in any situation that sets you off, just ask yourself: Could this ninja/scammer/begger/invite-spammer be a kid? If you think it's possible, then adjust your behavior accordingly. Though I think you'll find that you won't actually change your behavior so much as your expectations.

Drama Mama Lisa: Ouch. I can't shrug off your behavior in this situation, Remorseful, and I can't condone it. I have a problem with your eye-for-an-eye behavior; that's how today's abysmally low internet behavior standards have come about in the first place. I can't advocate contributing to it.

Remorseful, you relentlessly trolled this player. What he did was wrong, but you went after him maliciously with the intent to get under his skin. Sure, as you say, "what I did was only words" -- but that's what an online environment is, "only words." Those words and their effects are still quite real. You set out to cause another player frustration. You suspect he was in tears at one point. That's trolling -- and you knew it, too, as we see from your rationalizations ("He deserved it.").

Nobody deserves poor behavior in return for mistakes of his own. Patrolling the internet and teaching people lessons is not your business. If someone attempts to scam you in game, report him through in-game channels. Ignore him. Heck, make a simple, straightforward warning to other players in trade chat, if he continues to advertise what you know he doesn't have, and let him suffer the consequences. Protect yourself, yes -- but for goodness sake, don't feed the trolls.

Two wrongs don't make a right. Address the issue at hand -- the scamming -- and don't get sucked into atrocious behavior of your own.

I disagree with Robin that the possibility that young players might hear and see similar (or worse) behavior at school somehow excuses anything. I have a grade-schooler and a high-schooler of quite different temperaments. They're not angels; they both have their moments. However, both of them choose to avoid other kids who (as my daughter so gently puts it) "act sassy." And guess what? My kids are not angelic exceptions. They're real, "regular" kids -- and they don't like bad behavior. They know it hurts, and they don't tolerate it among their classmates and friends. Bottom line: Plenty of kids avoid other kids who scam, troll and get up in other people's faces in game and in real life. I can't excuse trolling this other player simply based on the fact that "he's probably heard worse" and "everyone else does it" -- because frankly, not everyone does. And plenty of kids avoid others who do.

I realize that you probably went into this situation with good intentions. Here are four questions you can ask yourself that I've found to be very helpful in helping you decide whether what you're about to say is the right way to go:

  1. Is it truthful? (The points you were ultimately hoping to communicate about scamming were on target, sure.)
  2. Is it helpful? (You sound uncertain that it was -- in fact, you are fearful that your words were actually harmful instead. And you certainly showed him that an in-your-face, manners-be-damned attitude is the way things are done -- probably not so helpful to your cause.)
  3. Is it kind? (I think it's fairly clear that your methods were neither polite nor compassionate.)
  4. What is my motivation and genuine intention here? (Why do you feel compelled to offer so much of what you call "unsolicited advice"? Whose emotions and needs are being served when you saddle up?)
I'm honestly glad that you're thinking about what kind of an impact you're having on people around you, Remorseful. I think if you dig just a bit more deeply, you may be able to more closely line up your intentions with your actions in a kind, respectful and genuinely helpful way. I'm glad you care!

Dodge the drama and become that player everyone wants in their group with a little help and insight from the Drama Mamas. Remember, your mama wouldn't want to see your name on any drama. Play nice ... and when in doubt, ask the Drama Mamas at robin@wowinsider.com.

Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, Drama Mamas

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