Please, someone send us something lighthearted for next week! Use the tips in the last part of Robin's response in our behind-the-scenes column.
I have a real dilemma for you. I have been in my guild since the beginning of WotLK. Our little close-knit group of adventurers consists of real-life friends and coworkers plus a few WoW-only friends as well. Last week guild member X posted their phone number on the private guild forums. A lot of us have each others' digits, that's not unusual ... however, guild member Y decided to run the number through Google to get the geographic location on the area code, and discovered guild member X on an official sexual predator/offender list. This was immediately brought up to the guild leader, who first confirmed that guild member X was indeed the person on the list by comparing last names and location, then dismissed the issue by saying "[WoW is] just a game." That response prompted some members to /gquit for moral and ethical reasons.
Now, the real question: what should I do? Sex offences are very broad; that umbrella encompasses everything from rape to consensual sex with a minor - none of which is OK of course, but it got me thinking. It's not my place to go charging in asking "okay, what exactly did you do," and does it even matter? Is it any of my business? And lastly, in your opinion, what should the guild leader do, or have done differently?Drama Mama Lisa: Those lists exist for one reason: Forewarned is forearmed. When you know that someone is on one of these lists, you can apply the necessary precautions to your interactions with them. And that is exactly what you should do, apply necessary precautions -- the key being the word "necessary."
We don't know the circumstances of the offender's actual offense, so we don't know what the actual risks are to adult players in an online situation. We don't know how long his tenure with the guild has been and how well-known he has become among your guildmates. It doesn't sound as if there are many (or any) minors in your guild. These folks seem to be reasonable adults who should be able to determine how to handle making personal contact with someone they've met on the internet.
What should the GM have done differently, you ask? Since several guild members left the guild over this incident, it's fair to say that the news of the offender's status made its way to at least some guild members. A more respectful and productive treatment of the situation would have begun with a private conversation between the GM and the offender, to clarify the nature of the offense. At that point, the GM would have been able to determine whether to ask the offender to remove himself from the guild; to add a brief, factual note of caution to the offender's post itself; to make a post about internet safety precautions in general; to notify guild members individually; or to leave the matter to individual players to research on their own according to their levels of concern about making contact with people they've met over the internet.
If the GM decided not to publicly announce the offender's status (or not to act on it), he should have explained his reasoning to the officers and any members who knew about the offender's status to make sure that they were willing to maintain that player's privacy, given the circumstances. In the face of any objections, the GM should then have worked to bring the guild leadership to consensus as a group; handling sensitive issues is, of course, what guild leadership is all about, even in the "just a game" setting of WoW.
The ideal response would have addressed personal safety while minimizing guild drama. That's all gone flying out the window now -- along with at least a few of your members, plus any opportunity for the offender to appropriately grow and move beyond his past. Remember that it's not the public's role here to punish this person; the listing serves as a caution, not a call to arms. Your GM's first and most important step should have been to apply suitable caution by going straight to the offender to find out the truth of (or at least his response to) the matter. It's not the listing itself that's the point; it's what you do with that information that makes it worthwhile. If you do nothing but scream, run in circles, and then rush out the door waving the list in high dudgeon, you've accomplished nothing but tearing your guild's relationships apart.
Drama Mama Robin: I agree that the listing should not be a call to arms, but it should definitely be a wake-up call. If your guild is only made up of known friends, you can be free with information. When you meet strangers that you do not know well in the physical world, however, they could be predators of some kind. That's not how you should live your life -- suspecting everyone you meet -- but you should absolutely exercise some simple caution.
I wanted to embed this video about internet safety above, however I couldn't find it in embeddable form. So go watch it (with your kids even), but come right back so we can discuss two important things it says.
- Not everyone is who they say they are. You found out about X being on the list because there is such a thing as a registered sex offender list. But what about all of the other violent or sexual offenders out there that haven't been caught yet? I'm not saying that you should distrust everyone, but you shouldn't trust people you only know online with your personal information until you've really gotten to know them. (And even then, use caution.)
- If you wouldn't do it in person, you shouldn't do it online. If you are an active member in a community center, YMCA, fitness club, etc., do you post your name and home phone number up on the wall for all other members to see? Sure, you give your number to fellow members on an individual basis -- and you should do the same thing in game.
In my opinion, an acquaintance you only know on the internet doesn't need your phone number, physical address or any other information where you can be found in person. If you want to chat, use Vent or Skype. Exchange email addresses and IM usernames. Take advantage of the many options that social media provides to protect yourself, such as easily blocking someone and even changing your username in extreme cases. Once you establish a friendship that transcends location, that's a different matter.
OK, that was a bit more preachy than I like to get. Sorry about that. I get all motherly about you all sometimes.
About X's sex offender status: If you do have any minors in the guild, I think he has to go. Regardless of what adults do with the information, the underage members absolutely need to be protected. Also, if you have any people who are of age but who you consider immature, impressionable, or even gullible -- well, X needs to be kept away from them, too. If the guild leader continues to refuse to take action -- even after the mass exodus -- then I think everyone still in the guild does need to be informed so that they can make the decision for themselves as to whether to stay or go.
If X were on the Registered Shoplifter List or the Unauthorized Graffiti Artist List or even the Grand Theft Auto List then I wouldn't care at all, and I would think it was his business. No need to call him Prisoner 24601 and make him announce his status to all potential guildies. But there is at least one traumatized victim for everyone on the list X is on*, and he could be looking for more. Don't freak out, don't call for pitchforks and torches, but do inform those he's in contact with in a calm, unemotional manner on an individual basis if at all possible. A forum post where everyone can bag on the guy is not the way to go.
*Edited to add: This is except for those areas where public urination and other victimless infractions are listed. However, the U.S. national listing (thanks Audrey) includes the offenses of each person on the list, so that is easily checked.
What a pain to have to deal with this in your leisure time. Thank you for writing, Anon. /hug
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org.