One of the things that makes a big difference in the social interactions in this game for me is age.
First of all, I have a rule: “Always assume everyone is a 14 year old boy until proven otherwise.” The kinds of salacious, suggestive, shocking, and simply insulting comments that abound in this space must be taken with a grain of salt – and responding in kind is not something I want to do with a 14 year old boy.
Generally, though, I think I meet very few people under 18. Apparently the average age of online gamers in general is close to 35, first of all, and WoW certainly attracts plenty of people out of their teens. Mostly, it seems, the people I meet are in their early 20s (or claim to be so… I’m going to just have to believe them).
Some things make age easy to spot. Certain conversational styles, including odd outbursts and somewhat inappropriate responses mark some as younger. Somehow there’s a bit of that youthful eagerness that I sense periodically – especially because I think most assume others are in their 20s as I do. Of course, the more extreme spelling errors and grammar oddities are more often from younger people, too.
The age shocker
The other day, though, I had a bit of a check on my intuition about age in WoW. Generally, being out of my 20s myself, I tend to assume that people who are mature, well-informed, and somewhat self-controlled are closer to my age than to 20. But I discovered that the GM and another high ranking guild member are both in their early 20s. I was shocked.
Both of them demonstrate an amazing level of patience (as I’ve noted before), care, and sensitivity when leading raids. They both have a deft hand at gently cutting off insulting tirades or over-long complaints; they both are incredibly generous with new folks (like me); and they are rather well organized and very reliable.
Not that 23 year olds can’t be reliable, organized and good at managing cranky people. It’s the way they led – it was simply mature in a way that I feel I rarely see among even my older students. Heck, plenty of 35 year olds have less grace and subtlety in dealing with the riff raff than those two. Moreover, one in particular is careful with spelling and grammar(even corrects other guildies :), has a broad vocabulary, and almost never uses chat slang like ppl (“people”) or ur (“your”).
So apparently I’m not quite as adept at figuring out how old people are as I thought. Certainly there are aspects of this game that encourage, reward, and attract those with more maturity, especially in leadership positions. But still…. 23?! Still amazes me.
Knowing how old someone is important to me, at least generally, because I make sure I’m careful with the way I interact with the younger people I meet online. It makes me uncomfortable to think that a 17 year old is “listening” to the sexual innuendo over guild chat, or exchanging flirtatious quips with someone far, far his or her senior.
But this space smooths out some age barriers to socializing in some strange ways. First of all, I certainly have more casual contact more regularly with people far younger than I in WoW than I do in my offline life. sure, I interact with students all the time, but that’s as their instructor, not as a peer. In WoW, I am even interacting sometimes as their junior – plenty of 19 year olds have more extensive experience, knowledge, and gear than I do. I’m pretty sure they, too, don’t usually hang out and joke with people 15 years old than they are on a regular basis.
Second, those age differences seem to have somewhat less meaning for some people. One 18 year old was recently getting a little out of hand with the salacious remarks with me, and I finally said, “you know I’m like twice your age, married, with a kid, right?” He said, “so? your [sic] still hawt”.
I’m honestly not sure what to do in those kinds of circumstances. I could have told him to fuck off, sure, but acutally we had been having a fun conversation until he starting saying things about getting “on” me, giving me “something to lick” etc., etc. Oddly, it wasn’t insulting – and it was in private chat – or even “nasty”, just a running set of jokes that were a bit more than double entendres. Basically, not much more than the suggestive jokes I had exchanged with M. back when I first started playing.
This was a 18 year old. Ding ding ding! Inappropriate!! I backed out of that conversation fast. I almost felt bad for having gotten into it in the first place, but he knew from early on my age, and I was making sure to say things like, “um…. let’s move on from that, okay?”I found out about mid way through our conversation – as these things started to heat up – that he was 18. Maybe that was part of it, as well. It was quite a bit more shocking to find out his age (I had assessed it at early 20s – somehow there’s a big difference between 21 and 18 in this context).
So yeah, even if it’s just in a moral or boundary sense, age matters. To me, at any rate.
My own age shocker
Finally, my own feelings of age shock. Recently, knowing the age of many of these folks is in their early- to mid-20s is making me feel old. Okay, my actual age is making me feel old anyway (40 isn’t all that far away… wow), but it’s been heightened in guild chat recently. From Mi. who brought me into the guild, a running joke started about “in the 60s when Lan was a teenager…” Of course, I wasn’t even born in the 60s, and for Mi, that was part of the joke (having met me in person), but the guild has really taken this up, and frequently says things to me like, “50 year olds like you are supposed to be in bed by now.” At first, it was funny, if a bit nerve-wracking – “Do they really think I’m 50? How does this affect how they see me? Do they think I’m no fun now?” But not a big deal.
But as it goes on, I am getting a bit more uncomfortable with the idea that they think I’m 15 years older than I am. I guess I have left over needs to be thought of as cute and attractive – even absent the body 100% – in this space. I say “left over” because as I noted in earlier posts, both J. and I rather played the sex kitten role in the guild. Guess I’m playing the strange old lady role now :(
(no joke – that really is a role, with associated assumptions and stereotypes)
I’m not! I swear! I’m cute! Really! No, I’m not a super model, I’m not 18, and I’m not your fantasy milf. But still. Harumph.