Confessions and confusions

First of all, Hi, I’m back : ) Was off in other climes for a bit, but have now returned, and I promise to return to my usual chitter chatter.

Today’s chitter chatter is a confession:

I have a terrible time figuring out who is who in WoW. Not the NPCs, but the players. My guild. People I have conversations with. Often.

guildlistTo be fair, part of the confusion comes from a slew of recent /gquits and new members. Sure, I expect to adjust to new people slowly – it’s not as though they’re all on at once. Also, we’re a pretty good-sized guild, with about 30 active players, more occasional ones, and a slew of members’ alternate characters. As people move in and out, it’s tough to keep track of them all, and since I haven’t been playing as much recently, this gets more and more difficult.

But the real issue is that people with whom I have regular conversations, who say, “Hey Lant!” when I log on, who I raid with on a regular basis…. gah. I can’t figure out who they all are. Match toon name to Vent voice to past experiences with them to role in guild and raid…

Oh it’s terrible!

Partly, there are a lot of folks in my guild with several level 80 toons, which means they raid with one toon one day, and another the next. This doesn’t sound confusing, but when most of what you go on to identify people is their name, it starts getting messy. I associate a set of conversations and impressions with the toon name alone. Then someone uses a different toon (with a different name, of course), and I get lost.

The other day I had a lovely guild chat conversation with someone who greeted me warmly, asked me how I was, and told me he missed me while I was gone. I was touched and responded in kind. We had a fun conversation for several minutes.

I had no idea who he was.

Eventually, I asked the Guild Master, and yes, turns out I had been chatting with a kind fellow I knew from many raids who was using a toon I had never seen before.

Other such confusions are even worse – that is, I really should know better. It took me literally months to realise that one core member of the guild was the same person as “another” core member of the guild, and even longer to figure out that another two toons were not, actually, played by the same person. I do have little notes for some folks in my Friends list, now. Finally managed to keep straight that B. was indeed playing toons X and Y – um, even after I met him in person. Faces and voices and toons, oh my.

Vent voices don’t really help all that much. First of all, I’m not always looking at the Vent window that indicates who is talking, so I have been known to associate one person’s voice with another’s toon. For about 5 weeks. Or think that someone said something, and then said something else, but it was actually two different people. Or vice versa.

Second, some people’s voices are clearer than others on Vent, and sometimes it’s tough to differentiate. You’d think that I, as I singer, would be better at sorting out voices, but no. So I have found myself thinking I have two different relationships, but it turns out it’s the same person. Or I think I’m talking to a stranger when I’m talking to someone I chat with frequently.

Slowly, slowly I am building up a group of people I can genuinely identify. That guy, who lives there, who’s named this in real life, who I talk to about the other thing. Got it. Yes, okay. And sometimes I even manage to keep track of all the toons they play.

But for the most part? It’s a confusing whirlwind of voices and chats and monster-killing. Oh, I have fun, and I pretty much natter on in my usual way no matter what. But this does put a spin on the social interaction in that space. Without a clear visual identifier and with unreliable name-to-player relationships… well, just who am I friends with, anyway? Am I building relationships through interaction over time, as we think of doing in offline spaces? Or am I bonding only in the moment, without lasting effect?

I think that in some ways what happens is that rather than an individualized social experience, this becomes a group one. My social bonds are loosely formed with the group, rather than with specific individuals. It’s kind of like feeling close to your sports team but not really having  much alone time with anyone.

Of course there are some individual people I have closer relationships with, and I always recognize them. But for the most part, the group becomes the social unit, not the person. I can feel “close to” my guild without, really, having much individual interaction at all. And if that’s the case, then does it really matter which of us is which?

It sounds kind of shallow that way, I know. How can the individual not matter!!? But that’s not really what I mean. I believe those bonds are just as sincere – in the same way that people bond on teams or in small classes without ever seeing each other outside the group context.

What’s confusing is the fact that the individuals are so much less recognizable to me. I think I have trouble until I can include more familiar identifiers like where people live, how old they are, what they do. (All of which suggests some interesting things about how important specific types of identity are to my ability to remember people…)

Or maybe I just need better player/toon cheatsheets.

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