Sunday, July 24, 2005

Social Experiment #15: Clan Bake

For the many years I've played on-line computer games, I have smirked at the thousands of gamers who are a part of a clan. Finally, out of curiousity I decided to join one.

A clan is a team of players who dedicate time to practicing together and competing together. Clans will set up times to play other clans, and web-sites indicate who has the best record in the world. Thus, certain clans garnish a reputation in the cyber-world as being bad-ass, others for being friendly and some for being sneaky.

I was recruited by a member of a clan as we played what is called a "Pub-style" game (I'm not sure whether this means public--open to everybody--or Pub--as in we are down in the pub drinking a Guiness and watching O'Conner light his farts on fire). The game is called Call of Duty; it is a World War II first-person shooter, which means you see your gun in front of you as you move around a 3-D city, landscape, etc. You can use about a dozen different weapons, and the best players are able to take out 4 or 5 or 12 enemies for every time they are killed. As you play, you can "talk" to others via a small display at the bottom of the screen. My screen name is halftard* and the player who recruited me is named Reaper. Here is how my recruitment happened:

Reaper: "Hey HT are you this good or just getting lucky?"
Halftard: "Oh I am THIS good. And I'm good looking."
Reaper: "Want to try out for our clan?"
Halftard: "Sure. What do I have to do?"
Repear: "Go to our server and start practicing with us. You'll be asked to join if you are dedicated. How old are you?"
Halftard: "Okay. I'm 36. But my maturity level is more like 12. How about you?"
Reaper: "lol I'm 16. Our clan leaders are about your age so you'll get along."

I have some observations to make. First, I am being recruited by a 16 year old--who also is probably better than me at the friggin game. Second, he is extremely nice--almost excruciatingly so (another clan member spent about two hours helping me set up my clan-membership. Third, he could be Jessica Simpson for all I know. As I went through the process of joining the clan--I am now a full-fledged member--I began to think about the strange society of the computer age and especially the cyber-space of gamers. Everybody wants to know some details about you (age, gender, maybe where you are from) but nobody seems to volunteer or even ask for much more beyond that. Decorum seems to require that we allow our interactions to remain somewhat anonymous, or perhaps nobody really cares to find out who these other people are. Clan-members interact with each other on a daily basis; I've got to assume that many of these people spend more time with each other than some of their family members. Yet all they "know" of each other is a screen-name and a cyber-voice. Such anonymity could engender racism, verbal abuse, etc--and it does sometimes on pub-style servers. But those in the clan I've talked to so far have been extraordinarily courteous and nice...which makes sense, i guess; nobody wants a clan of arrogant racists. {insert joke about our government here}

In fact, they've asked me to change my screen name because it might offend some people (I changed it to Ophelia). And at some point I said the word "ass" and Reaper said people weren't allowed to swear on the clan server (I stopped swearing). Here we had teen-agers asking a grown man to think about how his actions might be affecting others. I wondered whether I would be as open to the feedback if it happened in my classroom? In cyber-space, even though I know (or suspect) that some are kids, I don't really give much thought to who I'm talking to; race, age, gender don't affect my judgement. And I am being judged strictly by my actions--not because I am an adult, a teacher, a handsome hunk of love, etc.

So is cyber-space the new frontier of democracy? I read an article by a French journalist who noticed the democracy of our freeways--you have old cars, new cars, expensive cars, crappy cars all moving at whatever speeds and in whatever lanes the drivers choose. In France, a honk from an expensive car will cause a pedestrain one to pull over and make way for the royalty. In cyber-space, anybody can honk--and you don't even need to own a license or a car.

By the way, as the newest clan member I start as a priavte. That means any higher-ranking kid, man, woman, Star Trek geek wearing a "Live Long and Prosper" T-Shirt in the clan can give me orders. I hope I don't run into one of my students here...

*some background information about my screen-name is worth mentioning. I teach at a high school which has a program for Emotionally Disturbed children. These children are not necessarily dim-witted, bad learners or limited by learning disabilities (though some may be). These kids have special needs which need to be addressed so they can learn: problems at home may cause them to "act out" or cut class; they have anger issues, social fears which paralyze them in the classroom, etc. A few years ago, one of my particularly bright (and mischievious) students was in the ED program, which meant he spent at least one period each day in the ED classroom. When a new teacher asked why he and his Ed buddy had to go to this classroom each day, the kid repsonded "We're halftards." Thus, I wear my on-line name in loving memory of this student.


At 3:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"mischievous", dude. And "judgment".

At 6:32 PM, Blogger jamie_donohoe said...

I'm pretty sure it's "miss-hellorandomspellchecker-cheevious" and "judg--iloveitwhenyoucallmedude-ment"



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