Thursday, June 02, 2005

Byte: MMORPG Observations

As you should all know by now, I'm a bit of a World of Warcraft addict. It's the first MMORPG I've ever really played, and it's been very interesting for me to observe how people react to each other in the chat client - how people are treated differently according to the standard of the language that they use.

I'm playing on the Zenedar server, which is primarily a UK, English-speaking server, but has plenty of European nationalities playing on it, because they don't have their own dedicated language servers yet. Just as a few examples, I've played with Dutch people, Romanians, and people from all the Nordic countries, though there's seems to be particularly large Danish and Swedish populations on the server. With this mish-mash of nationalities about, all of whom speak English to various degrees of proficiency, this can make forming effective parties pretty tricky.

There's a definite temptation when you're online in general, and playing MMORPGs in particular to use shorthand, or what's commonly called "l33t-speak" to save time and keystrokes, especially if you're in the middle of a battle or are on the move. This can generate a lot of confusion if you're all speaking the same native language - when you've got a party made up from five different nationalities, the result can be pandemonium.

What interests me is the way people perceive you differently according to how well you "speak" in the chat rooms. With Zenedar being an English server, the reaction in the general chat channel can be somewhat heated when you see Brits react to people using Dutch or Danish in the chat channel. There's usually a flurry of "OMG, u shud use english u n00bs!", or similarly stupid comments, that just make the shouters look like idiots. There's nothing in the Terms of Use agreement that prevents them from using their own language - it's just stupid Brits who can't understand what they're saying who don't like the thought of not being able to read everything in the chat log - or the possibility that someone is mocking them in language they can't understand.

Personally, I couldn't give a monkey's what language people use - it's your fault that you can't understand Danish, or Russian, or whatever, not theirs. There's nothing to stop you going onto a French or German-speaking server with a few mates and speaking to each other in English. In fact, I'd love to do that sometimes to gauge the kind of reaction you'd get. I'm quite happy to play with anyone, regardless of their standard of English, provided (and here's my personal prejudice) they attempt to use the language properly.

I've joined a Guild, The Rebels of Azeroth, run by a character called Seryth, who is in fact a Dutch guy in is very late teens - not that you'd tell from the standard of his English. When he approached me about joining his Guild (after we'd bumped into each other in the Centarion Enclave in Darnassus), we sat our characters down and had a "whispered" chat for about half an hour. We hit it off pretty instantly. His English was pretty flawless - and typed in a very similar style to mine; properly punctuated, as correctly spelt as possible, no abbreviated or shorthand words, and capital letters where there should be capital letters. I was gobsmacked when he told me he wasn't a Brit, and he was equally suprised when I'd told him how good I thought his English was. Though I shouldn't be surprised, really - most of the Dutch people I've met, the majority of whom speak English, all speak that English to a standard that would shame most UK undergraduates.

Quite a few of the foreign players I've met play the game not only just to have fun, but also to practice their English. One Danish guy I play with regularly (a Night Elf Hunter called Fearx) specifically likes playing me, because he can ask me to help correct his spelling and improve his English, and I'm happy to play with him, because he's courteous, good company, a good player and I'm more than happy to correct his spelling whenever he asks. He also likes playing with me because I tell really bad jokes, make Monty Python references at every conceivable opportunity, and use words he doesn't know that he can add to his vocabulary. I may have a reputation for not suffering fools gladly, but I will suffer foreigners gladly. In fact, I'd say more often than not that I play more with non-UK players than UK players, primarily because they're more polite, and they don't speak exclusively in abbreviations or use the /yell channel whenever they've got an item to sell or have something utterly mundane (but fascinating to them) to say.

The multinational nature of the server has almost caused a bit of a schizm in the population. As far as I've seen, the UK players tend to keep to themselves, happily bl33ting to their heart's content, whilst the rest of the players speak very correct English, or as correct as their English knowledge allows them to, and I know which group I'd rather play with. It'll be interesting to see if the foreign players continue to play in this vein - eschewing l33t speak, and using a better standard of English than the British players... It all kind of makes you weep about the attitude of the common British teenager towards foreigners and foreign languages, because almost uniformly to a one, all the idiots I've met playing on Zenedar have been Brits.
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