Thursday, August 14, 2014

4.2. To QQ or Not to QQ

A photography advertisement featuring
Annihilation's license plate

No Tolerance For Tantrums

It's a little known fact that a pair of capital letter Qs predates WoW.

Gamer rage is a staple in our community; we recognize it, are not surprised by it, and in the grungiest of circles, feed off of it. Extra-curricular sports had their share of kids stomping off the field, but always under the watchful eye of adults. Nearby parents and coaches curtailed unsportsmanlike behavior; gamers bore no such burden. The older, wiser versions of us rarely involved themselves in our video gaming hobbies. We were left to treat each other as we saw fit, a society based entirely on not sucking. And as our enemies lit up in flames, we punched the air and screamed in victory. Losing was no less emotional; many of us took it to a dark place. The keyboard graveyard is very real, a cardboard box full of cables and tragedy.

First Person Shooters were easier to digest. You could count on your loss being painless and quick -- all it took was one perfectly aimed shot to the head. A bad decision took you out of the round, but you were back and seeking revenge within minutes. The concept of failure had no time to sink in. By contrast, the beauty of a game like Warcraft II was in its slow, tortuous loss that you watched unfold over ten excruciating minutes. As you sat back helplessly while your village burned to the ground, all you could think about was how many bad decisions you'd made along the way, how much better the other guy was. It was a front row seat to the grand symphony of failure. At least the kids that played sports had someone waiting on the sidelines, ready with a pat on the back and a "you'll get 'em next time, champ." Our demise usually provoked a different sentiment -- the kind that ends peripherals.

Many players couldn't deal. Rather than being force-fed their failure, they opted to take control of their losing lives one last time. Before "DEFEAT" splashed up on the screen, players on the short end of a Warcraft II match would fire off a hot key combination: ALT+Q+Q, bailing them out before the jury read the verdict. This act came to be known as ragequitting, and those who partook were the subject of great ridicule. Winners saw through the veil of excuses, of claims to unfair advantages, of plastic keys flying out of keyboards, and saw their tears. Winners wanted nothing to do with such childlike behavior. With little tolerance for tantrums, the bullies of the playground soon wove the hot key combo into a taunt of their own. With their devilish grins, they typed:

"Quit whining and QQ already."

Eventually, the ragequitter and their hot key salvation became synonymous. The act of quitting in a rage equated to crying; to cry was to 'QQ'. Those who sought the thrill of competition loved nothing more than to stumble across a ragequitter. The bullies of our virtual playground taunted ragequitters relentlessly, as if taking on a personal challenge: watch how fast I can make this one fly off the handle. And as they poked and prodded the lion, watching as typed responses shifted from lowercase to uppercase, those gaming bullies would pull out their ace card, shutting crybabies down with a simple "QQ More"; it was our shorthand for why don't you go home and cry to your Mommy?

The same behavior driving us off the playground and into our antisocial gaming havens ended up being the very same behavior we adopted once hands rested squarely on the keyboard and mouse.

Take a guess which type of gamer this computer belongs to

What Change Tears Bring

The binary society of gamers, those who cried and those who taunted them, were easy to sort out. Raging was a stigma no gamer wanted to bear. Who in their right mind would actively seek out crucifixion? Crying, whining, complaining -- those of us with the scars of our former rage, those of us who knew better, maintained a healthy distance from those enabling behaviors. Many of us figured out the secret: there was nearly always a rational, logical explanation. It simply took effort to discover what that answer was. You need to improve your initial build strategy. You're spending too much time micromanaging peons and not enough time expanding your town. Back we went, trying again, practicing, refining, working through new solutions. With enough dedication, we'd emerge triumphant. The satisfaction came as a heavy relief, because it was less about being wronged, and more about being educated.

The sharpest of us continued down this path, applying the same logical rationale to every malfeasance threatening our place in gaming society. Meanwhile, rage took on new forms, breaking free from the muddy underbelly of IRC and QuakeWorld, making its way to the sunlight on gaming forums and communities...and wasn't safe from this evolution.


My earliest memory of WoW outcry took place a few weeks after launch. It was a nightmare of playability that few younger gamers of today have had the luxury of experiencing. The first sign was the rubber banding. I would travel along the Mulgore plains as a level 4 tauren shaman, then be intermittently frozen as if Blizzard had pressed the pause button on a old VHS tape. The screen shook violently as it struggled to render forward movement, but the tauren only cycled through the animations of movement, never actually covering territory. Data packets flew out of gamers' computers at lightning speed, never completing the round trip. Blizzard's infrastructure buckled under the duress of millions of players demanding Azeroth. Minutes later, packets of data found their way back to our gaming rigs, WoW clients suddenly catching up by fast-forwarding the VHS tape, and my tauren shaman slingshotted across the plains. No player should have dealt with such torture. According to the rage that filled the forums, it appeared no player deserved to.

I can't even begin to imagine the horror of the Blizzard developers in those early weeks of Vanilla. A shattered vase can be glued back together, following the picture of the vase in your head. But what if there was never a 'fixed' state to begin with?

What frantic chaos took place behind the Blizzard curtain during those first several weeks? Around the clock meetings to share updates, walking through the laundry list of issues. Did the last workarounds take? How bad was the situation now? What more could be done? How much longer until the new servers arrive? How quickly can they be spun up? It is one thing to plug holes in a leaky boat, but how exactly does one surface a vessel that's already at the bottom of the ocean? I've been on the receiving end, albeit on a smaller scale. Launching a web application, only to see it buckle and collapse. Back in I went, cracking open code, staring at it for hours on end. The phone would ring endlessly, people dressed better than I wanted to know what was taking so long and where was the work they were promised. When were they to get the answers they deserved? I know the struggle, I've lived it.

Before WoW, there was nothing comparable. Nobody had done what Blizzard was attempting to do. Certainly, there were functional MMOs in place: EverQuest, Ultima Online, Meridian 59...these games inspired Blizzard and paved the road ultimately leading to WoW. But even the most rudimentary concepts, the ones we take for granted today, hadn't been attempted by any other game company -- if they had, their failure was disappointing enough to be forgettable. Seamless zone transitions without loading screens, instanced dungeons and raids, transport across continents via boat or airship, millions of concurrent online other company could claim victory over all these features. It was through Blizzard's dedication to the quality of their game and the kinship to their community that the rules changed. Concepts that were once dismissed as technically impossible were magical realities in Azeroth.

So while the forums filled with entitled rage and hate, I stayed my hand. They were working on it. I wasn't going to be one of the QQers. How would my complaining help anything? And just as they had with the Diablo II launch, just as they had when cheating ran rampant in the first iteration of, Blizzard owned their mistakes and fixed them. The QQers were none the wiser: the issue was far larger than they could comprehend. If they had taken it upon themselves to understand why the game was unplayable, they might have thought twice about drafting hate mail. The game eventually smoothed out; ironically, the crybabies were the first to claim it was due to their voices being heard...

...because as we all know, it is the tears of the marginalized that stabilize servers, rather than actual hard work.

Blizzard backpedals on their stance regarding
RealID and revealing players' email
addresses in forum posts.

A Quixotic Quandary

It was happening even now. Blizzard's latest announcement turned attention to their upcoming Real ID system, a new way for us to communicate, both on the forums and in-game. It looked to be a convenient feature facilitating both inter- and intra-game communication. To be able to chat with someone in Diablo or Starcraft while playing World of Warcraft -- I had to admit it sounded very cool. But there was one fatal flaw with their proposal: the violation of privacy.

Real ID, as proposed, would force a user to reveal their email address on the forums. The theory went that if a player had less anonymity, they would be less likely to abuse and troll other players (or Blizzard themselves). They knew as well as we did that the bullying gamer mentality would thrive and prosper if not checked; it was a strategy in volatility management. By now we'd amassed a community 12 million strong; there simply wasn't enough time to police each and every player. How many times would they have to repeat themselves? No, it is actually not OK to threaten to rape and murder a Blizzard developer because you don't like the next round of Paladin changes. As the QQ runs long and deep, so too, does the vitriol and hate that feeds off it.

Revealing email addresses seemed like a reasonable solution; I was perfectly fine with it. I'm a firm believer in online transparency, and my reasoning is simple: I'm not ashamed of what I do online, and welcome the mockery of muggles who get a kick out of the Time Lost Proto-Drake story. If this change helps curb the QQing, all the better. Besides, if you have nothing to hide, what's the problem? It was probably best that I again refrained from joining in any QQ games, because this was my exact stance at the time Real ID was proposed. I wasn't in any position to speak about things I had little expertise in.

What I've come to understand since then is that people have a right to privacy. Whether you like it or not, everyone should be able to keep their online and real-life personas apart. Some people have no choice in the matter. It isn't their biases or hatreds we need to be concerned about, but those in close proximity to the person in question. What if a person's email address is tied to their place of business, and that business engages with clients legally bound to extreme levels of secrecy? Surfacing a person's email address might jeopardize the person's livelihood. What if the person in question belongs to an LGBT guild, but hasn't yet revealed their sexual orientation to friends, family or employers in real-life...and are suddenly forced to do so? Had they even considered the millions of female gamers dealing with sexual harassment and abuse on a daily basis? Suddenly, an innocuous post on "What's the best gearing strategy for a Resto Druid in ICC?" has serious real life consequences. You may claim to not hold biases, but that doesn't mean the rest of the world lives in harmony.

Do these scenarios sound a bit far fetched? A year after Real ID was proposed by Blizzard, Google announced the exact same change to their authentication system. In an attempt to promote some sense of online civility, they tied Gmail, YouTube and Google+ together, revealing people's real names in the process. Guess what happened?

Long before Google embarked on a tragic road now referred to as the nymwars, Blizzard brought it to the table under the label of Real ID. As expected, the QQ that followed was a deluge not seen since Vanilla. The WoW community flooded with their objections to Real ID exposing email addresses. And was it the earth-shattering volume of dissent that ultimately coerced Blizzard into backpedaling? Or was it the few insightful observations from privacy experts, the ones that understood the issue far better than the vast majority, that provided the necessary evidence to turn the Real ID ship around?

The most upsetting reality was the one in which I considered both outcomes: either Blizzard was making decisions on systems they didn't fully understand...or they were weighting importance by forum temperature rather than by careful analysis.

Until you actually try to acknowledge those who do not speak on the forums, for whatever reason they have, you will not understand.                                                                                                          - Tseric


Fred said...

Boy the outrage over the emails. I remember the chat in guild over it. Blizz would have immediately lost a lot of business.

Matt said...

I've played actively since release, aside from a few months here and there. I remember I actually unsubbed over the email thing when it was first announced. I might even still have the e-mail they sent letting me know they changed their minds.

Anonymous said...

I was one of those voices. You forgot to mention that the largest contingent of people upset by real life identifiers (name actually, not email was the real id plan) was women. There is no female in the game I know that has played for years without a "yeah that was creepy" story. Guys that you were nice to but never flirted with that nonetheless pressured you for pics or your phone number, or (in my case) managed to get my universal online username from an error on the very privacy oriented combat logging service our raid used and with that got my aim and livejournal names(as you can tell this was about eight years ago).

The idea that the forums should only be for people willing to link their in game persona to their REAL NAME was appalling and upsetting. The idea that suddenly every guy that called me a bitch because he wasn't up to snuff for my Ulduar 25man group would have access to my real life information for harassment was justifiably unbearable to me and thousands of other gamers that swarmed the forums in protest.

Kurn said...

Totally agree with Anonymous. As a woman, there was NO WAY IN HELL I was going to give out my email address/RL info/etc to various people. I've written a lot on the subject (perhaps too much) on my blog, but I think that this was the first time where I dealt and reacted with a WoW-related thing as a woman first, rather than as a player first.

I didn't like how it made me feel, either. I should be able to just go about my day, farming, crafting, questing, raiding, whatever, without worrying that my real life identity is going to show up in something game-related, or for others in-game to know more about my real life without my telling them about it (by using my email address to creep on me).

I still hate RealID and still refuse to use it after an initial try of it for a few months. :)

Aubiece said...

Our healing officer and main
tank were ladies and they both
said they would quit if Blizz
implemented tying real names to IDs
Both had stalkers in game and
were mad as hell. I still remember
the relief in guild chat when Blizz back down, that they would still be
there. Also as the father of a
young girl, no way would I want her ID plastered across the internet.

Shawn Holmes said...

@Aubiece / @Kurn / @Anon,

Very good point. The harassment of gals in gamer / tech circles is still a real concern, and I'm going to go back and make mention of it.

Healer24 said...

I remember posting arguments against that at the time. I also took a screenshot of the reaction on the forums. It was by far the largest and longest thread ever to exist on the old forums.

Shawn Holmes said...


Wow, that is a _crazy_ screenshot. Thanks for sharing! More proof of the sheer volume of complaints that their initial Real ID proposal created.

Anonymous said...

Hey Shawn;

Thanks again for another really interesting tidbit of gaming knowldge. I've been a gamer pretty much as long as you have, but never understood the origins of 'QQ'.

Course, I wasn't doing a ton of the online stuff for many years, focusing on Single Player versions of games like Heroes of Might and Magic, Civilization and Warcraft.

The RealID concept was a mystery to me, as I've been playing multiple servers in WoW for years, moving from one to another as I filled up each levelling the multitude of alts I'd created. I looked forward to the idea of keeping in touch with people when I left their server to go to another. In the past it was always a matter of catching up with people, reacquainting myself with them upon return, finding out who was still playing or had dropped out on my hiatus from that particular server.
Along comes the news of RealID, which was going to be fantastic. And then.... the real name fiasco.

I've never been ashamed of my online activities, I treat people the way I do in life... but man, do I really want some yahoo I've won a roll against in an LFR have access to my real life? How quickly does it change from losing some pixels on the screen to someone actively messing with your identity, your job, your family? All hidden on their end by the anonymity of the internet, but you yourself being laid wide open to such repercussions due to the decisions of the corporation you subscribe from? Not a chance.

Thankfully Blizzard changed their stance, which allowed me to keep playing with the security (sometimes false, but hey, it's as safe as you make it) that it's YOUR choice, not THEIRS as to whom you give your information to.

I've met a ton of great people online, have a RealID list that is exceptionally long, and am happy about still remaining anonymous to people who haven't earned my trust.

Keep up your great blog, I'm saddened that we're approaching the end, but as always, look forward to your weekly writings.


Anonymous said...

Given many sites these days require Facebook accounts to comment, and the comments there are just as vitriolic, using real names to curb inappropriate behavior doesn't seem to work.

Anonymous said...


You have to remember that this was over 4 years ago. Facebook authorization was not nearly as popular as it is now. There was still a huge sense of anonymity in the gaming world.

Anonymous said...

There was also something else that people did besides quitting or threatening to quit; I put parental controls on my account just to make sure that my RealID wouldn't accidentally slip anywhere, and I know others did this as well as a protest move (blizz had said underage player's contact info and identity would be kept private for obvious legal reasons). As a woman raid / guild leader I was never going to allow my identity out there :P

Anonymous said...

There was also something else that people did besides quitting or threatening to quit; I put parental controls on my account just to make sure that my RealID wouldn't accidentally slip anywhere, and I know others did this as well as a protest move (blizz had said underage player's contact info and identity would be kept private for obvious legal reasons). As a woman raid / guild leader I was never going to allow my identity out there :P