Kwill’s Quill: The Kindness of Strangers

Written by Kwill on . Posted in Kwill's Quill

Something that we can never forget, is that when we play an MMO, we play with real people.  Most of the time, our relationships with our fellow players are superficial.  Sometimes, real friendships form, and outlast the dragon slaying.  But it’s those chance encounters, those brief moments when the paths of human beings cross for just a few moments,  that brings into focus the reality of human relationships in a world where we choose just how much we want to reveal about ourselves.


This morning, I logged on, only to learn there was yet another patch.  I was annoyed, mostly because my little escape from reality was being rudely interrupted for the second day in a row.  So to vent my frustration, I started complaining in chat, which isn’t very productive but made me feel like I was doing something.  Not only did I complain about the down time, but I also complained about the dungeon finder and how I couldn’t find a dungeon.  Pretty soon, I got a tell from a person I had never met before, asking if I would like to go kill things in Fallen Gate.  Sure, I said, but we have about 30 minutes, not much time.

Then things got interesting.  After asking to use voice chat, my new friend informed he was drunk, and he was sad.  I can hear in voice, but I choose not to talk on it – that’s my way of keeping up those walls of separation.   But it didn’t deter my new friend, because it was clear he wanted to talk to someone, not just type.  At first, I was even more annoyed.  I didn’t want to deal with this guy’s issues.   But then he told me his mother had just died of cancer.  He was grieving, he was lonely, and he needed someone to talk to.  I had a choice to make – make a joke about it, ignore him, run away by dropping the group, or really talk to him.  Being the person I am, I dove in feet first and we had a 30 minute chat until the servers came down—him talking, me typing.   Did I help him feel better? I hope so.   Despite my personal desire to escape reality, this chance encounter with a person playing a fantasy character turned into much more than that.    In spite of the strange way of communicating, we made a connection.

The person behind the screen, who was in great need of a shoulder to cry on, found one, at least for a half hour or so.  I didn’t log off feeling very good, as his pain was really overwhelming, but I couldn’t turn my back on him.  We play with real people, with problems, lives and histories.  Unlike our characters, who never cry, the real people at the keyboard are altogether human.  Was it appropriate to share his personal grief with me?  Not really – but then, being human is all about being flawed.  Did I need to talk with him? No, but I am the kind of person who will, so I did my best to listen, which is all he really wanted.  Isn’t that what all we all just want, in the end –  someone to hear us talk?

Despite the fact that my play experience was not what I expected this morning, this kind of encounter is why I play an MMO.   I want to play with real people, and real people aren’t always happy or fun to be around.   They push the boundaries.  The social aspect of an MMO  usually means let’s get together and achieve our goals.  Today, that social contract turned into a sad experience, rather than a fun play date with a stranger.  Most of the time, the people we meet on server chats or in guild are not much more than casual acquaintances, not worthy of much more than a moment’s thought about their lives outside of the game.  And then, every once and a while, a real human encounter comes along that brings into vivid focus that person on the other side of the keyboard.   Sometimes that blossoms into a friendship, and sometimes it’s just a hug from a stranger, an affirmation of our humanity.

As Tennessee Williams had Blanche say in Streetcar Named Desire, “I have always relied on the kindness of strangers.”  In the digital age, sometimes those strangers are in an online fantasy game, living their lives and reaching out to another person to share their loneliness, sadness, or just to have a human encounter.    Our game has stories, histories, triumph and tragedy.  Today was a reminder that so do the people who play it.

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Comments (26)

  • Tbiggs

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    Bravo good sir, Bravo.

    Reply

  • Tagwen

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    You sir are doing it right!

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  • Feldon

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    Just FYI Kwill is a she. ;)

    Reply

  • Kwill

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    I am a she … and thank you!

    Reply

  • Necromancer

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    There’s no crying in MMO’s.

    Reply

  • Striinger

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    While I can empathize with your position, Kwill, it sets a dangerous standard that seems to be increasingly commonplace in MMO’s, especially ones like EQ2.

    I’d expect it to be a VERY rare thing for one of the many, many troubled souls to connect with someone who is qualified to give advice…or help to someone in dire need. If people who should be seeking someone who can REALLY help…who’s been taught HOW to help is, instead, approaching strangers in a game, then the results COULD be catastrophic.

    Think if this guy were suffering from clinical depression…and instead of being a kind heart that listened to his troubles. What if, instead, he approached some warped individual bent on toying with the guy? How could that turn out? That’s not to say I never lend an ear to an in game acquaintance, but I also encourage them to seek someone who can help…and that’s not really me. I HAVE been taught to identify the signs of clinical issues…but I’m no therapist.

    *I* play an MMO to play with other people who are intersting, varied, and want to have fun and play together. I do NOT play an MMO, to play amateur therapist to the troubled masses.

    Again, Kudos to you for caring, Kwill. I just think there’s a line where the MMO has to stay a game and advice should be left to professionals.

    Reply

  • Striinger

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    Wow…my grammar went to crap on that post!

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  • Eschia

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    Sometimes people need a shoulder. I usually try to listen. Just listening to them is enough to change them for the better. They may thank you later or become your friend. People often forget that the people they run into on the internet are real, not NPCs.

    As for the server downtimes, this is why i don’t limit myself to just 1 MMO. Sure nothing but EverQuest feels like EverQuest but there are plenty of free options for when it’s down. We know SOE has to do maintenance too keep the server online or it will get fragmented or overheat. I know it’s inconvenient.

    Reply

  • Ruatta

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    I’ve had a few experiences with folks in game with problems. Most times we can come to common ground, and it does help sometimes when someone takes the time to be a listener when someone else has something that needs to be heard.

    Use your own best judgment when these encounters happen. Friendships in game can be a good thing.

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  • Aelore

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    That is a touching story Kwill and thank you for sharing it. It’s an important reminder that although we are logging on during what would presumably be our free time there are more important matters in life. EQ2 is a game but that person’s mom dying is very real and it’s good you were there with an ear. I agree that professional help is best and you should suggest that be the next action after the conversation. That said I wouldn’t ignore them so I could continue questing but would let them talk. Helping a stanger > playing a game. Just my 2cp.

    Reply

  • KuulKuum

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    Venting is a common way we use to deal with problems we are having.
    It is always good to have a listening post per say for that event.
    Most time that is all that is needed to help, just a way to speak our feelings and someone on the listening end to just listen.

    Reply

  • James

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    to striinger: I do agree that the advice is better left to pros however consider also that sometimes in life you do not need a pro or a shrink or even a good person to talk to. Sometimes all you need is an ear on the other side to listen. and too often in this day and age nobody wants to get involved cause of the worry and panic of frivilous lawsuits and the like. but in doing so we have cut off a part of the human souls that at the very core make us human after all.

    I was raised on a farm as a child, when I was 9 years old both my parents were involved in a car accident and were both bedridden. I had to step up and take responsibility of myself, taking care of my parents, the farm, assuring the animals get fed, and the home to keep the chores up, that is a heavy burdon for a 9 year old to handle and if that had happened in today’s world I would have prolly been wisked away to child protective services or something. But back then that didn’t happen, back then every neighbor, friend, relitive, and townsperson that heard the news of what happened to my parents were at our doorstep offering their assistance. Some of them brought food, others helped with chores, and I am here to tell you that it was the most humbling and beautiful sight I have seen in my life when harvest time came around and I didn’t know what I was gonna do and I looked down the road at the dust coming off the dirt road only to discover it was a convoy of combines, bailors, tractors, and flatbeds who came in and ran our entire harvest and the only payment they asked for in return was for my parents to get better and to keep the coffee brewing.

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  • Fyrelyte

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    Thanks for sharing Kwill, it made me sad reading, but happy to know that there are real people being real people in the game. The other quote that springs to minds is that the only thing that evil needs to flourish is for good people to do nothing. You did something and the world is a better place for it. something that is said in game every day is gratz, I think today you really earned a Gratz!

    Reply

  • Flirpy Irondoe

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    Striinger: Man, think of all the nasty things that COULD happen. Oh boy, I won’t be able to sleep tonight. Think of this, think of that. Maybe we should run a full inventory of all the terrible nasty things and situations that just *COULD* happen. I mean, it COULD happen right? Or maybe we could just live, from one day to the next, as life is meant to be.

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  • Baddabing

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    WHERE ALL GUNNA DIE

    no really we are have fun till then !!!!

    Reply

  • Dethdlr

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    Good for you Kwill. Nice story and very nice actions by you on a personal level.

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  • Feldon

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    I don’t think you have to be a certified psychologist, or even a trained suicide hotline volunteer to talk to someone. You can ask if they have someone they can be with, or someone in their life they can talk to. You can ask them if they can do something other than be alone.

    I’m no stranger to suicide. Although I only knew this guy a short time, I felt I could have done a lot more to be a help. That’s really what suicide makes the rest of your life feel — helpless.

    Reply

  • Tbiggs

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    Some times a shoulder is the best gift of all.

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  • Kwill

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    To make my position clear — of course if someone says they are going to take their own life, you should urge them strongly to see someone and get help. In this instance, this player was not suicidal, he was just grieving. He was angry at the medical care his mother had gotten, and his life had just turned upside down. He wasn’t irrational or a danger to himself or others, as far as I could tell. As others have said, you don’t have to be a trained therapist or crisis worker to be a nice person and be kind to a stranger! No one should try to “fix” someone else, or counsel them without the proper training, but we are all human beings (or let’s hope so) and sometimes just listening to someone is the right thing to do. I think it’s ok to take some responsibility and help someone for a moment or two without worrying about the possible repercussions of your actions — and things could go wrong, but isn’t it worth the risk?

    Reply

  • Inxx

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    Was taught this basic by my Mother and try to live it…
    “People ARE more important than things” !!!

    Thanks Kwill for again proving this correct.

    Reply

  • elunihea

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    I am on the bazaar server. 5 years ago i was having problems in real life and met a young lady in chat that was able to help me deal with real life. Now that young lady and I have made the choice to meet in real life we did that back in Jan. of this year. yes real people with real life problems do play mmo’s and now the 2 of us have taking it to another level and are living together. All because we had made a friendship in the game and its now much much better

    Reply

  • Katz

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    It’s good you were there in a time of need for someone. It’s sad that everyone doesn’t have someone in their life that they can lean on in times of trouble.

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  • Kalako

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    Great post Kwill. I to would never turn my back on a person who obviously needs a shoulder to cry on. Sadly it’s human nature for most people to not want to know why that stranger is crying out on the street (or in your case, somewhere deep in Fallen Gate). They would rather turn a blind eye. It’s not my problem. I don’t know them. Why should I care?

    I’ve been there for strangers in need. And that’s mainly down to one kind soul out of a sea of hundreds being there for me a few years back. But I think it’s just down to a personal choice.

    I’m touched that you were there to help someone ingame like that. Sure it was probably inappropriate for him to do it, and like someone mentioned he was putting himself up for a possible bad encounter if you had turned out to be an uncaring person who didn’t have the time or patience to listen. Thankfully for him you did. I’m sure his faith in others was boosted a little that day.

    Reply

  • Indabuff

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    Kwill you did the noble thing. You let another person use your time to help
    push through some pain. We get so caught up today in the fear of what ifs that we forget to sometimes just do what feels like the right thing to do.
    She was not offering advice, but only an ear and most likely if this person found a need to do this in game, my guess is he had a hard time sharing his grief in the real world and found this a place he could let go of some of his pain.

    Maybe our goal is just escape in game, but I can say from personal experience that the best memories I have had over the years were never about taking down a mob but about some of the people I have encountered. Kwill did the right thing, dont let fear of the what ifs ever stop you from your humanity.

    Reply

  • ianiention

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    Thank you for sharing Kwill, excellent job.

    Reply

  • Venomizer

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    @striinger

    I find your outlook to be latent fascism. Telling a person they cant provide emotional support because they didnt get a piece of paper from the state just puts ppl into categories. Your assumption that they do more harm than good is bald prejudice. You may have political views that justify this attitude but it is fascism. State sponsored fascism if I’m getting your gist correctly. Maybe you are correct tho, because I find it difficult to support your equality. Maybe equality is a flawed notion after all, and everyone should be put into categories with different rights and responsibilities. I would suggest starting with diminishing yours. You really ought to extrapolate the implications of your worldview.

    This is the same stuff you hear from bigots who happen to be minorities. They want to use derogatory terms and believe they are an exception to the rule of not using these words because of their racial identity. This is putting ppl into boxes of what they can do or say based on their “classification”. Double standards dont work in a free classless society.

    You dont need a permission slip from the govt to reproduce, eat, sleep, or talk to a troubled soul. I get where you are coming from, and its well intentioned, but you bought into latent fascism on your way. Good intentions dont justify fascism. So “f” you slaver.

    Reply

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