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The Power of the Written Word

by Kethry

JimBob looks down and accidentally stares at your chest.
You say, 'Excuse me?'
JimBob says, 'Gosh, don't get all excited, men stare at women's chests all the time in real life.'.

Perhaps; I choose to believe that not all men can only think about one thing. I also believe that most men can actually hold an intelligent conversation without it centering on a female's physical attributes; however, that is not quite the point.
Bulwer Lytton

Beneath the rule of men entirely great, the pen is mightier than the sword.

In a text environment, words are what carry the weight of all communication. There is no other way to express feelings and emotions. While the written word often has power, in an environment where it is the only means of communication, it has that much more power to it. The nice part is that people can pick and choose the words they use. It is near to impossible to blurt something out via text as one can when speaking. To get something across a computer screen, one must not only think it, but take the moment to type it out, and then make the decision to send that across to another person. It is the fact that the written word requires thought, requires a decision to make a specific statement, that gives the written word so much power. It is a power one must be very careful with, because it can have much force; it can raise someone up, or knock someone down.

On a mud, the main mode of communication is text. The most widely known commands are say/tell/channels etc. The best part of all this is the fact that because it is text, the player has complete control over what they say, and what they do. So why is it that even on a mud we have sexual harassment and harassment in general?

In the example given, the response was, "Men do it all the time in real life". While it is true that this can and does happen in reality, in a mud where one has complete control over what they type and send to others, there is no reason for it to happen. Yet it does continue to happen. While muds do simulate real life, there are some things that need not be carried over.

In a previous article, I touched on the fact that many people feel that by issuing the statement "it is only a game", it gives them license to say or do whatever they choose. What people do not realize is that words, even in a text medium, have the power to hurt and cause pain. Someone harassing another person via text can be just as painful as if it were being done in reality. At one point there was a player who played a mercenary character, and felt it was in fitting with his character to rape and pillage. However, the female players were not quite receptive to his raping. What people need to understand is while it is perfectly acceptable to play a character in character, it is oftentimes inappropriate to draw others into their play acting. Also, to be quite blunt, there are some things, like rape, which are never acceptable.

While rape is an extreme example, there are other minor examples, one of which is cursing. One of the rules on the mud I administer is, we do not accept cursing on public channels. The occasional slip is overlooked, but it is not accepted. There was one player who was cursing up a storm, and much of it was offensive; the excuse given was "my character is evil, so they would curse a lot". Then of course there is the troll that every mud gets. Character Schmuck logs in and sends tells to the various characters about "Oh baby I want you... " and often times getting much more graphic than that. The "drive by" harasser is not so much a big issue, I've found that a quick tell of "Hey we just sent a note to your sysadmin at " makes them leave rather quickly. It is the player who is a part of the mud family who harasses that is the main problem and focus of this article.

It is often difficult for someone to believe that what they are doing can be perceived as harassment. Flirting is an example of something innocuous that can often cross the line into the realm of harassment. Muds are still primarily a text based environment. Many people rely upon the various social commands and emoting to get across their feelings and emotions. Personally, I have always been amused at the hugging and whatnot that happen during battle. I can see it now "One moment honey let me kill this big mean kobold".

Sometimes, what can seem like innocent flirtation to one, can be not so innocent to someone else. While most muds try to have a large arsenal of socials to cover any and every occasion, some people can be easily offended by being groped, or fondled, or any of the other myriad of socials that can be found. While one solution may be to remove any social that can be deemed offensive, that is carrying things to an extreme, because anything and everything can be found offensive by some. Which brings us to the opposite extreme. Many people are overly sensitized and can find offense and yell "harassment" for any reason. Just like in reality, if a player is going to say they are being harassed, there needs to be some proof and the ability to substantiate the complaint. Granted, on most muds, immortals have the ability to snoop or track a player to see if the complaint is justified; however, many immortals find doing so distasteful and will only snoop in an extreme situation.

Flirtation is a case in which sometimes the envelope can be pushed. There was a female player who was very flirtatious. She enjoyed hugging and kissing players, little things, nothing major, just some innocent flirtation. The player would make many reports to the immortal staff about being harassed. Many people she flirted with took it seriously and would flirt back, sometimes crossing the line. Many times they were unaware they had even crossed the line. The problem was, someone took an innocent flirtation and thought it was more than it was. When they responded, the original female player who had initiated the flirtation got offended and would complain about being harassed.

Much harassment can be stopped with some simple common sense. The socials for example. While muds could limit their usage, or eliminate any that could deemed offensive, it makes better sense to assume players have a modicum of common sense and common courtesy. As in real life, a simple "just say no" can work. Most people will stop if a player tells them "please do not do that, I don't care for that social". The players who won't stop are a more serious concern and need to be dealt with seriously.

The opening example of the player who was "accidentally" staring at chests is an example that needs to be taken seriously. People who deliberately cross that invisible line of taste and common respect and courtesy for other players are the ones who are harassing others. That harassment is not always necessarily sexual. Harassment can be doing something to someone that they find distasteful, offensive or wrong. Once someone says "please don't", it is harassment to keep doing it. Because mudding is a text environment it makes harassment that much more distasteful. While in real life situations, the mouth is often engaged before a thought process is completed, it is easier to mis-speak oneself. In a text world, everything sent across the screen is part of a thought process, and is something one has to make a conscious decision to say, making it that much more meaningful and powerful.

What does one do with those who harass others? It depends on the mud. On my mud, we have a no tolerance policy for harassment, it means an instant denial. For serious matters, get the login of the person and email their system administrator. Most administrators are very helpful in these situations, and the more information you can get to them, the better. If taking this route, please make certain to include the character name used, the site address, the date and time the incident occurred. Sometimes, in situations like the flirting examples, the player may honestly not know they crossed the line from flirtation to harassment, so a simple talking to will work. Some people honestly do not know what they are doing is harassment. One major thing is to have clear and defined help files defining harassment and explaining the repercussions of engaging in it. Education is, and will always be the best defense in preventing problems and negative situations.

Kethry wombles around Mystic Adventures and is one of our Staff Writers.