November 6, 2014

PATTEN | Playing Pardus, Playing Nice Online

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In my spare time I play Pardus, an online multiplayer browser game ( for those interested!) where I fly a spaceship, shoot space creatures and engage in a drawn-out battle with my sworn enemy, Empaya.

If this sounds like a super nerdy endeavor, well, sure — many of my friends are prototypical computer gamers, moonlighting from their jobs as database managers or computer science students. But such broad stereotyping completely fails to capture the essence of what makes Pardus a superior example of not just a game, but social media. Instead, Pardus’ strengths lie in a community which is predominantly welcoming and engaging. This is in stark contrast to the “communities” formed in many other social medias, such as certain message boards, online comment sections and even large Facebook groups, where the cover of true anonymity allows for the worst of human behavior to propagate. And it is in such bigoted, self-centered virtual hangouts where I recognize the failure of the promise of the Internet to remove the walls of geography, race and class.

But I do not think I am being absurd in urging people to engage in communities that challenge them, while being mindful of differing opinions. Joining a virtual conversation does not mean shouting as loud as you can, but participating in a respectable manner.

Pardus is a nuanced, sandbox styled game. You fly a ship, skill, rank and trade but have limited “action points” every day, encouraging you to not only aim for efficiency in your daily movements, but cooperate with others for mutual benefit. This forces players to interact and work with one another, building relationships good and bad and joining clans (“alliances”). While this aspect of Pardus is supposed to be “role played,” the distinction between role playing and the player behind the character is grey, at best. More generally, players that begin to work together in game rapidly become friends in a very out-of-game fashion. Even in game supported “alliance chat,” real life is more frequently discussed than in-game occurrences. The forums, another fun side part of the game, are well known for having a lively “Off-Topic” forum, where political, cultural and social events of note are discussed at length. Making the Off-Topic especially fun is the wide variety of people participating — I can count multiple people from six continents with a wide variety of life experiences participating. It is truly a global mixing pot.

The latter attributes do not necessarily separate Pardus from any other game, forum or chat. But Pardus is unique in the value of the identity of those with whom you are working. Pardus was started in 2004 and has a notably small player base, with the combined “online” number across all three universes generally staying below 400. Coupled with the fact that many players have played for years (I have played for five), many players are well-known and immediately recognizable. This makes interactions in Pardus distinct from most virtual meeting places in that a screen name does not provide for anonymity, but instead allows for recognition. The behavior and rhetoric of a long-standing character can have important ramifications on how they are viewed in and, to some extent, out of game. Compared to the rapidly thrown away accounts of many forums or the anonymous nature of message boards, Pardus is an anomaly.

When the “Fappening” occurred, I was disgusted. Not only had a group of people hacked into the private information of various people, but it was followed by large groups of users openly sharing, jeering and celebrating the photo’s release. On popular forums like Reddit, it was largely a misogynistic mob. And this was not the first incidence of such gross public indifference — it was just 18 months ago that Reddit, with an assist from Twitter, was primarily responsible for misidentifying the perpetrator of the Boston Marathon Bombings, creating a hellacious atmosphere for the man’s family until he was found dead. Then there are online political discussions, in which blatant misinformation and poorly veiled racism or class hatred is perpetrated by all sides of the political spectrum. The midterm elections only magnified this self-affirming action, as online commenters drew lines in the sand and waddled around in their collective disillusionment.

Maybe the real fault here is mine — who am I to expect any kind of decency from people (or even make judgments on what is decent), especially in the opaque wilderness of the Internet? And you could argue that, in this unchecked anarchy, free speech can finally be realized. But I do not think I am being absurd in urging people to engage in communities that challenge them, while being mindful of differing opinions. Joining a virtual conversation does not mean shouting as loud as you can, but participating in a respectable manner. That the screen name you utilize does not create ramifications for you in “real life” does not invalidate the social contract that we enjoy daily.

Ultimately, Pardus has helped reshape the way I look at the world. It makes it feel both small and incredibly large in a way that only the Internet can allow. I challenge people to seek out similar virtual outlets — find positive, entertaining ways to engage with others. Maybe this is a game, maybe it is a forum. But when doing so, respect others — hatred and arrogance defeats the purpose of a platform that can allow us to pass boundaries and interact with each other globally.