I like to think that I'm making progress towards being emotionally mature. Not "grown-up" necessarily, because that implies a great many things about accepting the world as it is and denying how the world could and should be, but capable of meaningful interactions with others and an understanding of when people matter and when they don't. Every once in a while, though, things happen that show me how far I really have yet to go to actually be where I think I want to be.

For those of you who play City of Heroes or who have played some other MMORPG, you'll probably recognize the scenario, if not the specifics. For the rest, here's a quick primer. The character on which I'm currently focused on the game is a Tanker. He's built not to do a lot of damage, but to take a lot of punishment while teammates round up and defeat enemies. He's also my badge-collecting character, which means that there are a lot of game-specific events that I'm trying to get him to do, and some number of these involve player-versus-player combat. Now, I've talked about PvP before and its negative impact on my psyche. I suppose given that I could have said that I just wasn't going to get those badges, but then I really wouldn't have been a badge-collector, now would I? So, I gritted my teeth and took my Tanker into Bloody Bay, expecting the worst.

What I discovered was... odd. He's not good for PvP, to be sure. He's got a lousy hit rate and, comparatively, he does very little damage to opponents. What he has going for him, though, is the fact that he's incredibly hard to kill. That is to say, I was drawing groups of three enemies at a time to a stalemate and fending off groups of four with inspirations. At one point, I was in the "one" in a five-on-one and still survived for over a minute of dedicated pounding. I had villains actively swearing at me and accusing me of cheating because they just weren't doing anything.

Now, another important thing to know about Santorini, the aforementioned tanker, is that he's unofficially my "snark" character. He's the one through whom I express my black-humour gene, that part of my personality that finds Heathers hilarious and empathises with Beetlejuice when he says he's seen the Exorcist a hundred-and-sixty-seven times and it just kept getting funnier. Part of the character of Santorini is this cheerfully dark personality that laughs at the absurd and isn't afraid to call it for what it is. So, when beating off clusters of badguys to a standstill, I'm prone to make wisecracks about the effectiveness of their attacks, the battery life of their laser guns, the cheapness of their special effects, and so on. However, it's always about the characters, not the players. I'm always very careful to make sure that I'm in character.

How quickly and easily I forget that most people don't have characters. Just because I enjoy role-playing and treat Santorini as one of many roles I can adopt in the world of Paragon City, that doesn't mean that any random stranger I meet in-game is going to either understand this or care. So, I'm afraid that in playing the part of a smartassed hero-type, I inadvertently pissed off a great many players who thought I was making fun of them. That in and of itself could probably have been resolved amicably, or at least with minimal altercation. I'm never ashamed to say that I screwed up, even if sometimes it takes me a while to admit it. I'm not perfect, but I at least try to be mindful of my actions.

So, established first is that I'm playing somebody with a big mouth, and I'm probably pushing buttons on people without really thinking about it because to me, at that time, "it's all just a game". I'm not out to hurt anyone's feelings, but I am "in character", something that I don't really realize consciously that most people don't do.

Second, there exists in City of Villains a character class that's basically an assassin. There's also a teleport power that lets you move very quickly and essentially tracelessly. For those of you in the know, the new fashionable build for Stalkers is "Assassin's Strike + Teleport". Hide at the base, run out looking for a hero in the middle of some other fight, wait until zie's at half hit points, AS your target and then teleport out of danger. If you're lucky, you one-shotted your opponent, get credit for a PvP kill despite doing no work, and stand almost no chance of getting hurt. If you're unlucky, you didn't kill your target and have to hope that your opponent can't one-shot you in return, but the odds of dying between the time you recover from your AS and the time your teleport activates is usually short enough that you make a clean getaway.

There were five of these people in Bloody Bay last night, and thanks to a combination of my big mouth and my teammates' general success at actually taking down villains, we became target number one. Not that the people on the server could really do anything to us, as noted, but the string of petty annoyances became almost continuous and a few times when we weren't looking for PvP and instead focused on wandering mobs, we got taken down by the stalkers who saw us as easy targets.

Finally, after a few hours of this nonsense, I finally broke character and called them on it. Over the broadcast channel, I actively questioned their tactics, told them they were acting spoiled, suggested that if they wanted to actually engage in PvP in any meaningful fashion that they should actually go and advance their characters until they didn't have to pull the cheap one-shot tricks to survive, and that it'd be more fun for everyone if they quit acting like children.

In retrospect, I probably should have kept my muzzle shut. They, seeing no difference between in and out of character, called me on being an arrogant bitch before and couldn't take the heat, blah blah blah. I tried very briefly to explain the idea of role-playing to a bunch of kiddies who just wanted to beat up on other people on the interwebs, then lost my cool. The snark went from being darkly amusing to outright cruel, and I think I publically humiliated a few of them. This did not earn me any Whuffie from the villain camp, though admittedly a few of the heroes did tell me I was doing a good job for actually calling out the kids on their bad behavior.

Then one of them called me emo, and I totally came unstitched. That wasn't the exact word he used, but the gist was on the order of "whiny brat sitting in mom's basement hunched over a computer crying for love". I put my best SubGenius BRAG on, told the kid exactly how and when he could get in touch with me out of game, and laughed about how great it would be to deliver all of the smack talk live instead of through the computer keyboard.

This was not my crowning moment. At least not for intellect or compassion. Monumental stupidity, perhaps. Certainly not forethought.

The fact that I gave out my work number is not at issue. A three-minute phone call to the ITA in the building can get that changed if it becomes a problem. Nobody's called me yet, and even if they do leave me voicemail I'll never get it because I don't have access to my work voicemail box, so they probably think my name is Jeff by now; he was the employee before me who had this extension and locked his voicemailbox, then lost the passcode. I'm not worried about creepy internet stalkers, aside from the kind in-game. I'm more worried about the fact that I let them work me into a frothy lather through a few well-placed jabs. It was as if, knowing that they could do very little to my character, they deliberately turned their assault against me personally, and I was so unprepared for this kind of assault that I fell instantly for their bait.

If anything it shows how easily the human brain, evolved from its primate roots but still possessed of many hindbrain characteristics, can be tricked into behavior patterns that are utterly alien to the dominant personality. That isn't the kind of person I want to be, and yet it took almost nothing but a few jabs to dissolve me to that level of crude interaction, this parody of communication. I quit trying to make sense and teach and expand other people's thoughts, and instead sought only to better myself at the expense of another human being.

Well, I say "human being". This plays directly back into my elitism, perhaps, but I want here and now to question whether or not these people are human. Not to say that they're better or worse, necessarily, but they're not my species. Not my subspecies, at any rate. Physically we may be capable of interbreeding, but culturally and emotionally we're two entirely different groups, if only because I know about my vulnerabilities and want to overcome them, and they neither know nor care about the exploits in their thoughtglands that drive them to such actions.

So, I guess in reference to my previously mentioned post, I suppose it's not that I hate PvP, so much as it's just interaction with Homo semisapiens that I dislike. They look like I do, walk like I do, and follow the same biological functions that I do, but the thoughts that power them are so foreign to my own that continued exposure is physically and emotionally unpleasant. Going out into the world often feels like entering a giant petting zoo, without any signs anywhere warning me that the inhabitants are dangerous when provoked.

I won't be getting the PvP badge any time soon, but hopefully tonight I'll get the time-in-zone badge for Bloody Bay and I can take Santorini out and actually get back to the fun parts of the game.

I miss my heart.

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