I was thinking last night about how I ended up writing a grant application to study suicide prevention and peer support in military service members. It has to do with a player in World of Warcraft who went by the name of Ironthurm (not his real character name) .
At the time, I had just started playing WoW and was mostly playing as a way to hang out with my sons. We ended up joining a guild called F-List, which was set up with military ranks and quasi-military expectations. We were a team; we helped and supported one another in our game tasks (leveling, dungeons, killing Horde). We worked together. We respected one another and the guild rules.
My youngest son was OK with that and was as respectful as a 10-year-old in an anonymous environment could be. Any lapses were usually do to not paying attention or not understanding the rules/expectations. My older son was an adult, so of course he was fine too.
Ironthurm came into the picture–or maybe even invited us into the guild; I don’t remember. He was a bit of a firebrand. Very jumpy as an avatar; even jumpier than my son (meaning, compelled to keep hitting the spacebar for no reason to make his character jump). Very impulsive; no concern for aggro-ing multiple mobs and hoping everyone around him could help take care of them. Somewhat of a troll at times. Again, the memory is spotty, I just remember thinking, “Man, Ironthurm is being a pain again.”
At some point we found out he was around 12 years old, which was a bit of an explanation. As a mom, I gave him a little slack when he was being obnoxious. It’s a game; no big deal. But our guild leader had a hard time with that.
I can’t remember the guild leader’s character’s name–something roleplayish; this was an RP/PVP server, after all. Let’s call him Sandon. He kept trying to insist that Ironthurm behave properly, but Ironthurm had no interest. He trolled the way a 12-year-old trolls his parents, digging away at Sandon’s last nerve, ignoring every command.
Finally, after demoting him down to Private and seeing that he was continuing to be obnoxious, Sandon went off on Ironthurm in party chat. There was a lot of cursing. Ironthurm stopped jumping. Sandon g-kicked him.
Ironthurm ‘s feelings were hurt, but I don’t think he cared that much. I cared about an adult going off on a child, though. If you don’t like his behavior, just boot him–no need to be so mean, I thought. It didn’t make sense to me–but that’s not my parenting style in any case. I reached out to Sandon to say, Hey, what’s up? Maybe you should reconsider about Ironthurm; he’s just a kid.
Sandon told me that he had had about enough. Whether he was a kid or not didn’t matter. He should be able to follow the rules. Sandon hung out in WoW because he was a veteran, and WoW was about the only place he felt comfortable. F-List was about having that comfort and military structure, those expectations. He told me a little about his experiences, which were rough, and where he was now–again, not in a great place. He had enough bullshit to worry about without having a kid he played with be defiant and a pain. It didn’t fit in with what he wanted from the game, which was order, clear expectations of what he could get out of it (and what he could avoid), and fun. I tried to talk to him a little about it, but in the end we never agreed.
Sandon didn’t last long after that. Within a few weeks he was gone, but not before turning over F-List to me. We invited Ironthurm back in, and it became a “family guild”, a haven for kids, obnoxious or otherwise. We tolerated it. I never heard from Sandon again. Ironthurm became an online friend, then one year his mother drove him and his sister down to meet the family. We’ve stayed in touch.
After one or two other experiences with hearing that a guild member was a vet with anger issues, PTSD, depression, or problems with alcohol/substance use (and of course, playing a LOT of WoW), I got really interested in how games like WoW could be useful and not so useful for military and ex-military.
I’ve made the case here before. What Sandon wanted from the game is what it has the potential to deliver; I think it’s up to those of us with the 1337 science skilz to figure out how that can best be done and what the risks are of trying to do it.
I was thinking about this last night because I’m writing this huge grant, and I needed to get military advisors. Guess who is one of those?
SPC “Ironthurm “, US Army.