Who Are Your Opponents in Online Gaming?

Online gaming against real opponents is a popular pastime. Do you, or have you ever, played such games? Do you play against people you know in real life or random strangers? What is that like?

In “Words With Strangers,” Meg Wolitzer describes her experiences playing online Scrabble, gaming etiquette and the emotions interacting with fellow games can bring about:

My frequent online Scrabble opponent of the last few days has sent me a message saying he’s sorry, but he can’t play right now. He has a “stomach bug/malaria,” he writes. Such are the considerations when your opponent lives in Ghana.

… Much has been written about the soullessness of today’s “Village of the Damned” isolates who sit at their laptops round the clock, playing various online games alone or with strangers. But when I log on to the Internet Scrabble Club, via isc.ro, I want not just the no-nonsense feel of playing Scrabble with someone I can’t see and will never meet, but also, strangely, the connection.

There are two kinds of players there: those who “chat,” and those who, when the game begins, shoot out an automated message that says so-and-so “does not receive tells when playing.” Though I don’t play Scrabble to make new friends, whenever I see this message I always feel slightly insulted. Come on, “scrabblerocks121,” aren’t I worthy of the most minimal chat?

… Without these signifiers of politeness, I might feel that I’m playing against not the girl from Pinkberry, or a retired teacher, or a down-on-his-luck country-western singer, but instead some humanoid without a soul. Sometimes, of course, my opponent does receive “tells,” but is soon revealed to be horrible: “nice use of an anagrammer, u cheater,” my opponent sneers after I make a bingo.

And then a message comes up that so-and-so “has put you in their no-play list.” Again I feel slapped. But I just can’t bring myself to reply, “oh right, pal, INSTEAD was such an insanely hard bingo for me to make — btw, i could have also made DETAINS or STAINED or SAINTED, etc. — u think i needed an anagrammer??? Boo hoo, u sore loser, stay home and cry into your Vegemite.”

But so vivid is my image of my opponent and so intense our interaction that I do what my parents always told me to do if a stranger starts up with you: just walk away. My face is hot as I shut my laptop. I almost feel as if I’ve slammed a door on Ted Bundy.

Students: Tell us how Ms. Wolitzer’s experiences with online gaming compare to your own. Are there additional unwritten “rules” in your gaming communities? How does online gaming compare to playing against friends or family members who are in the same room as you, using a video game system and television or board games? Which do you prefer, or like Ms. Wolitzer, does your preference change? Why?

Students 13 and Older are invited to comment below. Please use only your first name. For privacy policy reasons, we will not publish student comments that include a last name.

Teachers: Here are Part 1 and Part 2 of our 2010 question-and-answer feature with James Paul Gee, an expert on how video games fit within an overall theory of learning and literacy.

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