Pretending to fight in the Civil War

MARINA OLNEY / AGGIE

What it’s like to be part of an online gaming community

“Why can’t you be racist in a game that is set in the Civil War?”

I’ve heard this question many times in the gaming events that I have attended. These organized events take place in a mod called “North and South” — an alteration of the original game “Warband” that’s set during the American Civil War.

“North and South” allows players to use the uniforms, weaponry and tactics of the 19th century. Players put themselves in the thick of the fighting, as cannonballs fly all around them and commanders bark out orders.

The realism and design of these organized battle events piqued my interest nearly two years ago. I had always played computer games but never really immersed myself into a community that uses voice chat software to communicate regularly.

I didn’t really know what to expect. I assumed that I would be playing with Southern hillbillies who would shout racial slurs every 10 seconds into their microphones in an attempt to “relive” the Confederacy in their parents’ basements.

This was also the first time when I had to communicate regularly with people on Teamspeak, a program that allows more than 50 people to listen and talk in the same chat room. I assumed this program would only be used for gaming purposes, but I came across a subculture with which I had never really had much contact.

I came across a world in which people would play songs, interact with each other like good friends and just have a good time. This isn’t just a place to play games, but a hub for interaction between people from around the world. This isn’t an alt-right hangout spot, but includes people of all backgrounds, many of whom are uninterested in politics.

On any given night, players can join a room and hear people playing the guitar, singing karaoke or laughing at the memes being shared around. In other places, people will be discussing the politics of their country or their area. A Virginian might explain why the Republicans lost the governor’s election in his state, or a Canadian might clarify why he’s such a huge Justin Trudeau fan.  

But what surprised me more were the strict rules on behavior. The community revolves around a game with Confederate flags, banners and songs, which are likely to attract toxic people. To prevent this, community leaders have set up strict guidelines to ensure an environment for players to simply have fun and not be engaged in political debates. Many people play the game just for the entertainment, and others find the community to be a good place to make friends. This wouldn’t have been possible if the system wasn’t fashioned in a way that banned people who say racist or homophobic things or engage in any acts that tarnish the community’s reputation.

These strict rules allow for the community to remain vibrant. People in the community interact inside and outside of the game in ways that I didn’t initially imagine. This hub has fostered strong relationships that have extended into the real world. The friendships and experiences that have come from the game and spending time with one another would’ve been unimaginable 20 years ago. Technology has brought us to the point where people can become better acquainted with friends who live on the other side of the globe than with their very own neighbors.

 

Written by: Justin Chau — jtchau@ucdavis.edu

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