Nerdrage and How to Deal With It

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Emo bear

In my last article, I debunked the myths and lies surrounding the upcoming forced Battle.Net merge. I wrote those rebuttals off the cuff, in much the same way as I'd respond to someone in-game or on a forum.

Today, I'd like to talk about how to deal with the nerdrage that you may be on the receiving end of from guild members, and how best to deal with it.

So What Is Nerdrage, Anyway?

What we saw on the WoW forums in response to the forced Battle.Net merge was a specific kind of nerdrage, at least if you go by the [Urban Dictionary definitions]( Rage) of the term. A little bit of #2 ("extreme anger, offense indignation") mixed in with some #9 ("an RPG nerd who is extremely angry about a gaming issue a normal person would consider trivial.").

There's something about the WoW forums that brings out this extreme type of post. Perhaps it's the anonymity of posting on a level 1 alt, perhaps it's the fact that you don't have to justify yourself to your guildmates later that week on ventrilo. Whatever it is, you probably won't see quite the same level of outrage when dealing with guild members.

What you will see is irrational hyperbole: someone blowing an issue out of proportion without justification. This may be over a change in guild policy, a perceived slight against them with regards to loot or raid spot selection, or concerns over the direction or progression of the guild.

Much of this advice is not specific to online gaming. If the working world, you will eventually find yourself in a position of defending something you have said against another person, possibly more senior or with more authority. Learning how to respond to irrational people in WoW will pay off outside of the game.

For the purposes of this article, I'm going to assume that you've announced a change to guild loot policy, and someone who feels that they are worse off for the change has posted an angry irrational screed on your guild forums.

What to Remember

When you encounter irrational people, either in game or on forums, the important thing to remember is that the issue is important to them. It may not be phrased properly, the justifications may be flimsy or non-existent, but to them it's important. Depending on the issue and the person, it may be the most important thing going through their head at the time. Whether this is a good thing or not is irrelevant for you in composing a response - diminishing the importance of the issue is not going to win you any arguments. If the issue has been blown out of proportion, you need to convince them that the impact is not as large as they think - not that the issue isn't important enough to be dealt with.

I'm assuming that you have already determined that the person being irrational is not a troll. I would hope that trolling is not something any of us have to encounter on our guild forums. It happens all the time on the official forums and to a lesser extent on some of the community forums - if that is the arena you find yourself in, make sure you're not dealing with a troll before you follow any of this advice. Trolls feed on winding people up, and I am proposing a candid and honest approach to addressing complaints that will pay off with someone who is sincere, but backfire with a troll.

How To Respond

Your goal in responding to an irrational complaint is to get to the facts at hand. Strip away the hyperbole and make sure that you understand what the person is really saying. It may make sense for your first response to contain no justification or rebuttal at all. Simply saying "Just so that I understand, you are afraid that Blizzard is going to monitor what you do on your computer if you merge your WoW account into a Battle.Net account, right?" and waiting for confirmation from the other person may serve to defuse the issue a little. It also has the benefit of showing that you're interested in what the person is saying, not just in winning the argument, which is the impression a quick dismissive first reply can give.

Don't Engage Emotionally

Don't engage the other person emotionally. If they talk about their fears or anger or frustration, don't directly address the fact that they're afraid. To continue our previous example, responding with facts about the nature of the Warden is better than saying "you shouldn't be afraid of that".

Just the Facts

Facts are key. Make sure you back up your arguments with facts, preferably with references. Don't make your entire argument a list of references though. If you remember a particular blue post that proves your point, do your best to find it rather than just saying "Blizzard has said that ...". If you're dealing with an issue inside the guild, use the statistics and history that you have access to. If someone is concerned about a change in loot policy, or in raid selection, try to work out what impact the change would have had and show the other person that they would not have been affected as much as they think. If you use an addon like HeadCount and keep logs of your loot system, you should have everything that you need.

Of course, you may find in the course of checking your figures that the person making the complaint has a point. Perhaps you hadn't considered all the edge cases when making a policy change. Maybe there are certain of your members who are slightly worse off for the change. If that's the case, you may need to ask those members to accept the change anyway for the good of the guild - or you may back off the change and consider revising it.


Try to keep the response on-topic. Don't bring up history, either from the guild or about the person making the complaint unless it's directly relevant to what's being discussed. Though it may be tempting, try to keep sarcasm to a minimum. This is one point on which I personally fail on a regular basis. Sarcasm is my fallback, my defense mechanism. It's easy to slip into, and I doubt I'm alone in this. The problem is that once you slip into it, you've extended an invite to the other person (or others reading the thread) to do the same, and once that happens it's very hard to get back to the facts of the matter at hand.

Personal Attacks

Sometimes, the other person may escalate to ad hominem attacks on you or the guild as a whole. Again, don't engage on that level. It's perfectly acceptable to simply reply "I'm not going to resort to name-calling and make that the last thing you post in the thread. If the other person persists, you can always lock the thread. If you're lucky, they'll come back to the facts and you can continue the discussion rationally.

Remember that in WoW, judging the quality of a person's argument by looking at their raid performance is just another form of ad hominem attack (unless the policy change is specifically about raid performance). If you're adding or increasing a raid attendance requirement, the person's attendance history is relevant, but if the change is about how the guild will recruit and promote members, both attendance and performance are off-topic.

Don't Hit "Send" Just Yet

If you find yourself rashly composing responses and hitting send before you've had a moment to consider your response, I can offer a tip that helps me. When I'm afraid that I might respond in anger, I compose my responses in notepad or word - anything other than the forum webpage or email client that is actually capable of sending my words to the other person. Once I'm done, I force myself to re-read before I cut and paste it. This has saved me some (but not all) of the embarrassment of sending a ill-considered response during an argument.

How I Responded

Finally, I'd like to self-critique my responses to the Battle.Net merge myths. As I mentioned earlier, I didn't write my rebuttals with the above rules in mind ; I just wrote what came to mind. Let's see how I did:

  • Engaging Emotionally: I tried to stay away from this, but it came up in the "I'm going to quit" section. The way that I criticize people for taking a stand now instead of back in April probably wasn't required. Nor was the dismissal of people who choose to quit over this (the dismissal - I don't think that the game will be affected by any such choice).
  • Facts: for the most part, my points were backed up by facts. Whenever there was outside evidence available, I tried to cite it. When only my personal experience was available, I shared it. In some cases, I could have presented more evidence (e.g. the reason why the authenticator is so secure) but chose not to because it would have bogged down the point for relatively little gain.
  • Focus: though there were many individual responses on the same topic in the post, I think that each response was fairly well encapsulated. Sometimes I used on response to bolster another, but even taken standalone the responses hold their own.
  • Sarcasm: on a few of my points (notably the first), I fail. Starting off a rebuttal with "Slow down, cupcake" isn't going to win any arguments. Even though I followed up with some pretty airtight facts, I lauded them over the hypothetical reader.
  • Personal Attacks: again, I failed on a few points. Most of these are ones where the complaint reflects poorly on the person making it. Someone who doesn't do anything to risk getting banned wouldn't be concerned about cross-game bans. Anyone who is is therefore doing something that they shouldn't. The same goes for people who are think the obscurity of their login is important - they probably aren't using complex passwords and changing them or using an authenticator, so I attack their lack of security knowledge rather than educate them on how to not make the obscurity of their login key to account security. It's an easy slip to make If I'd used the "compose in notepad" technique, I would have toned down these responses before posting them.

Of course, I was less likely to fall into emotional engagement or personal attacks as I'm talking to a hypotetical complainer, or a group. When you are dealing with a guild member, it will be easier for you to slip into these bad habits.

How about you? Any anecdotes that you can share of how you've dealt with nerdrage? Did it work out for you? If not, what would you do differently?

Until Next Time