When one of my friends has a question, I can usually answer it, given a couple of minutes and access to my favorite RuneScape helpsite. Usually, the answer is a simply remark or process: "You need 75 Attack to wield a Godsword" or "Powertraining is dropping resources instead of banking, for faster experience." But a far more difficult and implicit question concerned why people are not nice online, and in particular, on RuneScape.
The theory that people act tougher behind a computer screen is quite often bandied about. One supposes the logic runs "No one knows who I am; therefore, I act like a jerk." But, the link between the sentences seems incomplete at least. There is almost an assumption that some high fraction, say 90%, of people are fantastic to be around, and it's simply not true in most groups. When one interacts with people in real life, they are not automatically nice. Think of the last person that cut you off in line or said something mean in real life. Unless you interact with only a few people, or are meeting screened people, the chances are good that you will have no difficulty recalling such an incident. If you cannot, it is quite possible you have been meeting people who are screened off: by your parents, by class, or otherwise.
The assumption of anonymity itself may also be a shallow one. While no one hanging around may know you, someone will have a friend who is part of a clan, RuneScape's social building blocks, and word will get around. The number of RuneScape communities is smaller and less fragmented than one might think. Combining this with theory such as six degrees of separation supports this hypothesis. If a friend tells a friend, who tells another friend, who knows who could end up hearing it? Furthermore, I have seen people request and give out a surprising amount of personal information (in public chat), rules notwithstanding. But if anonymity is an incomplete description, then what mechanism is responsible?
RuneScape as a coping mechanism
Sometimes something fantastic happens and you feel great. Other times, the news is not so good. Whether you realize it or not, you do something to make yourself feel better. You might feel like throwing a glass across the room. This is an example of a bad or negative coping mechanism. Although throwing the glass and hearing it shatter against the wall might make you feel better for the moment, you will regret cleaning up the shattered glass and the expense of buying a new one. Hence, most of us will refrain from doing so. A positive coping mechanism might be going to a wide open space and throwing or kicking a ball around.
Despite the fact that RuneScape may be advertised as an adult game (murder mystery quests included), it is acknowledged that many kids play the game as well. No matter how minor something may seem to you, it may be a big deal to someone else. Do not be fooled into thinking anyone's life is perfect. It's not. And if there is something wrong in these kids' lives, although it may be difficult to correct, it is probably quick to diagnose and far from unique: psychological stress on them or someone close, illness or injury, academic performance, insecurity, or, more rarely, abuse.
To put that in layman's terms, they may have a boyfriend/girlfriend issue. People may be picking on them at school. Their parents may be sorting through a messy divorce. Someone close may be very sick, they might be dying, or they might have already passed away. They may be ill themselves without good health care. They may be trying hard in school but not succeeding. They may fear failing. It is possible that some have been or are being abused in ways that cannot be described here, and they are trying to seek out help. They might be homosexual and feel uncomfortable about being judged for it.
So can RuneScape be a coping mechanism? The answer is your greatest hope and fear: yes. Escape real life for a while and immerse yourself in a fantasy game. Doesn't it seem like an appealing prospect to a mind under duress? The reality is that people are using this game as such, whether they admit it or not. The remaining question is whether it is a good one or a bad one.
But 'Scapers just wanna have fun
There are many people who, despite whatever stress they may be under, just log on to RuneScape to forget about the world and relax. They may project their opinion on others, assuming that everyone else also does not wish to talk about real life. Hence, we have statements such as "Look how bad my life is, and I'm not complaining." And indeed, after a certain number of these, people become shy, stop talking, and possibly join them. It does take a certain brand of courage to go online and wonder whether strangers will provide any (good) advice. After a couple of reactions one can interpret as "We don't care, go away," it is easy to feel better by blending in. It's not that people are necessarily cruel, or that they don't care.
Please forgive me...I just can't say it
It is a sparsely populated species within RuneScape: the apology. Over the internet especially, with no clues such as intonation or body language, something can be misinterpreted. At this point, there is usually a bifurcation. Sometimes people really lose their temper and words fly (maybe you have done this). At others, a more passive result ensues: the other person simply says nothing, while anxiety slowly consumes them. The latter is the more common circumstance between nice people, but neither does much good.
Yelling and screaming at someone might make you feel better, but it is not going to help matters in the long run. Similarly, if you don't say anything, no one will know what's wrong!
No more Mr. Nice Guy?
So, what happens to all these people? Why do we remember so keenly that nice friend that never logged in again? It is something more than the contortion of the human mind to appreciate something that is gone. If RuneScape is a coping mechanism when things are bad, as things get better they gradually stop playing. Soon they become more busy with non-video game activities, and subconsciously, bury RuneScape along with the past. RuneScape conjures up too many unpleasant memories for them, even if those memories are not about RuneScape itself.
Nice people may have flaws like the rest of us. They may be more work, so to speak, more judgmental, or shy. They are left prone to feeling sad, perhaps misinterpreted, and with little sympathy. Check the discussion thread and I'm sure someone will post something along the lines of "Cry moar." I'm not going to suggest being nicer: play however you like. But maybe I can answer my friends' question. Because after all, being nice doesn't sound so nice anymore, does it? Look me in the eye and tell me: how many people can you expect to think this way?