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Community managers' war stories show need for better harassment policies

A look at the world of community management highlights the fact that sometimes community managers are left on the front line without proper support to handle online harassment.

“I think [Real ID] actually woke me up a bit, and made me realize my employment with any company is a partnership, and not any kind of debt or life-oath that I need to repay.”

- Former Blizzard community manager Micah Whipple

Community management can be one of the most demanding but also compelling jobs in the game industry. It’s a position that puts company employees right in front of fans, and helps them navigate the interesting intersection of game design decisions and player feedback. It’s a job where friendships can be made and communities can be formed—and sadly, where people’s physical and mental health can be put on the line. 

PC Gamer’s Luke Winkie recently took the time to profile community managers from some of the biggest companies in the industry, and it’s worth a read if you’ve ever wondered what it’s like for your coworkers who are the first line of communication with your players. 

Winkie’s story highlights stories from former Blizzard community manager Micah Whipple and former Dark Age of Camelot CM Sanya Weathers, and they’re tales that show a need for the industry to possibly rethink how it handles online harassment. 

In particular, Whipple tells Winkie about his time handling the fallout from Blizzard’s proposed “Real ID” system in 2010, which would have tied players’ Battle.net IDs to their real names. During the outrage that followed, some Blizzard players posted Whipple’s home address online, sent him threatening packages, and made death threats. 

Whipple describes these events as being a precursor to the industry’s modern struggle with online harassment, and he realizes now he probably should have realized the intense toll it was taking on his mental health. “With enough experience you can kind of catch it before it gets bad and take a step back, but more than a couple times I found myself in really dark depressive states for quite a while just due to, essentially, surrounding myself for eight hours a day with people’s hate,” Whipple says.

“Pile on top of that just all the standard stuff that’s going on in life, and it can get very real very quickly. Looking back, and having a better understanding of what depression actually looks and feels like, it’s probably something I should’ve sought professional help for.”

As noted above, Whipple tells Winkie that dealing with Real ID made him rethink his relationship with his company, and that putting his own personal health on the line was a bigger deal then he’d understood at the time. 

Not all the community managers Winie profiled tell such horrifying tales, but Whipple’s reflection on what happened to him is a good spotlight on how the changing nature of relationships to players means companies need to figure out how to get better involved in protecting employees from online harassment. 

For instance, Polygon recently surveyed the industry’s largest companies to learn about how they assist employees receiving threats online, and only CCP was able provide a broad look at how they support their employees. Many companies do have basic policies in place for dealing with threats to the business itself, but as recent events have shown, other companies struggle in grappling with attacks that affect individual employees. 

It’s worth noting that the IGDA does have a page with resources for getting help with online harassment, if you are a developer or community manager experiencing this today. 

Thumbnail image via #WOCinTech Chat

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