Rants tag

Rants, ruminations, and rambling remarks from my mad, muddled, meandering mind.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Meaning of Community in the Modern MMO

In ages past, gamers would gather around a table on a Friday or Saturday evening, listen as one designated Dungeon Master wove a tale of intrigue and hidden treasure, then assume roles as they explored a virtual world in their collective minds. Friendships were formed that lasted years, some to the present day. People still play tabletop RPGs, but even more play MMORPGs. The first MMOs developed solid communities (supposedly; I wasn't there) that helped each other. I never realized all the different sub-categories of MMO. Fast forward to the modern era of MMO gaming, and you find a group of codgers looking back through rose colored glasses at these "wonderful" games of the past, and wondering what happened to the community spirit they fostered.
The incomparable Tobold has once again given a wonderfully ironic vision of a dystopian future where players of WoW are stuck ensconced in their own little worlds of warcraft and the community is dead. This was preceded two weeks ago by his proclamation that the only truly socially responsible thing for DPS players to do was to role as tanks or healers. Gordon of We Fly Spitfires exults in laments his status as a Conquest Point whore (OK, he said "prostitute," but I didn't see any mention of payment) and says somewhat sarcastically, "[A] sense of community doesn’t matter so long as every individual is getting their progression fix." Larisa on the other hand, would rather play with "a complete moron . . . than an ever so skilled and polite NPC." She's obviously never played STO. Raph Koster insists, with evidentiary backup, that building community is integral to good MMORPG design. Scary Booster said on Twitter yesterday that WOW is dead to him, given some of his recent experiences with douchebaggery in that game. Psychochild feels that much current design discourages and even punishes grouping behavior. Tesh, who beat me to this punch, says that Tobold's prediction actually sounds good to him, bonus points for echoing my feelings of the numbers grind at the end, both of his post and the game.

I have helped and been helped by random strangers in WoW. Some have become friends. Just this last Sunday evening, another player asked me to help him kill Chet the Slime Breeder in the ruins of Southshore. I helped out, even though I had just turned the quest in. I say this now only because it makes me look good.

It comes down to this. It's easy to have a sense of community when your game is roughly the population of Walnut Grove, it is another thing entirely when it boasts the population of a major world city, or minor country. How many friendly faces do you expect to see in New York or Beijing? Why do you expect to see more in WoW? As a commenter on Tobold's post said, there are still a million people in WoW who want to be community-minded. But there are another 11 million that don't give a bear rump about you or your gaming experience. WoW really is a victim of its own popularity. (That's not to say the devs don't share the social responsibility.)
So do your best to seek those people out if you want a sense of community, join or form a guild of like-minded players, that is probably the best way to find the community you're looking for. And turn off or ignore general and trade chat. I have ignored it for years, separating out guild and party chat into a designated window that I pay attention to.

On a tenuously related side note, Muckbeast wonders about couples content, something that is near and dear to me and DGF. I hope that designers (please, Trion and BioWare) can include elements of the game that cater to this perhaps small segment of the population that wants small-group content. The rifts in Rift may help this a little, we'll see. And now another evening has come and gone, and I haven't played STO. : /


  1. As one of the old codgers you speak of, I think these people are on crack. UO was arguably the first "mass market" MMO and it was a hostile environment filled with the worst kind of griefers.

    OTOH I think the difficulty of those early games did force people to work together, and I suppose working along side someone night after night is bound to build some connections.

    But the overall communities weren't pretty back then, either.

  2. Besides the graphics, UO's griefer environment was one of the reasons why I never played. I didn't start with MMOs until EverQuest came out, and it was at least half due to the stories I'd heard about some of the shenanigans in UO.

    I especially liked your point on the community size and how that effects the chances of meeting a decent person. I think the problem is exacerbated by how many servers WoW's community is spread across as well.