Over the last month or so of my time in Guild Wars 2, one thing I’ve really come to appreciate are the other players. I love having them around. By now, many have made the observation that ArenaNet did us a great favor by removing typical MMO constraints on mob tagging and resource gathering by allowing everyone to attack or harvest the same things without worrying that it would be stepping on someone else’s toes. Now if another player shows up, I don’t shy away from them and silently curse that they’re culling my content; I give an inner cheer and naturally gravitate toward them. Two, as they say, are better than one.
It’s starting to make me wonder if this is what Guild Wars 2′s legacy to MMOs will be, far above dynamic events and all the rest. It’s the game that fiddled with the social pieces of the puzzle just right so that it clicked and opened the floodgates for people to simply have fun being together. We’re auto-leveled down to match zones so we can hang out with lowbie friends without overpowering everything. We have instant teleportation, so we can get to where our pals are. And we are not hindered but encouraged to join forces whenever possible.
A lament I’ve often heard over the past few years from MMO vets of the early generation of titles is that people don’t talk to each other in game any more. They say that with a sorrowful tone, recounting days when MMOs had such slow, gradual gameplay that they were often a colorful overlay for a chat window. People talked more back then. They bonded more. Communities meant more. Now? Now it’s just a bunch of helter-skelter madmen running amok with no interest in any social connections.
Pardon me, but that’s a load of horse apples.
I’ll be fully willing to concede that there was something special and important about that early era of MMOs and how the limited gameplay or perhaps titles that focused more on roleplay tools encouraged gamers to bare their souls and form long-lasting connections. But I’m not going to just bow to the notion that all is lost today, just because we’re under a different paradigm.
For one thing, we have a much broader and bigger crowd now than MMOs once did. Smaller and more niche groups of players do tend to form very tight bonds, but sometimes there’s a danger of getting elitist and snobbish about it (i.e. “don’t let those unwashed heathens into our super-cool club!”). Now MMO players are far more diverse in interests and play styles.
For another thing, the games have changed, how we play them has changed, and how other video games have evolved has changed. New things are tried. Some old things are forgotten. Old is made new again. Failed ideas are tweaked to become successful ones. And there’s no reason that this doesn’t apply to socializing in MMOs.
You see, it’s a falsehood to say that if a social situation does not revolve around or end in spoken/written communication, it’s not socializing at all. I’m not against talking or getting to know those I meet better, but it’s not the end goal of every encounter I have with others in a game. Sometimes I just want to — and this might blow your mind — simply play alongside of others. To feel the presence of their company. To band together, as if on a sports team, to accomplish something greater or quicker. To watch out for each other. To make the world feel alive.
Guild Wars 2 reminds me of testimonies I heard from Journey. Not the band, that game where you played as a silent, anonymous character who would sometimes pair up with other silent, anonymous characters. People raved about how it made them feel connected to another person, even though there was a barrier of communication between them. Perhaps it was that lack of direct spoken or written communication that put such an emphasis on other ways we interact, and how sometimes we just want the companionship of another person around, even if words are not spoken.
If you feel differently about this, then perhaps we might be able to meet in the middle to agree that no two people want the same out of socializing. Some of us are way into socializing; some of us are anti-social to the point of monkhood. Sometimes we want talk, and lots of it; sometimes we just want action, and others beside us pointing their guns or swords in the same direction we are. If you want to get super-deep into relationship building, well, there are guilds and people out there who are up for that. If you don’t, you’re not forced to. You have a choice instead of just one path.
After all, when I play laser tag or work on a group project, I’m not always looking to have a drawn-out conversation about one’s aspirations in life. The most you’re going to get from either side are terse yells, the occasional taunts, and deep concentration for the game. Yet we’re doing something together instead of alone, it bonds us together, and that’s why I love MMOs.
I feel like I’m in good company in Guild Wars 2. The game doesn’t force us to band together (which was a mistake early MMO developers made in trying to “encourage” socialization), but gives us incentive and easy ways to work together (combos, group events) and protect each other (heals, rezzes) without having the game penalize us for it. I don’t have to spend time yelling in a chat channel for a group or fiddling with a group finder tool; I can just get out there and be with people.
Who knows — we may even talk while doing it.