Right there, up there, is a quote that makes me absolutely cringe when it comes to online gaming. It’s not meant to be an exact quote, but more representative of a type of mentality that exists in MMOs — that there is a Right Way and a Wrong Way to be playing the game. God help you if you’re the latter, because someone’s gonna teach you with a harsh “L2P NOOB!” and then you’ll be in tears, wondering if you should just up and quit and go back to tinkering around with Lite Brite (unless, of course, a friend comes over and informs you that your pegs are backwards and you should “L2Litebrite, noob!”).
I know there’s a lot of baggage that comes the oft-repeated phrase, “It’s just a game”, but the reason that is said is that so many people treat MMOs as very much Not A Game. It is something More. Something Important. Something that doesn’t appreciate your messing around. This is partially due to the competitive nature of players and the division of gaming types — those who play to win, those who play to enjoy, those who play to socialize, and so on.
“L2Play” folks and the “It’s only a game” folks are two ends of a polar argument that’s been going on for a while now. Are MMOs a game, or not? And if they are, then why do some players try to impose their will on other players as to how they should play, spec their character, approach the game, and perform certain roles? If this is “just a game”, why is there such intolerance to off-specs, non-optimal group compositions, and non-hardcore approaches to gameplay? If we should “L2Play” to master a game and somehow derive more enjoyment out of it for it, then why can’t we see that it’s important to be challenged, to push yourself to achieve more, and to learn that how you play the game affects others?
As part of my job, I lead a lot of games with our teens. Over the course of a decade or so, I’ve gotten wise to a couple principles of how teens (and really, all ages) respond in a social situation to games:
- Everyone wants to “win” — it’s hardwired into them that this is their #1 objective. Even if there is no set prize, people want to come out on top and be declared a winner.
- In preparing a game, you have to assume that people are going to either bend the rules (cheat) or not fully understand them, and therefore have to be 100% clear in creating the boundaries of the activity. You are the Rule-Maker (and also enforcer).
- Players want fairness to apply only when it helps them, not others.
- Players are quick to berate teammates for failing at a task (unless you actively encourage everyone to cheer their team on), because, as we said before, they want to win.
That understood, I have gravitated more toward games that are all-inclusive (i.e., don’t just pander to the excellent athletes), that encourage creative thinking and solutions within the boundaries of rules, and that subtly guide them to enjoying the game as a fun, interactive social event instead of a win/lose competition. It’s not bad to win (and we still have winners), it just shouldn’t be the be all, end all of games, especially when you’re trying to grow a community with them.
In online gaming, I’m much more toward the end of the spectrum that sees this as “it’s a game” (I’ll take out the “just” there, since that’s a dismissive word). There’s levels of obsessive behavior that can spawn from getting too far away from seeing that (which is true in most forms of entertainment/hobbies). And personally, I want to be myself in these games, not what someone else says I should be.
(Question for those who play to win — at what point have you ever “won” a MMORPG?)
I’m okay with the game company being the Rule-Maker/Enforcer, as it’s their game and their right. If they say I shouldn’t be able to fly, so be it. If certain areas are off-limits, or by using bots I’m breaking their EULA, then I won’t. But within the boundaries of the rules they set, I’m going to play my own way, even if that means I’m not playing optimally.
The “L2Play” crowd doesn’t care one way or another how I play the game — unless it affects them in any way. Such as being on their team in a PvP situation, or in a tough dungeon crawl, or whatnot. Then, suddenly, there’s enormous amounts of peer pressure to spec X, do Y and be Z. If I don’t, I’m being a jerk and responsible for ruining their gaming experience. Sound familiar to the list I posted above? There you go. Basic human behavior, 101. Other players aren’t looking out for me, for what gameplay would make me the happiest, or what freedoms I should enjoy in my character development. They’re worried that my self-centeredness will impact their own self-centeredness, and hence the conflict between the two sides.
Now, to be fair, when you play a social game with others, it comes with responsibilities that you can’t (or at least, really shouldn’t) dismiss because you’re so self-centered as to be the only person who matters. Scamming other players, ninja looting, demeaning folks, engaging in exploits, trying to ruin other people’s experiences deliberately, stealing from the guild coffers, wielding your sexuality as a weapon to get others to do what you want, being completely one-sided when it comes to receiving help but never getting it — these are despicable actions, and they are almost universally hated by the game community, who polices such activity and uses peer pressure to keep total jerkwad anarchy from breaking loose. If you’re a tool, then you’ll earn the rep as one, and reap the consequences.
So it’s important to be a decent human being who is considerate and respectful, at the very least. Common sense stuff. But there’s a line where the community, which has done good in squashing the more reprehensible behavior, decides to go one step further and start demanding that you shape up according to what is the best way to play, or else you too are being an ingrate. This is where I part ways.
My stance is pretty firm: I, as a player, do not, nor never will care what you spec your character to be, what gear you get, or what you do in the game as long as it’s within reason. I’m all for grouping with off-spec players and giving them a chance to try something different, as long as they actually try and not be an active burden on the team. If all you want to do in the game is pursue achievements to accumulate meaningless points, then more power to you, as long as you’re having fun.
More guilds and players should lighten up when it comes to bossing others around due to some sense of superiority gained through better gear and more obsessive learning of the game’s mechanics. I mean, hey, it’s great if you want to try to teach me something new or guide me to utilizing my class in a better way — I love to learn new things — but you need to step off the Better Than Thou Express before you start dictating that I must do this, or else.
I’ll close with an anecdote from way back when. I was listening to WoW Radio during the second year of playing the game (pre-TBC), and the two hosts were just berating the dumb idiots out there who decided to spec balance druids or melee hunters or whatnot. How dare they! They weren’t playing it right! Why, these scum aren’t fit for living, nevermind a place in my group!
I think that was the last time I listened to that show, due to blood pressure issues. Now, being a melee hunter (at least, back then) was a very non-optimal setup and often was indicative of someone who only had a basic grasp on his or her class. But that doesn’t mean it was a forbidden way to play — it was allowable within the rules set by Blizzard, and in fact, permitted by the game’s setup to enable a player to make that decision. But the larger group of players had long ago decided that it was a Wrong Way to play, and levied undue amounts of sarcasm, hatred and scorn for such folks.
Listen, you don’t have to group with these folks. If you’re serious about achieving tough content, then it’s reasonable to set your standards high for teammates. If you want to master the game, be the best you can be, and exalt in it — more power to you. But that doesn’t give you the right to go overboard and begin passing judgment on all players in the game for not treating the game as you do, seeing it as you do, and playing it the way you do.
It IS only a game. It IS important to learn how to play it and engage with others properly. And it IS vital that we try to reintroduce a level of civility, respect and appreciation for a wide range of players, specs, goals and styles.