Helping Others vs. Helping Yourself

aynrandtotsI know we always like to come off as perfect people, but I hope that I’m honest enough to share the not-so-great parts about me from time to time.  And I’ll be honest in this: sometimes I just don’t want to help you out in game, because it does nothing for me.

Ack!  How horrible is that?  How selfish, self-centered… pretty much the opposite of everything I strive to be in my daily life.  It’s almost as if I started drinking a tall glass of Ayn Rand in the morning or something.  And really, in games I don’t tend to be like that either — if a friend asks for a helping hand, or if a stranger needs a tip or a quick assist on a mission, sure, I have no problem with that.  Part of MMOs is being tied into the social scene, and you give as well as take.

But every once in a while, well, there comes a time that someone asks for help and my brain does a quick calculation — how much time will it take to do that?  If they’re asking for a two-hour dungeon run, well, that is an askance worth pondering.

Because if MMOs have done anything well, they’ve taught us to be greedy little self-seekers — to be always striving to make our own character better and stronger and richer.  There’s nothing for our character to be gained in helping out, usually, so that little voice nags at you in disapproval for “wasting” that time.  Yes, it sounds awful, but I think a lot of us have this little internal drama playing out on occasion.  The more we help others, the less we’re spending on progressing our own character — kind of pushing someone up while keeping us standing still.  Sometimes we don’t have enough time to do both, and I’ve had evenings where I agree to assist someone only to have it turn into a lengthy slog through content (in which we don’t succeed, sometimes) that eats up all my playing time for that evening.  It’s nice to help, sure, but I leave the keyboard feeling as if I haven’t accomplished anything, and that can be frustrating.

I rarely ever say “no” for a direct plea for help, but I’m not always as altruistic as others I know by logging on and instantly asking if someone needs a hand, because more often than not, there’s always someone who will gladly pounce on that offer and eat up whatever free time you had.  It’s a struggle to deny the pull of the game, which rewards me for selfish behavior instead of selfless — why don’t more games have systems that encourage you to help others, especially if MMOs are these great social places?

No profound conclusion here, just a little insight into something that I’ve always felt.  If you find me in game and honestly do need help, I won’t mind, nor will I resent you for it — I just wanted to be open that there are these opposing forces at play inside me.

11 thoughts on “Helping Others vs. Helping Yourself

  1. Hatch August 31, 2009 / 12:29 pm

    And then there’s people like me, who don’t see anything wrong with not being willing to help people most of the time. I’ll help my friends 90% of the times they ask, but I’ll almost never help strangers. And I don’t think that’s “horrible” or “morally wrong”, and I don’t even think I should “strive” to not be so “self-centered”. But that’s just me, there are definitely merits to your point of view that just aren’t my cup of tea. But I encourage you not to feel too guilty when you don’t help someone who asks too much of you. 🙂

  2. Ferrel August 31, 2009 / 12:40 pm

    I absolutely know where you’re coming from Syp. I would be lying if I didn’t say I had this thought too. Any time random strangers implore me for help on something that has no benefit to me I grumble.

    I am also, however, a pushover paladin type. I pretty much will say yes to every request unless it is completely unreasonable. I’ll huff and puff a bit but I will go.

    The strange thing about my play style is that when I’m not with my guild groups or RL friends I’m very insular. I just want to do my own thing. It isn’t that I mind not progressing my character. It is just more that my personal time is being imposed upon I guess.

    Either way, I’ll help and if you’re a friend or guild mate I’ll go the extra mile.

  3. Tesh August 31, 2009 / 12:49 pm

    ‘Tis a wee bit like being on an airplane, when the steward/ess notes the little oxygen masks. You’re told in no uncertain terms to take care of yourself before taking care of others, since if you’re out of oxygen you’re useless to help anyone.

    OK, it’s not quite like that considerably more serious example, but there is good precedent for making sure you’re squared away before trying to extend a helping hand. It’s good physics, if nothing else.

  4. Maladorn August 31, 2009 / 12:57 pm

    I’m with Hatch. It’s a video game, so I don’t feel like it’s too much to expect random strangers to not bother me with their desire for a run through the dungeon they can’t be bothered to form a group for. On the other hand, I’m also highly likely to run a friend/guildie through said dungeon for kicks and giggles just because they are my friend. I’m finding that I’m a very social MMO player (the game isn’t as fun when I’m by myself), but I only care to socialize with the people I’ve picked. Interestingly, I’m the same way in real life, choosing to socialize with the groups I know instead of looking for someone new. And I’m okay with that.

  5. Capn John August 31, 2009 / 12:58 pm

    The problem with helping strangers is you give them an inch and they often want a mile. Needing to level a weapon skill on my Warrior I decided to have some fun running through the Deadmines. On the way I picked up a couple of lowbies in Westfall and gave them a free run. When we came out the other side one of them asked if he could have another run through. For about a week or so, within seconds of logging onto my Warrior, this guy would send me a tell asking for a free run. After a week had gone by and the guy hadn’t leveled – at all – since I ran him through, I finally put him on ignore.

  6. spinks August 31, 2009 / 12:58 pm

    I think that what I’ve learned from experience is that if I spend too much of my time helping other people /when I really wanted to be doing something else/ it eventually makes me bitter, grumpy and burned out.

    Much better to balance out what I want with time I spend helping others, and focus on keeping me happy. Because a) no one else will focus on keeping me happy and b) happy people are more fun for everyone else to be with too. Sometimes company in guild chat and helpful advice are worth more than a grumpy person killing a quest mob.

    The main thing is to be able to say ‘no sorry, I’m busy’ without any guilty twinges when you actually are busy. And people need to learn to take no for an answer, especially if they’re asking for 4 hour instance runs or for people to go half way around the gameworld to help them kill one mob that they don’t really need anyway.

  7. Pete S August 31, 2009 / 1:13 pm

    As my dear old gran used to say: No good deed goes unpunished.


    Seriously, I think Tesh, Spinks and Capn John are all spot on. If you do so much helping that you end up not having fun, you’re going to wind up leaving the game, then no one is gonna get help.

    And FAR too often, saying yes to a request for help is just opening yourself up to constantly being pestered by the person you aided.

  8. lukane09 August 31, 2009 / 1:19 pm

    Well while we are admiting our self perceived “faults” I should tell you that I’ve used the “Sorry, I’m logging soon” excuse multiple times, and then actually logged onto an alt in order to evade assisting someone. Sounds bad, doesn’t it? However, I blame the average MMO player, who in my mind must be a violent, racist, selfish, illiterate 11-year-old based on what I’ve experienced.

    Helping some random person run a dungeon for the next 2 hours to get some lowbie piece of loot that actually has a 2% chance of dropping so they can get all the pieces of this armor set which they ought to outlevel in a couple days is not how I would like to spend my preciously few MMO hours.

    I still do feel a little guilty saying “NO” though.

  9. Scott August 31, 2009 / 1:53 pm

    I don’t mind helping people out so long as it’s my choice to do so. Random people? Doubtful. Extremely doubtful. I’m likely to give a drive-by buff but if anything the selfish nature of MMOs has taught us to avoid helping anyone kill a mob or even heal them for fear of them screaming at us for diminishing the XP they got for that kill. Screw ’em then.

    However, I’m also the type who doesn’t believe altruism exists. People who enjoy helping people do so because it makes them feel good, therefore those selfless acts are in fact self-centered acts.

    Because I may often have a goal for a specific character in mind, I therefore presume other people do as well with the character they’ve logged in with so I don’t like bothering people if it means they have to switch characters, even if they claim they don’t mind. In DDO for example, my highest character is level 9 while most veterans and all my guild-mates are level capped on their mains. To “help me” with any quests, they have to login one of their alts. But if they were on their mains to start with, I feel like they logged that character in for a reason so why should they “waste” their time changing to a character they obviously didn’t intend to play at the time just to “help” me out?

  10. Sven August 31, 2009 / 2:11 pm

    I wonder if this is game/class specific? I can’t remember the last time a stranger has sent me a direct tell asking me for help. Let alone asking me to tag along on some 2 hour excursion.

  11. Ysharros August 31, 2009 / 2:57 pm

    Thought-provoking post, and I doubt there’s many who can say they haven’t felt exactly what you describe.

    And yes, MMOs really do train us to be selfish, self-involved (what will it get ME?) bastards, but that’s not the whole of it.

    One of the reasons I’m often leery of who I help is that some people just want to tag along while YOU do their playing for them. Just like some people would rather waste my time in research than spend any of their own before they ask about something. (Which is not to say I’m against newb questions — those are fine. I trust most people will know what I mean.)

    Helping I’m fine with. Hand-holding or diaper-changing — nah, thanks, I have enough stuff to look after in RL. 😉

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