The fallacy of “one way to play”

On my list of MMO pet peeves, people telling others how they should play — particularly in a condescending, controlling, demeaning way — is right up there at the top of the list.  It smacks of elitism, of narrow-minded min-maxers who have long ago traded the love of the game for a mathematics worksheet, of being a general tool.  It doesn’t help a community bond, but instead props up someone’s ego in exchange for shredding someone else’s self-esteem.

Really, why does this happen?  Understand, I’m not talking about someone giving well-intentioned advice or taking another player under their wing and providing guidance.  I’m talking about that jerk who immediately goes on the offensive in a pick-up group or in general chat, slamming someone’s build or gear or preferred playstyle as DEAD WRONG and OMG YOU SHOULD DIAF NAO.

I was reminded of this lovely individual last night while I was playing LotRO and /glff (Global Looking for Fellowship channel AKA “Barrens Chat for Middle-earth”) popped to life as one Lore-master was discussing his or her experiences using a bear pet.  Immediately, a superior being descended from the heavens into /glff, backed up a dump truck full of examples why this person was completely wrong and failing at the game, and dumped it all over the channel.  You NEVER use bear!  Bear sucks!  If a LM uses a bear, you know they’re a bad LM!  Even talking about a bear makes you a bad LM!  You fail at life!  Who’s driving?  Bear is driving, how can that be?

Now, the regrettable thing here is that the attacker was obviously knowledgeable about the class and could’ve shared this information in a much less antagonistic fashion.  Instead, the /glff audience was treated to a jerk yelling at another player about how there really is only one way to play and they’re completely wrong if they don’t do it.

I’m sorry, but this is just so off-base I don’t know where to begin.  Understandably, the longer an MMO is out the more specific builds are fine-tuned until they are widely considered superior (at least until the next patch).  Some builds and playstyles will result in faster kills, better protection, more economical use of resources.  But the most optimal build is not always the “best” or “only” one to use, and we hurt ourselves as a whole by insisting that everyone fall in line and use just them.

I saw a lot of this in World of Warcraft, of course, and it never ceased to chafe.  You were wrong if you did X or had build Y, and should only be doing Z at all times.  I recall way back in Vanilla WoW when some players liked to experiment with melee hunters — a big no-no for most of the community, and the subject of a heated podcast (which, like the above LM, spent the whole hour yelling at the anonymous hunters about how stupid they were being).  Again, doing that wasn’t optimal and probably wouldn’t get you invited to many groups, but I had a problem with this hardline attitude about someone else’s playstyle.  If they’re having fun and not hurting anyone else, why can’t they choose how and what to play without getting grief for it?

These are games, after all, and what may be the most “fun” might be as far from “optimal” as you can get.  I may want to use a pet that isn’t the best stat-wise, but I prefer it for the visuals or the RP theme.  I may want to diverge from the beaten path to experiment with alternate builds, even if they do end up being useless.  I may want to try running a dungeon with an unbalanced party mix just to see if it can be done.

Digging deeper, we may be getting into themes of individualism vs. collectivism, but I’m too tired to be that intelligent.  In short, if you want to tell me how to play my game, think long and hard about your intentions for doing so — and be receptive to how I might take such unwarranted advice.  I have a pack of trained marmosets at the ready.

18 thoughts on “The fallacy of “one way to play”

  1. Creep February 17, 2011 / 3:06 pm

    Release the marmosets! One of the most refreshing things I’ve noticed about playing Fallen Earth lately is that there is a whole lot less of the “this is how you play” action going on. That was one of the things I totally despised in WoW without a doubt.
    Nice way to hit the nail on the head in this post!

  2. Gronthe February 17, 2011 / 3:07 pm

    Just the other night I had someone, upon entering a dungeon, “where do you think you [and all others of your class] get off rolling [X] spec?”

    It floored me, I wasn’t expecting it. I did nothing to provoke this person, it was like a rogue wave throwing me around. I thought about responding, but I quickly thought about what that would accomplish. When my answer was “nothing” I just proceeded to be a valuable member of the team, and nobody else said a word to me. But still, shocking how it can come out of nowhere sometimes.

  3. Genda February 17, 2011 / 3:15 pm

    Wow good stuff. I think the condescending talk is just another form of trolling or griefing, and unfortunately the more modern or populated that your MMO is the more likely you are to have a populace that includes these people.

    I don’t really understand it myself but then again I’m not a career troll. (I do admit to the occasional guilty pleasure of trolling though, because when done tongue-in-cheek it’s kinda fun.) I don’t get the mean-spirited stuff though.

    Great post though man. Thanks!

  4. Thac0 February 17, 2011 / 3:23 pm

    This is the exact reason I stopped playing WoW about 4 years ago. The entire game was filled with people who just wanted to tell you how to play and not only that refused to play with you if your character wasn’t spec’d their way or geared their way… Haven t had that issue since and I’ll never go back.

  5. Wilhelm2451 February 17, 2011 / 3:27 pm

    My favorite (if that is the right phrase) was back when I rolled up my first DK in WoW. I had just gotten out of the starter are and was just poking around in the Eastern Plaguelands, when another player, a few levels lower starts in on me.

    First it was a whisper as to why in the hell I was in EP and not out in Hellfire Peninsula, being level 58. Then he must have checked my talent build because suddenly he was telling my I was a loser and I should learn to play and my talent tree was totally wrong and blah blah blah blah.

    This wasn’t somebody I was grouped with or even competing with for quest mobs. I was just standing there and my mere presence set him off.

    And as I ignored him about 8 messages into his tirade, my only thought was, “Did he really think this was a valuable use of his time? Did he feel is anger and venom was somehow going to change the world?”

  6. Chris Smith February 17, 2011 / 3:40 pm

    It’s peen, man, pure and simple. If they were REALLY concerned about taking on someone else, they’d do it direct. Instead, they’ll do it in /global, or in /party or — gawd help us — /guild. Instead, they somehow get this impression that they’re going to score credibility with others who hadn’t the good sense to get out of the channel (if they’re able) by proving that they “know something”. Unfortunately, they only trigger that allows them to start showing off is at someone else’s expense.

    It’s sad to hear that this was in LotRO, because that kind of blows a theory I had out of the water (I guess it still might hold, but not as “universal” as it might have been XD )

  7. Tad February 17, 2011 / 4:44 pm

    This post really hits home for me. Not because I was ever really picked on for it but as I levelled and played a warlock in wrath I went destruction all the way up. I thought it was a really cool spec, I couldn’t wait to get my chaos bolt. I couldn’t wait to get him to max level and start raiding! Then once I maxed out and was reading up on the DPS I found out Destro was not the “optimal” spec. This was the case pretty much to the tail end of wrath. The funny thing is I never ever changed. I have no idea how to play an aff or demo lock. I just loved shooting fireballs at everything! I thought it was the coolest thing fireball here fireball there burn him down! pew pew

  8. Thomas February 17, 2011 / 7:57 pm

    I have seen a similar thing before in LOTRO. Long ago a LM kinmate had a meltdown in kin chat because everybody he grouped with yelled at him about playing the wrong way. I had grouped with him in the past & everything was fine so I don’t know what was going on. This was in 2009, so long before F2P.

  9. Yeebo February 17, 2011 / 10:13 pm

    One game that was prone to this more than almost any other I’ve played was DAoC. To be fair, part of it as due to the fact that certain specs were well and truly gimps from beyond time and space (Mind Mentalist comes to mind). However, a lot of specs that were roughly on par as far I could tell had proponents with the fervor of a religious zealot.

  10. Borgio February 18, 2011 / 6:36 am

    This takes me back to Vanilla wow where I levelled my warlock as a melee spec!

    Slapped on a 1 handed sword, firestone, dotted then meleed till death.

    Sure it wasnt optimal but boy was it a laugh!

  11. Bhagpuss February 18, 2011 / 6:44 am

    Well said Syp!

    The two games I have seen this the most in are WoW and LotRO. In fact being told how I should play by complete strangers was the primary reason I unsubscribed from LotRO, although there it was more being harangued about the exact right way to roleplay a dwarf that finally got to me.

    Helpful advice, however, is always welcome. I still remember being sent a tell as I was laboring up the seemingly-endless ramp from South Karana to Highhold Pass and someone saying “Did you know that if you press Num-lock you can autorun?” I’d been playing EQ for six months then and I hadn’t even dsicovered the concept of autorun, let alone how to activate it and learning about it was truly gamechanging!

  12. Jennifer February 18, 2011 / 7:32 am

    It is a team game, so, if you want to bring a less-than-spectacular spec to the team you are hurting the team. Go solo however you want, in whatever spec you want, but when you ante up to join a team effort, you /should/ be bringing the best possible spec/gear possible. To help the team.

    Now, how people communicate this is the real issue. 😉

  13. Bhagpuss February 18, 2011 / 2:24 pm

    Well, back in the day when I grouped a lot, we chose the team by how much fun they were to spend time with, not how well-geared they were or how skilled at playing their class. When recruiting PUGs we frequently held spots open for players who had run-of-the-mill gear and mediocre skills, while turning down other players with superior gear and skills because we knew we’d hear wittier one-liners from the other folks.

    Yes, there was a bare minimum of competence required, but a quick wit and a wry sense of humor were the real essential build.

  14. Loire February 18, 2011 / 5:01 pm

    Not that I necessarily support this but I believe it’s a mix of, socially inept people trying to “help” (don’t jump on me there are a lot out there) crossed with the bigger issue – If I’m paying 15 dollars a month to play this game why shouldn’t I maximize my efficiency? For that matter if other’s are going to play with me why shouldn’t I let them know how they are holding everyone else back?

    In the real world if somebody were to hold you back while you’re doing something you care about you might give them a talking too, why is the virtual world any different? Should we sacrifice performing as best as we can just because someone doesn’t find being the best they can be fun?

    That inevitably brings us to the point of who’s fun is worth more? Not an argument I’m willing to venture into.

  15. Thade February 19, 2011 / 7:57 am

    I have a theory. One with no evidence.

    At first I wrote this kind of behavior off as anonimity, but not only is this too sparse an explanation. There were players whom I got to know over years of playing WoW who still would do it, no longer anonymous even to their targets.

    Walk with me.

    At the end of the day, people play these games to live out little fantasies. For some (like me) at least one of those fantasies is to be someone you are not for a little while: an escape. Our toons can do things that we cannot, like throw fireballs, summon beasts to our aid, and get all up in a dragon’s grill. The extension here is that most of us are not “bosses without bosses”…and not just at work.

    I always got the impression that the more vehement champions of peen feel that life treats them unfairly, leading me to a list of criteria that may be to blame:
    1. Real life sucks, I’ll be damned if my MMO-life sucks too; it will suck if everybody around me does not optimize the function we’re a part of.
    2. My boss/spouse/landlord/authority figure yells at me all the time; who do I get to yell at?
    3. As a child I never learned to manage my anger, screaming at the TV and throwing the controller whenever it failed me…displacing my own failures to those objects. A natural progression to scream at digital representations of other people.

    Okay, so the last one has some basis in research; I didn’t read the study very closely, but it matches my suspicions. So, there is my theory. I have no evidence.

  16. kiantremayne February 20, 2011 / 3:55 am

    Some people out there just don’t seem to understand that there is a whole continuum from “utterly useless” to “can do the job” to “min-maxed within an inch of my life using the latest research data from Elitist Jerks”. Game content (at least, most game content outside the cutting edge of raid progression) is not balanced around the assumption that every single part member’s stats and performance are right up there in the top percentile. So the question is not “is this guy specced optimally?” but “is this guy good enough?”

    And that’s leaving aside the human factors, as theorycrafters do (possibly because they’re not really human themselves 🙂 People have individual play styles. They perform better playing in those styles, and they have more fun which makes them less likely to slack off or drop out of the group. the bbest build is one that supports their style.

    Loremasters are a real case in point – there are some loremasters who like to get in there and use their staff skills in melee. There are others who believe that a cloth wearer should never, EVER melee and rely on pet tanking or kiting. To be honest, both sorts of LM seem to do very well. Which style you choose is going to affect which pet you have out, but to be honest all of the LM pets are situational and all have their uses (and that INCLUDES the bear, even though I don’t often use him myself).

  17. Arieltalia (Cedia) February 20, 2011 / 3:11 pm

    It’s immaturity. It is the exact reason I left WoW. (And no, immaturity is not about age at all.)

    It’s also poor self esteem and insecurity, which tie into immaturity. Basically these people have to “win” at a video game because it makes up for their sad real lives. They may say they just enjoy winning, but if you dig deeper, you’ll find out how much they hate their real lives. Winning at a video game and ignoring their real problems is easier than seeking therapy and actually working on themselves and changing their situations.

    I remember the “good ol’ days” Bhagpuss is talking about. Before playing MMOs became like a job or a “team sport”. Back when we did things for fun, for a laugh. Smiling was far more important than winning.

    And those are the people I will game with. Not these other fools who replace real life with online gaming.

  18. Juzaba February 21, 2011 / 9:49 am

    Yeah, it’s always unfortunate to see that. Though it’s not just limited to min/maxers attacking less-than-optimal builds. I was wandering around the Rift Beta newbie zone the other day and asked in general chat a question about macros. Some cowboy immediately jumped down my throat with comments like “Why do you care about macros, they just dilute the game?” and “Why can’t you just play the game to have fun?”

    I sent the guy a polite message thanking him for advice, but asking him to remember that especially in the newbie zone, we should be welcoming of people’s questions and not hateful of their playstyles. His response made it obvious that he didn’t understand how divisive his tone was. So he ended up on an ignore list (function tested!). To me, the saddest part is that I don’t know what it would take to teach him that what he did was wrong.

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