Gaming press’ condescension toward MMOs

One of my ongoing pet peeves in regards to MMORPGs is how the wider gaming press tends to demean, ignore, or hypocritically attack these games. Since about 2008 or so, it’s become pretty common to see gaming journalism make snide comments about or act condescending toward MMOs. Some of it is the console bias, some of it is personal burnout, and some of it is simply ignorance and an easy target.

Probably the most aggravating type of article is the one where a writer who has never played an MMO in his or her life reluctantly covers a story on one of our games. Nothing good tends to come from this. As one person wrote, “Why is it nearly impossible for people who don’t play MMOs to write any article without sounding like they’re an anthropologist recording lost tribesmen?”

The thing is that pretty much any criticism or snark levied against MMOs boomerangs right back at the author in regards to other games. MMOs are grindy? So are many console titles out there. MMOs breed devoted communities? So do plenty of single-player franchises. And so on. Broadly speaking, we’re all in the same boat, so why demean something you don’t personally play and understand?

We talked about this on a recent episode of the Massively OP Podcast, but if you’d like a good example of this bias in action, look no further than this November 20th article from Rock Paper Shotgun.

The author of this article took advantage of a paid press junket to attend Final Fantasy XIV’s fan festival in Las Vegas, despite seeming to have no first-hand knowledge or interest in the game itself. That’s fine, press often does cover games that it doesn’t play, but the article just goes off the rails on the gaming culture that he witnesses. From start to finish, the piece drips with sarcasm and head-patting condescension, such as:

  • “This is the kind of unsettling wonder you may witness”
  • “It’s the kind of audience so charged with unbridled fanaticism that it will erupt into cacophonous applause at some nice box art.”
  • “‘Haurchefant!’ she says again, as if I had not heard of Jesus Christ.”
  • “There’s more happening in the world of Eorzea than I could have imagined. The worship of dead NPCs, the housing problems, the strangers cyber-rutting in the corners of fantasy taverns.”

To add insult to injury, the author hijacked a developer Q&A session to try to get the team to address virtual bordellos, a topic that seems to have interested the author greatly but wasn’t any sort of relevant topic or pressing concern.

It’s obviously a piece written by someone who just doesn’t want to be there, who doesn’t understand geek culture, and who is happy to use big words to take pot shots at the game and its community. It didn’t cover much in the way of the big announcements or do anything to paint the community in a good light. It was simply a hit piece disguised as a convention report.

Predictably, the FFXIV was steamed over this article. The author used complaints to continue to needle fans, while players of this MMO felt as if they were unfairly slandered for having a good time at a convention that covered a game that they loved. After having read the article a couple of times, I think they have a right to feel upset.

Over at MOP, we have a term that we are always holding out in front of us: Don’t punch down. That is to say, we have to be mindful of the platform and power that we have to make statements, and so it’s generally not cool to mock or ruthlessly attack a smaller, weaker, or more innocent title or studio. We should always engage in fair criticism, but when we’re bringing out snark, it’s best reserved for bigger boys who can handle it. In this case, I would say that the game and studio itself are big enough for good-natured snark, but the fans aren’t. They’re just people devoted to a game and shouldn’t be teased because of it.

RPS has a much bigger microphone than we do, and it has proved on several occasions — including this one — that it doesn’t mind punching down at what it sees beneath it. And apparently that means MMOs and those who play them.

10 thoughts on “Gaming press’ condescension toward MMOs

  1. Ah man, I guess I’m one of the rabid fans worshipping dead NPCs cause that Haurchefant comment got me pretty good. You know you hit the storytelling just right when you’re getting people worked up over events from almost two expansions ago.

  2. It’s been a long time since I visited RPS regularly. If I recall correctly what turned me off to them was the site’s condescending attitude towards MMOs. It’s more than a bit odd considering that they are a fairly niche online-only gaming news site. It would be one thing if they were CNN, but most of their traffic is probably folks that have at least played WoW. Did one of their chief editors have a bad experience in Everquest during their formative years?

  3. I don’t believe the wider gaming audience has ever understood, respected or for the most part even been interested in MMORPGs. It took long enough for the core gaming audience even to accept the concept of playing games online and even now I get the feeling many would much rather go back to buying boxes with discs that they could install and play with no internet conection.

    As for the general issue of casting shade, I do wish MOP would knock off the snark entirely and stick to straight news reporting. It’s second to none as a news outlet for MMO-related stories but the comedy elements heavily undermine that authority.

  4. Doesn’t Brendan Caldwell write about Eve Online? Fairly regularly, or at least he did once?

    The linked article is that of an outsider’s viewpoint using a bit of gonzo journalism style on the FF14 convention.

    Perhaps the moral of the story is that you don’t get an Eve player to cover a roleplaying/cosplay convention. 😉

  5. I don’t love the tone of that article, but let’s not act like the whole story is non-MMO players hating on MMO fans. MMO players have never had any shortage of condescension for anything that isn’t to their particular taste, from alternate playstyles within MMOs to single-player games. There isn’t a lot of room for moral high ground here.

    Also, while I am a longtime Massively fan with the Patreon receipts to prove it, I have begun to feel a flicker of sympathy for Bhagpuss’ point of view. Lately it seems to me as MOP’s snark has increasingly begun to cross the line from the playful to the mean-spirited.

    Mind you, I can be pretty harsh on my blog, too, so maybe no one’s hands are clean here.

  6. I just don’t get it. I’ve read the article a few times now and I’m just not seeing it. I mean, if I squint, I can see how those comments could be interpreted negatively. Maybe I’m just reading the thing with rose-colored glasses or something. I read RPS frequently and I’ve never had the impression that they look down on MMO players. RPS basically credits its founding to City of Heroes.

  7. The ironic thing about all this is that MMOs were the birthplace of the vast majority of online game mechanics nowadays, everything from mobile to PC. The online games that RPS love so dearly are often derived from things that traditional MMOs have been doing for ages (seasons, live events, leaderboards, guilds, live chat, persistent worlds). Their Fortnites and Diablo 3’s likely wouldn’t be what they are now without MMOs paving the way for a lot of technical and design feats.

  8. I agree with Jawn: the RPS piece is playful and occasionally ironic, but hardly what I’d call bilious. I think wounded reactions, at least in the States, may be a function of a significant stylistic difference between UK and US journalism. I’m not taking sides (and I like MMOs personally), but a much greater degree of irreverence and snark is accepted as normal and inoffensive in the British Isles than over here. Once you factor in that cultural difference, the linked article seems inoffensive; it even ends on what I’d have to call an upbeat and affectionate note.

  9. RPS has lost me ages ago, no longer relevant. I would have to say Kotaku is the worst of the bunch, completely untrustworthy and biased.

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