Monday, July 27, 2015

MMO Breakfast Club

Keen had another post up a while ago, in which he bemoaned the state of the MMO nation, as he often does. It generated an interesting comment thread that demonstrated something we probably all realize but don't acknowledge often enough: not everyone thinks the same way we do.

Wikipedia defines the Echo Chamber Effect as "a situation in which information, ideas, or beliefs are amplified or reinforced by transmission and repetition inside an "enclosed" system, where different or competing views are censored, disallowed or otherwise underrepresented". MMORPGs, in common with most hobbies, are rife with echo chambers: your guild, your friends list, your choice of game, your RSS feed, they all tend to put up a wall of reflection, bouncing your own perceptions back at you.

Sometimes they return distorted, warped, off-kilter but almost always recognizable, cousins to the original thoughts or feelings. When truly alien opinions and attitudes attempt to insinuate themselves the tools are ready to hand - /block, /ignore, guild kick or disband, remove from feed. It's so easy to hear only what you expect to hear, what you want to hear.

We refine our Filter Bubbles until the world conforms to the way we think it should and when we can't do that we retreat into silos. The exact definition of last year's most infuriating business meme, Silo Mentality, may not be an exact fit but something very similar is going on when we huddle together in our separate cliques - raiders, pvpers, crafters, casuals, carebears, each at best ignoring, sometimes opposing or resenting, the others.

"Comfort Zone" is a another glib turn of phrase guaranteed to spark static with me. As soon as I see it employed to further an argument my fur bristles. My instinctive reaction is to counter or close down any discussion that sees being comfortable as a negative. I love being comfortable. If I didn't then I wouldn't be comfortable, would I? It's a recursive, self-defeating argument.

Then there's "Challenge": that's a buzzword that grates. I read it as "Threat" and who wants to be threatened? And yet, get away from the false language and maybe there's something underneath that has substance.

It was reading horror stories of ganking in Ultima Online that decided me on Everquest as my first MMORPG. I never thought then that I'd end up spending a significant portion of my play time cackling gleefully as I pounced on some other player's hapless character with determined intent to send him back to his spawn point cursing me. I did, though. I do. And when it happens to me, as it very often does, I shrug, brush off the dust and carry on. There's no fear in it any more. Sometimes it's even fun.

For years I disliked crafting in MMORPGs so intently I thought it should be banned. My AD&D group never wasted a session knitting chainmail vests. If we wanted armor we killed someone who was wearing it or looted some ancient crypt or temple and bought what we needed with the treasure we hauled away in our portable hole. Crafting? That was something NPCs did. These days if an MMORPG doesn't have a rewarding and/or interesting crafting system I wonder how it dares call itself an MMORPG at all.

Even dungeons, that great staple of the genre, once seemed to me to be something for other people, not anything I'd ever experience. There was that whole "indoor/outdoor" thing, now long-forgotten, going on in Everquest back when I first started. Only hardcore players dared to travel the depths of Guk or Solusek's Eye. The rest of us, lightweights that we were, scratched our living on the surface, where you could run to a zoneline at need. The barrier to entry between the regular leveling game and Dungeoneering wasn't much lower than the wall that sprang up to separate raiding from the rest of the game a year or two later. You knew your place back then.

As the months and years rolled on my interest in the hobby grew in both breadth and depth. I wanted to play all the games. I wanted to try all the things. Some stuck, some didn't. Dungeons opened up for me and although I probably never gave raiding a fair chance I did at least get to see enough to decide it wasn't for me. I'm never going to have the patience or dedication to be more than a dilettante decorator but it turns out that I actually quite like jumping puzzles and I'm not terrible at them either. And on it goes.

In the end I do like my comfort and I don't particularly want to be "challenged" but there's a vast hinterland between dozing in an armchair by the fireplace and poling a dugout canoe up the Orinoco. It's not entirely true that you never know what you'll like unless you try it because we can all extrapolate from our experiences but it's surprising what catches your eye when you raise your head and look over the walls.

To some extent I'm in my own filter bubble, of course, surrounding myself with positive bloggers who still love MMOs, but that's why I also value the burnouts, the cynics, the bitter vets, or at least those who still care enough to make their cases for why the hobby's gone all to hell these days. It's tempting to close out some of those uncomfortable voices but often they're saying something that casts a shadow that brings out a detail the rainbow-hued light of positivity failed to reveal.

Just let's not expect any miraculous makeovers or sudden conversions. They're kind of creepy, anyway.


  1. I like Keen's answer to your comment. "You are clearly a minority,you play GW2".

    I mean it is only one of the biggest MMOs out there.
    If you played WoW you would also be the minority that stuck with it.

    We are all minorities these days in the MMO world.


    The best MMORPGs are those that are never released and can be shaped in our minds to fit our own idea of fun and everyone one in the world would play. How could they not?

    1. Dream MMOs sparkle like fairy dust in the imagination but tarnish like fairy gold if they ever see the light of day. Then it's on to the next dream and the dream after that...

  2. These days, I read some blogs and I chuckle at some of the statements made. There's people wishing for less toxic communities, less level shenanigans that prevent you from playing with your friends, less stress on gear stats, more experimenting with social structures besides the one static raiding guild, etc...

    And all I feel like doing is writing "LOL, there are ALREADY games out there doing those experiments. You're just not playing them to realize that they're doing that!"

    Are they perfect experiments? No, but there definitely are games out there trying different spins on the same old thing, and there various bloggers sit in their little bubble bemoaning the same old stuff.

    Then I get a burst of sanity and desist from commenting to people content with their ignorance and go play another one of said games instead.

    1. Brad McQuaid's opus that's going the rounds at the moment is full of good observations but perhaps my favorite is this:

      "I also see a lot of posts ... trying to figure out or design a single MMO that could appeal to both of these disagreeing groups [solo vs social]. I respect that, but also think it's really unnecessary, a problem not worth solving and likely unsolvable".

      He's right. It's both an impossible dream and a pointless one. Trying to square these circles will never satisfy anyone who wanted one extreme or the other. It's another horse we kicked to death long ago and now we're all standing around the corpse, trying to stand it up while all around us fresh horses gallop by. Just pick one and ride!

    2. Off Topic question.

      You on a blog break Jeromai?

    3. Yes. Meaning to get back to it, but just got sidetrekked this week by another one of those dozens of varying MMOs out there.

      Back on topic: Seriously, I don't get it. One can see a ton of people happy in FFXIV (I hope I got that roman numeral right.) They have holy trinity, standard raid progression, alongside a supposedly fantastic story, constant updates (so jealous, where's mah fortnightly update already) and modernized-improved social structures like linkshells, reputation systems in their dungeons and what not. They also accept weaknesses like level restrictions, lots of group-only content, and so on.

      Hate those weaknesses like me? GW2 is the antithesis of that. We accept: an agonizingly long wait for the expansion / constant explosions of really inconsistent probably-buggy but occasionally really-inspired innovative content, the gold-centric nature of its economy, unsoweiter.

      Don't like either? There's TESO, Marvel Heroes, SWTOR, EQ2, EQ1, Rift, Trove, Skyforge, Eve Online, World of Tanks, World of Warplanes, (are they at World of Warships yet?), oh yes, World of Warcraft, Warframe, TSW, Path of Exile, Diablo 3, immense amounts of MOBAs, several gazillion FFA PvP sandboxes on Steam (including some with dinosaurs and zombies and pre-set penis sizes) and that's just off the top of my head.

      Some you can play solo and do well. Some pretty much force you to have a group to do well. Some you can be a carebear. Some you get to gank people. You can follow the crowd to the next latest and greatest thing to hit Twitch or other social media, or you can go it alone in the most deserted of places (I hear ATITD and various MUDs are still running.)

      How exactly are people not finding a game that suits them?

      I guess their favorite game is simply, "Complain about the ailing state of MMOs on blogs."

    4. Sidenote: Yes, World of Warships is in Open Beta now.

      I'm in a kinda of odd position here where I can see that MMOs are on a decline from where they were.. but it's more like the sploosh of water when you drop it out of the bucket. It doesn't go away, it just spreads and leaves lots of little puddles.

      However, I also recognise that there are literally HUNDREDS of MMOs out there, and if one doesn't grab me, I can play another. So this has turned me into a bit of a game hopper and I'm trying to focus myself more but it works. And there are some gems out there.The indie MMO scene is making strides, in fact, and I look forward to seeing where some of these smaller titles go. Friends not joining you? That's cool, there are always other guilds and friends have forums, Twitter, blogs..

      Also? I like my comfort zone. I recognise it's there, and I step out of it where I need to, but I wish to avoid things that leave me angry or upset when it comes to my free time. Life sucks, quite often, so it's NICE to be in a comfort zone when you're spending time gaming and relaxing. So long as you recognise exactly where you are.

    5. If they'd called it The Boredom Zone or The Stagnant Zone then I'd be all for leaving as fast as possible but The Comfort Zone sounds like exactly the place I'd want to set up home and stay forever!

  3. I started reading Keen when I first realized there were gaming blogs to read... I lasted about a week. Keen's negativity was too aggravating. I wanted to find others who were passionate about gaming, and could both criticize and praise them. Keen wasn't passionate, he was just jaded, like an ex that just couldn't move on.

    1. When I began reading Keen&Graev the main criticism of the blog appeared to be that Keen was too passionate, too gung-ho about every new mmo, too easily excited. He would jump on every new release as though it was going to be the greatest thing ever and then jump off again when it didn't meet his expectations. That's how he came to coin the term three-monther, which had a vogue beyond his blog for a while but now seems to have gone out of fashion as a pejorative since new MMOs that hold their original audience for as long as three months have become something of a rarity.

      I think it's admirable in some ways that he (still) expects so much more from the genre than it seems prepared to give him but such high (and specific) expectations are a recipe for perpetual disappointment. It reminds me an awful lot of the way original 70s punks used to feel when the New Romantics took over. Personally I'd rather take the pass and run with it.

  4. I grinned at the use of the term "filter bubble". DuckDuckGo fan for years right here!


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