Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Problem with MMOs

Today, I want to broadcast that I love my guild. Having a good guild makes all the difference in the world, especially when there seems to be a lot of general malaise out there right now. Now, I'll be the first to admit that I really lucked into my current situation. We started out with a big guild, and just happened to be able to find 10-15 people that share our goals and outlook on life and gaming.

It's nice when you get that group of people that play "the same." There are minor differences, sure, but sharing goals helps that. We all want to "get there," and there is the same place. We go about it different ways, and we respect that about each other. Like any family, we sometimes have scuffles or complain about each other to each other, but I don't think any of us ever really seriously contemplate leaving. We know we've got it good, in the grand scheme of things. We've been around enough to know what else is out there.

And what a difference that makes! If you're willing to sacrifice things like progression speed or guild perks. If you're okay with being part of a family and having to sometimes put your selfish desires into a group perspective. If, in short, playing with people you care about is more important than what exactly you're playing. Well, then you too can find a home in MMO gaming.

I don't angst about leaving the game, or quitting, or the Next Big Thing, precisely because I know that here, I'm home. I'll go where these people, my friends, go. I have the freedom to try things on my own, and I've done that. I don't feel like I'm missing out. I can also step back and do things outside of the virtual world for a while. If they need me, they'll call me. And I'll be there.

In my eyes, our group represents the idea MMO experience. We don't really have "balance" issues with real life. We make the most of our hobby time. We don't have a lot of drama. Certainly not any more than any RL group of friends (and often less). At some point, if you truly want to have a "group of friends," you have to let go of selfish things and be an adult. I don't care if you're paying $15/mo for the pleasure, or $5/beer at the bar, or $40/person to be on the bowling team. People have paid to be a part of things for decades and it hasn't ever before entitled you to a good experience.

It has, however, entitled you to think like there actually being pins at the bowling alley, or that the beer isn't completely stale... but that's a different point in the analogy that I'm not going to touch here. I'm talking more about the social aspect of MMO's, and how I feel like a lot of people have really lost sight of what being "social" entails. Being a good friend, being successful in social circles... it's not simple. It's not something you can just "log onto" whenever you feel like it and expect to work for you.

MMOs aren't broken. People are broken. I really enjoy the writing of Dean Koontz, and one of my favorite excepts from his Odd Thomas series includes the following:
While Carla brought another chair out of the restaurant, put it next to mine, sat down, and fussed over me, Wyatt used the Police Ban radio to order an ambulance. When he returned I said, “Sir? You know what’s wrong with humanity?”

“Plenty,” he said.

“The greatest gift we were given was our free will and we keep misusing it.”

“Don’t worry your self with that now,” Carla advised me.

“You know what’s wrong with nature,” I asked her “with all its poisoned plants, predatory animals, earthquakes, and floods?”

“You’re upsetting yourself, sweetie.”

“When we envied—when we killed for what we envied, we fell. And when we fell, we broke the whole shebang; nature, too.”

A kitchen worker whom I knew who had worked part time at the grill, Manuel Nunez, arrived with a fresh beer.

“I don’t think he should have that,” Carla worried.

Taking the beer from him I said, “Manuel, how you doing?”

“Looks like better than you.”

“I was just dead for a while, that’s all. Manuel, do you know what’s wrong with cosmic time as we know it, which steals everything from us?”

“Isn’t it spring forward and fall back?” Manuel asked, thinking we were talking about Daylight savings time.

“When we fell and broke,” I said, “we broke nature, too. And when we broke nature, we broke time.”

“Is that from Star Trek?” Manuel asked.

“Probably, but it’s true.”

“I like that show. It helped me learn English.”

“You speak it well,” I told him.

“I had a brogue for a while because I got so into Scotty’s character,” Manuel said.

“Once there were no predators, no prey, only harmony. There were no quakes, no storms: everything in balance. In the beginning time was all at once and forever; no past, present, and future; no death. We broke it all.”

Chief Porter tried to take the Heineken from me. I held on to it.

“Sir, do you know what sucks the worst about the human condition?”

Bill Burton said, “Taxes?”

“It’s even worse than that,” I told him.

Manuel said, “Gasoline costs too much, and low mortgage rates are gone.”

“What sucks the worst is this world was a gift to us and we broke it. And part of the deal is that if we want things right, we have to fix it ourselves. But we can’t. We try, but we can’t.”

I started to cry. The tears surprised me. I thought I was done with tears for the duration.

Manuel put a hand on my shoulder and said, “Maybe we can fix it, Odd. You know, maybe.”

I shook my head, “No. We’re broken. A broken thing can’t fix itself.”
(From Forever Odd by Dean Koontz; Full Disclaimer: I'm not associated with Mr. Koontz in any way, shape or form, nor do I get anything from relating this excerpt.)

I love that batch of dialog. To me it neatly summarizes a part of the human condition with some clever humor thrown in. It's sad, yet at the same time highlights a struggle that I believe can be found at the very core of any group of people. We're all, essentially, broken. We have faults and failings. To err is human. And no amount of effort on our part is ever going to fix all of what is wrong with us (nor, in my opinion, should we strive for that).

The magic, then, is in the fact that we can try. We're only ever as good as the attempts we make at creating bonds and connections. Any MMO is inherently bound by this simple fact. Any guild is bound by this fact. Any social group or activity is bound by this fact.

We can decry the failings of MMOs and the internet a thousand times over, but what it all boils down to is that they are run and populated by humans. And humans are flawed beings by nature. Both our bane and our brilliance can be found in our dissatisfaction with simply being. We are always going to want more, bigger, better.

The cool part is that, if we only apply ourselves enough, we can get there.

Elitism, entitlement, trolling. These are are exhibits of our human nature. No developer is going to be able to overcome it. We can only hope to offset it by doing enough in the other direction.

So, next time you find yourself frustrated, you might want to ask yourself: Are you striving to find a solution, or are you simply contributing to the problem?

MMOs will first and foremost be about the people. Always. Find a group that strives, and you've found a home. You will, however, have to put yourself second from time to time. That's just sort of how this whole social thing works.


  1. Chalk this one up to catharsis. Sorry if it comes off preachy.

    Also, sorry for the unfinished publication for those reading in a reader (not that you're going to see this comment). I hit cntrl-p instead of shift-p. I hate it when that happens. :-)

  2. Furthermore, inherent failing of a writer: Rants tend to be poorly proofread for dumb errors.

    Found a few that I fixed.

    A downside to having a feed is that those will forever be public failures. Such is the life of a blogger though. I'M BORKED!

  3. Poor borked Ful! :)

    I agree with you.

    I could go off on why, but it is much easier to say that I agree.

  4. Dang it need a warning to have acohol available when reading it.. You really want us to read soemthing that heavy in the middle of the week


  5. Oh Jess is going to be very upset with me for the above sentence and spelling