Sunday, March 21, 2010

Are MMOs potentially as social as table top games?

Alright I've been hearing people out there on this series of tubes claim that MMOs can be as social as face to face gaming. I feel compelled to discuss this and generally take an offensive urination on this assertion.  People do say that one can be "just as sociable" as one can with face to face games ... via WoW ... you hear it as justification by MMO players all the time. Having played, raided, PVP'd, power-lvl'd, yada yada for years (again before I came to my senses) in various MMOs from Ultima Online to World of Warcraft to Lord of the Rings Online to Warhammer Online (hell I have even played Second Life for a few weeks). 

In my experience  I can unequivocally say that is a very big exaggeration. For example in WoW you can interact with players via a very poor in game voice chat system or by using a third party application like ventrilo, skype, etc. which most people do. Most reasonably sized guilds have a ventrilo server with an open channel or two for chat. But that is it ... the "social" people get is like a chat room on the internet, sometimes with a voice chat option. How is in any sense of reality ... that as social as ANY real face to face game. That is normal human social interaction. A chat room is NOT normal human interaction ... its the worst kind of bubble to live in and I hate it. There have been some detailed full on scholarly studies that have come to similar conclusions (Sherry Turkle and Richard Bartle have both conducted some groundbreaking research on this stuff) regarding social interaction in MMOs ... if your interested just do a google search.

Lets talk face to face gaming ... I know this entire post is simply stating the obvious (as most of my posts ... lol). but seriously it seems that in this case for many people playing MMOs hardcore ... this isn't that obvious. In face to face gaming of any kind you have to do what we humans are best at, what we humans need more than anything ... be social. There are many anti-social folks out there though ... many people who are shy, embarrassed, nervous of meeting other people and for those reasons alone live a lonely life where they are essentially pretending to be social via the internet. I'm not saying all WoW players do that ... again I played MMOs and I'm many things ... but anti-social is not one of them. I'm a loud, boisterous person who has to have group interaction to survive ... and in addition to having an active non-gaming related social life since 2000 I've had a continuous face to face gaming group of some kind (with about a six month exception due to a move). My current gaming includes 3 weekly RPG games (mostly different groups comprised of about 12 to 15 players) and various board game nights, etc. I've started a gaming club (Wasatch Gamers Club) so I can find even more local gamers and help our local community. Really I wish people who are in the "anti-social" category realized how easy it is to just get out there and find people to game/hike/collect rocks/discuss 11th century wine making/*insert activity of ones choice here* ... with.

I mean you have to clean yourself up a bit right, get in your car (or for you lucky Europeans ... take some cool mode of mass transit) drive to the gaming location. Go in talk to other humans in a face to face fashion ... perhaps even eat dinner with the group. The benefit of this is you get normal human face to face interaction ... over time you form friendships with the people you game with and then you don't just have to game with them. Oh sure there are risks ... for example I tend to host ... I've had a few bad game group members over the years. I've had a loaded gun dropped on my garage floor by a drunk game group member who apparently had it tucked in the back of his pants. I've had someone leave the little airline bottles of booze in my front room only to discover them the next day (I have small children .. had one of them got ahold of it ... it could have been bad), I've had a minor theft or two occur.  I've even had someone toking away in my bathroom (I am not against the use of cannabis per say .. heck I think it should be legal ... BUT ... I don't use it and would want someone to ask before firing it up in my house).

So ya ... I've hosted gaming for ten years running and I've had well over 300 people cycle through my gaming groups at times I've had 20 people over on Friday and Saturday evenings ... a group doing an RPG in one room ... mini games in the rec room and a board game at the kitchen table.  I'm not citing this stuff as a brag ... many non-gamer friends and family members think its kind of crazy ... I mention it as reference to A) my experience with forming social gaming groups and B) to demonstrate how easy it is (hell if I can do it anyone can). I think the fun and awesomeness I've gotten out of it has so far outweighed any bad. Many of the people I've met along the way have become life long friends whom have truly become family. Most of the game group members remain more acquaintances than friends ... but that is totally ok with me. You play a board game or do some RPGing with someone a couple times a month ... you don't have to like them or have things in common with them and yet you can still have fun. There are so many cool and wonderful experiences I've had thanks to face to face gaming ... that I will always remember. I can't say the same thing about MMOs ... I've done things in MMOs ... achieved very difficult things within the games themselves ... but I really am not proud of that and really feel like that was a waste of time. Its sort of embarrassing really to even admit that I did play MMOs so extensively.

Now does this mean I will never play another MMO as long as I live? Or that anyone who does play MMOs is an idiot or a deviant of some kind? NO and NO. That genre of game is here to stay and clearly is a large part of the future of video games and virtual interaction. I will undoubtedly take the plunge again at some point in the future ... but what I will not do is ever let my own  life in general (including gaming)... suffer as a result of playing any type of video game. If everyone who played MMOs would make that same vow and stick to it ... the world of reality ... would be a better place.

Down with MMOs and up with FACE TO FACE games of all kindsViva La RevoluciĆ³n!!


Bodlar said...

LOE, I couldn't agree more. All of your assertions are entirely true. One thing you are completely missing about the MMO experience is the level of anonymity it brings. Every one has social fears or stigmas at play and being in a social setting is difficult for people who are good at it and nerve wracking for people that are bad at it. The reason MMO's hold such a draw is the fact that you still get some level of social interaction + limitless anonymity. Therefore you can do and say what ever you want without fear of recourse, good or bad. You can do and say what ever you want in a virtual environment but in a real social setting very few would call a stranger a cumguzzling faggot to their face. To put it another way many males have trouble talking with the opposite sex, but in a vitrual environment it removes the fear of rejection. In a virtual environment even though we know there are real people on the other side of your screen there is a massive disconnect.

I agree MMO's are here to stay, and every one just has to make it through that phase that I felt with EQ and then you find a healthy place to put them and realize just how false they can be. After that MMO's can be played in a healthy manner.

I am working on my pen and paper game again and have put truckloads of thought in how to innovate the genre. We should talk sometime I think your feedback would be helpful.

The Lord of Excess said...

Good point about the anonymity of MMOs and really the internet in general. As for the game for sure man ... I know it would be a trek for you but your invited to the first annual LARRYCON 2010. Memorial day weekend ... several old vegas crew members are coming up and combined with my Utah gaming group we are going to run constant gaming con style (4 hour slots) for the entire weekend. Obviously its going to be con-like ... cheaper as everyone is crashing at my house ... and more free form. But we have enough players to probably have two or three games going the entire time from Friday afternoon to late Sunday evening.

Will said...

I like this bit of discussion because it highlights one of the key problems ive always had with video games and MMOS in general. I have found that no matter how promising those pastimes were for creating an enjoyable experience, what was always missing was the real presence of another personality(s), or even better, other potentially great minds to pit yourself against and team up with in real time. No matter how much I thought any game was going to make getting a group together easier, I was always disappointed. The garage experience has forever spoiled me on games as the premier way to play with friends, given that recruitment outings occur once and awhile of course :)