|Image courtesy of battle.net|
I can give you some good reasons why it probably isn't smart to make fun of online gamers, but first I need to make a disclaimer. I love to game and I love a certain MMO, but I certainly wouldn't identify myself as being among the elite. Even when I was playing LOTRO 10 hours a week, that is still considered casual gaming. I just wanted to make this clear so that the hardcore online gamers out there don't think I'm posing. Also, hopefully the fact that I am not actually among the die-hard MMO crowd will increase my credibility, since you can be sure I am not merely trying to go on the defensive or puff myself up.
Reason #1 Not To Make Fun: Someone who plays an MMO religiously is probably smarter than you. Do you know how to play chess? Are you good at it? If your answer to either of these questions is no, you probably shouldn't make fun of that quiet kid at school whom you don't know much about, but you know he plays WoW. MMOs (Massively Multiplayer Online games, for those of you who don't know), are like chess on steroids. There are usually at least a few different races to pick from when you create your character, each with different race bonuses. Then you pick a class, and even though some classes have overlapping abilities, each one is likely to have a definite forte. After you've chosen your race and class, you then embark out into the virtual world where you must discover which weapons suit your race best, which gear boosts your stats in the right areas to complement your class, and of course, the order in which to execute your earned skills depending on the fighting situation you find yourself in. If you are on a raid, you had better know the purpose your class is supposed to fulfill for your buddies, or they can get pretty frustrated. Take it from me! Have I lost you? If so, you definitely shouldn't make fun of online gamers, because the games they play are endlessly complicated and constantly changing as the programmers try to improve and fine-tune them, and that takes some serious mental capacity.
Reason #2 Not To Make Fun: You don't have to be a gamer to relate to the feeling that drives a lot of MMO or RPG fans. In the physical world, there are jobs out there where no one notices or cares how hard you work. You go in each day, do the same thing you did yesterday, and no one is really thinking about how much a promotion or raise would mean to you. In the physical world, there are the powerful and the powerless. I think all of us can relate to feeling as though we actually have very little control over our own destiny. This phenomenon simply doesn't occur in MMOs. Your choices in the game are directly related to the consequences that follow. What a rush, right? You can't charge into the office of the head honcho at your company and make him shape up, but the obstacle in front of you in an MMO can be defeated if you put your mind to it. If you put in hours and hours in your game of choice, you will gain experience, wealth, friends, property, fame, you-name-it. You can put in hours and hours at your job of choice or whatever it is in your life that makes you feel powerless, but they may or may not make any difference. Feel like signing up for WoW yet?
Reason #3 Not To Make Fun: If you know someone who is obsessed (or even very absorbed in) an online game such as World of Warcraft or Everquest or SW:TOR or Dungeons and Dragons, chances are they consider that virtual environment better than the real one. You can't claim that it's unhealthy to sit in front of a computer so long, forgoing human interaction, because MMOs are all about human interaction. There are literally quests in MMOs you cannot complete alone - they are designed that way - and many online gamers believe MMOs have gone too solo-friendly. Have you ever talked on the phone to someone? Isn't that real human interaction? Talking to people from all across the nation (or the world, for that matter) over a headset or computer speakers is different only in the sense that, in an MMO, you must coordinate and team up to accomplish what you want to accomplish. There are all kinds of gamers out there - fat, skinny, attractive, average, muscular, paralyzed, old, young, etc. - it doesn't matter what you look like on the outside, because I bet at some point in your life you wanted to look different. You wished you could pick your appearance and strengths and be able to do things that aren't possible in the world as we know it. And if you say you haven't, you're lying.
"Second Skin" the documentary
I highly recommend the documentary "Second Skin," directed by Juan Carlos Pineiro-Escoriaza. I would also recommend the reading material you can find at The Daedalus Project, a website created by Nick Yee dedicated to researching the psychology of MMOs. I think both are great resources for understanding more about the culture of MMOs.