2.27.2012

Diaries of a Gamer: Why You Shouldn't Make Fun of People Who Play MMOs

Image courtesy of battle.net
Since grade school, we've all known the basic principle behind teasing and bullying - people make fun of others because they want to feel better about themselves, or at least look better in front of their friends. I don't think the attitude behind poking fun at online gamers is any exception. Look, it's not that geeks can't take a joke. We can. There's an entire television series devoted to making fun of geeks and nerds, and that's the Big Bang Theory. It's wildly popular, and I'm a geek and I find it hilarious. And we geeks are aware that there's a reason Fry's Electronics constructs battlements of candy, energy drinks, and chips down the entire length of the checkout line - it's because some of the stereotypes about gamers are true. In online gaming especially, it isn't always possible to just "hit pause" and take a break. So, yeah, I'll say it - sometimes gamers need cheesy-puffed sustenance and caffeine within reach. It's not the healthiest of hobbies, but neither is heavy drinking or racing jet skis. So there.

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.

2 comments:

  1. To play the Devil's advocate here:

    You likened gaming interaction to talking on the phone with a friend. I am admittedly not a gamer, but I imagine that the content of those conversations is very different. While fellow gamers may be discussing strategies within the game, conversations with friends revolve around the exterior parts of that gamer's life.

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    1. Devil's advocate: You raise a valid point. My answer would be (and anyone else, feel free to weigh in) - it depends. There are usually certain servers or guilds that prefer role-playing, meaning that the players have created a background and a history for their character, and they take on that character's persona in the chat box. (I have never played an MMO this way, so that's about the extent of my knowledge on role-playing as your character.) In those situations, you're probably right - the conversation would not address the exterior parts of a gamer's life.

      However, MMOs offer a lot of activity besides fighting and raiding. You can talk about (almost) anything you want in chat. Real-life relationships have come about because of two people meeting in-game. See: "Second Skin." Guilds - especially the bigger, older ones - have gatherings in real life. Even in-game, there are meetings at certain locations, costume parties, etc. All this to say - even though conversation in chat often focuses on game play, it doesn't always.

      That being said, I don't think anyone, including me, would claim that one's life inside an MMORPG is a complete substitute for life in the physical world. Anything can be abused - alcohol, drugs, exercise, food, gambling, texting - and gaming is certainly no exception. So I think we can all agree that having no physical contact with other humans or gaming until your health and sleep cycle suffers is a bad idea.

      One of the things I really like about the "Second Skin" documentary is that it doesn't really take a side. It explains what gamers get out of playing MMOs, but it also honestly shows those gamers' struggles with their families, jobs, and other relationships.

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