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The Social Hub: Ask Not What Your MMO Can Do For You...

Column By Christina Gonzalez on June 24, 2013

We've spent the time here in this space talking about MMORPGs and some of the changes they have gone through over the years. We've tried to define qualities of good communities, spent time discussing roleplaying, and emphasized the development of social infrastructure as important to games, regardless of payment model. Yet, one thing has been on my mind lately with regards to our games. These relationships are often reciprocal, so when developers move toward repeatable content like dungeons, we might lose investment in social features and player events. Opinions here in this site's community and elsewhere show that changes and increased choice leave many feeling less able to find MMO 'homes' these days. I admit that this happens to me too sometimes, and while nothing can replicate the earliest experiences, there are ways to enjoy modern MMOs for what they are. That said, I'm wondering about what many who feel a little nomadic and critical of modern communities have done for an MMO community lately.

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Player-run events used to happen so often (or maybe they were just that much better publicized) that there were sometimes conflicts or guilds working together to make sure to avoid planning them on the same day. Massive parties, tournaments, and other types of gatherings felt like the norm. This often went hand in hand with roleplaying, and even though the RP community was never the majority, support in place for these events made it so they could attract even the curious mainstream community members. In essence, players banded together and created event based upon mutual interests. Though these player events do thrive in certain games (LOTRO is just one). But in order to do this, there has to be a certain feeling of investment in the game. And that's what some feel is waning. Whether it is or isn't isn't the main question I'm pondering here, and that's something that could be argued to death (obviously, there are millions of dedicated and passionate MMO players out there playing their games daily).

Let's assume that you, dear reader, have felt that communities today are worse than before, and maybe you suffer from “Get off my lawn!” syndrome). What have you done to help improve the community in your current or favorite MMO lately? Have you chatted up strangers? Planned a player event? Helped newbies with learning the ropes? Dedicated yourself to healing randoms along your way? These aren't the only ways you can contribute, of course, but are you contributing in positive ways? If we all make efforts to try and do something positive in our games today or for the next week, who knows what the outcome might be.

I've always loved to plan player events, but even I realize I haven't done one in quite some time. Among my favorite events I've planned or helped are tournaments, parties, and even a worst dressed fashion show. Thinking about this lately has made me brainstorm a little bit about doing one again. I'm not a guild admin anymore, but even a player can start small.

That said, there are ways players can have lasting impact on their communities. Tools like the Foundry in games like Star Trek Online and Neverwinter let players build their own missions, and there can be lots of creative freedom and ways to use these player tools to create something positive that others can play and enjoy. And there are still player events happening in MMORPGs. If someone is in need, a community will often gather to help, such as when the EverQuest II community opened its arms to create an enormous house for Ribbitribbitt, a dying six-year old boy. There's now an annual Ribbitribbit day event.

And while that warms our hearts, it also serves to remind us all that behind these avatars and in front of these screens, we're all people. And sometimes a little positivity, a gesture, or even holding yourself back from making a rude or overly competitive gesture or saying something in anger, can all leave our communities a little better than yesterday.

Call me an idealist, but even though these are virtual spaces, saying a community is lacking or could use improvement is one thing, but acting in some way to improve it is putting your own effort into improving it. And in those cases where perhaps your affinity for your game, or ANY game has waned, maybe try some positive efforts if you haven't in a while. One act alone won't bring back the time when there were few MMOs and these were new spaces in our lives, but it might contribute to making that day a little better. Wishing certain circumstances might improve is only half the picture. And if you’ve got stories of positivity, then by all means, share your ideas.

Christina is a freelancer and contributor to MMORPG.com, where she writes the community-focused Social Hub column. You will also find her at RTSGuru as the site's Associate Editor and news writer. Follow her on Twitter: @c_gonzalez


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