This column could have also been titled “How to Foster Healthier Competition”. When it comes to MMO communities, (and those of many other online games, let's face it) there's sometimes a feeling of 'us' against them that unfolds. We see it all over the internet too, including in popular community discussions here with debates over PvP and what degree should be in a game, what 'consent' means, and more. With a wider variety of genres than ever, and a rise in user-generated content, one might think that the feeling that MMOs aren't serving you or your particular play style would be a rare occasion.
I'm not really much of a PvPer, but I could be. There are many aspects I enjoy, like helping my friends out in competition and going up against groups together. Yet, in many games, more often than not, there are barriers to my participation and success. I think there are more out there like myself, and among PvPers, maybe we just get a bad rap, but there are things we can all do to create a more fun environment. I don't want to solo, and I prefer a system where I can attack someone and flag myself rather than a completely open one. One, it's a little friendlier to players in general, because it gives everyone a choice whether to open up to being attacked or to voluntarily flag themselves. PvP on one's own terms isn't necessarily a bad thing for competition or community cohesiveness.
I'm an explorer and admit to not being very good at PvP. Sometimes I get lucky and sometimes I can string something together, take out a player or maybe two , but my skills haven't really developed that well over the years for a couple of reasons. One of the inherent problems in any competitive online game is the variation in player skill. This is one of the roots for people raging online across multiple genres. When you're playing a game it's an investment of time, whether it's five minutes, twenty, or an hour and you want that time to feel fulfilling and well-spent. When you are playing with unskilled or less-skilled players, you might feel like you're carrying their dead weight and maybe even losing because of it. But from the point of view of the less-skilled player, being expected to know the intricacies straight off or risk constant blame, or being the subject of a rage attack, isn't much fun either. I've personally wanted to learn to better my PvP skills on a number of occasions. If someone is obviously bad or new, lay off. I truly wanted to learn, but when I'd get picked off rapidly after respawn, there was almost no time before my face was eating dirt again. It just frustrated me to the point of participating less and less or not at all. I doubt I'm the only one.
People often complain about “carebears” and call people cowardly for not wanting to play in open PvP environments, but there are some clear reasons for that. How this applies to the community should start to be obvious by now. If you're someone who enjoys PvP and wants to encourage others to participate in PvP, you're going to sometimes have to accept that people less skilled than you will 'ruin' your game on occasion. It would also benefit the community if you, as a skilled PvPer, were willing to help out and maybe mentor someone else. With some games these days, you don't even have to be formally grouped up to work together and these incremental things can simply hurt this entire aspect. Games like Guild Wars 2 with WvW have tried to bring a group dynamic into PvP, but with the one big group mentality and the lack of need to actually group up in order to participate, and the large maps, it's easy to get separated from your group and flattened.
It's okay to lose and to die in a game. I think many of us grew up playing competitive games with one another. If you were tagged or found or caught moving, you were out. Yeah, it sucked, but you survived to play another day with your friends. It's the same here. So-called “carebears” aren't afraid, nor are they cowardly, they just want to have a good time like everyone else, and sometimes that even includes PvP. But the hostility and the all too serious attitude some people take can be frustrating. Facing the rage of others for not knowing how to do something or to not be able to carry your weight immediately drives people away from participating. And it drives people who might otherwise enjoy some healthy competition from ever bothering. Mechanics like a lack of brackets don't help either, because when anyone can attack someone of any other level, it leads to griefing. But that's a discussion for another day.
So, PvPers, maybe take someone under your wing and make peace with carrying others for a bit. PvP newbies, try to observe and even read up on mechanics and try to put effort into learning those skills. I guess I’m on a slight positivity bent lately, but often the gap to cross isn’t the gulf many perceive it as. The mechanics may favor the more skilled, but if those who care about PvP really want to foster PvP, stepping into a more mentor-like role might be one way of doing that without alienating others in the community who might otherwise deem it not worth it or a frustrating experience. Drawing people who might not feel welcome into the fold might go a long way toward making PvP a more accessible and viable feature among many mainstream or more casual players.
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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