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Can You Be Lonely In An MMO?

Columns By Lewis Burnell on August 01, 2016

Can You Be Lonely In An MMO?

For the first time in a long time, I find myself without a guild in not one, but two MMOs. I left my last in Guild Wars 2 before taking a break from the game, and left my curent in Black Desert Online simply because no one wanted to talk. The majority of my time in any MMO has always seen me accompanied by long-standing friends and we’ve tended to gravitate towards the next big thing as a group. Their time in Black Desert Online was sadly short lived and although we’re still in contact, a collection of issues saw them leave in their droves.

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As much as people complain about how MMO’s are no longer social or that the majority of content can be completed easily by yourself, it’s bizarre to find yourself in a situation where logging in is devoid of any ‘human’ interaction. Map chat may provide some light relief from the silence, but it’s a smattering of often random conversation that’s devoid of any real connection. The likelihood of making lasting friendships or even to just play to some content with a random stranger, is often rare. In fact, I can probably count on one hand the number of friends I’ve made in this manner over the last fifteen years.

What’s even worse about my predicament is that it’s actually proving much more difficult than I thought, just to find like minded people, nevermind a guild that suits my needs. Even something as simple as locating a European guild that uses voice communications, who have players online during the day, is seemingly impossible. I have no aversion to typing or conversing to players in Guild chat, but I’ve never seen it as an avenue to form any real friendships. Sure you can just about to get to know someone's personality through that sort of interaction, but seeing someone write “LOL” isn’t quite the same as hearing them genuinely laugh out loud.

I’ve no idea why finding a stable guild willing to communicate outside of the game world is proving so difficult but I’m acutely aware that MMOs are incredibly lonely when it’s just you, roaming the wilds. In fairness to Black Desert Online, the game is brimming with the impression of life as towns and cities are filled to bursting with NPC’s going about their daily business - more so than any other MMO. While that’s great for providing a sense that you aren’t ‘alone’, it’s still largely irrelevant if you find yourself lacking human company.

I can appreciate that many purposefully avoid Guilds or spend a great deal of time by themselves. In fact, I have several friends who love nothing more than logging in and going about their own business without the need to interact with those around them. It’s great that modern MMO’s can facilitate that sort of playstyle and yet it’s entirely at odds with what I’m seeking. In fact, just wanting to find a Guild that’s above “causal status” (i.e a group of players under one banner that sometimes talk in Guild chat) seems at odds with everyone else.

Part of why I’ve always played MMOs is because of the friendships you can make along the way. Most of my online “friends” I’ve known for years and have met up with many of them in real life on multiple occasions. They’re are (or were) a core reason as to why I enjoyed the genre so much and although we plan on moving into Crowfall together, I’m lost without them. My time with Black Desert Online and Guild Wars 2 feels totally different, to the point where - at the age of 31 - I actually need friends (I never thought I’d say that).

You’re all probably reading this thinking to yourself “Well, just go and play and you’ll make some” and yet I have been and strangely, it’s bloody difficult: perhaps it’s years of system dilution and removing the need to group that’s dulled players and their sense of companionship. I’ve lost count at the amount of groups I’ve tried to form, or players I’ve tried to contact - in an attempt to find like-minded people - only to be ignored. It’s as if I’m the minority in a genre that’s supposed to be social.

This loneliness (I suppose you could call it that) doesn’t necessarily result in me no longer enjoying the two MMOs I’m playing, but it does make both feel very different. Black Desert Online is often at it’s best when you’re simply exploring, listening to the world around you and yet for me, I still need a nucleus of friends to turn to. I have many fond memories playing this genre and the majority were formed with friends; even now, we often reminisce . It’s odd to think, then, that at this moment in time, it doesn’t feel like I can form any new memories without them - I’m simply going through the motions. Even if I did do something memorable, who would I even tell?

How important are friends to you in MMOs? Do you like to play solo? Is a Guild just an added extra or is it key for your enjoyment of the genre? Let me know. 

Lewis Burnell / The only game to have distracted Lewis away from MMOs over the last 15 years was Pokemon Red. Despite that blip, Lewis has worked his way through countless games in the genre in search of something that comes close to his much loved and long time dead, Neocron.