Community Spirit I: World of Warcraft
If my MMO life was a school report, it would say, ‘Phil shows ability but doesn’t work well with others.’ And I’d have to agree. Well, clearly I agree, that opening sentence is an admission of guilt. I prefer my own company, and that goes double in MMOs. I’m aware that to some of you it may sound idiotic to shy away from others in a multiplayer game, but I’m just built that way.
Recently, I’ve found myself between games, and by recently I mean for almost a year - I’ve just not been able to find one to stick with. Maybe part of the problem is that I don’t involve myself with the community of the games I play. It’s pretty well documented by countless players across many forums that playing with their friends was the only thing that kept them coming back to game X, Y or Z. Could be where I’m going wrong. I mean one game is pretty much like another these days. There are exceptions, but most play out in similar ways. So maybe my missing ingredient is socialisation. What I need is the right group of people to play with, and then I’ll find a reason to be that game for the long haul.
The first game on the list was World of Warcraft. If you are going to involve yourself in the community of a game, then find the game with the biggest community. More players = more chances of socialisation, right?
I have played WoW off and on recently - an evening here and there, maybe once a week or maybe less. My main character, a Night Elf rogue, had made some progress into Cataclysm and was sitting at level 82. I thought I’d start with this character as most of the population would be at or near the level cap. I logged in ready to play to ditch my old loner ways. Then I recalled why things hadn’t been going so well with this character: I was in a guild that had fractured then imploded. A lot of guys abandoned the guild due to some drama (nothing I was a part of by the way) and the remaining players had pretty much given up on the game. The guild was now sitting at 24 members, a lot of which are alts. Two of these players had logged in during the past week.
Not a good start. Chatting to my guild wasn’t going to be the way to come out of my shell. I decided I’d try a dungeon.
If you don’t know about the Dungeon Finder tool, you click the button, and select a specific or random dungeon and also a role. The game then matches you up with other players from across other servers and you are transported to the instance. A couple of clicks and a 20 minute wait – it was a slow day – and I was in.
Now I just had to be that guy who tries to make friends with every group he’s in. I started off gently.
“Hi Everyone,” I said.
A good start, but that’s just the basics. Saying ‘hi’ is a safe play. Now it was time to up the ante and try to get a real conversation going. This was the first time I had run that dungeon, so I made my apologies in advance and asked if there was anything I should know. Turns out it was everybody else’s first time too so there wasn’t much to discuss on the tactics front. Then another player wished us all a happy Easter. This was fantastic, the stuff that the social gamer’s dreams were made of. I wished them all happy Easter too. That was the end of it, nobody else spoke. The happy Easter brigade was outnumbered 3-2.
We ploughed on through the dungeon. I managed to find out where everyone was from, but nobody wanted to pursue the subject of Geography any further. Another dead end. Then after a few deaths – we were a pretty under-geared and inexperienced party – our healer left without a word. This was looking bleaker by the minute. When a replacement arrived, he had run the dungeon before and had a few pointers for us. It may not have been the much of a chat, but it was something at least. However, after downing a boss, a discussion broke out over whether our tank, a paladin, should be able to roll for need on a piece of gear for his off-spec. The healer then demanded that the item should be traded to him but got no answer. He then left the party. He did however have the decency to wait for our tank to pull a group of mobs before ditching us, causing a wipe. So far the social game was looking a bit grim; the phrase ‘hell is other people’ springs to mind.
Another healer came along and we finally downed the last boss. Normally at this point I’d leave the group possibly saying a quick thanks or bye and go about my soloing business. This time I would be the one who asked if anyone wanted to do another instance.
Silence. Then I saw that everyone had left in the time it took me to type one line.
I’ve played WoW for years and have always had a good time, but its players have a reputation for immaturity and rudeness, and I’m finding it hard to refute that. However, maybe playing with a random group wasn’t the best way to get to know people. The anonymity of the internet lets people get away with a certain level of rudeness. In many MMOs where people can’t play cross-server, being an idiot gained you a reputation. Now you can be as rude as you like and fade back into the shadows of your own realm with no repercussions. I think also that the speedy levelling curves of some games are to blame for the bad behaviour of its players. If you have spent months/years getting your character to a decent level with good gear and skill/advancement points, you are less likely to throw away your rep by alienating your peers. When games let you get to an endgame raid status in a matter of weeks, it’s easier to disregard how people see your character.
A few more random dungeons later and I wasn’t much better off. Nobody was as ignorant as some of the players from the first, but nobody really wanted to get involved in a discussion; all chat was very business-like and to the point. So I wasn’t impressed with the random dungeon experience. After all, and I’m aware that this is a very sweeping generalisation, if the people I played with were great social players, they would probably have been adventuring with their guild instead. Maybe I should do the same, maybe it was time for me to fall in with a good crowd. Maybe I’m just being overly harsh. The random dungeon tool isn’t really designed for socialisation; it’s more for players who want to level/gear up and making friends is lower on the list of priorities.
Doing random dungeons and hanging on to a defunct guild just isn’t going to cut it with the new me. After all, I’m now the guy who wants to be a somebody on the MMO scene, a face, the go-to guy. I want to log in and get a response like I was Norm walking into the Cheers bar. Does that kind of community exist in WoW?
I don’t know, but I’ll try to have fun finding out.