NOOB The future of Elitism
Online gaming has arguably changed dramatically in the last twenty years, it’s constantly evolving user base growing exponentially since it’s early years of 56k dial up modems and early DSL connections. With this change have come many amazing conveniences and luxuries, alongside more than enough problems and pitfalls.
None of the places online have seen as much publicity for their problems as Social Media recently. Many of the Problems in social media sites like Twitter and Facebook have been related to types of antisocial behaviour, such as Bullying and generally what is known as “Trolling” people. Trolling can be anything from causing a minor annoyance to someone to generally pursuing someone in an offensive way until that person either leaves or worse.
With more and more things becoming electronic and more people jumping online than ever before, it’s clear there will be many problems they will face, cyber bullying, identity theft, grooming and many others. The focus of this essay however is on the social problems that can arise within the world of Massively Multiplayer Online games, or MMOs for short. MMOs have grown as a genre in gaming since the early nineties of Everquest and Ultima Online, with the advent of World of Warcraft making what was once an almost barely heard of type of game into something that nearly every franchise is throwing out for the masses now.
In some ways this has divided the player base slightly, with a very small amount of the original MMO players getting very precious over the games they see as theirs. This can be seen as leading to a form of elitism that almost harks back to the days of gentleman’s clubs and divided beaches for racial demographics, a dangerous mindset that can cause some to be obnoxious to those new to the game, much like how women can be treated within many gaming environments still. These players can also be very unaccepting of not only changes in player base, but also changes and in some ways improvements to the game itself. This Type of elitism however is thankfully becoming less of a problem as more people of wider more diverse backgrounds and lifestyles are picking up swords and casting spells within MMO worlds.
When asked many players were very accepting of changes that made it easier for new players, as long as those changes don’t take away the challenge of the game. And although when games like Warcraft updated it’s player character models the forums became incredibly acerbic places, many people, when asked where in favour of character model and graphics improvements. In fact many people are happy with change as long as it doesn’t take away any kind of customisation or immersion from the game world.
There is however a downside to MMO worlds alongside the downside of immersion in an online world itself. In 1995 the Author Sherry Turkle wrote a book about socialising online Called “Life on the Screen” which at the time was incredibly optimistic about the possibilities of online socialising and the freedom promised by online identity. Turkle argued that, people were using the Web to experiment, ‘trying on’ personalities like pieces of clothing. As one online user told her, “You are who you pretend to be.” (Turkle, 1995) This in some ways can relate to gaming as a whole, but definitely plays a role in MMOs. Many people play them for escapism rather than any other reason, even more so than being the hero or to experience great story telling.
The optimism of the early nineties however has been stripped away in Sherry Turkle’s more recent book “Alone Together” (2011). Sherry Turkle now describes the online world as more of a ball and chain or a trap that tethers us to electronic devices such as mobile phones, computers and tablets. Summed up with a line that breathes many truths that relate in many ways to how many online gamers and gamers in general can become, “We expect more from technology and less from each other.” (Turkle, 2011) This is a view that is also very apparent in Michael Harris’ 2014 book, “The end of Absence”, which states that soon enough, nobody will remember life before the Internet. All of this can have a huge effect on a person’s social life outside the games that we immerse ourselves in, with people becoming more concerned with the appearence of the characters they create and the deeds that they take part in, than real world socialisation, relationships, work and in some cases eating, drinking and personal hygiene. The most dangerous of all these though is the very thing that Sherry Turkle and many others admired during the rise of the internet, the freedom of Online Identity. The anonymity and lack of real world laws that online games have, can allow serious abuse such as racism or lecherous and sexist treatment of others which can many times go unpunished in many MMOs. A player can get a weekend ban, or a slap on the wrist by a games master. However many crimes involving antisocial behaviour or bullying that happen in online games tend to get overlooked. Without real world rules, people use this new found freedom to harass and ruin fun for others, also the almost dehumanised view people can have of others online can take away the face of the victim in some ways, as Turkle states about the online world we have, “invented ways of being with people that turn them into something close to objects.” (Turkle, 2011). The worrying side of this could also be seen as a kind of depersonalization syndrome; seeing things in the real world as not real alongside the unreality that is the game a player is immersed in. This is much like the way some gamers have ignored real life to the detriment of themselves and others, dying at the Keyboard in Everquest and abandoning a real life child to raise an in game child in Prius online.
With the incorporation of more and more features into many MMOs however, many of these incidents can now be avoided with options to block players and new systems for reporting abuse. There have even been suggestions recently of IP blocking particularly nasty abusers, mainly for social media, but that could always be incorporated into game servers too. The human side of the MMO experience is not all bad though. A large percentage of players predominantly hate the type of players that actively try to ruin others experience of the game they love, not only does that kind of behaviour upset the victim but it also damages the game as a whole. Bad experiences in game can have a huge influence on a games popularity by word of mouth alone, if many people are bullied out of a game or find the community of the game unfriendly they may not only leave but may put others off playing it. Developers need to take this into account and make sure they are protecting these players if they want to protect their assets also.
In many ways online worlds can be a strange reflection of reality, whether we like it or not the choices we make in MMOs do have an effect on other real people. Unlike an offline game of grand theft auto where players can run down an old lady and say “it’s just a character in the game”, shouting at a player for not doing the right movement in a boss fight and belittling them is something that in the real world would make you an unpopular person. As well as viewing people’s gear and items, and considering them less than yourself, much like the class systems of old. Many players when asked about gearsets and mistakes made in games by other players agree that they are not too bothered, it seems only a small amount of players actually care and many wouldn’t mind if games made it easy for players of all levels and skill to play in end game content together. In fact many games have incorporated ways to integrate the newer players into the same content that the veteran players are enjoying. City of Heroes had the sidekick system, Final Fantasy XIV has a similar level sync system, and Guild Wars made the areas scale down the level of the player to that level so experienced players could help friends that had only just joined. Alongside that, Guild Wars 2 has recently announced that in game progression will change at level 80 in their new expansion, trying out a new way of horizontal progression which relies on completing story and exploring the world, rather than grinding experience and leveling up. these can of course be unpopular, especially as many players love the feeling of gearing up and increasing a characters status in the world, much like climbing a social ladder in the real world, ‘keeping up with the Jones’’.
However, MMOs are finding it harder and harder to keep player numbers high, with people rushing to end game content and getting bored easily. This can lead to an almost race like play style to the game, with players focusing on trying to keep up with friends rather than enjoying the content for what it is. This kind of pressure can lead to another form of antisocial behaviour where many players can end up being forced to play set minimum hours for play per day or week, turning what is a game into something more akin to a Job. Players when asked about whether playing a minimum of 8 hours a day was important, mostly said they were mostly not bothered however mostly prefering to play the game their way, with very few players thinking it was important. So maybe the future of play in online will be less about how many hours a person puts in a more about how the player experience unfolds for the time you are online, whether that be three hours or thirty minutes. Most people prefer that everyone enjoys themselves and tries their best instead of working to set routines and putting in the time.
Of course as with any tool, toy or gadget, we all have the power to turn these things off or even use them in social and meaningful ways. Not everything is doom and gloom, the online worlds we inhabit are neither Utopian or Distopian. These worlds are what we as players make them, whether that be good or bad. Many people when asked if they experienced abuse or a bad time due to other players in a game were not bothered or would only say maybe when asked whether they would leave the game or not, with only a small minority saying they would quit the game. It’s sometimes easier for some than others to shrug off or even deal with such behaviour but it seems the majority will try to make things work even with problems. In some ways Guilds or groups of friends will actually seek out and administer justice within games, in fact games such as Archage even with it’s many flaws had an in-depth criminal justice system that punished bad behavior with in game jail time that was administered by a selected player-based jury. Of course the criminal had to be captured by guards first, but it served as a warning of sorts for those that lived in a game that also incorporates piracy.
The Future of being the noob in the MMO world actually seems rather mixed, in some ways there will always be problems as bad people can make problems in even the most tolerant situations. making class systems and rules of thumb that they try to force on others, tormenting or just making trouble out of nothing. But much like the real world that they mirror, they will evolve with the help of those that want to make games a better place. As with the real world it can almost be impossible to predict, but from the research presented so far, the future is definitely more optimistic than at first glance
Sherry Turkle (2011). Alone Together. New York: Basic Books. ,.
Michael Harris (2014). The end of Absence. UK: Penguine. ,.