I have been having issues lately with the communities that are in these MMOs that we all play. Namely, it’s been very hard for me to avoid the creme de-la-creme, the bullies, those that consider themselves the saviors of gaming: the elitists. In general, I tend to avoid them like the plague, but lately it seems I can’t avoid them, and I seem to be encountering them at every turn, even to the point where I find myself reticent to post an update for fear of elitist retribution. Fear.
Fun fact: I don’t accept fear. I approach fear as just another obstacle to overcome. I had a fear of heights once. To get over it, I went skydiving. Is there a better way to deal with a fear, any fear, then bringing it out into the light and squashing it where it stands? I don’t think there is, so instead of running away, I want to shine a big spotlight and delve into this issue: namely, dealing with the elitism we find in MMOs.
First, lets define this gaming elitism. A good starting definition of Elitism:
Now, let’s think about the different types of gamers that we debate about constantly, the “casual” vs the “hardcore”. In my opinion, casual gamers are loosely defined as those that are more relaxed in nature, those that enjoy the journey, that are willing to stop and smell the roses, are more striving self-improvement, and are not necessarily striving to be the best, but just to have a good time. Hardcore gamers, on the other hand, are competitive in nature. They play these games so that they can be the best, they take the most efficient paths to obtain the most power, even if it entails rather sterile methods of getting there, like repeating the same content ad nauseum, power leveling, farming, and skipping any annoying story. Of course, it’s not just black and white, we are all some combination of the two, but generally lean one way or the other. I, if my blog’s title isn’t evident, identify more with the former.
Casual and Hardcore gamers factor heavily in this discussion because we both occupy the same gaming space and or motivations often clash. MMOs are one of the best forms of gaming entertainment out there because, no matter your tastes, there is something for you. Want to be told a story? It’s there. Want a challenge? It’s there. Want to dominate others in PvP? You can. Want to cooperate and strive toward group-oriented goals? It’s there. Want to play the game solo? You can. Having multiple types of players, all playing for different reasons, and all jockeying for the attention of the developers, creates conflict.
Finally, let’s look at the third most important factor: player skill. Player skill is hard to quantify. Skill is a combination of many factors including past game-playing experience, knowledge of the game’s mechanics, and application of those mechanics to achieve the best results. Skill is easy to graph, though, as it is assumed it resembles a normal probability distribution. In other words, a bell curve.
Players with very little skill (who still play, and usually stand in fire for the majority of it), represent the far left portion of the curve, and gamers with a significant amount of skill, those that are famous and whose names are revered and known, are on the right. For those in the center, some are better than others, but in the great scheme of things, a great percentage of us fall within this region.
But let’s go back to that earlier definition. There is a big key phrase in there that sums up a lot of the conflict: perceived superiority. We see it time and again. Those generally with an above average amount of skill, and those that identify themselves with the more hardcore spectrum of players, feel that they are the ones who know how to play, and if you’re not playing their way, or by their standards, then you’re playing wrong. What are you doing in their game, anyway? Just wasting space and developer resources. If the game wasn’t targeted to the dirty casual players, it might actually be a challenge! All they have to do is just play better! Damn noobs ruining the game for everyone!
Sound familiar? Elitism is primarily a trait of hardcore players, but I don’t believe it falls in the same normal distribution that skill does. I believe it to be variable depending on a players skill. Bad hardcore players will think that they’re good, and will have a negative attitude toward others to compensate. Okay and average hardcore players know their standing, and know what they need to do to get what they want, they generally show less elitist behavior.
Good hardcore players is where the problem lies. Good players will start demanding obscene levels of others above what is called for. They’re the ones you see demanding ridiculous gear levels just to run a dungeon with them. I saw a post in the Looking For Group channel of The Secret World the other day where someone said that if they didn’t like the looks of your gear from the character website, they wouldn’t even acknowledge your request to join up. They’re good, but they’re not good enough to assure success, without a perfectly optimal group around them. They’re insecure, and so compensate by acting superior.
The truly skilled, excellent players, though, their level of elitism is much lower. They don’t need a perfect group to still achieve success, and they don’t demean others who don’t live up to their ability, as they would hate everyone. Their excellence is shown in their actions, not in their demands. A great saying I once read was “A rich man doesn’t have to tell you he’s rich.” They just are, and it shows in their demeanor and lack of insecurities.
Casual players, though, their levels of elitism, though still there, is by far not as pronounced. Bad, okay, and average players know their skill, but they enjoy the game for other reasons. Good and excellent players may demand a little more from others, but it feels more in the realm of assisting those around them to be better. A failure here and there isn’t going to affect them, as their end goal is more about self-improvement and having fun rather than being competitive.
So that conflict: it lies in the space between elitism levels and crosses the hardcore/casual behaviors. Over time, those of us who are veterans of the MMO genre, who have seen this same pattern play out many time before, are use to it by now. We adapt by finding groups of players who think like we do, hardcore or casual. We don’t love the games we play less because the other groups exist, we can coexist as we’ve done for years now. We do sometimes feel the conflict when we see special developer attention paid to the opposing groups, and if a game opens that plays more to our own nature, we might gravitate toward it more. It’s just human nature.
But the next time you feel compelled to tell some noob how they should be playing the game, or you are at the receiving end of some vitriol aimed at you because you’re not in full epic gear and feel depressed or angry, I hope you take the time to think about why you’re feeling that way. Look at how it might not make a difference in the long run, and how the end-goal for all of us should be striving to be a better community.
We live in a civilized society, after all. We may as well act like it.