The Noob-Elitist Bell Curve

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:

The belief that certain persons or members of certain classes or groups deserve favored treatment by virtue of their perceived superiority, as in intellect, social status, or financial resources.

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.

Bell Curve, Skill vs # of Players

# of Players v Skill Level

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.

Bell Curve, Skill vs Players

Good Hardcore players will tend to have the “I’m better than you, so you need to listen to what I say” attitudes, whether it’s justified or not.

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.

Bell Curve, Skill vs Players

Casual players, overall, tend to be less demanding of the other gamers around them.

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.

Bell Curve, Skill vs Casual vs Hardcore

The shaded area represents the conflict between those who demand others play their way, and those that just want to enjoy the game.

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.

// Ocho


16 thoughts on “The Noob-Elitist Bell Curve

  1. “Casual players, though, their levels of elitism, though still there, is by far not as pronounced.”

    My experience is the exact opposite of this. I have seen way more crap being slung in LFR, for example, by weekend warriors who believe that their time is so precious that they have to yell at a new tank for asking about strategy before a pull. (Give me the option of running a pug with a bunch of self-labelled “casuals” or “hardcores” and I will take the latter every single time because I feel I’m less likely to have slurs shouted at me.)

    Your experiences are different, which is really my point: “casual vs hardcore” is a false battle, in my opinion, and phrasing it like that detracts from your excellent message.

    I believe the goal of civilized discourse is better served by saying that jerks — any jerks, no matter what or how you play — are not cool and should be shunned. And people who are patient, who are helpful, no matter what or how they play, are awesome and should be appreciated.

    • Well, yes, my experience does significantly differ. When I use to play WoW, I was at the point where I had to join a raiding guild to continue, and was blatantly told that if I couldn’t keep up their 4 nights per week, 3 hours a night schedule, I was not welcome. Since that time, I have never really attempted to raid, or even run dungeons in any game as I was so off-put by how I was treated. But see, someone who comes on and raids, even in a LFR setting, just for that chance at a small incremental power increase, I’d call them Hardcore. And I have rarely, if ever, run across a more “casual” player (by my definition above) and received the same attitude. I can’t tell you the amount of groups I have joined, told them that it was my first time in a dungeon, politely requested information about it, and have been subsequently kicked for it. Am I in the wrong just for being new?

      My reasons for using the terms Casual vs Hardcore are to try to define the primary styles of gameplay, and although they are more ubiquitous terms, I tried to baseline them a bit.

      I totally agree, though, those people sound like jerks. And jerks should be shunned… but a post just saying jerks should be shunned doesn’t quite put across as to why they are being jerks in the first place, which is what I attempted to do… but I am still a noob writer, I may not have gotten my point entirely across. 🙂

  2. I have a post I am working on that loosely corresponds to this that I want your input on. I’ll DM you a link on Twitter.

    I also have been intending to write my MMO masterpiece: The Defense of Status, Elitism, and Excellence. You may have sped up that article’s approach tenfold with this one (thank you)!

    I consider myself an everyman MMO player, but that also means I have been an elitist. In The Burning Crusade, I was the number one DPS (and an officer) in my server’s top progression guild. I don’t think we got much higher than 200 or so in the US, but for a long time, our guild was the only group keeping my server anywhere near relevant. It was intoxicating. I had the best gear, I had the respect of my peers, my name was known by the server. Yet, though there were certainly players within our guild who were, for lack of a better term, elitist assholes, that was one of my all time favorite guilds and it was filled with some of the nicest players. We even had quality policies like no hate speech and we restricted younger players from joining (especially when they failed to be mature, as they often do).

    While I do agree with your post and I do believe elitism goes hand in hand with being a jerk, there is a serious level of play I expect in any game, and my own elitism stems from that. I strive for excellence and effectiveness. I might of been one of the people dismissing someone because of gear or enchanting choices, but I never did it without honest thought and honest discussion.

    That doesn’t mean I don’t play to have fun or that I want to be surrounded by individuals with the EXACT same playstyle. It just means that I am not here to fuck around unless I stated at the outset of a group that I am here to fuck around.

    • See, where I’m coming from, I don’t think I’ve ever played a game with the thought of striving for excellence and effectiveness. I always strive for self-improvement, but that’s not the same thing. As the saying goes “If you want something done right, do it yourself”. If I wanted excellence and effectiveness, I’d play a single player game. When we start to throw other people into the mix, those that we can not control, shit WILL happen. And controlling the variables of other people involves controlling others. I don’t like having my game played for me, even if it is to my benefit.

      I’ve seen the noobest of noob groups do great things, and I’ve seen groups of the most demanding jerks fail miserably, too. There’s a reason why trying to run a guild is lovingly summarized as “herding cats”. Those that have the patience and believe the ends justifies the means, that’s awesome. I wish them the best of luck. But for me, personally, there is no loot in the world worth suffering through arrogant, childish, completely unwarranted behavior. I deal with that behavior enough in my real life, there’s no way I want to suffer it in my virtual one. 🙂

      Haha and I’d be more than happy to read it and give my input, honored even. If nothing else, I am here to help. 🙂

      • Self-improvement is certainly a factor, it’s just a very inward-looking one. I mean, yeah, a lot of gaming is about taking in the experience, but I am also expected to participate. In a MMO especially, participation is largely the point. I don’t really want to dive into a situation and not try my best.

        At the same time, if it is something I am dedicated to, as in a hobby, then simply not making a fool of myself isn’t enough. A need for self-improvement leads me toward wanting to excel. Being excellent isn’t simply a matter of how I see myself, but also how my peers see me. Being excellent demands that I project knowledge, skillfulness, and sincere effort.

        In other words, game or not, I. play. hard.

      • Oh, trust me, making a fool of myself is the last thing I ever want to do, and whenever I play, I do always give it my best… but at the same time, I don’t take it seriously. It’s a game, it’s entertainment. The second I stop having fun is the second I find myself moving on to something else… and that usually happens when I start being berated and judged by other players. My frustrations come when I give it my all, and to some other elitist gamers, it is STILL not enough, and I get judged harshly. What… because I have a life, because I have a family, because I don’t devote every single second of my day to a game? That’s when it stops being fun, and it’s THOSE people who still seem to be everywhere in the community…Yeah, I’ve met some real winners…

  3. Great post, and couldn’t agree with you more. Games could also do a lot more to dis-encourage behavior like this. Jerks will always be jerks, and games should be designed so that you can progress without having to deal with them (i.e. raid content being the only method of obtaining BiS gear, or only way of experiencing content.)

    The elitist-raid culture, and the drama that came along with it, was the biggest reason why I quit WoW back in the day. I hope that, as WoW continues to dwindle down and less WoW-clones are being made, the trend towards inclusiveness continues to romp on.


    • I’ve always thought that there should be a solo option for every dungeon. It shouldn’t drop loot (no more than your standard, everyday drops), but should just be there so you can experience the story, if you so desire. When I use to play WoW, I felt screwed over that I couldn’t see the story for myself if I didn’t join a raiding guild (and was subsequently demanded to play 4-5 nights per week by said guild just to see it). I don’t think that’ll happen, though. Completing the story is still a big carrot to a lot of people, and there are plenty who would gladly pay the price of admission to see it. One can hope, right?

  4. Awesome post!
    I appreciate the bell curve stuff coming from a subject based on maths :D. Unfortunately, I think there’s something about games that kind of stops the whole ‘live and let live’ mantra that happens in day to day life. I don’t know what it is yet. My office mates all have different ways of doing the same thing, but they don’t yell at each other about it, they help, teach, discuss and then go back to the task. Only a small part of the gaming community seems to do this.

    Another problem I think is the time differences- some people can only give one or two hours a day to the game, whereas others have much more to give, but nobody ever asks that. Maybe we all assume that we all play for the same amount of time. It’s highly likely I’m not going to be as good as someone who has 12 hours to give the game a day, when I play for ~2 in a tired state. Maybe that’s why real casuals are hard to find- they’re not on very often, whereas those that would classify themselves as elites are, so they’re easier to find. Or maybe certain types of gamers are just more vocal?

    I did a post on the topic of teamspeak use in mmo’s recently about how I didn’t see the point and that seemed to touch a lot of nerves with more regular players- even when I went on as an open experiment to see if it helped.

    Ta for the thought provoking post.:)

    • Math is how I roll. I’m not exactly sure why I took up blogging, as writing and composition is one of my weakest strengths, with my fields of study being primarily Physics and Psychology. So some of my posts will have a bit of a math/psych lean on occasion.

      Yeah, I agree… there is something about games that do this. The anonymity I think is a big factor, to be honest, and how we approach it. I try to keep a “live or let live” type philosophy, as you put it, but then I also see my digital persona as just an extension as myself, and not just something to hide behind. And so I care about keeping a decent reputation in the online space as well. Do unto others, turn the other cheek, etc. Same as everyday life.

      I’ll check out your post. I very rarely use Teamspeak or Vent or any of those chats, simply because my wife gives me weird looks whenever I use it. 🙂

  5. I find that the casual vs. hardcore distinction is often more one of attitude than of skill or frequency of play. I personally play MMOs a significant amount of hours per week; in the past, upwards of 30. However, I’ve never considered myself hardcore. However, I do think we are all a little elitist in our thinking whenever we start talking about “other” groups of players, myself included.

  6. Pingback: Weekend Recall: Elitism | Away From Game

  7. From wikipedia: (

    ‘A person’s definition of the ‘Other’ is part of what defines or even constitutes the self (in both a psychological and philosophical sense) and other phenomena and cultural units. It has been used in social science to understand the processes by which societies and groups exclude ‘Others’ whom they want to subordinate or who do not fit into their society. The concept of ‘otherness’ is also integral to the comprehending of a person, as people construct roles for themselves in relation to an ‘other’ as part of a process of reaction that is not necessarily related to stigmatization or condemnation. Othering is imperative to national identities, where practices of admittance and segregation can form and sustain boundaries and national character. Othering helps distinguish between home and away, the uncertain or certain. It often involves the demonization and dehumanization of groups, which further justifies attempts to civilize and exploit these ‘inferior’ others.’

    So we define the Other to define ourselves and this question will never go away!

    It is a pity ‘elitism’ will manifest when we compete, whether it is GAMES or sports…just one of the facets of human nature…

    Luckily the majority just get on with it and ENJOY and even try and share there knowledge so others, including Others, can also enjoy, that in itself enables ‘the self’ to enjoy too!

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