Tuesday, March 24, 2009

the second M in MMO

When I first started playing WoW many moons ago, the least interesting thing about MMOs for me was the multiplayer part of it. Well, let me qualify that. I was interested in playing online with my real-life friend that encouraged me to try it out.

And yet, over time, that part of the game has become a real pleasure for me. Now, a couple of qualifiers. I'm not Johnny Chats-a-lot. I don't tend to blather away in region chat or even to chit-chat a ton in guild chat about random nonsense. These are okay things, but not my cup of tea. But there's a lot of social interaction even for a sometimes reclusive. Let's take a look in numbered list form!

1. Real-life friends. These are the gold-standard in some ways. People you already know and presumably trust. People you can talk about the game with outside of it. They're a great boost to the experience. But they come with a sort of cost too. Whenever you get a real-life friend into a game, there's a certain amount of chaperoning you may feel compelled to do and a bit of uncertainty. You know this person in real life, but how are they in game? Do you have to show them around, explain everything? Are they going to lean on you to make their experience interesting?

Of course the inverse is true as well. My RL friend in WoW got me into the guild I stayed with my entire tenure in the game, got me a raid spot, tried to buoy me up in the guild, draw me out of my shell. I've done the same for others. These relationships have to be nurtured.

2. In-game friends. Sort of the odd mystery of the MMO is the way it facilitates real friendships. You find some kindred spirit and do a few things together. Maybe you chat about your lives a bit, then the next thing you know, your gaming experience is richer than it would be without them. You check to see if they're online, you work together at the game, sharing it and exploring it and developing a common experience: inside jokes and running gags, stories and adventures completed or failed.

I come to this level less easily I think than others. My current guild in WAR has great people in it that I feel are becoming friends, and I couldn't be more delighted. For me this is like lightning in a bottle. I don't expect it, but it's a magical thing.

3. Acquaintances and the friendly wave. There's a lot more to socializing in an MMO than friends though, and this is the part that I think many people don't appreciate. The wonder of some social parlay on the incidental level. Open parties are a great facilitator for this. Sometimes you're working on a PQ and someone else slings you an invite, or you do to someone you spy. Now you're working together. You win or lose together. It's a great opportunity to have a very casual interaction with people. You crack a joke, you discuss a little strategy. You share some gossip or talk about the game. It may last a half-an-hour and then you may never see the person again, but when there's a show of humanity, of personality, its surprisingly rewarding.

I've done PQs with a lot of random folks. Had little conversations with strangers about whatever ... the lore, the game, the event at hand. It's like an amuse bouche: it's an unexpected little treat. Discrete and spontaneous. For me, probably the most pleasant surprise in online gaming is that you can have charming, human conversations with people that you're not invested in and who aren't invested in you.

4. Adversary. I have to say I haven't found the relationships of this sort that strong yet. There have been order at various tiers that I've remembered. Maybe that I've gone out of my way to kill or have done the same to me, but leveling it sort of comes and goes. This can be a pretty fun relationship too, and fairly unique to gaming. The respectful rivalry. Sometimes not so respectful. I'll be interested to see if this is more prevalent as I near the level cap.

I never had this sort of relationship in WoW either, but I do remember the sort of adversary celebrity. The awesome PvPer, or guild whose apppearance brings terror. I have high hopes there will be some of that in WAR's endgame as well.


I've seen a lot of blog posts about people disenchanted with WAR because their friends are leaving the game. I get that. Good in-game friends are a commodity, but they're not as rare as people seem to think. To me it seems that insulating ourselves into some tight group of friends, while very natural is also self-injuring. My WoW guild over the 3 years I was in it had a massive amount of turnover, a revolving cast of characters, if you will. And each time this happens, there's sadness of course, but then you find, to your surprise (or mine at least) that among the new crew there are more funny, smart, interesting people.

So hold on to your friends, to be sure, but don't forget that there's more interesting, funny, nice people out there than just those on your friends list.

1 comment:

  1. "My current guild in WAR has great people in it that I feel are becoming friends, and I couldn't be more delighted. For me this is like lightning in a bottle. I don't expect it, but it's a magical thing."

    Dawwww we like you too Czarn! Don't ever change buddy, see you in game ;)