Never the twain

It occurred to me yesterday — after another overly crabby outburst on my part, which for once I can blame not on general curmudgeonliness but on that and the stinking cold that’s currently making me miserable — that there are valid and understandable reasons for the tension that seems to underlie most solo/group discussions.

The group-oriented type of player needs other players. The solo player doesn’t.

Yeah, it’s fairly obvious in hindsight, but sometimes realisations have to smack me in the face before I become fully conscious of them. That basic difference often ends up making the solo player feel like the onus is on them to change what they’re doing or even how they play so that the group-oriented player can have fun, and if the solo player won’t change, the group-oriented player will be frustrated. Solo players don’t really get why group players don’t have fun in a solo setting, and group players don’t really get that solo players aren’t just soloing until someone else shows up — they actively enjoy it. Each side expects the other to understand or adapt, and for the most part none of us are prepared to change our entire playstyle just to suit someone else. We shouldn’t have to, but the fact remains that it’s harder for a group player to have fun unless certain conditions (other people, willing to group) are met. These days, with all of us getting older, busier, having kids, going back to school, and whatever else, it’s certainly a lot easier to be a soloer than a grouper. I’m starting to understand part of why my group-oriented friends are so frustrated with recent game releases: it’s not the games, it’s the fact that we don’t play them together quite as much as we used to.

(To me that’s where the biggest difference lies. It’s not the games — what’s changed is us, our schedules and our lives, and the underlying games are really pretty much the same as they were 10 years ago. But the end result is the same: it’s harder to get together for games and it’s harder to get things done when you do get together because time is limited, kids are yelling, and before you know it it’s time to get to bed or you’ll be a zombie in the morning. Students, of course, don’t care about zombification, but those of us having to make a living have been forced to.

I also think the group/solo divide has become a huge issue because we have more and more games to play and players are spread more and more thinly across them, so that solo players like me (and I’ve always been solitary, it’s not just in games) stand out more and group-based players find it increasingly difficult to have fun. It’s not unusual for a small to medium sized guild to only have 6-10 people on during a weeknight. Factor in level differences, people about to log off, people doing tradeskills or Auction Housing or some other non-adventuring activity, the inevitable perma-AFK person (that’s often me!), and the 12 people that looked so good for the group-oriented player suddenly shrinks to about 2-4 people who still may not necessarily want to or be available, which limits the group player’s options considerably and often means they won’t get the company that, for them, makes the game basically enjoyable.)

This may be a little contentious, but I think I finally get why my group-oriented friends are frustrated with me and why it sometimes seems so personal. In a way, my not wanting to group with them is a rejection. It may be a perfectly valid choice — I happen to think it is, but then again I would — but nonetheless, if you’re a group oriented player and nobody around you ever wants to group anymore, or “Would love to, Joe, but the kids need to be bathed, fed, put to bed,” I bet that sometimes smells rather like rejection-sauce. It’s not intentional on either part, but that doesn’t really matter in terms of bruised egos and frustration.

Maybe that’s partly why the “the M means MULTIplayer, you soloing moron!” topic gets so heated, and why every game coming out that promises to bring back the grouping in games catches so much attention, and almost invariably causes so much disappointment. Because the plain fact of the matter is, you cannot force people to group. If you do, they’ll vote with their feet and their wallets. The very best a game can do, these days, is make grouping as easy as possible and as far-reaching as possible so that folks can group up even with people they don’t know and still have a chance of having fun. (In that respect, I think WAR has done a sterling job with warbands and open groups.)

I don’t have an easy solution for the group-oriented players. I wish I did. But the option to just “group when you play” isn’t an easy solution if it’s not enjoyable for all the players involved. Group-oriented players need to understand that this isn’t personal rejection and that soloing is a valid playstyle, not just an undersidable alternative. Solo-oriented players need to get that playing by ourselves can seem like a bitter rejection of the people asking for company, especially when it’s done in a guild setting. (I imagine there are pretty clear correlations between part of what group players expect from guilds — groups — and what solo players expect from them — social interaction; that, too, often causes frustration and recriminations and drama.) Ultimately, for the group-based player to get what they want in a game without a high enough population to support their playstyle, the solo player has to not get what they want; or vice-versa of course, where the group player ends up playing alone and not having much fun at all.

On a more positive note — do set-time group sessions help? I know several groups and sub-groups who try to run regular(ish) play-together sessions, but I don’t know how well it works out for the group-oriented player. I would imagine the solo players have fun but don’t mind when they don’t happen, whereas to the group player, that kind of occasional grouping might still be frustrating because it’s so infrequent.

I don’t like soliciting comments but I’m really interested to hear from the group-oriented players who read this. I think I can name a few of you, and I’m sure there are more hiding in the woodwork. I get the solo perspective, being one of them, but I’d like to better understand the group player’s perspective. That underlying tension isn’t going away because neither side is going to change their spots for the other, but as far as I’m concerned understanding never hurts. Do scheduled group sessions help? Great, now I sound like a therapist.

21 thoughts on “Never the twain

  1. “On a more positive note — do set-time group sessions help?”

    They do, especially if you don’t have a lot of time to sink in a game. It’s easier to say specific times you’ll be on, find people that can do that too and stick with it.

    That’s what I’ve been doing for quite some time now. The group grows or shrinks. We fill in empty slots with people who are available at the time and we generally have the core of a group covered; tank, healer, DPS so anyone else is just gravy.

  2. “It occurred to me yesterday … The group-oriented type of player needs other players. The solo player doesn’t.”

    Hmm, that sounds familiar…. 🙂

    I’m a soloer as you know. I’ve had probably 2 situations where I was in a guild that I grouped with often, and honestly it *was* really fun at the time. But in both cases my life was in such a situation that I had tons of free time and I was pretty “alone” in real life. As an introvert in the Meyers-Briggs sense of the word, I recharge my batteries by doing things alone, and gaming is usually my ‘recharge’ time. When I was a grouper, I didn’t have a job so didn’t have anything I needed to recharge from.

    Which is totally the opposite of the kind of comments you were looking for. 🙂

    But, maybe for a different post, would it be worth exploring the business aspect of MMOs? It seems to me that the genre didn’t really “take off” until games got more solo-friendly. But was that because they were solo friendly or was it just coincidental timing?

  3. I’ve wondered about that a lot, Pete. Maybe it’s all of the above, especially if you add in the fact that a fair slice of the original gaming market (and we’re mostly all still playing, just not the way we used to) just can’t play as intensely as it used to. I do find that a lot of the younger players I meet are very much group-oriented, which fits with the age profile.

    In my own case, I have nothing against groups but I have several things that make grouping generally less available and fun for me. One, I AFK quite a bit, and I detest doing that to groups; it’s just not fair on everyone else. Secondly, I have a low time-tolerance for intense activity, which grouping tends to be: after an hour or two I’ve had enough, when most of the others are just getting started. And finally, I tend to like to mix up my activities, as you and Mallika I think have said elsewhere — I’ll quest for a bit, then I’ll decide to harvest, then I’ll go somewhere entirely different and quest there… It keeps me interested.

    I’m more of a multi-tasker than a focus-tasker, which is another reason I don’t tend to mesh all that well with the group style.

  4. If you reward grouping not only by giving phat lewt but by making it fun and natural then it becomes the default and soloing becomes something you do in the odd hours. If you punish grouping by giving worthless rewards and less exp and big repair bills then it becomes loathed. This is really just a pavlovian algorithm.

  5. I disagree, Thallian. You’re going from the point of view that if the rewards we’re good enough we’d all want to group because that’s really what we all unconsciously want to do anyway. One of the points I’m trying to make is, that’s not true. We *don’t* all want to group and we’re not in denial, or soloing because we haven’t seen the light.

    Yes, grouping can be made easier and more rewarding, and certainly should be (and maybe there’s some progress there in recent games — look at how Wizard 101 *has* no grouping, but you can effectively group just by joining in the fights, and you can teleport to friends, etc). But no, it shouldn’t be the only possible gaming option because no, it’s *not* what we all want to do whether we admit it or not.

  6. My preference for soloing has nothing to do with relative rewards for for grouping and soloing. My reasons are an amalgam of the reasons given by Pete and Ysh. I like to be alone (just call me Garbo). I play for short periods at a time and like to mix up what I do during those periods – like Ysh I switch between questing, harvesting, crafting, shopping on a whim. Even when I have a longer period available to play, I’m usually doing things that require frequent AFKs — laundry, cooking, etc…

    I play MMOs despite my preference for playing solo because I like to hang out in guild or other private chat channels (I hate public chat channels with a purple passion) and chat with my friends, or just “listen in” to their chats, while I’m doing my solo thing. I call it “playing alone, together”. Besides that, I just like the game play in MMOs — it’s different than single-player games.

    I do quite enjoy the occasional “planned group”. A period of time set aside for a group of friends to get together. These groups usually allow me to tackle something in-game that I normally would not see in my solo state — a dungeon, harder quests, WAR’s public quests and RvR.

  7. Regarding Pete’s question, consider also that the vast majority of games are still solo games. MMOs and even multiplayer beasties like Smash Brothers are being played by people for whom games have been and continue to be largely a solo activity, just in general.

    Also, again as Pete notes, there are introverts and extroverts. Games have long been introvert activities, since extroverts are already busy doing something with their friends. It’s only fairly recently that the Facebook generation discovered the ability to be social using games. In other words, they aren’t playing the games to *play the game*, they are using them as another interaction platform.

    The “recharge” comment is spot-on as well. I play games to get away from people. People drain me. That I play MMOs is largely based on my interest in the world itself, the art, the lore and the mechanics. The multiplayer economy is fun at times, but not the major draw.

    I do know of other people for whom being alone is draining, and socializing is recharging. That view will be forever alien to me, but I’m not hostile to it. I am, however, hostile to someone telling me that I’m somehow deficient for being different, and hostile to actions that try to force me to be social. I didn’t like it in the “forced” sixth grade “dances”, and I don’t like it now, especially in an activity that I’m paying to do.

    Indeed, you can’t force people to group. You can’t force them to play solo. Games are built on the promise of choice and freedom; usually built on a fantasy power trip or “what if” scenario. They should be designed with choices in solo/group dynamics. Game design should never force one or the other. Provide options and make it easy to play either way, certainly, but never force players into preconceived social notions, since players are all different, especially in an MMO. That’s the whole point.

  8. Ysh, you’ve been reading my mind again, haven’t you? A lot of what you’ve written here are things I wrote and deleted from some of my prior comments. But I think you’re right about everything here. It’s what I was talking about yesterday with taking responsibility for your fun.

    Actually, guys, there are solid studies out there that show a majority of gamers are not introverts. Actually, gamers are more likely to be extroverts than non gamers. What the studies prove is that extroverts use games as other means or tools to socialize. Games were created for this purpose since the dawn of time. Games are a social mechanism.

    A lot of those stereotypes come from not understanding gamers and from faulty psychoanalysis.

    “I play video games to get away from people.”

    That statement is very true for me personally. But without context, it seems pretty dark and anti-social. Pretty introverted.

    Except for one thing. If you know me then you know I am anything but introverted. I have an intense, people-oriented job and I am very social outside of the workplace. Quite frankly…I frequently need a break from it to catch some “me” time. I choose to do that through gaming.

    I am a very solo player, but I will group if it’s not much of a hassle.

    By the end of the day, the last thing I want to do is make decisions for a group. I do that at work.

    When I play, I don’t want to deal with group politics. Again, I do that at work.

    When I play, I’m on a schedule. I don’t want to wait for you to grab pizza from the delivery guy, take your dogs for a walk, tuck your partner into bed or even look up the damn quest we are working on. I just want to play.

    On the other hand, I like to multi-task. There’s stuff that I need to get done around the house. So…I don’t want to bother my group with interruptions like laundry, letting the dogs out, taking a quick work call, or just saying ‘hi’ to my wife as she pops in from one activity and rushes on to the next.

    And, Ysh, part of my comments yesterday were going to be about setting play times for groups. But I was running a bit long. I think it can work, though. But it has to be done right. I’ve found that scheduled group nights can’t be done on mains…the characters have to be specific to that group. So the group has to be thought out so that everyone plays something they’d be interested in and the group is balanced. Outside of the group, everyone is free to play alts, craft, harvest or whatever. But that group and those characters have to advance together. Also, if a person can’t make group night, the group has to cancel or reschedule. People just never catch up if they get behind the rest of the group.

  9. @Makkaio – “Except for one thing. If you know me then you know I am anything but introverted. I have an intense, people-oriented job and I am very social outside of the workplace. Quite frankly…I frequently need a break from it to catch some “me” time. I choose to do that through gaming.”

    I referenced the Meyers-Briggs definition of introvert rather than the colloquial usage with its vague negative connotations in an attempt to be specific. From a Meyers-Briggs point of view, you probably *are* an introvert. They define an introvert as someone who uses solitude to ‘catch their breath’ or regain energy. If you were an extrovert (again in their terms), you’d go to a crowded bar after your people-oriented job to gain energy (and you’d probably be gaining energy throughout the day).

    Not, mind you, that I 100% agree with Meyers-Briggs. But I do like their attitude that you can be very social and still be an introvert. When I see a passage like “But without context, it seems pretty dark and anti-social. Pretty introverted.” it kind of gets me riled up, since it implies there is something dark and anti-social about being an introvert. 🙂

    And I don’t mean to argue with you and obviously I don’t have any real insight to what kind of person you are, but the terms introvert and extrovert tend to be pretty vague without some definitions surrounding them. So I may or may not agree with the study you cite, depending on what they meant by the terms, and how they got their sample.

    All that said, and semantics aside, I’m with you on a lot of your reasons why you prefer solo too. While I’m playing, I’m stopping constantly to check out something Angela is doing (assuming we aren’t playing together) or to give a guinea pig a treat or a scritch, or whatever. I rarely am of a mind to sit my ass in the computer chair for 2+ hours straight without any breaks.

    So I’ll do a quick PUG to finish a quest then go on my way, but I’m really hesitant to get into a dungeon run with a group.

  10. Well, regardless of whether or not introverts (of any definition) or extroverts are the majority, the point is that there are all sorts of people laying these MMOs, with all sorts of motivations. Designing exclusively around one classification will inevitably cause trouble. Believing that everyone is like you (whomever you are) will cause trouble.

  11. “Playing these MMOs” is how that should read. My internet is laggy today and I missed the P.

  12. But do you still respect them in the morning? 😀

    Synchronicity at play — I’ve been reading some Jung (and can recommend a pretty good intro to his stuff), and of course he’s the one who coined introvert/extravert as psychological types (along with thinking/feeling/sensation/intuition as subtypes — Meyer-Briggs just adapted, but then don’t we all). I’m pretty sure Jung coined the use of “synchronicity” too.

    I think he’d get a real kick out of MMOs and their social systems.

    Am crawling back under blankies now.

  13. “I dunno, I *really* like some of these MMOs!!! :p”

    Haha. 🙂 Yeah, that was a pretty awesome typo from Tesh.

    “I do know of other people for whom being alone is draining, and socializing is recharging. That view will be forever alien to me, but I’m not hostile to it. I am, however, hostile to someone telling me that I’m somehow deficient for being different…”

    This is exactly me as well. And oh gosh, how people do try to make my husband and me feel like we’re weird just because we love staying home, all happy and content, rather than go out. Like Pete mentioned, we’re both introverts in the Meyers-Briggs definition and being with other people is just draining. When I am obliged to go to dinner with my in-laws, I come home feeling really tired — but after being with the computer or reading or watching a series episode or doing whatever else alone or with my husband, I find myself feeling more awake and refreshed.

    I have to say that I’m quite chuffed that I’ve found so many people like me here. It’s annoying to get so much flack from people in ‘real life’ about the whole introversion issue. My husband’s brother is an extrovert in every sense of the word, and he thinks we’re weird (and possibly loser-ish) because we don’t go out clubbing or drinking or socializing on the weekend.

  14. I dun speel sew gud.

    How embarrassing. 😉

    Funny thing about finding other introverts… it’s not like we make ourselves known all that much. We’re not weird, we’re not loserish, we’re not uncommon. We’re just quiet, and we don’t like to be bothered.

  15. Pete S – “I referenced the Meyers-Briggs definition of introvert rather than the colloquial usage with its vague negative connotations in an attempt to be specific. From a Meyers-Briggs point of view, you probably *are* an introvert. They define an introvert as someone who uses solitude to ‘catch their breath’ or regain energy. If you were an extrovert (again in their terms), you’d go to a crowded bar after your people-oriented job to gain energy (and you’d probably be gaining energy throughout the day).”

    I’m completely familiar with Meyers-Briggs and the definitions of introvert/extrovert. I’ve even gotten a little Jungy with it. Introverts tend to ask themselves how they feel. Extroverts tend to ask, “Can you feel me!?” I think, however, my ADHD overrides any of that. Sounds the same for you. LOL.

    I actually have tested out as an INTJ and the description is pretty accurate. However, I always viewed Meyers-Briggs and Jung as HOW you interact with the world around you…not so much IF you interact with it. I think that is kind of where you were going while you were getting riled up back there in your last comment. While I do take refuge from my hectic day into virtual environments, I also hit up my favorite bar downtown to hang with friends just as much. Turns out it has been a lot more as of late. 🙂

    What’s going on inside my head while I’m in either of those environments is really where the Meyers-Briggs analysis comes into play. And the type I’m cast is pretty accurate.

  16. @Pete – Introvert doesn’t mean someone isn’t social or that they are shy. It means that socialization is WORK for us. I do it all day at work so often when I want entertainment, I don’t want more socialization forced upon me.

    I’m very social around people. No one would ever consider me shy but I don’t go out of my way to socialize either. If I have to go out of my way over it, I’d just as soon not be bothered – hence, can’t be bothered with groups. WAR had the answer but fuk’d it up with too many Public Quests subdivided by too many factors.

    I’ve never cared that group people group. I’ve never cared or complained that the best loot is in an instance that requires a group. Who cares?!?! If I want what is in there then I’ll deal with grouping to get it. By and large, I usually don’t.

    There are very group centric games out there for players offended by solo content. I suggest playing them – DDO would be a start, LOTRO, GW and EQ2 are all games where you’ll progress much better in a group dynamic. Even static groups if you have the opportunity. I vote with my dollars. I don’t play games where I can’t solo to max. Stop playing those games that support people soloing to max if you don’t like that people can do that.

    People who don’t care will play both types of games. Speak with your dollars and not with your whines and let the chips (subscriptions and players) fall where they may. I’m pretty confident the group only games will be thinner on the ground – have smaller populations and hence, smaller games with less frequent updates and all the things that go with – well… small. 🙂

    Or you could let people play the games they’re paying for, however they choose play them and live with compromises, just like with do with most other things in life.

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