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.