Way back in the depths of MMO time, in the previous millennium, I wasn’t quite the social snob I can be now. While I would play with friends when they were around, I also grouped up all the time with people I didn’t know from Adam, either for short tasks (get a kill credit) or longer quest-sessions, or just some grinding on mobs.
(Obligatory Corpse tangent: Interestingly enough, I never called it grinding then. In Asheron’s Call we just called it hunting and we’d do it for xp, to raise skills, and to get loot for selling, wearing, enhancing, house decorating – whatever. But that’s a story for another day.)
I’m not quite sure when strangers in MMOs became people I viewed with distrust first and friendliness second. Asheron’s Call had its tools, sure, like all social gatherings everywhere, but they seemed fewer and also spent most of their time being tools on the Vault Network boards. Maybe the lack of regional channels made them easier to avoid.
There were asshats in SWG, too — but again, they were avoidable and on the whole, when approached by people, my first assumption wasn’t that they were going to waste my time. I’d interact with them without the instant mental groan that seems to surface now whenever I’m approached by someone I don’t recognise in an MMO.
I shall blame WoW, not because it’s fashionable, but because it came at the right time and was an enormous, continent-wrecking runaway train success, both of which matter. Vast legions of new players in the MMO arena (geddit?) means, statistically, a lot more tools and asshats. In my own experience, WoW and EQ2 were among the first games I played that had constant, ubiquitous large-area (or global) chats… and there was chat flooding, and it was bad. Bad, because for some reason asshat chat in regional or bigger channels just seems to come though more often, louder, and almost limned in red. Or maybe that’s just me seeing red at some of the tripe that gets typed.
It’s also well-documented that in many cases it was a lot more efficient to level solo in WoW than it was to try to spend time with anyone else. Why should I bother getting to know anyone when chances are that a) they’re that “IownUpewpew” character that’s been irritating you on regional chat for 3 hours and b) you’d be better off by yourself?
Initially, I tried. I was courteous to people. I tried to help, I tried to answer, and I tried to assist when it was asked for. Several hundred experiences later, I am now mostly only courteous. I don’t swear at people for being tools, but I do not let them waste my time, either.
The downside of that is, by being suspicious and insular and unwilling to encounter yet another waste of pixellated air, I’m drastically reducing my chance of meeting all the nice, fun, friendly people who are *also* out there. For the player new to MMOs (if there is still such a creature), the silences and cold shoulder and rough treatment on regional+ channels has to be a bit of a shock. We courteous, helpful older players are out there, but most of the time we’re either ignoring chat or running past you looking FAR too busy to be interrupted.
Whether games have created this insularity or whether gamers have become insular as an unintended side-effect (I suspect the latter) is a moot point — it is what it is. So, next time you play WAR (or whatever), try something new. Wave at a stranger. Say hello in /scenario chat (and listen for the surprised gasps). Start an open group wherever you happen to be, just because (all it takes is a couple of clicks) — and when the group forms, say hello.
Oh and, have a thick skin. People just don’t talk to people they don’t know anymore. The risk of being tooled is just too great, and maybe we’re starting to see a generation gap in MMOs too. (If I hear “wut” I automagically put that person on mental ignore until they prove they can type in complete sentences and syllables. I’m old. You kids and your leet speak!) But still, by being social snobs we’re only making things worse. One can’t complain about growing disconnect and isolation in online games AND be a social snob, not without a huge dollop of hypocrisy. So this week is Tolerate A Tool (and hopefully meet someone nice) Week. Good luck!