What You Want, Others Don’t Like :: Expectations in MMOs

My (utterly brilliant) editor tells me I need to prepare you good people for a fairly personal post, which this is. It’s been a tough couple of weeks at Alternative Towers, and it all came to a head yesterday when I was informed in no uncertain terms that I’ve no idea how to have ‘fun’ in the game I choose to write about daily. Needless to say, I know a red flag when I see one. So, instead of going and muttering incoherently about how people don’t understand me in a corner? You get this, because sometimes it isn’t just about what I want or what you think is right, it’s about making everybody understand the bigger issues at play.

I’m getting increasingly annoyed with being told to cheer up when it comes to how I write about Warcraft. It appears that, according to some, I just don’t have enough ‘fun’ any more, and that being ‘nice’ is far more important in most cases than playing the game. Now, I’ll be honest here: I like a good moan as much as the next whiny git, but even I understand there are limits. If you want to make a point about something that’s not working in Azeroth, then confrontational is not the answer. Getting all riled up and frustrated is only as good as the impassioned discourse that follows. Taking everything far too personally won’t work either. In this social media driven world, the first guilty person who reads your post and recognises themselves being criticised within it will assume you’re talking about them. Nothing will ever get done if that’s the way people decide to interpret my words.

What’s worst of all of course, is we’ve not even started the discussion on achieving anything in your MMO of choice, and this is already paragraph three. Surely when you start talking about expectations that means how much you can do in an evening, or whether the UI’s going to give you a headache. Well, once upon a time that’s how this worked: pick up a game, play it, tell your mates. MMO’s, especially the huge and ultimately unwieldy ones like Warcraft simply aren’t that cut and dried any more. Most of the time how you play your class and the gear you’re wearing are subjects for universal ridicule or praise. Here’s the problem, in a nutshell: you can’t divide personal and professional expectations in a game. It just won’t work, and so most people don’t even bother. That means that, like it or not, everything’s up for criticism when logging into your entertainment.

I hear a lot from players (especially when a new MMO starts out) expounding how ‘cool’ or ‘awesome’ their new community is, which is true for a couple of reasons. Mostly it’s because you’ve put a bunch of people together in a space who don’t know each other yet, and you’re in that lovely ‘honeymoon’ period that inevitably results where everybody shares common interests and are willing to openly communicate. Because the majority of people in your new MMO are already gamers to begin with, this often creates a false positive of overt enthusiasm and almost over-helpfulness. That’s often caused by people thinking their old MMO was rubbish at helping people.

Expectations therefore get all skewed about when you’re in a new virtual place. That means when you return to previous MMO spaces that you only return to because your friends remain here, it’s all terrible and awful because YOUR expectations of everything changed with the introduction of the new ‘stuff’ as distraction. And so, quite apart from designers trying to make their game bigger and better, there’s all this emotional baggage to factor in too. Mostly I’d love it if people stopped trying to make the world (wherever they have theirs) a version of what they though was right, based on what was wrong from the environment they last came from. There are bigger issues to consider before sensibility, especially if your game is going to survive to see a ten year anniversary.

The thing about Warcraft is that actually, size is probably both hindrance and acceptance of expectation combined. Because it is so large you can lose yourself in smaller communities and move around until your social expectations are fulfilled. However, the size and complexity of the UI, the various ways of ‘playing well’ and all points in between mean that it can just be physically impossible to gain any measure of satisfaction from playing to begin with. This is what I see more and more: people using ‘burnout’ as a blanket phrase to cover malaise, disaffection and disassociation from Azeroth. Why this now happens is just so specific and personal that to blame the company for it is frankly ridiculous, and yet people still do.

Players also love to throw blame on gaming commentators with almost gleeful enthusiasm: if you were nice, none of this would happen. Except I’m sorry to have to break this to you people, but that’s just wrong on so many levels. Unless I have deliberately enticed a riot over game play (and I’m pretty sure I haven’t) all I’ve ever done is suggest things to do. Guides are just that, a series of suggestions as to what might be possible if you decided to take them on board. More importantly in this context, if you think I’m not happy over an aspect of current game play, your expectations of me will also change. I am reminded of numerous players who seem to relish the fact that no-one is in the position to tell them how to think or play, that is until it becomes apparent their very actions are typical of the ‘toxic’ players that so many others blame for driving them away. Expectations can shift fast in the modern world, especially with the speed that social media drives news. Paranoia as a concept is pretty useful to understand when you work a lot in the public eye.

In the end I’d love expectations in gaming to simply rotate around the actual pixels, but more and more this is no longer the case. They appear to involve a very complex set of socio-political standpoints on anything from your faith to your taste in television programmes, plus your ability to reply to Tweets at 3 am. The only real way to eliminate this problem is to play alone, or to exit the MMO sphere completely, and that’s not happening any time soon in my case. So, I can choose to accept the expectations people have of me, or I can challenge them in articles like this. As a commentator, I understand what is at stake whenever I commit my words to a page: stand or fall by the words. I’ve never had a problem with this simple outlook, and even if my words turn out to be wrong, I am willing and able to challenge my own expectations for a greater understanding of the world around me. That’s not just true in the real world, I’ll do it in the virtual ones too.

Every day is a school day, after all.

Photo attribution: Photo derived from “38 / 365 – Life on Azeroth” by Kelly Hunter licensed under CC by 2.0

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