Massively Overthinking: Mainstream misconceptions about MMORPGs
Massively OP reader Arsin Halfmoon pitched the team a great question this week, poached straight from the podcast list:
"As someone deeply invested in the MMO genre, I find our reputation as a playerbase just as important as the games we play. I've heard people say MMORPG stands for 'Many Men Online Role Playing Girls' or something derogatory. And the mainstream media loves news story about players dying from excessive MMO playing. I've even watched a documentary about people addicted to our genre -- let's just say that didn't really put a good spin on us either. Overall, the media doesn't shine a positive light on us. But I know we're more than that. If the staff could dispel any misunderstandings about the MMO community to the mainstream, what would they be?"
I posed Arsin's question to the staff for Overthinking this week. How does mainstream news -- and mainstream gaming -- get our genre wrong?
Andrew Ross (@dengarsw): Let's start with what, statistically, the media gets right, not about the genre but the players. Online gamers play more than other gamers. We're more engaged. Rachel Kowert's research has shown online gamers tend to lead lonelier lives, which I didn't believe at first until I lost my real life connections and found that my online "friends" really were just online, and saw the same with some former friends. I found that trying to meet fellow online gamers I'd spent months playing with/chatting to would disappear into thin air rather quickly.
That being said, we're not all fat ugly slobs. There may be loneliness, but we're far from anti-social. In fact, there was no correlation between being shy and being an online gamer. Even better, we tend to do better at cooperating on the Prisoner's Dilemma than non-PC gamers. We are social, just in different ways.
We're also far from mindless zombies. I've met some really smart, hardworking people in my MMO time. Air control operators, Hollywood digital painters, a professional chef, and a coder who is also an ordained minister. Oh, and tons of military folk who weren't just blowing off steam but trying to organize raiding while they had free time before literally having to disappear into the wilderness for days/weeks/months at a time.
At least I think the media's finally stopped assuming MMOs are about high scores, right?
Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): It's just punching down, part of the eternal geek war. Non-gamers punch down at shooter fans. Shooter fans punch down at RPG fans. RPG fans punch down at MMORPG fans. MMORPG fans punch down at roleplayers and MUDders. "We may be geeks, but at least we're not as weird as those guys." I hate that we're part of that cycle, that we're always trying to prove we're more legitimate, less geeky. The reality is we all play with toys, and if you're not playing with some sort of toys in 2017, you're boring or old. Nobody's toy is more legit than anybody else's. Quit being a freaking jerk about it.
Anyway. My colleagues have hit on the big ones, so let me instead build out the "Many Men Online Role Playing Girls" rant. There's nothing even wrong with men online roleplaying girls. The idea that this would even be an insult says way more about the insecurities of the person dishing it out than about us. Speaking as an actual woman in gaming, I find it infuriating to be erased, over and over, as someone's cheap dig on some dude's sexuality. And it's not just mainstream news that does it -- our own fellow MMO players do it. We've come such a long way... I only wish everyone could see it and embrace it instead of acting like the immature, unhealthy basement-dwellers the "mainstream" believes us to be.
Eliot Lefebvre (@Eliot_Lefebvre, blog): If there's one thing that bugs me - and there is - it's the fact that people misunderstand MMOs as, essentially, video games without a solid endpoint. Which is true, as far as it goes, but MMOs are really a separate hobby that still falls under the same overall header. MMOs, at the best of times, are long-standing games with lengthy projects and a sector of engagement that just doesn't exist with other games. They are endless games; you always have a reason to go back. It's more like a favorite restaurant or bar than just something you play until you win.
It also bugs me to no end how many people misunderstand the fundamental dynamics of online games. To some extent, this is a problem of the demographics people speak with, but the idea that MMOs are played entirely (or even predominantly) by bored white dudes living in their childhood homes isn't even remotely accurate. Heck, even the people I've met who are still living in the same home as their parents aren't in the same boat as the stereotype.
I suppose, ultimately, part of it just comes down to the idea that MMOs are seen as some particularly inaccessible subset of video games as a whole, neglecting the fact that it's a hoppy which brings a huge number of people together at once. You may not realize it, but not realizing something doesn't mean it doesn't exist.
Justin Olivetti (@Sypster, blog): I think the first misunderstanding -- as with any large group of people -- is that we are easily pigeon-holed into simple and homogeneous definitions. The pool of MMO gamers is wide and deep, filled with wonderful people and raging jerks, scamming economists and detail-oriented roleplayers. Also, Larry. So let's all be a little bit more mature than the people who like to over-generalize and resist the temptation to do just that.
What really gets my goat is how certain game journalism outlets (not naming names here, but a few definitely come to mind) have a very clear bias against MMORPGs and the people who play them. We see this in eagerly published stories that put our community in a bad light and in the tone of the articles that insult us by association (think, "How could anyone POSSIBLY like these crappy mechanics and dated games?").
We as MMO players have a point of commonality that binds us together and gives us a mutual starting point to forming relationships across our various cultural, religious, political, gender, and geeky divides. It's a community without borders and one that is endlessly fascinating for me to meet and explore.
MJ Guthrie (@MJ_Guthrie, blog): The myth and misrepresentation that I would like to dispel is that MMO players can be characterized by anything other than the fact that they play MMOs. It riles me to no end when people -- media or anyone else -- use some characteristic as if an explanation for action, such as Irish bomber, Catholic thief, or whatever. It is trying to link race, religion, game preference, etc to some negative action in people's minds as if said trait explains said action. It is a practice I LOATHE. Not that it is a comfort, but the media targets plenty of groups in this manner, not just the MMO world. Some people also tend fear and demonize what is unfamiliar, what they don't understand (man, I wish there was an easy fix for that), and media capitalizes on that fact. Sensationalizing things sells: If people would stop buying into this practice, it would stop selling and maybe it could begin to change.
MMO players are a very diverse group of folks, and in every group of folks there are good and bad, extraordinary and vile. I've run across all types. Will we ever be seen as just people, with our myriad of differences, who just happen to play MMO games? When the world stops categorizing everything, we might. Until then, I take the same stance I would in this situation for every group -- trumpeting all the good that comes from folks and doing my best to model that individuals are just that, individuals, who should be seen for their actions, not their race, color, religion, etc.