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.

Your turn!

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39 Comments on "Massively Overthinking: Mainstream misconceptions about MMORPGs"

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This has been a critical issue of the genre since the beginning. From the very concept of hanging out with your friends in a virtual world, versus what mainstream media calls the “real world.” Something most people have to keep a secret in the corporate world because ignorant people would stigmatize them. You ever find out someone else in your workplace plays MMOS? It’s like you are both coming out of the closet or something. It’s ridiculous, but true. I do think however, that some IPs are more accepted. For example, I think Star Wars and World of Tanks are more accepted IPs by the ignorant corporate masses, than say, Neverwinter or World of Warcraft. But it’s a damn shame, because if you are in a top tier raiding group, or a successful raid leader or guild leader, you should be able to put that on your resume!


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

That’s just a false stereotype of the “positive” variety.

There are plenty of long-standing games that aren’t MMOs and have seen similar, or greater, levels of support and engagement. Take a look at games like Team Fortress 2, MineCraft, Crusader Kings 2, League of Legends, Path of Exile, Warframe, Terraria, RoboCraft, Garry’s Mod, etc.

The notion that MMOs are endless is – with exception of open-ended MMOs like EVE and Perpetuum – just window-dressing. The same world may be around without loading a new game or resetting, but given the fact that MMO worlds are often utterly static… is that truly at all relevant? It’s essentially no different from loading a save file in a singleplayer game. You load your MMO up and enter… exactly the same place, with exactly the same things going on. The only times things change (in most MMOs) is when developers update the game!

The bulk of what you do in (themepark) MMOs consists of one-off content (quests and leveling) and repeatable sessions (instances, raids, PvP). The one-off content is usually of the variety of do it once and you’ve seen everything, i.e.: exceptionally poor replay value. The repeatable sessions tend to be decently executed, but not much different from regular multiplayer games. The one true difference is usually just replacing the static multiplayer lobby with a static game world.

That value in returning is therefore not always present. Once you’ve seen the one-off content and done the session-play a few times there’s literally nothing new to experience until the next update, in most MMOs. The same is not necessarily true for other games. I can start over in The Witcher, make different choices and have very different experiences. I can start a new game of Europa Universalis 4, with the exact same starting conditions, trying to achieve the same end result and have a completely different experience, even mechanically, from start to finish. And so on…

I’d argue that (4X/Grand) strategy, roguelike, simulation and space-sim genres tend to be better examples of endless games than most MMOs. Not only do they tend to offer immense experiences off the bat, but they’re mechanics-driven, not content-driven the way MMOs tend to be. Even if you’ve seen all the content in Crusader Kings 2 / Binding of Isaac / Cities: Skylines / X3: Reunion, the next play experience can (and more than likely will) still be vastly different and “fresh”. That’s not something that can truly be said for most MMOs.

Arsin Halfmoon

Thanks so much for all the insight everyone. The discussion came up recently because of the recent death of the Twitch streamer. It got me thinking and reading old those news stories about MMO players and the general gaming community. And some of those comments people put out there were pretty scathing. But yeah, many of you are right, the misunderstandings will always come up, but hey, as the saying goes, “The games the thing”

Melissa McDonald

“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”
I have to applaud this. I know women who play online games as guy characters just so they won’t have guy characters hitting on them. I haven’t ever done that, my love for playing digital Barbie dolls supersedes those considerations. But I have had my fair share of being challenged to ‘prove my identity’, i.e., “skype or your a guy” (SIC for accuracy lol). So that’s just another kind of sexual harassment.

Bryan Correll

Screenshot or it didn’t happen! j/k

J. J. Sándor

Is this really a thing, or just an urban legend? I play girls almost exclusively (girls to guys ratio among my characters is about 10:1) and I never ever got “hit on”. Not even in Goldshire. Yes, there used to be a couple of whispers inquiring “m/f?” – to which I would reply either “that’s for me to know and for you to guess” or “if I told you, I’d have to kill you” – but that was back in 2007. Nowadays, nobody’s asking anymore.

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It’s really a thing. It doesn’t happen daily, but it’s definitely there.

Bryan Correll

I’ve been hit on a few times playing female characters, but not terribly often. I make it my practice to not care about the gender* of other players since I’m not looking for dates in MMO’s.
* I do get irritated when someone feels the need to repeatedly announce “I’m a girl. I’m the girliest girl ever! Aren’t you amazed a girl is playing? I’d love to have some help from big strong guys!” Ugh.


When does the mainstream media gets anything niche right? I have a number of niche interests, and barring the lucky happenstance of a journalist sharing the same niche interest, coverage of any of them in the mainstream media is painful to watch.

This is part of the reason specialized media exists. It’s not just about covering more of what the specialized media focus on, but also about having journalists that actually understand what they are covering.

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it’s been such a long time since i’ve seen non mmo playing people talking about mmo players either news media or other wise that i’m drawing a blank. most of what the submitter wrote are things mmo players say about each other more than what non mmo playing people say about us.

i will say that it’s become hip especially by reporters and politicians (often to deflect from their own shitty behaviour) to trash talk gamers. to reduce us to subhuman garbage and a singular race and gender and claim we hate women or are especially violent or w/e. when all statistics are to the contrary to those claims.

ultimately gamers are a fairly diverse bunch that are perhaps slightly more ill mannered than the average internet denizen (and if you need evidence of this you need only go on the average facebook news out let post for people posting pretty nasty shit under their full real names and pictures – so no it’s not anonymity run amok either) who continue to be treated rather poorly by those that seek to profit off them wether in the press or streamers or vloggers or game makers or even amongst themselves.

much like any other pop subculture group out there. wow, whoda thunk.


Well, this is easy. First of all, I don’t pay attention to mainstream media. With that in mind, I couldn’t care less about what they’re saying about us, or what the people who watch them think.

Rick Mills

One of my favorite guilds back in the BC days of Wow consisted of a published research scientist, a sociology major, a programmer, a military corporal and a stand-up comedian – we had a “poker-night” raid that was all about the fun and believe me – it was fun,

Denice J. Cook

All one has to do is remember the story of Ribbit Ribbit, a child stricken with cancer, whose one dying wish was to have a guild hall in Everquest 2 to run his character around in.

Capped end-game characters swarmed his server, Guk, from every other one, power leveling a guild called Lillipad Jungle 24/7 until Ribbit Ribbit had his new hall (I seem to remember SOE opening up free server transfers for it, but it was several years ago now). He only lived a short while after that, but his mother posted on the forums about how happy all these good-hearted EQ2 players had made her son in his final days.

“The news” tends to focus on whatever will get them the most views/hits, and this typically involves the most negative thing they can find to report upon.


When I was a kid, right after graduating from high school, I got involved with an amazing FLGS and was told a story about one of the owner’s after-hours D&D games. It was an “older” crowd with about 5 players who were in their mid-to-late 30s and some quite older.

One night the store was closed but the grate was never put down. They were set up in the middle of the floor getting a little silly and rolling dice like mad when some knuckledragger opens the door, yells, “Go back to flipping burgers at McDonalds!”

I was told the whole table erupted in laughter. One of the players was a physicist. Another owned an entire contracting firm. The owner couldn’t keep from exploding in laughter as he said, “I don’t think anyone at the table (except me) made less than six-figures…”