This week’s Massively Overthinking topic comes to us from an anonymous Kickstarter donor, who wanted to talk about excessive namecalling jargon as it pertains to groups of players in MMOs:
Regarding sneering terms for players (whales, carebears): Why is it considered inherently superior to prefer to play for free, and to think smashing other players’ heads in is fun?
Of course, it’s not just PvP players and F2P players generating rude epithets for their enemies; we have nasty terms like “freeloaders” and “sociopaths” clogging up discussion too. So what’s up with the namecalling and tribalism in gaming? And why are we so obsessed with how people pay for things and what type of thing they like to kill in video games? I posed these questions to the MOP writers this week.
Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): Tribalism, like stereotyping, is all about shortcuts in thinking. It’s convenient to lump everyone and everything and every idea into a homogeneous group. A group is easier to dehumanize, degrade, and attack because it’s a very complex assortment of people and things and ideas reduced into something far more simplistic than it is. Heck, in recent gamer memory, we have examples of folks insisting on manufacturing enemy groups just to have someone to fight their culture war against. You can’t fight nameless, shapeless things, so you create them and label them, and terms like freeloader and carebear are born and applied and misused with wild abandon. Those who wield them find their status elevated inside their in-group, even if that in-group is an ephemeral comment thread.
Belonging to a group or clustering with likeminded people isn’t the problem. The problem is that shortcuts like in-group/out-grouping simplify arguments to the point that nothing is learned and no progress on solving issues can be made, and that’s true in gaming and everywhere. Can we fix it? No, but individually, we can fight it by avoiding shortcut terminology, calling it out when appropriate, and defining it carefully when we do use it.
Eliot Lefebvre (@Eliot_Lefebvre, blog): In part, because it’s easier to have a narrative with a villain. If you feel like games as a whole no longer cater to your particular playstyle, you could look at a variety of causes that have led to shorter-session play being more desirable… or you could blame the filthy casuals. It’s not that most players don’t want to take part in open PvP for various reasons; it’s that they’re a bunch of stupid carebears! It makes it much easier to present a unified front in your mind, to create a single opponent that’s behind all of your woes, and with the internet being what it is, odds are high you can find others of a single mind to point to one group and shout that they’re the problem.
Accurate? No. Productive? Not really. But it does form a better narrative to assume that you’re waging a long and tireless war against those horrid freeloaders instead of thinking about it in depth and realizing their are a variety of reasons someone might not subscribe to a game.
Jef Reahard (@jefreahard): Humans are inherently tribal. They always have been and always will be. By and large, people enjoy spending their time with other people who have similar interests and preferences whether we’re talking about car club members, sports fans, or MMO gamers. And this is totally OK, by the way, despite all the inclusivity rhetoric on Twitter and in the blogosphere.
In gaming, groups with diametrically opposed preferences can and have negatively affected the enjoyment of the opposed group because devs can’t cater to everyone. So yes of course, sub fans are going to get irritated with F2P fans, PvE fans are going to roll their eyes at PvP fans, and dozens of similar examples that I don’t have time to mention.
Justin Olivetti (@Sypster, blog): I feel it comes down to most of us harboring a deep-rooted and irresistable need to be right. To be right about everything. To have our way, our lifestyle, our viewpoint, and especially our opinions (informed, inherited, or just insane) validated and affirmed. When something works for us, we want others to experience it too. And while sharing that isn’t necessarily bad, getting pushy and then demanding about it can often cross the line.
So when it comes to the “serious business” of gaming, there are those who simply can’t live and let live. They have to identify with a game and a gaming style, they have to push opinions, they have to get into yelling matches over acronyms, and they chase this notion that if everyone and everything lined up the way that they see it, gaming would get so very much better for all.
But as with almost everything in real life, gaming is a messy business where the lines we draw for ourselves don’t usually hold up and people don’t aquiesce with each other’s desires. We might be concerned and agitated that another likes something we don’t or is on the opposite side of the fence, but what can help us get past this is to realize just how much we share in these games. Nothing destroys steadfast strongholds of opinion faster than finding common ground with the opposing side. Then everyone comes out for a picnic and takes a brief respite from the never-ending forum war.
Larry Everett (@Shaddoe, blog): Honestly, a whole article can be written about tribalism in online games because it amplifies what happens day-to-day in our places of employment, in our neighborhoods, in our cities, even in our families sometimes. But I would like to distinguish one thing that stands out as unique in online communities and that’s basic accountability. Because most online communities allow for anonymity, it inflates the anti-social behavior. People feel they can speak their mind without consequence, and it also increases the volume of the echo chamber. People will gravitate to the extreme more quickly. The biggest thing to remember is that there is a person on the other side of that computer screen that deserves just as much respect and patience as you do regardless of what they believe.