Last week’s Daily Grind about ambient sociability got a lot of MMO gamers talking about that desire to have people around, even if they weren’t grouped up for monster-bashing. But once the thread had runs its course, blogger and MOP reader Serrenity did some self-reflection on why it is we really want other people around so dang much.
“Is there a difference between wanting to celebrate or enjoy your accomplishments with other people and just ‘showing off’? I was thinking about in terms of Minecraft, which I LOVE, but knowing that no one can ever actually enjoy what I create with me leaves me feeling kinda lonely. It’s not that I want to show off what I created (that might be part of it) but really I want someone to enjoy it with me, not be jealous of what I created/accomplished.”
The question then for Overthinking this week is multilayered: Do you get that lonely feeling in underpopulated MMOs and offline games that makes you crave ambient sociability? And if so, for you is it more because you want to share experiences with other people or because you want a baseline for comparison – or something else altogether?
Andrew Ross (@dengarsw): I’m totally on the same page as Serrenity. It’s why I don’t get around to a lot of the AAA single player games or end up not finishing them. There are lots of online multiplayer games I’d be down for, but few of my friends have the time or desire to play them. Sorry Sea of Thieves and Asheron’s Call emulator!
In fact, in my current work environment, I’m finding it harder to stray from Pokemon Go. Not because it’s a great game, as I still feel Walking Dead Our World is much more MMO-ish in lots of good ways, but because it’s the only game that physically lets me meet new meatspace players easily and gives me some online multi-player opportunities.
Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): What Serrenity is describing happens to me a lot – honestly, that desire for connection is what used to drive me to mod in games like The Sims and Elder Scrolls with huge modding communities. It’s also one of the things that drives me to continue blogging! It’s that meta flowing around the games that has always attracted me almost more than the games themselves – that is my ambient sociability in games that don’t provide true online multiplayer of some sort.
So in those types of situations, I never think of it as showing off, and nobody else should either. I always thought of it as exchanging ideas with people who are in my same boat. I suppose I do want other people to see what I’ve made, but not so much for self-aggrandizement as for validation that what I’m working on is valuable or wanted, maybe, or at least just worthwhile to somebody beyond my own PC. And sometimes I’m just making stuff for myself and if other people like it, then even better.
Loneliness can definitely sneak up on me in underpopulated MMOs too. It’s one of the things that turns me away from most of the Star Wars Galaxies emus I’ve sampled; they just don’t have enough people to turn the machine and make it all feel like a simulation. I don’t necessarily need to be grouped with other people all or even some of the time; the ambient, semi-formless combat activities of something like Guild Wars 2, or the economic interactions of SWGL, are frequently more than good enough for me. I’ve always been a banksitter, too: Sometimes I just need to sit there and let the chatter at the local bank in whatever MMO wash over me to feel like I’m part of something bigger.
So, to touch on the first question: Yes, I absolutely get lonely in an underpopulated MMO. The final waning weeks — well, months actually, if I’m genuinely honest with myself — of WildStar saw the main hub cities completely empty, which combined with the lack of major updates to cause me to mentally say goodbye to the game well before NCSoft formally closed the curtain. Even if I’m not interested in joining the shout/public broadcast channel, having lots of folks milling about doing their thing absolutely makes me feel like I’m part of an active world.
I guess that, ultimately, is why I like that sense of ambient or passive sociability: I like knowing that there’s lots of folks doing lots of things around me and that I can maybe get to where they are at some time. Or maybe I can even make some new friends, in a perfect digital world. Just simply being counted among the group of adventurers is pretty reassuring to me. Besides, every now and again you just gotta take a moment to people watch, which was incidentally one of my all-time favorite pastimes in City of Heroes.
Eliot Lefebvre (@Eliot_Lefebvre, blog): Here’s the funny thing – the MMO where I’ve felt the sting of lacking ambient socializing the most, historically, has been World of Warcraft, a game that is certainly not lacking in player count (even now), but one in which it just feels more lonesome even when I know there are theoretically other players out there. So the underpopulation angle doesn’t seem to be the main issue, here.
Regardless, ambient sociability is one of those things that I think is wildly underappreciated by certain vocal segments of the MMO fandom. The point isn’t that you should need to be grouped up with people to do anything but that you exist in a world with other people, a world in which you create a certain amount of dynamic content for your fellow players on a regular basis. Sometimes it’s as simple as just doing things out in the world in Final Fantasy XIV and having a high-level player toss Regen on me for no reason; a momentary exchange of waves and then we’re both on our way to what we were doing before.
Players naturally want to show off the things that they made, which is why housing in particular is something that’s so frequently seen as a more social feature. If I build something great in Minecraft on my own computer, no one else can experience it, and part of the fun of these things is that experience aspect. By contrast, if I’m particularly pleased with a costume I assembled in Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, I can just show it off in screenshots; the experience is of looking at it, not exploring it and personally admiring the aspects provided.
I don’t think games designed without ambient sociability are worse than those with it, but I do feel that things like housing and player-built structures really benefit more from having that shared feeling. It’s the same impulse I’ve always had to show off the thing I just made, whether it be in LEGO bricks or with a housing plot.
Justin Olivetti (@Sypster, blog): Instantly my mind went to achievements — yes, those overused and seemingly pointless milestone markers of our “progress.” Yet I feel that they actually hold some purpose in a multiplayer social environment when other people in your circle or guild are informed as to your latest achievement. For me, it’s not about bragging or trying to garner compliments (or the gratuitous “grats”) but rather wanting the game to share what my friends and I are up to. It’s like little reminders that others are also out there adventuring, even though I can’t currently see them, or they me.
And it’s even more fun to have a housing plot or some other creative endeavor that you can share and has persistence. When my son made a house in Minecraft, his first impulse was to drag me into the room to check it out with him. It’s rarely fun to make something and then hoard it to yourself; creativity is best expressed with others.