Vague Patch Notes: How to make your corner of the MMO space more pleasant

    
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Oh, COME ON, what did that accomplish?

It’s 2020, people – let’s do this. What do I mean by this? Unscrew our MMO living space. That one’s a lot more fun to chant than last year’s new edition of this column, but it’s also pretty vital because the reality is that if your MMO space is full of people you hate and games you don’t enjoy playing, the architect of that is probably staring you right in the mirror when you wake up.

No, I don’t mean that you’re necessarily the lead designer behind games that make baffling and terrible decisions. (Although if you are in charge of a game that habitually does that – say, you work for a studio with a name that rhymes with “Wizard” – maybe you should stop doing that.) I mean that when you’ve got a shared social space, you are in part responsible for cultivating that space. And while you cannot entirely change the course of your community and the people around you, you can at least give it the old college try, right? So let’s start trying to make this a better place to occupy.

Cuddly.

Talk more

One of the things that I see people lament a lot in dungeon groups in, say, World of Warcraft is that no one is talking. People only talk when something goes wrong or to call someone else an idiot. There’s no joking around, no silly memes, nothing but quiet grimness. But that’s always seemed to me like the sort of thing you can address easily enough by, well… talking. Just strike up conversation. Chat. Be friendly.

If someone’s new in the group, help walk them through it. If you’re new, talk about it. If you think a particular boss just looks weird, say something about that. Say things like, “This dungeon must smell like a fish kill at low tide.”

Yes, you might need to take a few seconds out of your damage rotation and may wind up killing things slightly more slowly. But here’s the thing: More often than not, if you don’t like going through a dungeon in stoic silence, no one else is enjoying it either. Everyone wants someone to break the ice, and if you all just stand there awkwardly killing stuff and waiting for someone else to make the first move, you might as well go back to middle school dances for socializing.

No, I’m not suggesting you strike up conversations over nothing just to fill the air with inane chatter instead of silence. But if you want your space and your community to be more amenable to chatter, you start by making some chatter. You start by being friendly. If it feels lonely at first, well, it’s going to, but it also means that everyone else is going to feel a little less anxious about talking to the group.

And if you’re worried that’s going to make your group go more slowly in group content? Yeah. Probably. That’s the point.

We should really go somewhere specific.

Slow down

Seriously, it’s not going to matter if your dungeon takes five minutes longer tonight. Chill out.

Yes, there are times when it actually does matter. Back when WildStar was still a thing, for example, you might need to finish all your objectives within a narrow timeframe; at that point, yes, speed matters. But there’s a difference between situations where speed is an advantage or a requirement and times when you’re just… rushing to clear something so you can move on to clearing the next thing. And the latter situation is a good time to just slow the heck down.

We are all in a great damn hurry to be bored, and I include myself in this list along with everyone else. I sometimes find myself getting impatient in Final Fantasy XIV because I want to wrap this dungeon up faster, until I realize that I’m getting impatient about doing something that’s supposed to be fun because I want to do the next thing. If I actually get all of my stuff done as quickly as possible, that just means I’m done faster. It doesn’t make it more fun; it just means it’s over more quickly.

Speed can be great sometimes. I enjoy actually trying to optimize runs and the like. But it’s also a good idea to recognize when you’re trying to go fast for no other reason than the simple reality that speed gets you… bored, but faster. Not everything is a race for world first, not everything is a test to go as hard as possible, and it’s all right when you are playing a game to not worry about pushing to the edge of your performance at all times.

That’s not the same as “play badly,” of course. It just means that… you can relax a little. You can move to be safer from mechanics even if it means your damage slows down. You can take time off from farming or grinding. You can let a couple days go by without selling things on the market. You can chill and slow down.

And on the note of chilling and slowing down…

NO

Argue less

Actually, this is just a good life lesson in general. Argue less.

This isn’t about stuff like, say, defending your personal boundaries. This is about when you’re browsing a site and see, say, an article that insinuates something might have gone wrong with a game you like. Or someone in a game you like says another game you like is bad. Or someone in that other game is talking about how a game you dislike is bad. You can hear the sound of seats squeaking back against the bar floor.

And none of this is new, of course. When I was in high school, for example, there was a very real question of whether you were one of the people with a PlayStation, or a Saturn, or an N64. It was very important for you to state your allegiance and make it clear which one you supported. You’d have thought that the entire market for video games hinged on what some hundred-odd students played.

You know how much it actually mattered? Not one whit. The consoles lived and died completely on their own merit. My ownership of a Sony PlayStation was in no way a substitute for developing a personality, and it did not need my help defending it from criticism. I guess it helped me sharpen my thinking in a roundabout way for getting paid to talk about that stuff, but that seems like an edge case.

If you aren’t getting paid and you don’t work for these companies? Just argue less. If you’re getting whined at by someone in a random group not for playing badly but just because you aren’t doing what they want? You don’t need to argue. Just generally focus on enjoying more, which ties in directly with spending less time arguing over needless, pointless crap.

Because again, if you’re cultivating the space around you, there’s no one but you deciding whether or not it’s filled with negative energy. You can’t do anything about if, say, the company behind your favorite game turns out to be run by awful people who can’t hold on to employees. But you can choose whether or not you want to engage in arguing about that fact or if you’d rather just… play the game or not, based on your feelings.

So chill out and make your space more positive. That’s going to make for a better year.

Sometimes you know exactly what’s going on with the MMO genre, and sometimes all you have are Vague Patch Notes informing you that something, somewhere, has probably been changed. Senior Reporter Eliot Lefebvre enjoys analyzing these sorts of notes and also vague elements of the genre as a whole. The potency of this analysis may be adjusted under certain circumstances.
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