If you are not actually playing Final Fantasy XIV, you probably have an impression of the community for this game being an amazing font of positive wonderfulness in which everyone is happy and all sorts of silly things are happening constantly. (Also, thanks for reading this column despite not playing the game.) If, on the other hand, you do play the game, you’re probably sighing at the thought of having to block and report the first person you see who decided to glamour on a red baseball cap because why do you people ruin everything.
Herein lies the great contradiction of any community: So much of it is based on your frame of reference.
Let’s start with something that I think everyone is aware of but no one really thinks about in all that much depth: If you are not within a community, your evaluation of that community is naturally going to be less connected over time.
I say this because while there are definitely people whose frame of reference is limited to FFXIV, there are a lot of people who will be quick to point out that FFXIV is not their first ie only MMO and they have a clearer picture of what the overall MMO genre community looks like. And in the abstract, those of you saying that are completely right. Certainly you know more about the overall community than the mainstream reporter who thinks the genre has long started and stopped with Blizzard Entertainment, after all.
But most of us are not actually a part of the overarching community beyond the broad strokes. Even I can easily lose perspective on the larger community based on the particular games I play and focus on, and it’s to my benefit that my games encompass one title accepted for having a really good community and one… let’s be polite and say not seen that way.
So let’s start with the obvious: As good as the FFXIV community may look to outsiders, this is still a community that is replete with problems.
Elitism? Definitely a thing within the community. Unhelpful, selfish jerks who like to ruin other people’s playtime? Definitely. There are a whole lot of apologists for the Garlean Empire (fictional Japanese Imperial Nazis, in other words) mixed in among the apologists for actual real Nazis, there are some intensely toxic people in the community advocating for white supremacy, and so on.
And all of that is discounting the number of times that it’s turned out some community “leader” or another is a supercreep predator manipulating people out of the public eye. So far, so expected. If you have played MMOs, you have seen these things before and they’re awful.
Heck, when you put all of it out there, it sure sounds like this community is hot garbage and not worth caring about… until you put it in perspective. By volume, this stuff makes up way less of the community than you might expect given other MMOs and other communities.
We all know of games where some of the most toxic and nasty personalities out there are not only amplified but become de facto voices of the community as a whole. There’s at least one game out there where regressive nasties have kind of forever tainted the game itself, making it harder to talk about the game’s actual qualities in the wake of disgusting people chattering on with red baseball caps while cursing at you.
It’s not that these personalities don’t wind up hitting the FFXIV community; it’s that they tend to not be able to become intrinsically tied to the game as a whole. They tend to get pushed out or at least pushed to the margins of the community, not becoming the face of the title or the fans. Many of them are promptly drummed out altogether.
It’s not that the community never becomes a bit overzealous in its reaction to things; it’s that as a whole, the community seems to reserve that for at least responding to existing bad actors rather than just losing their minds at nothing. It’s not like the community always has the best relationship with the developers, but that the conflicts are generally framed with much more knowledge that people like Yoshida and Koji-Fox and Soken and Ishikawa and so on are people, not just named devices that make the game go.
For people who genuinely have not played other games with any intensity, all of this stuff is easy to miss. It’s easy not to see the ways in which the overall community attitude is so different, because you’re looking at it from a perspective where one game’s players think the developers made a bad call and the FFXIV community also thinks that the developers made a bad call, so how is stuff so different?
And the answer is that the response to the bad call is something like players saying “greed-only loot in alliance raids is a really bad decision,” not trying to get the developers fired. The development team listens and reverts it, and peace is maintained. This is not a feud between opposing forces, this is – at worst – a clash of philosophies undertaken by people who the community as a whole seems to recognize at the worst of times generally wants the game to be the best it can be.
That’s big. It’s different. And if your experience with all of this stuff has otherwise been confined to other MMOs, the FFXIV experience will feel wildly more refreshing and open by comparison. Or, just as surely, if you’re someone who covers a lot of MMOs and is accustomed to communities being worse than they are in this particular game, you’ll be intensely receptive to the overall community being more positive than you expect.
This isn’t to say that the problems aren’t there, or they don’t matter, or even that they’re not as big a deal as you think. Indeed, it’s quite the opposite. The community is definitely imperfect and flawed in a lot of ways and the house cleaning that happens periodically is quite important. Rather, it’s to point out that the house cleaning just mentioned is a sign that the community is working well. The people who need to be unwelcome are being shunned from the community over time, and people are re-evaluating as time goes by.
It’s worse than outsiders might think. But if you’re on the inside, it can be easy to miss just how good it actually is.
Feedback, as always, is welcome in the comments or via mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Next week, the final set of Ishgard restoration will have started up, so it’s a fine time to check in and see how things have gone during the first week of the final phase.