Vague Patch Notes: Playing MMOs as an introvert

Laser needles.

I’ve heard people say that the idea of “extroverts” and “introverts” isn’t really all that accurate to the way that human beings actually behave, and let me tell you something: We’d have words if any of us would ever leave our homes to talk with another human being. I mean… more than usual right now because of the current state of the world. Honestly, you should probably be staying home as much as you can anyhow. It’s kind of nice. Let’s start over.

Some of us just have a harder time with social stuff than others. While I’ve heard tell about people who can do such things as “just talking with other people” and “interacting normally,” I certainly don’t have that particular advantage. So today, I want to talk a little bit about playing MMOs while you’re an introvert. You know, if it wouldn’t be too awkward or anything. I could just leave if you’d rather.

That’s a bit of introvert humor for you there. It’s funny because talking with people is scary.

The obvious question that some people have is why someone who is introverted would want to play an MMO in the first place, but the answer to that one should be pretty obvious when you think about it for a bit. Introverts are still human. We still crave human contact and interaction with other people. It’s just difficult for a lot of us, and we crave less of it and/or more control over those experiences.

In all of these ways, MMOs are ideal. There are always people around and reasons to interact with them if you have a hard time striking up conversations, but you’re never longer than a logout away from an exit from a given situation. You don’t have to talk about anything beyond the task at hand and sometimes not even that. It’s that passive social experience that can be like catnip for some of us, and it makes MMOs uniquely seductive.

Of course, this also brings with it unique challenges – specifically, the problem where a lot of MMOs are based around social friction, and social friction tends to make introverts catch on fire. We’re flammable like that.

Dead friends.

Here’s a little example. Suppose you, a presumably average person, wants to get something done with a group. Say there’s a quest requiring a group, for example. You then go through the following sequence:

  • Use the tools available to you to find a group, possibly just shouting in general chat for one.
  • Join that group.
  • Get the thing done.

For an introvert, the process is somewhat more difficult:

  • Take stock of the tools available for you to find a group.
  • Decide you’ll do it in an hour.
  • Pace awkwardly for an hour trying to psych yourself up for this.
  • See a group looking for exactly what you need that you could join up.
  • Think about it for a minute.
  • Realize that someone else probably already joined.
  • Even if someone else didn’t, you’d probably just be bothering them because you’re not good enough at the game to be very helpful.
  • They probably don’t want you around anyhow.
  • Resolve to absolutely never get this content done.
  • Feel simultaneously frustrated and relieved.

It’s for this reason that introverts generally love content you can just queue up for, because then you theoretically can avoid talking to anyone else about what you’re doing. You don’t need to have a friend group to rely upon. Heck, you can just queue in and get something done and maybe people will mistakenly think you’re cool! And by the time you could start feeling some regret, it’s too late and it’d be more awkward to back out.

Of course, this doesn’t cover all of the permutations available to you, but this is just a small slice of what it’s like to being an introvert in these games. For example, introverts I know in Final Fantasy XIV are almost universally omnicrafters. Why? Well, crafting is difficult and expensive and sometimes might require you seeking out other people… unless you can do all of it yourself. Then you don’t have to know anyone and you can just be self-sufficient, like a little tiny island.

It’s not that you hate people. It’s that people make you feel anxious and self-conscious and aware of all your flaws in ways that are hard to articulate. Being a sort of low-grade lonely might not make you happy, but it’s familiar in a way that you know how to cope with and that you can thus handle. It’s enough to know that you can join up with people even if you’re disinclined to actually do so.

You’re almost always disinclined to actually do so, of course. That’s what being an introvert is all about.

I see.

Now, you’ve probably ascertained by this point that I’m being at least a little silly and dramatic in this particular column. (If you hadn’t caught that by now… well, uh, welcome to here.) But there is actually a point to be made here, and I think that comes down to thinking a little more about the features we support and fight against in MMOs and what effect it has on people you may not realize.

You might say that being introverted doesn’t entitle me to any sort of accessibility options, and in a way, you’re entirely right. But in another way… if I run into a point in a game where I literally can’t advance without grouping up and there isn’t some way to just queue up for the content? I’m more than likely to just leave outright. A proper queue system for group content is something that’s worth a lot more to me than whatever archaic social friction can be preserved without it.

And that is ultimately a good thing. Because the point of MMOs is that these games are for a lot of people with a lot of different goals.

Part of making something with the sense of a full-on world is having a mixture of different people in it, different perspectives and viewpoints and goals within a given game. Some of that is definitely down to the content that’s available in the game, but just as much comes down to how players are able to interact with the game, what they can do comfortably, and what can be done in certain timetables.

You might be of the mind that no one should really be playing an MMO without the expectation of playing for an hour, for example. Is there a case to be made there? Certainly. But advocating for that is also telling people with shorter play windows that the game shouldn’t be for them. And those people who may not regularly have multiple hours to play at a time contribute to the game. Just like the introverts and the extroverts and the people with hours to play and the fashion fans and the people who don’t care about appearance and so forth.

Think a little about what it is you advocate for with a game’s mechanics. Are you making a game that can attract more people? Or are you telling certain branches of players that they’re not welcome in your title?

Because trust me, the introverts won’t tell you if they feel unwelcome. They’ll just leave. And you might not notice when they leave, but you will when they’re gone.

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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