What are your biases when it comes to MMOs? It’s all right, you can be honest about them here. Maybe you’re biased against games that have mandatory open PvP and refuse to play them. Or you could be biased toward accessibility and inclusion options, either in the way that the game handles its user interface for players or how its story is constructed. You might even be biased toward business models that allow you to get more of the game for a flat fee in contrast to something with more microtransactions.
“Bias” is one of those words that’s gotten thrown around enough that it now has a negative connotation it only sort of deserves. I mean, a bias is strictly meant to be a bad thing, showing that you are inclined toward one thing over another in a manner that is unfair. But trying to pretend that we’re not biased about certain things is kind of an exercise in futility, especially when you confront the fact that we all have an assortment of biases to deal with.
Here’s the thing: In order to talk about MMOs intelligently, you need to start by recognizing where your bias lies and how that’s altering your perception of the games you deal with. Failing to do so is how we get lost in the weeds super quickly.
A good example of this? WoW Classic. How many people brought forth the idea that the classic game was going to be harder than the retail version? The answer is “a lot,” and it resulted in some wild cognitive dissonance when it became clear that the classic version was in many places actively easier. Indeed, I wrote more than one column about how people were remembering the game as being harder than it actually was, usually in no small part because it wasn’t actually regarded as difficult when it was a new game.
So where did this assumption come from? Well, a lot of places, but the very broad reading of the situation comes back to bias. The people who were looking for this were, in part, biased toward games that have a heavy timesink cost and a social friction dependency, and that was what they were looking for. But we don’t really think of those things as being traits of specifically good games, so instead you wind up with a lot of mental and conceptual baggage getting drilled into distilled formats.
That’s not to say that WoW Classic is a bad game, either! It’s just a game, and if you have the right kind of schedule, friend group, expectations, and so forth, it’s going to be just the sort of game you want to play. But recognizing your biases about what makes a good game is useful here to understand both whether or not it fills those criteria and what those criteria even are.
One of the things that comes up a lot in discussions of journalism in particular is the idea of unbiased reporting, and it when it comes to factual recountings, that’s pretty darn important. But even then, you run into places where trying to be “unbiased” is itself kind of biased.
Case in point? Dreamworld. That particular project has taken a lot of drubbing from us in our various postings about the game because it’s not a game but a project promising far more than any game has delivered for far less and without experience. If you donated money to that project, I’m sorry to be the one to break it to you, but that money is gone and you’re almost certainly never going to get anything out of it.
But is that biased? When everything about the project screams “non-productive scam,” is it biased to point that out when we write about it? Or is it in fact biased to not point that out, to withhold information based on the assumption that the ideal of reporting requires us to treat the information we’re given as value-neutral?
There isn’t a hard-and-fast answer. It’s clear which one we ultimately decided on, of course, but both of those elements have some bias to them. Either we’re biased against a certain project, or we’re biased so far to neutrality that we’re not covering an almost definite scam accurately. And just as before, we have to be aware of those biases before we can address them.
To put it another way, biases are a bad thing, but they’re a bad thing in the same way that personal vices are. Everyone has them. The idea of being free of biases is a nice idea in much the same way that it’s nice to imagine always making the right choices. It’s not really going to happen, and striving for it is not a realistic goal.
What you can do, however, is interrogate your biases.
I know, for example, that I have a strong bias toward content that’s available for players to queue up and go. Why? Well, because my first MMO was Final Fantasy XI, a game that was heavily based around slowly manually assembling parties and generally sitting in a hub area doing nothing until that happened. As a result, I got really tired of hurrying up and waiting in the hopes of a new group… and because of my schedule at the time, trying to put together and maintain a consistent group to play with wasn’t ultimately doable.
This has left me with certain biases that persist to this day, despite the fact that I am now far more capable of assembling a consistent group and thus no longer have the material reasons for these biases. I still think that for the majority of players, this sort of content is easier and more accessible, but I’ve had to do a lot of research and look for people with different viewpoints to ensure that I’m not just talking out of my rear when saying that.
Which I still might be! Because again, bias!
Being biased toward something or against something doesn’t mean that you’re inherently wrong about it, but it does mean that you need to be ready to investigate why you believe what you believe and why your biases exist. Sometimes this is more difficult; sometimes it’s pretty easy. There are other biases I have that I can’t explain as easily as the one I just listed. There are particularities in my preferences that make me more or less inclined to like something where it’s hard to understand why.
And you know, figuring out why that’s the case is a good thing. It makes me think longer about what is holding my interest and why. It gives me reason and cause to take things from a perspective outside of my own, to face the possibility that the truths I consider to be self-evident may not be and might, in fact, require closer examination and maybe even a complete re-evaluation in the light of a bigger world.
Just like considering yourself an average player, considering yourself unbiased doesn’t make you so. It more likely means you’ve just never asked yourself the question about how you deviate, either in opportunities or viewpoints. And if you want to be able to talk about a subject intelligently, understanding your bias is a good place to start.