Choose My Adventure: The point of a community-guided MMO column

And what this column is not meant to do


We interrupt your regularly scheduled Choose My Adventure programming for something of a meta discussion on what this column is meant to be and do. CMA is a very old column that our staff brought over from Old Massively, but I’ve been the keeper of its pages for the last few years, so I think it’s worth it to break up this month’s adventure for an explanation about the intent of the column and my intentions when writing it, following some confusion among some of the communities in the games I’ve toured.

In short, CMA is not meant to give an MMO’s community a spotlight or serve as promotion for a game. It’s meant to be a travelogue, a living journal of first steps and first impressions, of the things I enjoy and the things I don’t, whether that’s mechanical or communal, while allowing readers to provide input and even vote on my trajectory over the course of those few weeks.

Obviously, entering MMOs, MMORPGs, and multiplayer games can’t really be done without interacting with other players, nor should it be. That’s the nature of these kinds of games, after all, and it’s what makes them unlike any other kind of game out there. But if I’m coming to a game, it’s not with a plan to shine a happy limelight on it. That’s never been the point. And that does mean that I’m going to experience things that will run counter to the wider perception of a title’s community.

That’s something that came up in last month’s series, though it’s certainly happened before too. Admittedly, I had pondered that perhaps the lack of people milling about in The Secret World was a source of some of my dour feelings about the game, but ultimately I had concluded that the game overall just wasn’t a fit for me anymore. Its jankiness was too hard to ignore and its combat mechanics not a barbed enough hook to make me want to push deeper and experience more story. Having other people around made it easier to ignore that somewhat back when the game had first launched, but the greater enemy against my fully enjoying TSW was time. Other games came out. I moved on. And Funcom’s lack of open support for the game ultimately meant I should move on.

That said, even games where I’ve had positive player interactions didn’t absolve those games of creating weird first impressions, nor did being in an active game mean that I could completely ignore a title’s eccentricities. My husband and I survived a boss fight in RuneScape by the power of idiotic determination and eating whole cabbages; that’s amusing, but it doesn’t make the game good all of a sudden.

I do contend that there are times when I’m going to sort of engineer my own destruction here. Wurm Online still stands out as an experience that I’ll never forget for all the wrong reasons: a series of columns that unleashed angry dogpiles simply because I didn’t understand how a forge works. I’ve also managed to get under players’ skin because I forgot how to eat food in Project Gorgon. These are mistakes made by personal inattention, a game being incommunicative, or a combination of the two. And if it happens to me, someone who covers MMORPGs for a living, well, it’s going to happen to other players and newcomers too – and that’s worth highlighting.

But guess what? If a community’s reaction to my foibles and experiments is to tear the column or me asunder, that’s not going to reflect great on the playerbase no matter what else I experience or share.

Which, again, is not the point of the series. I don’t really relish in looking like an idiot in front of a bunch of people, even if I can laugh it off most of the time, nor do I want to make people mad. I like starting conversations, but I’m not trying to piss people off. Not intentionally, certainly.

I also don’t relish in reporting bad experiences in a chosen game. I try to find something redeeming and wonderful in every game I dive into for the series because it’s more fun to share joy and find the good things than to rag on the bad things, no matter how much it would seem that others have built entire “brands” on the opposite.

To be clear, this isn’t to suggest that I don’t want people’s input. It would be a really weird series if a column literally built to take polls and even commented suggestions didn’t do that. I also am not suggesting that community members or players not reach out to coordinate. I had a great time in Star Citizen and SWG Legends specifically because I had people help me out, and sometimes expediency for the format of the column is best, and that can only be really achieved with help from others.

But even when I get outside assistance, my point is that community is only one aspect of the whole experience of a CMA, and it’s not the primary focus besides. It’s a facet of the total experience of someone just stepping in to the game. Moreover, CMA isn’t meant to be a final report card on the entire community or the be-all, end-all opinion of everyone who plays the game. It’s a portion of the whole journey. Maybe a community will become a larger portion, but it’s still just a portion.

CMA also isn’t a full-on review of a game or a way to make fans of a game feel bad. A few hours a week isn’t exactly how I do reviews of full MMOs. I’m not here to cast aspersions on a game. I’m not here to drag a community over the coals. I’m not here to make things look and feel better than they are or paper over a game’s flaws. I’m here to offer up some initial experiences, as voted upon by the readers through polls, to try and sample a little bit of the chosen month’s title as best as I can, through the guidance of other players and through the will of the voting public.

I’m going to continue to try to toe this line as best as I can. I’m going to continue to take in feedback and comments and try to act on them as best as I can. I’m going to listen to the will of the voters and the readers. But I’m also not going to cover up or sugarcoat what I experience. I’m not going to be dishonest with my feelings or with those reading. I’m not here to draw final conclusions on a game, its players, or its devs. This is an adventure I intend to share with you, a log of my experiences, and maybe something that sparks conversation.

That adventure, incidentally, will continue with next week’s column. I’ve got a new character in Albion Online to put together, after all.

Welcome to Choose My Adventure, the column in which you join Chris each week as he journeys through mystical lands on fantastic adventures – and you get to decide his fate. Which is good because he can often be a pretty indecisive person unless he’s ordering a burger.
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