Massively Overthinking: The real-world value of MMOs


A while back on the MMORPG subreddit, there was a wildly contentious – one might even say transparently provocative – thread declaring that “[i]f governments all over the world banned online gaming/MMOs, nothing of value would be lost” and that indeed it would be a net improvement for mankind as a whole. It’s gone now and was met with plenty of backlash, but I never met an internet thread I didn’t want to argue with, which is probably how I ended up helming Massively Overthinking. Ahem.

So let’s nibble the bait and tackle this. I’m going to take it for granted that the people who read and write for an MMORPG blog naturally believe that the genre and hobby have some level of inherent value. What I want to discuss is what that value is and how you measure it. What specific real-world value have you gotten from online gaming? Is it social? Educational? Relaxation? Skill-training? Networking? Letting off steam? Or something totally different?

Andrew Ross (@dengarsw): A lot of this can be covered in the piece I did on life lessons learned from Asheron’s Call, but networking was a minor one. I got in some good language practice when playing with Japanese players on the Asian Darkfall server, Japanese ArcheAge server, and in a Japanese group in Neverwinter, just off the top of my head. I got some good writing feedback from most of my MMOs too, from doing guides to RP scenarios and yes, even fan-fiction, which actually helped me gain attention from WoW Insider back in the day, so a bit of job help too. My work here at Massively actually helped me utilize and maintain some of my peer-review research skills, as I was able to gain access to studies, and that in turn actually sometimes fed back into lesson plans when I was teaching.

And now as games can blur the lines between reality and virtual, I’ve also been able to add weight loss, connecting with my local community, learning about my city/place I’m visiting, and (sadly) navigating local law enforcement. Depending on how you play, MMOs can motivate people to do a lot. Yes, they can be detrimental, but does it matter if it’s from an MMO or just watching sports for years?

Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): Even before covering MMOs became my job, MMOs were providing me a lifeline. They gave me lifelong friendships, management experience, diplomacy practice, very practical soft skills and cat-herding – but they’re also how I learned website design and improved my spreadsheet wizardry. Maybe above all else, this hobby has connected me to a world much bigger than wherever I am on the planet at any given time, long before social media tried to do the same. I mean, that’s setting aside the fact that it’s a bajillion-dollar industry that provides employment and creative outlets for millions of people around the globe. I literally wouldn’t be here without any of this, and I know I’m not alone. That even by itself is worth it.

Carlo Lacsina (@UltraMudkipEX, YouTube, Twitch): I like who I grew up into. And if I didn’t spend my college and early adult years playing MMORPGs, I wouldn’t be who I am today. More specifically, I realized my passion for leadership from both being a raid leader and a tank. By extension, I found how much I loved how working in a team to overcome obstacles. MMORPGs taught me the importance of leadership and how rewarding the role is, something I didn’t really learn when I was younger. And I don’t know if I would’ve learned it somewhere else, but learning it in an MMORPG was much more fun. I still miss being a raid leader, even with all the challenges it brought, and I’m convinced that I can do an even better job today. I’m just waiting for the day I can try my hand at raiding again.

But until that day comes, I’ll just pretend to be a raid leader by taking on leadership roles in my day to day job, earning the respect and trust of my colleagues instead of a stat stick that hits harder. Boring.

Chris Neal (@wolfyseyes, blog): I have absolutely felt a number of social benefits from playing MMOs, which in turn has made me a generally more social and outgoing person both in digital and meatspaces. Sure, sometimes hell is other people in our genre, but the positives have far outweighed the negatives.

I also feel like I’ve gotten better at some leadership situations from playing as a tank or healer. I admit that there seems like a matter of correlation not being causation, but being a lynchpin for a team’s success in dungeon runs as a major trinity role has made me at least more comfortable with taking ownership and offering guidance in real-world team scenarios.

Finally, being a roleplayer of various stripes has improved my writing and continues to do so to this day. The need to express emotions and write dialogue, on the fly, in a character’s voice, and at the pace of natural conversation, remains an excellent writing exercise.

Justin Olivetti (@Sypster, blog): Without overstretching the effects of gaming — which, I’ll admit, are an entertaining hobby first and foremost — there are some real benefits I’ve garnered from MMOs. They serve as a reliable source of stress relief and even motivation during the day (i.e., if I get all my work and responsibilities done, I get to do this fun thing). They provide a low-key method of social interaction and have produced some welcome friends in my life. I’ve saved so much money that I would’ve otherwise spent on buying tons of non-MMO games to fill up that gaming space. And MMOs have spurred me on in my regular writing habits, which, oh yeah, led me to an actual job. Now, to be fair, I can point to negatives from MMO gaming, but by and large they’ve been a positive effect on my life.

MJ Guthrie (@MJ_Guthrie, blog): No value? I would posit that there are other pastimes (I won’t name names!) that have less value intrinsically than gaming. In fact, I find gaming itself actually has a number of beneficial points to it. Obviously it isn’t all grand, but I do touch the surface of these benefits on The Soapbox I wrote arguing that gaming is neither evil nor an automatic addiction. Here I show that gaming can most certainly build skills (see section 4) and build communities (see section 5).

In short, I say yes to all the above real-world value: social, educational, relaxation, skill-training, networking, and burning off steam. I personally have myriad examples for each and every one of these in my life as well as examples from the lives of others around me. I won’t write another soapbox here detailing each of them, but I’ll share that the strongest ones have been social, relaxation, and networking. I mean, just look at the job I do and guess how it is I got it? Gaming! Most of my closest friends? Gaming! Stress relief? Gaming!

Sam Kash (@thesamkash): It’s just a great way to kick back and chill out. I think what I love about MMOs is the never ending feeling of the alternate world you join and their stories. As much fun as other games are they have a set end point typically. So the value for me is just knowing that the game and all these other people are roaming around and experiencing it together for years and years.

I can hop in and play and just knowing that all the other characters around me are actually people doing their own thing. It just makes it real. There’s value in simply experiencing a game at the same time as thousands of other people.

Tyler Edwards (blog): Without being able to read the post in question, I assume it was another riff on the point that nothing we own in games has any real world value, which is worth keeping in mind. I wouldn’t agree that “nothing of value” would be lost, though.

Video games, including MMORPGs, are a form of art, and I think art should be preserved where possible. A lot of MMOs have interesting worlds, beautiful visual art, enchanting soundtracks, or meaningful stories that deserve preservation.

Even when games or artworks are bad, it can still be an interesting part of our cultural heritage. As a cautionary tale, if nothing else. I don’t want to forget that there was once a game where quests were delivered by the gyrating asses of twerking cat-girls. That kind of baffling stupidity is as much a part of the history of our genre as the Corrupted Blood pandemic or the launch of Trammel.

On a personal level, I don’t tend to feel like I’ve gotten much benefit from MMOs beyond the obvious entertainment value (which should be enough, frankly), but I suppose my time in The Secret World did indirectly lead me to current game design work. I developed a taste for design after writing a D&D 5E campaign in the TSW setting. For that matter one of my main character artists on Wyrd Street is someone I met on the TSW forums…

(The cat-girl twerk-o-rama game was Trinium Wars, by the way. I know you’re wondering.)

Every week, join the Massively OP staff for Massively Overthinking column, a multi-writer roundtable in which we discuss the MMO industry topics du jour – and then invite you to join the fray in the comments. Overthinking it is literally the whole point. Your turn!
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