Perfect Ten: Why MMOs should never ditch text chat

Come on, my dudes.

If you ever want to feel what an MMO is like without any sort of text chat, then spend a stretch of time in Fallout 76. The silence in that online RPG is deafening because outside of proximity voice chat and a limited selection of emotes, there’s no way to hold conversations, coordinate efforts, or shoot the breeze with your server.

It’s the first exhibit I think of whenever someone agitates that MMOs should up and abandon text chat in favor of first- or third-party voice chat. Even as MMOs creep into modernity with their features, the trusty old text chat window is never going to be replaced because of its sheer flexibility, usefulness, and social bonding. Here are 10 reasons this feature needs to be enshrined at all costs.

Voice chat can be annoying and distracting

At the outset of this column, I want to clarify that I have no problem with adding more communication tools on top of text chat; I simply don’t want to see the latter replaced. And one of the primary reasons for that is the fact that voice chat can be so dang annoying.

Granted, voice chat is great for coordinating raids and dungeons when you need to communicate while freeing up your hands, but outside of that, being on a “party line” is rarely needed. I’ll never forget once when I was part of a guild that demanded we use Discord chat, and one member had a grating voice and never, ever stopped talking. It drove me to distraction and was a deciding factor in prompting me to look elsewhere for a guild.

Text chat helps overcome the language barrier

I don’t know if you are aware of this, but not all of us on this planet speak the same language. Until that’s accomplished — I suggest fluency in l337 speak — text chat offers more possible solutions for overcoming the language barrier. There are always translator tools, both in and out of games, that can enable you to understand and respond to what’s being said. FFXIV even offers a limited menu of phrases that’ll be automatically translated between Japanese and English, which is helpful for crossing that divide.

Profanity filters

One thing that voice chat absolutely can’t do is automatically pottymouth chatter. Maybe this doesn’t bug you, but for some people, it really does, especially since we all have different levels of acceptability in this area.

But almost every MMO offers some sort of optional profanity filter for chat channels, which I appreciate. Sure, they don’t always work great, but it’s certainly nice to have them if you don’t want your game sessions to be sullied by someone dropping swears left and right. This is also a very useful tool for parents trying to shield their children from undesired exposure to rough language.

Text chat works in any range

When it comes to in-game communication, range is always a key topic. How far do you let a player’s “voice” be heard, whether it’s text or chat? Some people really shouldn’t be granted a game-wide microphone — I’d argue that very few should, in fact. Text chat is so easy to organize into different ranges, whether it’s immediate proximity (/say), a wider circle (/yell), zone-wide, guild-wide, or globally. This also gives the user the option to enable and disable these ranges so that they can filter out the types of comms that are undesirable while keeping the ones that are.

Infinite Crisis

Outing yourself as a woman, teenager, etc.

So here’s something that I don’t think that people pushing voice chat often consider: Not everyone is comfortable having their actual voice be heard by others, and for good reasons. Maybe you have a speech impediment that makes you feel self-conscious. Maybe you’re a quiet talker who is intimidated by loud mouths. Maybe English isn’t your first language and you worry about not being understood. Maybe you’re a woman who doesn’t instantly want the attention of randy or sexist fellas. Maybe you’re young and worry about others hearing that in your voice and discriminating against you.

Text chat easily sidesteps all of these issues and allows you to present yourself to the world as you’d like to be taken. I think that’s very worthy of preserving.

Immersion and roleplay

When it comes to roleplaying your character, it’s highly unlikely that he or she will sound like you — I mean, you’re roleplaying, after all. And unless you have vocal talents like the late great Robin Williams, it’s going to be tough to voice your character properly. But in text chat? That can “sound” like anything you like, letting you preserve your head-canon while adequately conveying your character’s personality to the world around you. It’s probably just as immersive the other way around, as I don’t want to hear Ted from accounting hissing into his microphone that he’s an orphaned assassin from a fishing quay that had a peculiar dialect.

One-on-one tells

You know what’s a good analogue for voice vs. text chat in MMOs? Our phones. Long conversations favor a good old-fashioned phone call, but shorter ones often benefit from texts — or tells. As with texts, tells don’t demand immediate response, either, allowing us the benefit to think about an answer and mull over whether this person is worth ignoring. But you wouldn’t do that to me, would you?

Clarity of communication and coordination

I’m a big fan of the written word to relay short bursts of information or instructions, especially if those communiques need to be reviewed multiple times by several other people. While it’s harder to convey tone and emotion over text, it is vastly superior to audio for precise and clear delivery. Being able to post a text notice in guild chat, for instance, might forestall people from asking the same question a dozen times. It’s also something you can leave hanging there for minutes or even hours afterward, long after the faintest vibration of a voice fades into the distance.

Multitasking while gaming

One of the big reasons that I push back against guilds that outright demand you hang out in their Discord voice channels isn’t merely to avoid the mouthbreathers but because I’m usually doing something else that demands my ear. I could be listening to the voice acting in a game, my own music, podcasts, and YouTube videos while I’m playing. Your mileage may vary depending on how social you feel, but I almost never want to be trapped in voice chat channels while playing MMOs. Text chat lets me survey a conversation with the option to participate or completely ignore while not pulling my attention away from the game proper.

More, not fewer, options for comms

I hope I haven’t given the impression that I hate voice chat or think it’s completely worthless. I don’t. I think it has a time and a usefulness, but it isn’t as flexible or all-purpose as text chat.

However, why should we stop at two types of communication? These are (allegedly) social online games, so devs should review and embrace all types of inter-player comms that could build up the community. Emotes, player-written books, grouping tools, communal map notations, auto-translate phrases, and more can fill specific communication roles in our shared journeys.

Everyone likes a good list, and we are no different! Perfect Ten takes an MMO topic and divvies it up into 10 delicious, entertaining, and often informative segments for your snacking pleasure. Got a good idea for a list? Email us at or with the subject line “Perfect Ten.”
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