Ponder the Social Aspect of MMOs

I got a comment on yesterday’s post that questioned what some would consider one of the primary pillars of the MMO experience:

Dear Wilhelm

I think your overestimating the social significance of MMOs. After many years play as a non-guilder/PUGster, I’ve come to the conclusion that meeting people in MMOs is like going to Kindergarten.

. you make instant friends for the day (and everyone is bubbly)
. you’ll never see them again (they just disappear into the aether)
. you speak like a little kids
. everyone tends to be greedy, but in an innocent way

Its fun, but its not that significant…

Now, I had my own snarky response to this.  I was snarky because I do not think that, in general, I espouse a philosophy on this blog that places emphasis on social interaction.  A recurring theme here is playing with the same four people once a week and rarely getting involved with anybody else in the game.

In fact, yesterday’s post was worth posting because I actually did, grudgingly, go play with some strangers.  I am certainly not the poster boy for socialization.

I did end my response with something that I can sum up by paraphrasing Tom Lehrer:

The social aspect of MMOs are like a sewer; what you get out of it depends on what you put into it.

Frankly, when it comes down to it, my experiences are probably more akin to the commenter than not.  But even as somebody who tends to be a solo player in multiplayer games, I have managed to collect a string of friends and acquaintances over the years.

So as a legitimate point of view for an individual, I cannot really fault his statement.  But as a sweeping generalization of the total MMO experience, I just cannot get there.  I know too many people for whom the social aspect is the main draw.  After all, one of the four quadrants of the classic Bartle Test is “Socializer.”

How about you?  How significant do you see the social aspects of MMOs in your view?

15 thoughts on “Ponder the Social Aspect of MMOs

  1. Brit in California

    The social aspect of MMO is extremely important to me. I continue to play EQ2 because of the in game friends that I have met. I switched to LOTRO for six months at the start of the year, when several of them took a break from EQ2 and had a vacation in Middle Earth. I am back in EQ2 with those same friends.
    I frequently play solo, but most of my in game time is in groups with my guild friends, or in a PUG. Without those friends, I would probably try other online games or play single player RPGs

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  2. Jonathan

    Having friends to play with has been one of the largest draws for me, and it’s been the difference between a game being “okay” and the “holy crap that was amazing” moments. LOTRO was quite a bit like that for me. I played it occasionally and felt that it was pretty good, but the day that I started playing with a group of friends was the day that whatever magic was missing suddenly showed.
    I think most people have started to get in the habit of seeing the “group” as a means to an end… they think the group is there to beat a tougher instance or beat a particular quest. Whatever happened to the days where having the group there was the point in the first place? Where the journey and the experience as friends was the point? Some of my favorite MMO stories I look fondly back on where back in EQ when to have our group and be adventuring together was the whole reason to play? When it was less about “lets go run this dungeon again” and more about “what crazy stories will we be able to tell tommorow at work”. I think that’s what constantly draws me to EveOnline so much… the community is fantastic because we’re in it for the experience itself. No one is holding our hands… we have to help each other to survive.
    Another interesting thing I noticed… we may not always THINK we play for the social side of things, but how many of us have said “I’m quitting that game for good” only to by pulled back in because of a friend wanting you to come back? I do it all the time. :)

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  3. Beladan

    What is ‘social’? Recently, I had a player shadow me up a set of steps during a fight, then run by me whilst I took literally a second or three to prepare to engage the boss at the top and fight him.

    I guess he utilized me to advance his play. Was that social? I told him he was an ass. Social? He said ‘Thanks, buddy” Was that social. He then asked me if I wanted him to help me in what, I prefer to imagine, was a semi-apology that in fact, his behaviour might be seen by some as boorish. Especially to old fart gamers like me who were taught to take turns. Was that social?

    What about this legendary chap everyone with a blog is writing about these days, who joins a group but never says a word – just executes his role with ruthless efficiency. Is that social? Or the asshat who chews out a newbie ruthlessly for mis-stepping during a PUG. Is he social?

    Even Bartle is loose. A griefer can’t grief without … griefees, I guess – does that make him or her a social gamer? Comments like the one you received are just silly. One person has a view and then feels that they can extrapolate to the entire MMO world? Vanity, thy name is gamer.

    I don’t PUG, mainly because I have no desire to be ridiculed and abused as the guy not ultimately specced. I’d rather just enjoy content at my own pace. But socialization is important. After all, I’m in the MMORPG by choice – and not off playing Dragon Age or Fallout or Oblivion, or any of the myriad choices of gameplay with downloadable content that can keep the game ‘fresh’. I’m waiting for a package for Christmas from a guildmate I have never met. I’ve sent gifts, cards and well wishes to many many folks over the years with whom I socialize in game. I’ve not ever sent a developer of a stand alone rpg a card.

    The fact is an MMORPG is social by virtue of being what it is. Whether or not a player feels that socialization is important, only real psychopaths would log on to an online game where there was an entire world for play but no other players. “I only PUG so socialization doesn’t matter to me” is a tautology. It’s false logic. It’s like having a ‘dry wet’ or a ‘hot cold’ It’s silly. I’m not social because I only play in groups?

    Unlike a sewer, the social aspect of a game always gives out more than you put into it. You help a few people in a guild, many are willing to help you. You offer nothing to a group except a dps count – the group offers you playtime, loot, and opportunity to advance. You can never use the chat bar in some games, yet still social aspects of the MMO will help you advance: players buy your crafted crap, players buy your loot drops, players PUG you through dungeons. At base level, enough players are online to allow the game to stay open. Take away those players and the servers go dark.

    Without social aspects, there is no game. They are critical to aspects of the game. Without them, there are only NPC’s and the game is loaded on your hard-drive and no modem is required. Add those social elements in and you have a MMORPG.

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  4. dave

    I have personally met 6 people that I met through the MMO experience.

    I’ve vacationed with 2 of them in Vegas 3 years running. A different one came into our home and spent a week’s vacation with us in California. My wife and I traveled close to 3 others on our vacation one year with the specific purpose to meet them.

    Social significance? I think I understand it a bit better than this commenter. He’s full of it.

    What you do in game reflects you as a person. If you are an asshat in game, chances are, honestly you are an asshat in real life.

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  5. Wilhelm2451 Post author

    @Potshot –

    “Perhaps The Ancient Gaming Misanthrope would have been a better blog title to avoid confusion.”

    The last time I used “misanthrope” in a sentence aloud, somebody wanted to know if I was talking about werewolves. That’s all I need.

    Although, as you may recall, one of my Champions Online characters was Miss Anne Thowpee, so it isn’t like I’m denying the charge.

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  6. Bhagpuss

    The odd thing is this:

    When I began playing MMOs, the social aspect was actively offputting.

    A couple of years in it became important, then very important.

    After about six or seven years it had become a pleasant background option but in no way essential.

    That’s where it sits now, although I can feel something of a mild urge beginning to move me back towards more socialising.

    I think it would be a different story if either I or Mrs Bhagpuss ever met anyone in real life who didn’t at best look mystified and a little frightened or, more likely, hoot with laughter at the idea of spending even a few minutes playing an online game, let alone investing most of one’s spare time in the hobby.

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  7. Thallian

    I love meeting nice new people but honestly the “cost/benefit ratio” of meeting them versus wading through the mean ones is very low on some games and it teaches me to be less and less friendly. I still resist though!

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  8. We Fly Spitfires

    It’s huge to me – as much as I enjoy single player games, for instance, I always feel kinda sad that I’ve got no one to interact with when I play them. Socialising is really the entire point of MMOs, whether people admit it or not. Kinda hard to raid without interaction with other players :)

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  9. Brian 'Psychochild' Green

    Consider how important the social aspect is in other activities. Let’s take movies as an example, even though it usually makes me cranky when people compare games to movies.

    Is the social aspect important when watching a movie? I think most people would say “no”. You can watch a movie sitting alone on your couch, or go see a movie right before it’s about to leave a theater and sit by yourself in an otherwise empty theater.

    But, consider that sometimes the experience is enhanced with other people. Romantic comedies are better with someone else; either a romantic partner to share sappy guffaws with, or some friends to give the movie a much-needed MST3K treatment. Other types of movies can be enhanced with an audience around you. Even an introvert like me can feel the positive energy of having waves of laughter all around you at a truly hilarious movie, or the seemingly synchronized gasp as something exciting happens on the screen.

    Of course, it’s not always peachy. Someone talking on the cell phone, a cranky baby, or some wannabe comedians pretending to be a space guy and two robots a few row down may ruin your experience.

    MMOs have similar social ups and downs. Sure you usually enjoy them alone (at least the good ones), but you can get a good buzz going from others in the area. Sometimes assholes ruin the experience for you. But, there’s an additional layer: you can engage some of the other people and get to know them. Not everyone is exciting and interesting, but when you find a new friend it can be truly awesome, because the person you chat with may not be the type of person you’d ever run into otherwise. Some may even live in other countries you’ve never visited.

    My thoughts.

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  10. Leumas K

    My brother and I were discussing a similar subject recently. He brought up a point from his social psychology studies that men (vs. women) often seek group interaction as a remedy to loneliness, where women will seek meaningful one-on-one interaction. Sports or ‘poker night’ would be the stereotypical male examples of this group interaction for me.
    Personally, I find this interaction in MMO gaming. The theory is that doing the same or a similar activity in the same place fills that group interaction need. I am questing or working with other people in the MMO world. We are working on similar goals. I may not group with them, but I know that they are real people and that fulfills some need for social interaction.
    I have a guild (EVE corp) who I work with. We are friendly, I know where some of them live (Ohio, Austalia, Belgium), we chat sociably, it’s like some sort of civic club. It fulfills some of that need for social interaction. I get it in other places as well (lest you think I use MMOs to solve all of my RL problems), but it certainly contributes to my overall well being.

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  11. Marchosias

    I eschew socialism in all its forms… Oh wait, what?

    I pretty much solo unless I know someone else in game. The “social aspect” is just so much fluff as far as I’m concerned. It’s nice to look at, but not necessary.

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  12. Pingback: Friends: in-game vs. real life « Friends: In-game vs. Real

  13. Pingback: How socializing has allowed and altered game-play in MMOs | CommUnity: Online Conference on Networks and Communities 2012

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