Syl of MMO Gypsy has invited gaming bloggers to join in a blogosphere joint-effort to write one (or more) posts about “Gaming and Community” this month and I was one of the lucky recipients of the Dec 1st posting date.
Community is very dominant in my choices about what games I want to play or not play and has been since 2007. That fateful year I finally agreed to join a lifelong friend in playing a MMORPG, something I’d resisted in the past (“pay a monthly fee to play a computer game, madness!”). The game of course was World of Warcraft and it, unlike other online games before it (including SWG and Mankind), really drew me into online gaming and the notion of a virtual community.
Since that day I’ve become 100% focused on online gaming, I’ve passed on many stalwarts of the PC or console RPG scene including Dragon Age 2 (and now 3), Mass Effect 2 and 3, Dark Souls, Dragon’s Dogma and even Skyrim couldn’t hold my attention. It’s certainly not because MMORPGs are superior but there is some je ne sais quoi, some mix of ingredients that online gaming brings and I think community is a central part of that.
Interactions with real players can often be fleeting or negative, but they can also be very positive and memorable also. I greatly appreciated the culture of “drive by buffs” in early WoW days and on our roleplay server such interactions could even lead to brief spurts of improvised roleplay between random strangers. Very recently I’ve just started looking at Guild Wars 2 again and that game actually succeeded, regardless of its flaws, to bring a tangible sense of community into the gaming world. The game was designed to reward players in a small way for helping others and it also removed any notion of competition for resources or quest completion in the game world, one of the common potential causes of friction between players in such games.
My memories of strong and positive gaming communities are not limited to such systems-related areas, one of the strongest MMO communities I have ever encountered is or at least was to be found on the EU-roleplay server of LOTRO (Laurelin). That community always struck me as being an essentially welcoming and friendly group of players, I was happy to visit the player-organised markets and roleplay events on my crafting alts. Back when I was last playing you could still find people roleplaying in the major taverns at various times of the day.
Like many online gamers I benefit from the chance to play such games with friends or family who are not so near to me geographically. I would go so far as to say I prefer to play with people I know in small groups than large-scale raids or public events. However I stick with the MMORPG genre precisely because there are wider communities out there that are well worth being a part of. Friends will always take precedence for my gaming time but I want the opportunity to randomly help someone else every so often, to roleplay with someone while waiting on a timed boss fight or the chance to trade items with a real player and not just some NPC vendor. Playing single player or even multiplayer RPGs on the PC or console does not interest me anymore because the worlds, however beautifully drawn or creative the story-telling, seem flat and lifeless when there aren’t other player controlled characters running around.