The MMO as religion

So as I mentioned, I’m taking advantage of the 2-week freebie period in Age of Conan. I was so lost when I logged back in that I left Global Chat on, something I rarely do.

And for the most part, it was pretty civil. Enough so that I left it on and learned some things. The vets seemed willing to help with the flood of “Hi, I haven’t played in a year, can someone remind me how to…” questions with very little snark. I’d shifted servers to Wicanna in hopes of hooking up with Stargrace or Krys and I was liking the vibe there.

And then, the inevitable happened. Someone mentioned World of Warcraft. And the vitriol started spilling out, the chat pane scrolling like a waterfall. A few brave souls make the foolish choice of admitting that they *gasp* enjoyed WoW, and were verbally crucified for their heretical beliefs.

I should have, normally would have, just turned off Global Chat, chalking it up to the generally abhorrent hive-mind that dwells in every MMO. But I’d been lulled into this sense that the community of Wicanna was somehow different, and the sudden change in tone put me off to the point where I logged out, needing to get away from MMOs for a while.

Now in fairness, it takes a very, very small percentage of a server’s population to turn a chat channel into a cesspool, and once I settle down I’ll realize that these few verbal gankers are insignificant compared to the decent folk who’d been helping out the returnees. I don’t want to take away from the good deeds those individuals had been doing and in general I’m liking the population of Wicanna.

But it did get me to wondering why a significant number of people seem to treat MMOs like a religion. What is it about a person playing both Age of Conan and World of Warcraft (or any other 2 games, though if one of the 2 is WoW it seems to heighten the effect) that upsets a certain segment of the population? This isn’t limited to in-game chat; you see it on forums and blogs (more on forums) too. It’s like we’re all expected to pick ONE MMO to completely devote ourselves too, and enjoying more than one is blasphemous, like trying to be both Catholic and Jewish at the same time.

Why do people *care* what we play, or what we like? I understand wanting people to enjoy the game you love, since you want ‘your’ game to have lots of subscribers and do well. But beyond that, it just baffles me. Tearing into a person because they admit to liking another game as well is just going to drive people away from ‘your’ game, and it taints the entire MMO experience.

Think I’ll go back to my policy of turning off Global/General Chat for a while.

12 thoughts on “The MMO as religion

  1. I think most people think of maturity as how they treat others and not also how they respond to others. It can take a lot of patience, charity and realist thinking to not get angry and to refrain from lashing back when someone is aggressive or insulting toward you. Offline and on, people in general tend to respond with revenge when attacked with harsh words. And MMO debates often are insulting in that one person demonstrates no real interest in the others views, even while they respond to those views.

    As for where the dogmatism comes from, it’s probably about communities. Since MMOs are generally social, saying that one MMO is better than another is like saying one’s social group is better than another. It’s national thinking — basic human nature. That’s just a guess, though.

  2. I could better understand the reaction if people had positioned themselves in terms of “WoW is better than AoC” or in some other way had attacked AoC from inside AoC, but that wasn’t the case. They simply said “I enjoy WoW” and that earned them all kinds of verbal abuse. Some of it was abuse at their opinions, but much of it was abused aimed at them as people. Put mildly, the sentiment was “If you like WoW, you have no value as a person.”

  3. There must be something special about MMOs that players react so strongly and aggressively towards other players.

    Nobody would get worked up if I say I like the color red and apples, and someone else likes blue and bananas.

    If we see MMOs as virtual worlds, well, anyone that says that another world is better or that this virtual world sucks attacks the very foundations of their virtual world. Add a high level of immaturity that nowadays is almost expected from global MMO talk channels, and there we have it.

  4. I just went back to AoC for the 14 day promotion, and my characters are on Wiccana also. I’ve noticed a lot of the “OMG, WoW is way better than this game!” trolls in global, to the point where I eventually just flipped my combat tab to the front and left it there. Maybe some people just snapped at the mention of WoW after seeing so much trolling? It’s not an excuse for being nasty, but I could see it happening.

    I think what we’re seeing with WoW is kind of a pop culture backlash. There is a segment of the gaming population that’s disdainful of it simply because of its popularity. It’s all very silly.

  5. @Sharon — Yeah, you might be on to something. Sometimes you just wind up being the straw the broke the camel’s back, without even realizing there are other straws already there.

    @Longasc — Nail on the head. Although I suppose the XBox 360 vs PS3 “rivalry” was almost as bitter and ridiculous.

  6. I’m on Wiccana as well, but I haven’t been paying attention to global chat. Mostly I’ve been busy hunting my tombstones, because I totally forgot how to play this game.

    But @Longasc, you like APPLES??? WTF. Snow White liked apples. Do you hang out with dwarves too? Lol.

    But in all seriousness, I agree with Sharon there is somewhat of a backlash to it. I think people are afraid that if enough WoW tourists show up, “their” MMO will turn more like WoW. While the amount of vitriole they employ is certainly disgusting, I am not sure their fears are entirely unfounded. I mean, look at EverQuest II. šŸ™‚

  7. It’s not just religion or games. Politics are all about “us vs. them” with little objectivity or civility. Call it “human nature” or just plain old cussedness, whatever it is, it’s all over the place.

  8. I think a lot of it has to do with desiring the proliferation of a single intellectual property over another. We all want what we like to be more successful, and in geekdom, there’s a typical mindset that comes from not being mainstream that eventually leads to such hostility and venom.

    I wrote about this a bit ago. http://www.professorbeej.com/2009/07/choosing-sides-in-geek-wars.html But I really don’t understand it.

    Being a geek was almost like a religion for years before it became mainstream, and a lot of the zealotry from that time persists. I also think in the case of AoC vs. WoW, it’s a niche game vs. a mainstream title that does a little bit of everything.

    One of the things people don’t realize is that their negative attitudes and “protecting” their games from outsiders makes people like me and you not want to return. That’s not the type of community I want to be involved in, and that’s a major part of an MMO to me. If the community stinks, I’ll find a better place to spend my time, even if the game is fantastic.

  9. Yes, Professor Beej said just what I was thinking…The people who backlash at players from other game are only hurting themselves. If they want their community to grow, and to show what a grea game they’re playing, they should receive people from other games with open arms.

    “You came from WoW? Welcome, we hope you enjoy Conan as long as you’re here!”
    “I used to play WoW. Maybe you’ll decide to switch over with us. If not, glad to have you around.”

    Incidentally, this is a better way to welcome people to your churches, too. šŸ˜‰

  10. Now

    Log into WoW. Mention in global there how you like playing Age of Conan. Or pick any game…LOTRO, WAR, Vanguard…you name it.

    See how civil they are.

    Oh wait, I have one. Log into Vanguard and just mention any of the above games…and NOT WoW…watch what happens.

    This phenomenon is not just attributed to WoW now. MMO malaise has destroyed the genre. The samey-ness of these games makes one more apt to support one above the other. And when you mention the other game in that game you are currently in…watch what happens.

    Here is another way to look at it…

    If I walk into a factory that makes Pepsi, and shout out that I am drinking a Coke…do you think they will say “Cool”…or what do YOU think will happen.

    Just saying.

  11. Openedge is quite right.

    A lot of people are back to re-evaluate Age of Conan. And they almost inevitably have to mention the range of MMOs they played and compare them, which usually causes strong reactions.

    There are some reasons why many MMOs have “global” deactivated by default or do not have it at all, following the notion that zone chat is enough. Does WoW have a global chat at all, because I never switched it on, and it is not active by default.

    Global in AoC contains Guild recruitment, LFG, trade. This is almost like Guild Wars, using the looking for group interface for trade in cities.

    MMO design already begins with the chat functions, it seems! šŸ™‚

  12. The reason we see this in any community, as Openedge explains, has to do with people tying their self-worth to the worthiness of the things they are personally invested in. Essentially, the AoC global gankers believe that anyone professing a preference (or even tolerance) of anything other than their chosen game is actually commenting on the worthiness of the person themselves.

    The best explanation of this phenomenon comes from (believe it or not) the comic book Cerebus, issue 209. In it, the title character is furious because his friend does not like a comic book (very meta) that Cerebus liked very much. I had to reevaluate my own beliefs and reactions after reading that issue. Funny the things that force you to grow as a person.

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