Most of us have heard of problems with addictive MMP (Massively Multi-Player) games keeping people out of reality, tearing families apart, and so on. Although a Turbine artist justified this by saying, "Any marriage a game destroys can't have been much of a marriage to begin with," there is definitely something about the combination of games and personalities that can lead to problems, especially with jobs and families. There are enough articles on online gaming addiction that I won't bother to discuss the negative aspects further.
However, games can also teach, through the interaction of people, and also through the ability to explore aspects of self that one normally cannot.
In an MMP, you get to hang out with types of people normally you might never hang out with. Engineers and law students and hairdressers and assembly line workers and programmers and homemakers and dock masters and military personnel may all be in the same guild and surprised to make each others' acquaintances. Conservatives, liberals, and libertarians may all work happily together without even realizing it. White, black, Asian, Hispanic, on various sides of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans - as long as people are willing to interact with civility and are able to communicate effectively, all these differences become invisible in a game.
You don't have to be limited by what you are in real life in a game. You can be sick and unable to walk in real life and run swiftly across verdant valleys in game. You can be female in real life and walk safely through the darkest city or kick ass just as well as the 200-lb macho guy in game. Similarly, you can be male in real life and get a small taste of what it's like to be female (you get to experience the good and the bad and the ugly) in game. A 60 year old can hang out with seventeen year olds. You can be a social reject in real life and create your own guild and recruit members in game. And lastly, you can be whatever you have wanted to be in the game but were afraid to try: a brave fighter, a kindly healer, a military leader, a leader to hundreds.But most importantly, you can learn lessons in the game that can be used to bring joy to yourself and others not just in the game, but even outside the game. Dr. Sheri Turkle documented a case of a young person who learned social skills and management skills in an online text game. Similarly, MMPs like DAoC can teach us some of the basics of life and social interaction. Nothing hugely profound, perhaps, but better here than nowhere! What kind of lessons? Some of them are very basic and obvious, but which we may not be able to practice easily in Real Life for whatever reason. Lessons such as: Be patient with others; forgive people who are rude; don't give up just because things seem to be going poorly; be courteous and civil; give of yourself to become a better leader. (More on these below.) These are, indeed, basic concepts; why not experiment with them in a game? What better place to experiment: a limited, anonymous environment, where you can be "someone else," where you can watch everyone from legendary leaders down to maligned jerks, and where you can interact with friend, foe, and strangers!
There was a guy who was being ... well ... obnoxious. He got on my nerves, and got on my nerves, and got on my nerves. But one of my good friends talked with me about it, and pointed out the guy was having a difficult time in RL and that we needed to have compassion for him. (This friend of mine had earlier had a problems with another friend of mine, but had worked on the relationship until they were both good friends. I admired this greatly.) So, on one occasion when I had an opportunity to brush off the guy I didn't like, I instead sat down and talked with him. You know what's weird? We both changed our opinions of the other. We're now friends - maybe not the best of friends, and occasionally he still pisses me off - but still, we help each other out, and ironically, changing my attitude was what enabled all this to happen.
I was hanging out in a group whose leader wasn't the most friendly of people. He was also quite methodical in his group selection: only specific classes were invited, and only just enough to maximize loot and XP. Well, anyway, the leader turned down someone who wanted to join, and this pissed off the poor guy. I tried to be nice to the loner (who was soloing near our group), but at one point he (the loner) did something that made everyone in the entire group angry. I was ready to /ignore the loner and give him the cold shoulder. However, I remembered the lessons: patience, forgiveness, and always compassion. So, I tried to live up to those standards with the guy (although I know I failed here and there). Anyway, later on it turns out the guy had alts in my guild and I have grouped with him since. Although I know I didn't behave perfectly, I am able to look back at my own behavior without cringing. I am glad I got myself out of resentment and back to the realm of civility.
I was hanging out with a friend of mine in the dungeon of DF, although the XP and loot were slow. Eventually we got wiped out and we were helped by a random person (who couldn't rezz but got me a rezz). Anyway, the dying sucked and I was feeling pissy but I made myself thank the person who helped us and be cheerful with him.
I don't know if it was due to that little interaction, but later on the guy who helped us asked if we wanted to join their group. We did. Within 5 minutes we were dead (again). However, no one got upset. We continued on and made reasonable progress. The leader of the group (a level 50 to whom XP is useless) frequently inquired about the XP and seemed eager to help, without being at all condescending about it. Unfortunately, our adventures were quite fatal to me (the primary healer), which sucked because I was fairly close to ding. However, I knew everyone was trying, and the people were nice, and the XP was overall mostly positive, so I stayed. Gradually we accumulated more people.
I was bummed that I had to turn down some of my guildies who wanted to join the group. We had just picked up a bunch of casters who looked like they could take out just about anything in the dungeon (we were a caster-heavy group). But no, actually: the combination was very dangerous and the people careless; at last we completely wiped out deep in DF. At that point, all the recent joiners quit, leaving the original core members - and (lo and behold) exactly the right number of slots for the guildies I'd turned away. (In fact, my guildies had also joined a group that broke up after a wipe-out.) So, ironically, the group wipes had been just right for getting everyone I wanted together.
Everyone in the new, merged group hit it off very well. Although I had thought they might be too low, my guildies' skills were exactly what we had needed; moreover, so were their personalities. Not only did we no longer die, but the bantering and jokes got far funnier. I was literally laughing out loud at some of our conversations. It was probably the best group I've been in in months, in terms of just hilarity and having a good time. And I got my ding!
(As a last note, the group leader commented that he turned down an opportunity to go to a strip club because he'd rather hang out with "real friends" in the game. Although I realize in-game friendships are often somewhat shallow and tend to come and go, I find it positive that he would choose to help out/be helped by people in a virtual world, over hanging out at a strip club. I know people may disagree with me, but hey, this is my opinion :P)
A few days later, I and a guildie friend were in a pickup group about to hit a high level SI dungeon known to be difficult. It was a mess. People didn't stick to the leader; people lost speed on the way; people died; people didn't tell us where they were (while dead); people got upset. It was unpleasant. Finally we arrived at the dungeon, and immediately, one after another, half the group left! We had only the bare bones of a capable group left. After one more caster arrived from far away, we got rolling. Hey, wow, we did well! All the people who either didn't fit in or who hadn't liked how things were going were gone. The people who were left should've gotten disgusted with the remaining class combinations (our only "tank" was a leather-wearing squishy low level), but we stuck it out and it turns out we kicked some serious arse. The conversations weren't shoddy, either, and we had some good laughs. By being patient and sticking together through adversity, and giving things our best shot, we wound up having a good time after all.
There have been a few people with whom I felt a "click" when I started talking with them, or after a few interactions. For some reason, I just decided to hang out with them on occasion, drop them a friendly note, but otherwise leave things be if they are not interested in talking. For me, this has had some very big long-term effects. Some people have been friends across multiple servers, some I have met in Real Life, some friends have become friends with other friends, and sometimes all of the above. It always amazes me how a chance encounter, with a little friendly effort put in afterward, can lead to so much unfolding down the road.
This is not to say the solution is to stick it out with every group one joins. Not every group gets better with time! However, it never hurts to be tactful and polite and forgiving. The people who left what turned into "The Perfect Group" were all polite about leaving, which kept everyone in a good mood, and enabled the later experiences to develop. Yes, I have gotten annoyed with seriously clueless people who were a danger to themselves and everyone near them, and it was worth questioning the actions and trying to get the group back on track. But as anyone who has read an MMP message board knows, personal attacks made in public help no one and dampen everyone's spirits. When everyone is polite and civil, we tend not to notice the effects, but they are real: everyone has a better time, and our chances for having a truly great time go up considerably.
It's great to have friends to hang out with when the going is tough. A friend who's willing to hang out, despite a reduction in XP or loot, makes gaming enjoyable.
Cheerful, decent conversation makes even tedious work enjoyable. Even the boring work of mindlessly killing monsters became a pleasure.
How big a difference it makes when a powerful guy goes out of his way to be nice to people lower down, and is nice about it (instead of arrogant or proud of himself). People generous with their time and money can make a huge difference for others.
It can be very good to have patience and wait out some bad times, if you like the people you are with and trust them to be trying their best.
Just because some doors of opportunity were closed earlier does not mean they will never reopen. Sometimes new doors open up that provide even better opportunities!
Just because a disaster strikes doesn't mean it's the end. In fact, it could be a very fortunate thing that opens up new opportunities. So, no reason to get upset when bad things happen.
If you keep trying, eventually you will (probably) succeed.
If a combination of people just doesn't work effectively, it's time to change tactics. If changing tactics doesn't work, it's time to get some new people with different perspectives and different abilities to help.
How much nicer everything is when people remain patient and kind and tactful with each other in public (or group chat). Even if you feel it's time to go, how much nicer it is when the parting words are words of kindness and positivity. This leaves everyone in a state of mind where further good things can happen and keep happening.
It never hurts to be nice to people in private too! It's especially wonderful to be nice to people who have been helpful, but (and this was a lesson I have seen many times before) it is also important to be forgiving and kind with people who you think have hurt you. You may well find out they have more connections to you than you thought! (It's amazing how many times this lesson has been driven home to me!)
It's good to take a risk and get to know new people. Sometimes they are obnoxious, but as you get to know them, you start seeing their good and bad sides, and (more practically) you learn if you'd make a good working team with them or not.
Lastly, leadership makes all the difference. A good leader, who is kind and patient and communicative, can save the realm from disaster. A good leader who is caring and giving makes a guild truly come alive. Bad leaders (and bad followers) can do the opposite: tear a realm apart and destroy guilds. So: kindness, patience, communication: these are the keys to long-term success.
Please note: since we are all human, each of us may have an occasional Really Bad Day where keeping one's patience feels nigh impossible, and we wind up lashing out at people. At such times, we can only hope our friends and acquaintances are as gracious with us as we try to be when they have a pissy day. And if everyone is having a pissy day? Hopefully reconciliation and forgiveness will follow - and that can actually strengthen friendships and build up respect (seriously). Woot!
Rei's Random Guide to MMP Gaming Terms
Text copyright 2003 E. Izawa reijin_iii at the domain name yahoo.com.