Social Groups are Segregation
May 13, 2011 1 Comment
News at 11 – MMOs are not like the real world.
Except they are. Sort of.
Sweeping generalizations have their place, and can be used to effect at times. This was not one of them. The problem lies in just how frequently the statement is wrong. This statement about a genre of game that grew from the attempt to realize virtual worlds, started off way off base. Some MMOs are games, and some are worlds, but even in the MMO that is “just” a game, they share a lot of similarities with the real world. Particularly in regards to the social groups that arise in them that Tobold seems to want to force together, as he attested in a contrary post to a couple of pro-segregation bloggings.
The biggest problem that I have with Tobold’s assertions, is that any social group, in any setting, has imposed a form of segregation on the world around them. A group of friends who get together and watch movies and talk about them afterward won’t create a welcoming environment for someone who wants to turn their hobby into a book club. A team of people who play softball aren’t going to welcome someone coming in and trying to play baseball instead. There’s the entire gamut of examples that could apply to this from extreme to subtle, and the result would be a collection of person’s who only include those with similar goals and drives. A devout Baptist won’t attend a Latin mass. Segregation doesn’t need to be a dirty word that indicates a separation based on inapplicable reasons. It’s a reality of something that we all do in our own social lives, and it makes sense that the social behaviors would extend to our gaming activities as well.
MMOs aren’t “social utopias”.
But they are, sort of.
I use the term social utopia loosely. In that I’m referring to the ideal of a society where all people are excepted, without equivocation (a horrifying idea to me, but that’s another topic altogether). The online gaming culture does follow many of the same tenants of tangible social society, and I believe many of those should be reinforced. The dispersion of players (people) into groups whose outlook and way of playing a game is the primary reason why guilds and other similar organizations are implemented. The increased focus that we see in current games upon reinforcing and encouraging that type of behavior is one of the few things I really enjoy about modern virtual worlds. I’m all for segregation of the player base, as long as it’s of the players choosing.
What is socially great about MMOs, are the opportunities they provide for egalitarian acceptance based upon the conditions that matter: gaming ability, knowledge, and social adroitness. The last of those three is probably on the low-end of scale. Many of the statuses that we see excluding people from interacting in real-life become unknown, and subsequently, unimportant. So, in the sense that the ancillary aspects of your persona do not factor into virtual acceptance – MMOs are an advanced gathering place.
You can’t force everyone to play together.
Even if you want to.
It’s not as if a company or large guild is going to go around to all the various players, and ask them to place themselves somewhere on the game-ability scale to determine worthiness of acceptance. The sifting and segregation of players already occurs in most games. It’s possible for advanced or more driven players to remain in more casual or less driven social groups (because of personal connections, guilt, dedication etc…), but the inverse happens more rarely. Players who fall too far outside of a groups drive and gaming philosophy, will find themselves no longer a part of that group, and probably didn’t belong there to begin with.
The social dispersion problem isn’t an issue for those who are connected into the community as a whole of their game, it arises from misplaced expectations of those who choose to not use those community ties. To put it bluntly, guilds don’t have a problem (on the whole) with mismatched expectations, it’s the PUGs that do. Mismatched expectations in a guild are the origin of trial periods. Sadly, this gulf in perceptions is just as much a fault of the community as it is of games. Gamers have been brought up to believe that the end success is a fore-gone conclusion, in part because developers have started to capitulate to that idea. Look at Rift 1.2 for a recent example. The understanding that an organized group of players will achieve success (completion) where a disorganized group will fail (non-completion), has been wiped from our gaming memory in the mantra of “accessibility”.
Sadly, in the quest for accessibility, instead of helping to create clearer definitions of appropriate content, developers have homogenized and encapsulated a one-fits-all attitude toward the gaming groups. The necessity for social groups to link up with others of similar outlooks to achieve goals is fading. The attempt has been made to push a player to have a gaming experience with anyone else, and that’s not a good thing. In doing so, they have forced the player into cooperation with another whose outlook, perception, and goals could be in complete contrast to their own. A baseball is being handed to a soccer and rugby player, and told to go play – the result is just confusion and frustration.