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Posts Tagged ‘social’

From the sound of it (thanks, Fool’s Age, Rowan x 2, Syp and Syl, I can’t recommend your articles enough), the social scene in Guild Wars 2 is exactly what I’m looking for when it comes to MMO sociality:  a light touch, encouraging cooperation instead of demanding it.

The way of the Open Hand of friendship, instead of the Closed Fist of the designer.  It’s a Zen kinda thing, man.

It’s… less Big Brother, more… Crazy Uncle Eddie with golems and firecrackers.

I’m just wired that way.  Tell me I must do something social, like find a tank and a healer to run a dungeon, and I’ll fight it and try to solo it.  Tell me that there are baddies that need whumping over thataway, give me tools to help anyone I happen to stumble into, and I’ll stop to give a hand up to a fallen friendly or do whatever tricks I can to offer assistance in killing said baddies.

Tell me I can be social, and I probably will.  Tell me I have to be, and I probably won’t.

Guild Wars 2 apparently also has a big exploration factor, and that’s kind of what I do in these MMO things.  Yes, I’m looking forward to playing GW2.  I’m selling some of my older games to fund it (and make my blasted computer work), and one of those WoW time cards, but that’s OK, new vistas await.  One can’t dwell in the past forever.

Unless one is a nasty, grumpy ghost of Ascalon, I guess.

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This one’s simple:  Blogging is a social activity.  It’s not “social” like a FaceBook “cow clicker” pseudo-game, or “social” like raiding in an MMO, more like a good dozen-plus-player version of Frozen Synapse, with sparks flying between ideas as people connect thoughts and forge new conceptual links.  It’s asynchronous and persistent, both very useful for fostering communication.

Yes, it usually starts with just getting words in type for one’s own benefit, but blogs are, by nature, getting words in type out where others can see them.  At some level, socialization happens.  Bloggers engage in hobnobbing, rubbing digital shoulders with each other.  Ideas cross-pollinate, links sprout, groupthink evolves, and every once in a while, the pulse of the “blogosphere” actually indicates a strong interest or opinion on a topic that is relevant outside of the blogging circles.  (Case study: Blizzard’s RealID kerfluffle, where the voices in MMO blogging circles tended to be almost uniformly… concerned.  For good reason.  It’s not so much that bloggers drove opinion, more that they were a good cross-section of gamer moods, and near consensus among such a disparate group is usually significant.)

It’s even possible to forge friendships online.  Now, noting that it’s possible you’re befriending a persona instead of a person, it’s still true that social interaction online is still social interaction.  Those are people out there, not Turing-complete bloggerbots.  (Though in twenty years or so that might no longer be true.)  People with interests, feeling, histories, preferences, and sometimes even a sense of humor.  Over the years I’ve met a bunch of pretty cool people, like PsychochildProfessor Beej, Larisa, The Friendly NecromancerGordonCynwise, Ixobelle, Klepsacovic, Gazimoff, YeeboMBP, Dblade, Saylah, Nugget, Dusty, Syl, Thallian and Anton, Tipa, Ferrel, Pete, Victor Stillwater, AnjinModran, ZombiePirate, Void, Rog, Stabs, the guys at KTR and Word of Shadow… others I’m forgetting at the moment, and others that have dropped off the grid, like Wiqd, Mike Darga, Phaelia and Andrew of Systemic Babble.  Anyone I link to over on that Blogroll on the right is someone worth reading.  I might not always agree with any given one of them, but then again, I don’t always agree with my local friends or family.  Even when I don’t agree with them, there’s usually still something interesting there.

Blog writing often follows blog reading, and the two tend to positively reinforce each other.  Commenting on someone else’s blog is a great way to make the two work together even more.  It’s about communication, really, and as some are wont to remind us, humans out here in “monkeyspace” are social animals, for better or worse.  Thing is, with a blog, you can take it at your own pace rather than diving into a real time social gathering with real people around.  The ability to filter and react at leisure isn’t exactly a magic potion to make wallflowers into butterflies, but it does go a long way toward opening conversational channels that might not otherwise exist.  Blogging isn’t a FaceBook or Twitter pith contest, neither is it an Instant Messaging textspeak competition.  It’s not a Ventrilo cacophony or monkeyspace mosh pit.  It’s a more sedate matter, allowing for deeper thought and more civil dialogue.

In theory, anyway.

Practice, as always, varies as widely as fingerprints, but blogs really do offer a communication platform that isn’t quite of the same nature as some of the other big “social” media.  They are valuable as a result, and a crucial ingredient to the social stew that is the modern internet.  I’d even go so far as to call it a leavening ingredient, one that counters the leetspeak ADHD impetus of far too many “social” media outlets.  There’s great value in the long form of written communication.  There’s value in having outlets that aren’t controlled by big media conglomerates or corporations.  It’s important to have places where impassioned writers can make cohesive arguments and keep public records without being shouted down by troll hordes or censored by The Man.

You may not change the world in big ways with your blog, but blogging is changing the world.  If nothing else, it’s a good thing to be aware of and understand the potential of the beast.

…and sometimes, you don’t need to be a big force of change, you just need to be a good part of someone else’s life.  Blogs can help forge links that might not otherwise exist between people, and sometimes, that makes all the difference.

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If we’re going to lean in the direction of players being content in MMOs, and if we’re going to try to incentivize that with kickbacks, discounts or perks, we should probably get rid of levels and other barriers to playing together… and actually let the players generate content in a dynamic world, in addition to facilitating their ability to play together.

Incidentally, Whirled does this pretty well, though under a *gasp* free-to-play system that lets players generate their own content that can then generate revenue.  Weird, I know… but another illustration of how the fantasy-steeped level-then-raid two-game paradigm isn’t the One True Path to MMO design.

Of course, since people can also sometimes be the worst part of MMOs, and many aren’t all that interested in good game design, there are dark sides to opening the floodgates.  Still, if the goal is to encourage player interaction, even going so far as to bribe them, that would probably work best if the moment to moment play of the game supported such a goal.

Oh, and this is a good excuse to bring out one of my favorite MMO developer quotes again.

Daniel James of Three Rings (Puzzle Pirates being their incredible flagship) as quoted by the Penny Arcade guys:

Every player, free or paid, adds value to the community and excitement for other players. Free players are the content, context and society that encourages a small fraction of the audience to willingly pay more than enough to subsidize the rest.

Edited to add:

Incidentally, there’s an interesting discussion raging over on the Escapist forums about Valve’s theorizing that kicked this discussion off.

Escapist thread on this

This comment stuck out to me:

I kinda like the idea, maybe I’m a little impartial because I have a really magnetic personality and general can get a dead silent server to chatting like best friends in 10 minutes. But I would definitely love to get benefits for just being myself in games.

What about the intangibles of being social and liking what you’re doing? As in so many other things, if you try to engineer good behavior with extrinsic rewards, you might get it, but the rewards have to keep coming and even get better. The gravy train can’t stop or you get withdrawal and bad behavior.  People aren’t doing the right thing because it’s right, they are doing it because it benefits them. Once again, it’s a selfish motivation, not a selfless one, a completely mercenary approach to socializing.  That’s one of the big problems with forced grouping in MMOs, by the way.

Syp wrote nicely about this over thisaway:

The Selfish Gamer

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Sounds Good To Me

Tobold is kicking around another ideological tin can, prompting a few responses here and there.

Larisa weighs in on morons and NPCs (Gevlon variant impending, I’m sure)

KIASA’s Melmoth writes of reality TV

Klepsacovic writes about communities

Even Raph Koster tosses in his two bits

Oh, and I wrote about this before in a few different forms, albeit tangentially as I so often do.

Bottom line, I don’t want to need other people, but I want the option of playing with others if I feel like it.

Beyond the bottom line, Henchmen open up a game, as evidenced by Guild Wars and its NPC flunkies.  For challenging content, yes, people are still better (though maybe it’s nice to challenge one’s self by managing a party, as another sort of challenge).  NPCs are better than a PUG sometimes, though, especially if the kids might wake up at any moment and need a hug.

I would love WoW if I could play group content with NPC henchmen.  (OK, and if they would ditch the subscription model.)  I would still go play with other people sometimes because I enjoy doing so.  (And incidentally, it seems to me that Dungeon Finder runs would be better if they were formed with people who want to play with others, rather than those who must play with others to get the shinies.  Henchmen NPCs would help that in my eyes, by letting the mercenary players just go do their own thing and letting sociable players get together with less static in the system.)

Ultimately, it’s up to the players and if they want to socialize at all.  Sometimes I’ll fire up Puzzle Pirates just to go talk to some old friends.  Sometimes I just want to go Shipwright alone or take out my sloop with some NPCs (effectively soloing small scale group content, with a nice variety of challenge levels that vary by scaling somewhat to my interest and ability).  It’s nice to have several options and not be hobbled because I don’t have others to play with or the inclination to do so.  And yes, I do invite others to my humble little ship to play as a group sometimes, but it’s when I want to, not something I have to do to play the game.

Why do we play with each other in WoW at all?  What if the loot and leveling were removed?  What if it really was just all about the play and socializing?  Is pure multiplayer gameplay without loot bribery a viable community building tool?  Even WoW had to incentivize guild membership via yet another rep grind with silly boosts (Gasp! XP accelerators! Minipets! Shinies!) to get people together.

If the question is “what happened to people playing together?”, I suggest it has far less to do with soloability and far more to do with the actual play.  If something isn’t fun to do with other people, making the payoff bigger or forcing players to play together isn’t actually solving the problem.

As Raph notes, retention is sometimes strongly rooted in social ties (though Gordon rightly disagrees, pointing to the Skinner Box mechanics), and as I’ve noted before, the people really are the best part of these things… but they are also the worst part.  It’s wise to let players participate in your game world (indirectly socializing, and still playing/paying) while they sift out the sympathetic players from the unfriendly ones.  That means strong solo options to keep people invested in the world while they are sorting, and good mechanics that don’t punish those players who want to play together.

And maybe, just maybe… a good game to play, instead of just more numbers (jump ahead to 4:21 for the numbers bit).

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‘Tis the time of year that many people gather in groups of family and friends to celebrate assorted things.  I’m of the American and Christian persuasions, so it’s Thanksgiving and Christmas for me and mine, but there’s no apparent shortage of celebrations for diverse tastes.  Maybe being cooped up together out of the snow means we either party or kill each other.  I do prefer the former, though the latter might be easier sometimes, especially when awkward situations arise.

I’ve noted, with no small amount of whimsy, that I could map certain classes or roles we might see in World of Warcraft to people I see in these gatherings.  They don’t map perfectly, since socialization is PvP (Player vs. Player) rather than PvE (Player vs. Environment), and threat doesn’t work the same way, but there are some interesting parallels nevertheless.

The Roles

Tank

This guy wants all the attention, and will make efforts to control the direction of conversation and protect weaker conversationalists from the ire of dissent.  There are, of course, different different tanking styles, but all have a variety of tools to deflect tangents and monopolize crucial conversational pauses.  A bombastic or otherwise “large” personality or presence greatly benefits the social tank, even if it is ultimately of little substance.  Maintaining the focus of attention is key, not presenting a cogent argument.

DPS (Damage Per Second)

These are the guys who actually move a conversation along.  The Tank has to spend so much effort keeping a conversation on topic and heading off tangents that he has to rely on the DPS conversationalists to move the chosen topic along.  They will usually do this with supporting anecdotes or witticisms.  Some are blunt force conversationalists, seeking to make progress by sheer magnitude of presentation, while others are precision specialists, doing the most with a few carefully timed words in the right place.  Occasionally DPS teams will form and act in concert to magnify their efforts.  They must be careful not to steer the conversation, though, since they don’t have all the necessary tools to direct the conversation away from tangents and deflect dissent, and may occasionally be leveled by a precise counterpoint.

Some DPS conversationalists might specialize in Crowd Control, a nearly lost art of taking down tangential threats on the periphery of a conversation.  Since this is a job best done without drawing much attention, it is often unsung, but no less important, especially in large gatherings.

Healer

These are the peacemakers.  When tensions get high, these conversationalists seek to defuse the situation with placation, humor, distraction or food.  This tends to require a soft touch, lest the tank lose control of the underlying conversational direction.  The Healer doesn’t so much seek to change the conversation’s direction, but rather, to manage its tone, keeping things moderate and keeping contentions down and therefore make the Tank’s job easier to manage.  This tends to be easier when they have food to offer, so careful pacing of meal courses and foresight in management of non-conversation resources will benefit the healer.  Desserts are a powerful wildcard in the healer’s arsenal, and many healers will come prepared with a wide assortment.

The Classes

Druid

A social generalist, the Druid can Tank, DPS or Heal as necessary, though they must specialize in one to be as effective as a specialist.  They smoothly shift between roles as a conversation unfolds, filling in gaps left by inattention or mistakes.  They might tank at close quarters and then shift to backstabbing at a moment’s notice, or they might lob comments from afar, or even bring some snacks to the table.  Since none of their tools are very strong, though, they must try to anticipate the social scene’s intricacies correctly and use precise timing as leverage to maximize their efforts.  More than most, Druids need to understand the ebb and flow of the nature of social situations and all the varied aspects so they can shift their own position.

Death Knight

These guys are well known for their ability to kill a conversation and then revive it under their control.  Well equipped to deflect criticism with thick disregard for insult and having very strong presence, they work well as Tanks, or they can fill the DPS role well by making heavy handed points as they make others uncomfortable with implications.  Likely to be depressed and depressing, and possibly harboring conversational grudges from past parties.

Hunter

Careful conversationalists, Hunters function in a pure DPS role.  Some prefer to snipe from the periphery, offering precision arguments.  Others bring a companion for distraction while they chime in with timely comments.  Yet others lay careful conversational traps and quietly guide others into making mistakes.  Hunters are often used by Tanks to initiate a conversation with offhand comments, which they then follow up on with their unique talents.

Mage

Another pure DPS class, Mages have a few distinct styles.  Some prefer fiery rhetoric with lingering implications.  Some prefer the cold shoulder technique (sometimes called “wet blanket”), heavy on control tactics that help the Tank.  Some prefer broad spectrum wild generalizations and arcane statements about irrelevant factoids, reveling in confusing the foe.  Mages love to flaunt their intelligence in one way or another, often trying to outsmart opponents for the sheer joy in doing so.

Paladin

A Paladin is a hybrid like the Druid, capable of filling any of the significant roles.  They can’t shift between roles as fluidly as Druids, but they are better equipped at all times to deflect dissent.  Their reduced flexibility is balanced by their defense.  They tend to specialize in one of the roles, but all will have a sanctimonious air that is offputting to foes and encouraging to friends.  They tend to direct conversations to The Truth when possible, and have particular and peculiar talents that keep dead conversations down.

Priest

The quintessential Healer, Priests share the sanctimony of paladins, but wield it much more effectively.  They might play the pariah or simply call for repentance, or they might simply offer a constant stream of calming platitudes with little substance to argue about.  Some will simply keep bringing food to the table.  A few will step into a DPS role with biting chastisement or darkly portentious comments.

Rogue

Rogues serve only their own interests, but understand that hiding behind a Tank (or better, hiding behind their opponent) is a safer place to be.  They are pure DPS conversationalists, seeking primarily to make a point, and if possible, to make it hurt.  They converse from the shadows, sometimes seeking to slowly erode an opposing viewpoint, sometimes acting swiftly and mercilessly to cut down a line of thought.  They are remarkably direct, and everything is personal with a Rogue.  They may serve a team goal at times, if circumstances align, but are unmistakably their own person with their own goals.

Shaman

Adept at sensing the nature of conversation, Shaman tap into social undercurrents to work their magic.  Some will Tank in lighter encounters, but most will either fill a DPS or Healer role.  Uniquely equipped with trinkets and tools with which to make conversational points via object lessons, they tend to be masters of minutiae and trivia.  This can serve to further a conversation or manage its tone.  Shaman are hybrids, adept at filling holes in a team, though they aren’t as agile as Druids.  Shaman tend to be relatively immobile, but versatile.  They are excellent team players, with a wide array of support tactics.

Warlock

Pure DPS in every form, a Warlock can’t help but be caustic, and is inordinately fond of veiled insults that result either in lingering shame or self-doubt.  May or may not have companion in tow, appropriately attired for maximum distraction, whether employing fear or more… amorous (though cruel) intentions.  Master of snide asides, arch allusions and faux British accents.

Warrior

Blessed with an uncomplicated approach to life, Warriors tend to either master a Tank role or a DPS role.  Heavily defended from conversational dissent with a heady mixture of ignorance (pretended or not) and thick disregard for insult, Warriors often serve as rallying points for friends.  In the occasion that they step out of the center of attention, they either rely on fast, furious assaults or heavy precision strikes to further a conversation.  They can wield nearly any conversational tactic, but work best in direct confrontation.

It’s no great surprise to me to find that I can most comfortably identify myself with the Social Druid, though I have pretty solid Hunter tendencies, too.  (Never mind that I wrote this, I tried to make them at least somewhat fair.)  I’m especially fond of my brother-in-law who is a fantastic Social Warrior.  Maybe it’s because he’s a military guy?  He plays the Tank and DPS roles very well, leaving me to do my own thing.

These are somewhat… loose categorizations at that, and might be applied similarly to Your Favorite MMO.  (I really ought to do a Guild Wars version of this, but Longasc and Nugget might be better suited for that task…)

Whatever your game of choice and celebration of choice, though, Happy Holidays and good luck socializing!

Oh, and don’t stand in the fire.  It really hurts in the real world.  The cooks might not be very happy with you either.

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From the silly and almost defiant (or is that plaintive), where the post title comes from, to the far more serious (Larisa struck a nerve with this one), from the individual to the cultural, I’m struck on occasion by the human element of these online games.

Who knows what private pains people deal with in life?  (Ardol speaks eloquently to Larisa’s comments thataway.)  Games can be ways to escape trouble just as easily as they can be ways to find trouble.  They might be a meeting place for people who might not otherwise have the chance to be friends in any other venue.  (Big Bear Butt has a heart to match his largish ursine physique.)  They might be the last thing that makes someone happy. (The game mattered to Ezra, though interestingly, mostly to spend time with his distant father.)  Games matter, sometimes in the most curious ways.  (Wolfshead’s tribute to Red Shirt Guy.)  The community matters.

People are sometimes the worst part of online gaming, but are most often the best part.

Those are people out there.  Not rejects, not NPCs or henchmen, not morons or slackers.  People who deserve common courtesy and might just be in pain of one sort or another.  Call me a bleeding heart conservative, but please remember that even in the most fantastic and fictional of games, people are still people.

Treat them well.

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