What Makes A Friendly PVP Environment?

SO ANGRY.

SO ANGRY.

A common issue that has plagued MMOGs and online tournament-style games since the birth of Starcraft lies in the gamers themselves. More often than not, we tend to take our games a little too seriously and get caught up in the moment, forgetting that there are actual people behind the characters you see on your screen. It’s understandable to an extent; you’re in a competitive environment, facing against people you’ve never seen and will very likely never meet in your entire life. So what’s stopping you, then, from telling them off when they mess up or, heaven forbid, kill your beloved set of pixels?

One would hope common human decency, but I think we’re all guilty of a little online aggression now and then (particularly those of us who played the original Diablo – permadeath, anyone?). The big question is why this happens. Is it solely the gift of anonyminity, or is there another force driving gamers to act unpleasantly towards one another?

I would argue that the situation is trifold. Yes, you have the anonymous factor; when there are no perceived consequences, it’s in human nature to do whatever the hell we want without regard towards other people. That’s what laws and social pressures are for in the “real world.” However, if that were a uniform case, every single forum on the Internet would be filled with belligerent users.

So what makes video games special? Why is it so uncommon to go through an online session without getting called “fag,” “retard,” or “slut”?

Two things, in my opinion: 1. the game’s offered means of communication, and 2., the community that the game’s genre attracts. Most of us are familiar with the hostile individuals that FPS games attract – in particular, those that are on the XBOX 360 appear to be even more aggressive than others. My theory for this is that there really is a lack of in-game communication; most of how you’re interacting with other players is reliant entirely upon headsets and, well, your gun. When there’s a lack of friendly actions presented in a video game, there is a lack of comradery. You can’t hit a button and give your fellow players a thumbs up, or say you’re sorry. Tension builds, and eventually, players become overly aggressive, to the point where they’re screaming obscenities at each other.

Compare this to, say, Resident Evil 6. I’ve been watching my boyfriend play online co-op in this game for the past couple weeks, and I’ve noticed something surprising: people are really utilizing the “good job” emote you can use in-game. This feature allows you to make your character give your teammates a thumbs up, a little reminder that you appreciate them helping you out. I believe this type of option has, in turn, resulted in a much nicer response from players who are also using headsets. I have yet to hear a single gamer yell something obscene at him. Mostly, all I’ve heard is, “hey” and remarks upon the campaign they are playing.

A pat on the back alone can’t be causing such a great difference, though, can it? Well, that’s where the community comes in. Let’s look at three examples here: the traditional FPS, the co-op RPG, and MMOGs.

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The Traditional FPS

As mentioned previously, this is the genre that attracts the most hostility between players. There have been many more in-depth studies on the subject, but for the sake of brevity, I’m going to be as brief as possible here. It’s my belief that there a multitude of factors are pushing FPS players to be more aggressive: the fact that you’re playing the character in first-person being a major candidate. Players feel more attached to their character since it is a digital representation of themselves, rather than just a pre-established character in a game. Young males in particular are more likely to exhibit aggression and increased heart-rates after playing FPS games. Although FPS players tend to play less hours than gamers that favor RPGs (an average of 16 hours per week vs. 23-35), the time they spend in-game is much more heated and competitive. Placing young, red-blooded men in a competitive environment is naturally going to create more hostility – giving them the ability to communicate solely through headsets and pixellated guns leads to the logical conclusion that there’s going to be some pretty naughty words yelled into the microphones.

The Co-Op RPG

Unfortunately, due to its less volatile nature, there aren’t too many articles for me to cite in reference to co-op RPGs; most of what I’m saying here is going to be from extensive experience instead. I already talked a bit about Resident Evil 6, which has a quiet but relatively friendly player base. I’m going to mention a two other games here that I’ve been playing during the past few weeks (only two, again for the sake of  brevity): Borderlands 2 and, more recently, Chivalry.

Borderlands 2, from my experience, has a really excellent community. There are groups on Steam devoted to friendly players adding each other, along with the usual (groups based on nationality, sex, etc.). Every co-op experience I’ve had in this game has been pleasant – players are friendly and seem to enjoy each other’s company. Why? The game is based entirely around co-op. You’re fully capable of soloing it, but Gearbox Software focused strongly on developing a game where players were encouraged to help each other in co-op. The rewards are simple, but have a large impact: more players means more enemies, more loot, and in general, more fun. You can talk to each other both via text and headsets, which I believe decreases the anonymity factor. Hell, if you’re a Siren, you can even shoot your team-mates to heal them.

Chivalry is a new game that also, so far, appears to have a great community for much of the same reasons. It combines being able to communicate via text and headsets with positive in-game gestures, such as yelling incomprehensibly to rally your team. It is, in short, funny as hell to see a bunch of medieval dudes running around screaming like idiots; most of the players are laughing and, as a result, talking to each other in a much more pleasant manner than if the game had only, say, a taunt option. Humor does a lot to reduce hostility.

The MMOG

Finally, the MMOG. This is perhaps the most complicated example of a gaming community. Demographics for MMOGs are much more diverse than in FPSes, but as we all know, women can be pretty catty in games, themselves (which is getting into inter and intrasexual competition, a whole ‘nother topic that has entire academic endeavors devoted to it). If you login to League of Legends, you’re probably going to have a much different experience than if you’re playing  Guild Wars 2 (LoL being famous for its absurdly hostile playerbase, whereas GW2 is more levelheaded).

The reason for this is due to the wildly different natures of one MMOG to the next. All MMOGs follow a  basic formula, but they are sub-divided into so many different genres and markets that you end up with a really broad spectrum of players. Said players are presented with a myriad number of ways to communicate, without time restraint or other pressures. In short, you can talk about whatever the hell you want whenever the hell you want. A lot of strong friendships and even marriages are formed from MMOGs, although you can get the opposite, too. If you want a wild card – a control in an experiment about hostility – an MMOG would be a good choice.

A recent concept that’s been introduced into PVP in MMOGs is the random assignment of teams. For example, in a more traditional MMOG, you’ll select your side and stick to it. You play with the same people against the same people over and over. What does this mean? You can be an asshole, and people on your side will support you. However, more recent MMOGs have created a system where players either get to pick  between two sides and switch around, or are tossed with other teams at random. This eliminates the group-think situation introduced by the previous method, which means hey, if you’re a prick to that guy in round 1? He might be on your side in round 2. It behooves the player to be more mature when dealing with others.

The fact that MMOGs can appeal to any market based on their content makes them a great comparison for the other genres presented in this article. Go out and try it yourself – do a little PVP in SWTOR, then compare it to WoW, and see what you get.

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In conclusion, it all depends on the environment. Developers could make a huge change in gaming communities worldwide if they promoted more positive reinforcement techniques in games, rather than supporting hostile competition. Keep in mind that that’s not a plea for them to eliminate competition altogether – online games would be incredibly boring without it. What we need are more games that encourage players via in-game gestures and a mixed community to be more polite to the people they meet.

We all need a little reminder now and then that we’re playing with real people. Developers, this is your time – help us keep on track with positive features, and everyone will profit (both emotionally and uh, monetarily, hint hint) from it.

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The Propriety of Guild Wars 2

Those of you that know me know that I love MMOs. Despite being repetitive (regardless of whether it’s TERA or World of Warcraft you’re talking about), something about the social and explorative nature of this genre always peaks my interest.

I got 99 problems, and plague-bearing dragons are all of them.

I got 99 problems, and plague-bearing dragons are all of them.

With that in mind, it’s no surprise that I’ve gotten into Guild Wars 2. I wasn’t necessarily a fan of the original; twenty levels was just too short for me, and I felt like the game was projected more as a single player with a multiplayer option (raids) than a true MMO. Apparently, other fans had the same sentiment. Guild Wars 2 is an almost complete departure from its predecessor, with a dynamic, social aspect that is crucial to the player’s experience rather than an add-on. For the first time since RIFT, players are actively rewarded for helping each other, but ArenaNet has taken this concept past TRION Worlds and developed it much further. Whereas RIFT rewarded players for competing actively with an open group, Guild Wars 2 grants extra bonuses to those that not only do high DPS on bosses, but also help the most in quests and stay with the events the longest. It’s a refreshing experience, to say in the least.

After having played TERA for the past few months, I was also pleasantly surprised by how well-clothed most of the females are in Guild Wars 2. Now, there certainly exist exceptions; female norns are, bewilderingly considering their environment, significantly less clothed than their male counterparts. Female elementalists have also retained their awkward and out-of-place schoolgirl attire. But as for the rest of the world, the clothing is in surprisingly good taste.

Sailor Moon? What are you doing in Tyria?

Sailor Moon? What are you doing in Tyria?

I was also relieved to find that, upon rolling my main, a female charr, the “animal” people of the game did not have humanoid breasts (really now, if you’re going to give an anthropomorphic animal breasts, chances are they’d have six and not two). The charr women are smaller in stature and slighter in frame than their men, but it’s great to be spared from hairy, heaving breasts for a change. Worgen, I’m looking at you.

Behold my true form and despair.

Behold my true form and despair.

Even so, not all of the norn women are scantily-clad. Take a look at the NPC below, a woman you’ll meet during your later travels in Tyria (level 55+). Her armor is remarkably decent for a busty war-maiden in an MMO, and her fashion is a common trend in the game.

What, no shank-me chic?

What, no shank-me chic?

As you can guess by the propensity of female cast members, women also take on a fairly important role in terms of politics and war in Guild Wars 2.  This, however, is not so much a rarity in MMOs, especially as of late. Chris Metzen has contributed much to the realm of powerful fantasy gals, although at times it would appear he’s a little too interested in the corruption of their prowess.

The game holds much intrigue beyond feminine concerns, though. ArenaNet also ensured that curiosity is well-rewarded: exploration provides a significant amount of experience and, to my delight, also often yields puzzles that aren’t labeled on the map. There are two types of puzzles in the game: one that is unique to each zone, and many others that are commonly referred to as “jumping” puzzles by the players. While the goal of the zone-based puzzles differs from one area to the next, the jumping puzzles are myriad and often do take a lot of time and patience to complete.

As for the mechanics themselves, the game has its ups and downs. Classes are delightfully customizable, thanks both to a traits/skills system and the way weapons work. Each class has access to different weapons and weapon combinations; equipping each weapon/combination will result in different unlockable skills on your skill bar. You can really tweak your spec in this game, something that has been lacking as of late. Rest-assured, there will eventually be cookie-cutter specs, but I don’t see any huge disadvantage to taking your own road at this point.

For an example, let’s take a look at the ranger. Ranger is a really versatile class in Guild Wars 2 due primarily to its weapon skills. You can take a more well-trodden path in the form of a marksman by equipping yourself with a bow and shortbow, thus relying entirely on ranged tactics to defeat your foes (another neat feature in combat – you can alternate weapons and, consequently, skills with the click of a button). That sounds pretty standard, right? Well, the customization goes deeper than that. If you want to be ranged, you can take things several different routes even from there. You can focus on traps, kiting, the power of your pet, or a combination of all three – it all depends on what your playstyle is. You can also forego the concept of a, ahem, ranged ranger altogether and instead equip yourself with an axe and a greatsword, if you so please. Warhorns are also available, allowing you to focus more on buffs than active DPS. Keep in mind, this is all in one class, and I’m not even getting into the specifics – every single class in the game is like this in its own way.

However, Guild Wars 2 is not without its bugs. The Black Lion Trading Company, an equivalent to the typical auction house, has been down since release. This has resulted in a crashed economy across all servers – definitely not a good thing during release week. Additionally, the size of your character can affect your ability to complete jumping puzzles. I found that, when I play my diminutive asura, I have a much easier time getting around those tricky jumps than I do on my charr, whose broad frame takes up the entirety of the screen in tight corners and makes it nearly impossible to figure out where to jump. I could easily see this discrepancy affecting PVP in negative ways. Events can also bug on occasion, leading many players to sit around and wait to see if they’ll ever get a chance to complete their quests.

Want an easier time exploring? Roll an asura.

Want an easier time exploring? Roll an asura.

That said, the game has been nothing short of a delight thusfar. If you enjoy a truly interactive MMO, then Guild Wars 2 is for you. If you prefer a pure action combat MMO, however, I’d recommend trying out TERA; Guild Wars 2 is a hybrid system of the traditional point-and-click and new age combat mechanics, very similar to that of Star Wars: The Old  Republic. Just be sure to keep in mind that ArenaNet’s latest baby is a game focused on exploration and teamwork – you can solo if you want, but as is the case in most things, the true fun comes from your company.

Overall, I give Guild Wars 2 a 7.5/10. Check it out yourself at the game’s official site and, if you decide to give it a try, be sure to join the Fort Aspenwood realm and keep an eye out for Maximum Catte the charr.

Finding Self-Confidence in a Previously Male-Dominated Industry

Women have been creeping slowly into the video game industry since its infancy. While it originally was a boy’s playground, women now comprise 47% of all gamers (thanks to ESA for the statistics), a fairly respectable number. Unfortunately, the time it took us to invade the lockers of gaming has resulted in a conflicted response from the pre-existing player base, particularly in MMOs.

The aforementioned is the focus of countless social studies, many of which I’ll admit are much more in-depth and informative than what I’m writing to you today. However, I write this not out of study, but of experience, like many female gamers do today. What we discuss is a common trend that needs to stop, and it will on two conditions: that women begin to stand up for themselves when harassed online, and also that the male playerbase raises their voice against the boys that initiate such interations. An excellent article written by Ernest W. Adams (an employee of EA) takes on a male perspective of sexual harassment online, and I feel what the author states therein is all too true for the opposite sex.

That said, there are plenty of men online who behave with dignity and respect towards women. Out of the many conversations I’ve had in MMOs over the year, the majority have (fortunately) been nothing but pleasant. However, there remain to this day the players that never truly got beyond the stage where the gaming industry was a men’s clubhouse.

The worst experience I’ve had, personally, was in a guild I briefly joined in World of Warcraft. The guild attracted a number of men from the latter faction; they would repeatedly harass women in the guild for naked pictures and digital sexual favors until they caved and provided them. This is exactly what we need to avoid doing. Women, if you’re reading this, don’t ever devalue yourself to these children – at the end of the day, they’re just faces on the Internet, and they certainly aren’t worth your dignity.

What have your experiences been? Opinions from either side of the fence are welcome here; although this blog focuses primarily on the female experience, it would be excellent to hear from men as well.