This week's column is a holiday-tacular rant fest as I feel like tackling one of the major sticking points of an MMO player's behavior: the need to pursue vindication. This isn't something unique to MMO culture or even video game culture at large. We all feel this rather odd need to defend our decisions or opinions to others, even if they will never ever agree with us.
However, when it comes to MMOs, vindication can be a bad thing. When communities become polarized in thought and begin to shut out others it can hurt the game's growth and the game's sense of community.
Welcome to "Your Mom" syndrome
I've wanted to talk about this topic for a while, but I could never find a good context to fit it into... until this week. To catch up those of you who may not pay attention to the MMO blogosphere, there is a small kerfuffle between veteran blogger Tobold and Darkfall pundit Syncaine all over a single sentence written by Scott "Lum the Mad" Jennings.
In short, Lum made a brief comparison between Darkfall and games like Shadowbane and Fury, and Syncaine went into what could only be called nerdrage vindication mode. This is the exact behavior I really wanted to talk about in my column, so kudos to Syncaine for giving me this glorious opportunity.
For some reason, more and more of us nowadays feel this idiot need to flame the first person that calls our game a load of crap. It happens so much that when some people actually make decent assertions about a title, no one can sit back, take it in, and discuss it. No, the first thing you need to do to someone who makes a valid point is make a disparaging reference towards their mother and then slam your face into the keyboard to prove how much of a man you are. CAPS LOCK IS CRUISE CONTROL FOR COOL, AMIRITE?
There can be only 0ne?
Well kids, it's time I pulled out that psychology degree that I earned after four long years. Here's the scientific explanation of what's going on here and why it doesn't work.
You guys want to prove the superiority of your game so more people will "see the light" and agree with your opinion, right? Well, that's most logical reason someone would make insane comments like these (that or they just want to be jerks) so we'll go with that.
Attacking someone else's preference or opinion without backing up your own actually doesn't draw more people to your cause. What it does is it reinforces your own opinion. To use the Syncaine example, most of his audience consists of Darkfall players. Every time Syncaine pounds his chest and screams "I HAVE A MAN CRUSH ON TASOS FLAMBOURAS," it reinforces the beliefs of everyone who agrees with him. When those people tell Syncaine that he's "absolutely right and needs to give Tasos a big man hug," their approval spins backwards and reinforces Syncaine's beliefs. This leads the group to becoming "polarized" -- they all become more sure of their opinion by being around others who share their opinion. It's the psychological equivalent of a circle-jerk.
People on the outside, however, won't be sharing in your opinion. Instead, as you and your group become more sure of yourselves, your opinions will start to become more extreme to the onlookers. If an onlooker speaks up, the group will quickly move to alienate the onlooker for not sharing the same opinion. The group believes it is automatically right, because they have so many people who share their opinion.