The Soapbox: A sense of humor is your number one weapon

Disclaimer: The Soapbox column is entirely the opinion of this week's writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Massively as a whole. If you're afraid of opinions other than your own, you might want to skip this column.

It's one of my ongoing theories that MMOs severely tempt (if not outright encourage) us to engage in the less savory aspects of our character. I'm sometimes worried that these games do shape our personalities, at least while we're playing, to bring out the worst in us. I'm not talking about addiction or anything like that, but rather about things as simple as fostering greediness, selfishness, envy and bullying. From games that are supposed to be massively social, I often get the impression that the message they're preaching is to look out for yourself and get ahead of the (kill ten) rat race any way possible.

At least in my own game sessions, I've seen signs of this happening. I've kept silent when guildies ask for help, because I want to get this quest done for myself. I've fallen into the stressful grind of endgame gear to the point of becoming completely fixated on it to the exclusion of all else. Once or twice I've written an angry diatribe on forums, attempting to use the sheer weight of my words to club the opposition into submission. And, yes, I've lost my cool with party members whom I judged as not pulling their weight, and I've chewed them out.

It's usually at times like these when someone or something kicks in to remind me that I have gotten a little too serious and need to lighten up. It's not that MMOs are "just" games but that these are games, and as such, shouldn't we be having more fun and laughing more often than we do now? This is why, over the years, I've developed a personal philosophy of gaming that revolves around three simple concepts: if it's not fun, don't do it; help others when the opportunity arises; and always bring a sense of humor to the playing field. Today I'd like to explore that last one.

Ten CCs of comedy, stat!

It's appropriate to dig up that hoary chestnut of Laughter is the best medicine because it is often true. A person who is quick to laugh, who finds the funny in a multitude of situations, and who can easily chuckle at himself is a person who is a joy to be around. I love these people and aspire to be one because I see how they've taken a sense of humor, used it as a weapon against the negatives of the world around us, and been successful in the end.

It often strikes me just how humorless and downright deadly serious MMO gamers can be. I avoid MMO forums at all costs these days because what little benefit and information I can glean from them is easily outweighed by the trolls and angry monologues that dominate the scene. MMOs aren't games to these people; they are war, and a full-frontal attack is the only response. They wage war against the developers, against fellow players, and even against their own expectations -- and they lose. Time and again they lose. Whether it's via a 5,000-word rant as to why a player is rage-quitting a game or an insult thinly disguised as civility ("You, sir, are an idiot"), the hate robs all those in the vicinity of joy and pleasure.

Seeing as how even professional sports channels like ESPN have color commentators, funny commercials, and blooper reels, shouldn't we as gamers be diligent at keeping levity in our attitudes as we engage in our online lives? I think so. I know so.

A sense of humor can be your first and best weapon against the negativity in gaming circles, as evidenced by the following four points.

1. Humor can make a bad situation better -- or at least tolerable

Just we we do in real life, we all have good and bad days in MMOs. Some days we accomplish such great deeds that bards will be singing of our glory for years to come. Some days we hit walls so hard that we want to punt our CPU into the next zip code. The thing is, the situation usually cannot be helped, but your response to it is completely within your control.

I've been part of PUGs that struggle and wipe, causing everyone to turn on each other faster than the Donner Party passing through the mountains. It's ugly and demoralizing because everyone points a finger and tensions run high. Well before the end boss, the group disbands and I walk away with the feeling of a wasted evening.

I've also been part of groups that stop taking it all so seriously and start having fun. Often this is due to a few people with jubilant personalities who crack jokes, offer encouragement, and throw exaggerated insults against the mobs instead of their teammates. Let me tell you, this type of attitude becomes downright infectious. It relieves tension and loosens everyone up, and people start to resolve to have fun whether we win or lose. Those are the nights I log off with a smile on my face, feeling satisfied.

2. Humor makes you accessible to other players

One of my personal pet peeves is roleplayers who have an inability to roleplay humor. I'm not speaking of all RPers here, but rather the ones who come off as pretentious and stodgy when you encounter them, ones who seem to be auditioning for Dark Brooding Hero of the Year. Humor doesn't escape their orbits, and any thrown their way is treated with extreme distaste. I've gone out of my way to avoid these folks, because accurate to lore or not, a dour disposition creates an aura of unlikability.

I don't mean to pick on ultra-serious RPers (or RP in general, I love you Eliot!), but that small subset is an example of how humor -- or a lack thereof -- really affects how much others want to be around you. If everything you project is anger, drama, and impatience, then you shouldn't be surprised when you're standing alone in the end. If people know that you take things in stride and are quick to laugh, then you'll find yourself welcome in groups.

One of the dorkiest guys I ever knew in college was also one of the most popular. This was partially because he never played favorites with people, but mostly because he wasn't above putting on a superhero costume to protest bad cafeteria food or running for "Supreme Dictator Overlord Mad Despot" during the elections. He had a serious side, but you'd always encounter his humor first and foremost.

3. Humor strengthens guilds and relationships

Let's face it: People are weird. Really, really weird. And nobody is exempt from this statement. Now throw a bunch of strangers into a guild, and the weirdness increases exponentially. Personalities clash, attitudes chafe and power struggles emerge.

Yet the good guilds -- the great guilds -- are ones founded on the bedrock of humor. Apart from Gorilla Glue, nothing bonds people together more quickly than laughter. Whenever I evaluate a guild to potentially join, I always pay attention to the atmosphere of the chat. If the members joke around, if there's a bunch of snarky personalities, and if everyone is treated with respect, then I know I have a winner.

Back in my World of Warcraft days, our guild was rife with some of the funniest people you'd ever meet. Every day I'd want to log on more to just marinate in the chat channel than to do quests, and I think quite a few others felt the same. I still recall one instance when a guildie said something odd that everyone took out of context and ran with it, turning it into a huge running joke involving chickens, robotic walruses and illegal activities. Before long, we were crying with laughter and begging people to stop so we could catch our breath. That day, we all bonded closer together than we would've during a raid.

4. Humor puts things in perspective

One of the aspects of comedy that I like the most is the way it keeps our worldview in check. Stand-up comedians make livings out of pointing at all the truly crazy things that we take so seriously every day, and satirical writers like Mark Twain and Dave Barry are masters at turning a phrase to make you not only laugh but also think.

Humor is powerful because it gets people's attention and sticks in their mind. If someone writes a funny piece protesting an issue he's upset about, I'm far more likely to read and remember it than if he just jammed on the caps lock key and went to town.

Listen, I absolutely love MMOs (or I obviously wouldn't be writing about them), but they are pretty ridiculous when you consider them from a logical -- or an outsider's -- perspective. I mean, we play in worlds where all boars don't have livers, where bears carry swords, and where you can never truly die. It's fantasy -- it's a bit silly, it's a lot fun, and it's kind of funny when you look at it from a certain point of view.

I'm certainly not saying that you shouldn't try hard, be competitive or reach for your goals -- just that whenever the game starts to get to you, realize just what you're getting worked up about and have a sense of humor about it.

It's already a hard enough world as it is, so shouldn't we be doing our best to make it better -- or at least funnier?

Everyone has opinions, and The Soapbox is how we indulge ours. Join the Massively writers every Tuesday as we take turns atop our very own soapbox to deliver unfettered editorials a bit outside our normal purviews. Think we're spot on -- or out of our minds? Let us know in the comments!
This article was originally published on Massively.