Part of me thinks that voice chat is a product of the miraculous and wondrous age we live in. I can still remember when the very idea of the internet seemed like a magical idea. I could search an entire world full of knowledge and ideas at once! The fact that video games have evolved into games where I can log in to a shared world and speak to someone in a real-time discussion is nothing short of astonishing.
Most of me, however, really just hates voice chat.
I've used voice chat extensively before, and I didn't like it then. I still don't like it now. And for all of the advantages it offers, I can't say it's something that I consider a positive addition to the MMO landscape any more than I'm happy about the widespread adoption of the colloquial term "toon." It might not be a cultural issue that needs to be addressed, but I really hate voice chat.
It takes you out of the game
Immersion is a big deal to me. It's why I play on roleplaying servers and why I roleplay (although that's another discussion). When I play a game, I'm not looking to be reminded every five minutes that this is a game; I already know that. I'd prefer to have a brief adventure in some strange alternate setting because portals to Narnia are few and far between, and at least for a couple hours I can stop worrying about adult things like paying bills and going to work and making sure the cat hasn't puked up an internal organ.
That is a lot harder to do when someone is shouting in my ear every other second.
I don't have a problem playing games with friends; there's a sad lack of good cooperative games other than MMOs these days, which is depressing. But when I'm taking steps into a virtual world, I don't like a big neon sign reminding me that this isn't real. I know that I'm playing a video game on a computer. Half the fun is losing myself despite that fact. Half the fun is knowing that while I'm in the game, I'm not clawing my way through a dungeon of level 55 enemies that drop level 58 loot that will increase my overall DPS by 3%. It's in the fact that I can actually put myself in the shoes of a paladin carving a path through horrid monstrosities, twisted undead abominations that stand for everything he hates.
That illusion is part of what makes the game fun. And given the choice, I'd rather not have someone break that illusion by shouting into voice chat that all of these monster models are clipping horribly and it's so dumb.
It lacks reflection
One of the usual defenses I see about voice chat is that people claim they can speak faster than they can type. To be fair, I can understand that. I type fast, but I talk faster, so it's certainly a little faster for me to say that something aggroed us than to type what just happened.
The problem is that this applies to everything in the game. There's something to be said for having a bit of a time filter on what we say. Case in point: the aftermath of something aggroing the group and slaughtering everyone. Feelings get heated, tempers flare, and there's a definite advantage to the fact that you normally have to type out what you want to say before you say it because let me tell you, it's much easier to keep your mouth shut than to apologize later about the comments you made regarding the rest of the raid group and a variety of farm animals.
I'm not going to criticize anyone for getting into an argument about a pretend sword in a video game because I've done that. (I'm not proud, either.) But that argument gets started a lot faster when you don't have to think about why you're yelling and just launch into a five-minute tirade about who took what should have been your sword until you realize that you did not, in fact, have your microphone on mute.
You can say that no one should get angry in the first place, sure. But until we figure out a way to avoid getting angry about pointless nonsense like losing a pretend sword or dropping your coffee or having to listen to whatever Adele song is being vomited onto the radio this week, it's going to happen. Having a buffer between being angry and actually expressing that anger in a less than helpful manner is a good thing.
It tacks on a bunch of additional garbage to playing a game
In order to use voice chat in a game, you're going to need a headset and a voice chat client. There's occasionally a way around the latter, since there are games out there with a built-in client, but frequently those clients work about as well as tin cans and twine. And the fact of the matter is that both of those items are beyond obnoxious.
A headset is going to run you around $60, or $30 if you want one that's going to break in a few months and requires a replacement. Perhaps you're not obnoxiously cheap, so that doesn't bother you. I am, however, and it does. That's the price of a new boxed game or several smaller games or a few dinners out or movies or almost anything else in the world, and it's being spent on something that essentially only has functional value in context of something else.
Voice chat clients, meanwhile, require knowing where the client is, having the login information, connecting to the server properly, and then fiddling with your configuration until it works correctly. It's not that complicated most of the time; it's the fact that it takes this extra layer of work to get things working right at all that makes the affair really obnoxious. After years of having to fiddle with one thing or another to get a game to run on one computer or another, I find that every program that doesn't just run gets me all twitchy.
And again, all of this is on top of playing the game in the first place. I could throw around the words "insult" and "injury" in the hopes that they form a sentence, but I'd like to think you've connected those dots by now.
It's become a de facto standard
There are other things that are annoying about voice chat, like the fact that no matter where you are and what you are doing there will be at least one person using said chat whose voice should be declared a human rights violation. But all of this pales in the face of one overwhelming fact: You can't get away from it.
Seriously. The days when "I don't like voice chat" would get you out of using voice chat have passed into memory. Your excuse of "I don't have a headset" is met with "well, get one" rather than any alternative plans. The fact of the matter is that time has marched on, the war has been won, and it was won by the side that prefers voice chat.
As a result, whether you like it or not, you have to deal with it. In-game chat clients remain atrocious, and yet you're still expected to use something rather than just soldiering on with text chat. There are no two ways about it.
But I still don't like voice chat.
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!