The Soapbox: Stop reminding me that I'm playing a game

I'm clearly in a fantasy world in DC Universe Online, because it's a world where a woman other than Barbara Gordon can wear the bat-symbol.
To me, the most amazing part of a video game is the way that it can steal you away from the real world in a way that nothing else quite can. A good book or film will take your focus for several hours, but you're still aware that there's a layer between you and the media. A good game blurs that, lets you creep into the game world for a while and experience things you never would otherwise. There are moments of wonder and joy that you can feel from a few hours in games that are simply unmatched.

So please, stop ruining it.

MMOs in particular have gotten bad about this. It's ironic, as the genre as a whole lends itself to people taking a step into another world. But what's changed isn't a matter of systems or mechanics, just a sense of what designers feel are completely acceptable breaks between in-game reality and the real world. It's annoying. So stop reminding me that I'm playing a game, will you?

Yeah, you knew this was coming.Stop referencing pop culture

Debate has raged about whether or not Cataclysm was a bad expansion or not. Sort of, anyway -- most of the debate has centered around why it was bad. For my money, the part that really pushed me over the edge wasn't the talent changes or the class balance issues or the dungeon issues or the fact that it took my Frost tanking away darn it all. No, the part that was really bad was where Azeroth turned into a VH1 special.

I appreciate a revamp of the old-world content, but I appreciated it a lot less when it became clear that everything was a reference to something else. Every zone suddenly had to be a homage or pastiche of other elements instead of just standing on its own. The result wasn't just that I started to dislike the revamp but that I started to like the few genuine original stories less because I was looking for lines where they matched up with something else.

World of Warcraft has never shied away from this, sadly, and it does the game few favors. But I wouldn't place all the blame on that one game because we all know how designers love to slip pop culture nods throughout the game -- even games like Star Trek Online that really do not need any more nods, considering they are already based off a well-known piece of pop culture.

I get it; it's very clever that you've got a hatch with a sequence of numbers on it. But what would be even more clever is if you came up with something that referenced the parts of Lost that I liked instead of just aping the notes. Stop turning the game into a constant hunt for the reference source and focus on making an entertaining setting on its own merits.

You knew this was coming, too.Stop punching your own setting in the gut

Lord of the Rings Online very nearly sold a hobby horse that acted as a regular land mount.

I want you to take a moment to absorb that statement. I'm not talking about the price, which was the point that most of the world flipped out over. I'm talking about the fact that the game nearly had people flying around on wooden sticks with sewn-on horse heads as a mount. Somehow I don't think that's really the sort of tone that Tolkien was going for when he first wrote the books.

You can argue that this is a natural side-effect of having a cash shop, but that's like arguing that getting hit by a car is a natural side-effect of seeing a road. It's just a matter of catering to people who really want boxing gloves in Guild Wars 2. It's something that should not fit in the game at all but gets shoehorned in because someone somewhere will buy it.

Superheroic games don't have this same problem because there is literally nothing you can throw into a superhero comic without it looking like a part of the scenery. And I'm not saying that every game has to be super-serious at all times, but you cannot convince me that there was no solution for "silly novelty mount" that didn't turn into giving characters children's toys that allow high-speed travel.

Again: I am not saying there is no room in my games for humor or silliness. I'd like to see more of both. But this is neither. This is like the guy at a play who screws up his lines and then tries to laugh it off by mentioning that it would be crazy if he were an actor on stage and people were watching him trip over his words. Calling attention to suspension of disbelief after you fail to maintain it doesn't make you smart.

Stop integrating voice chat

Seriously. If you haven't caught this before now, I really hate voice chat. I've had voice chat working for years now; it's called a phone, and I make a point of not answering it. Voice chat is one of those elements of gaming that's come into vogue over the past several years that I do my best to ignore and avoid whenever possible.

But then companies bake it right into the client, presumably to avoid several of the barriers to entry. This is great if you actually want to use it but not so great if you had set up your antivirus to detect Ventrilo as a potential threat. It's like ordering a pizza and finding out that it comes with a dead rat in the center as a freebie. A $30 value!

I like the idea that games give me the option to just group up with someone and go questing. I don't like the idea that this random grouping can include listening to a stoned teenager explaining to me just how stoned he is right now. At least World of Warcraft had the good sense to make its built-in voice client so terrible that no one will ever use it.

I'm not asking a lot here. I'm just asking for the same bottom-line courtesy I would expect from any other form of media. Christopher Nolan doesn't stop the film halfway through to talk about his love of crepes. Stop reminding me that I'm playing a game and we're good.

You can also probably stop reminding me of how long I've been playing. Best not to think about that.

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 and not necessarily shared by Massively as a whole. Think we're spot on -- or out of our minds? Let us know in the comments!

This article was originally published on Massively.