Free for All: Playing the eternal noob

Crime Craft screenshot
As I just finished up my Age of Wushu livestream with Massively's own Patrick Mackey and Age of Wushu Community Manager Earthquake last night, I realize once again that most people do not look at MMO gaming as I do. Of course, I am basing this only on my existence as an island of a person, someone who spends most of his time soloing through content and generally getting lost in one game after another, after another and another.

Patrick is a lively personality who is what players would call a min-maxer. A theory-crafter. He is someone who takes hold of a game and learns it backward and forward, something I can only wish I could do. Not only do I not have the mental ability to sit still that long (and no, that's not an attempt at bragging about the size of my brain), but I physically cannot read that much text or spend more than several hours online without taking a break for fear of a days-destroying migraine.

This physical inability to study up came well after my already-established love for virtual travel, however. I am an explorer of virtual worlds, an occupation that does not permit sitting at one stop for long. But this hurts me as a player. I realize this and accept it.

Champions Online screenshot
I've told the story many times before, the one about how my co-host Margaret Krohn used to butt heads with me about Vanguard: Saga of Heroes on our podcast, Voyages of Vanguard. Oh, boy, did I get into tussles with raiders and power-players on the official forums as well! Looking back, I have no idea what drove my need for argument and how in the world I was able to write so much while playing a lot as well. I think that the same passion that was lit under the butts of those raiders or PvPers was lit under mine. We all wanted one of our favorite game to go -- or stay -- a certain way.

Was my way as important or more important than those other players'? No. I think I have always known and accepted the fact that I was a bit of an odd duck. It must have appeared to others that I enjoyed staying in the dark about systems or strategies in MMO, and they were probably right. While I think that the opinions I have are certainly valid and I'd love to say that all point of views (especially concerning a hobby like MMO gaming) should be measured equally, my gut tells me that no, my way of playing or exploring or whatever you want to call it is not valid, or at least, not as valid as the way most other people play.

The sort of all-knowing, uber-decked-out type of play is not my cup tea, obviously, but I need those type of players just like music lovers of all types need people to enjoy musical styles that are easy to make fun of. It's sort of a strange affair, but being aware of your own snobbery does not lessen the need to be an occasional snob. We all craft an identity from our extremes or at least from our extreme fandom, and many of us would be unhappy if the thing we liked were universally adored. I needed those raiders and min-maxers to keep money in the developer's pockets so I could continue to have places to explore. They, on the other hand, needed weirdos like me to push for more immersive content and tools for roleplay so that there was always a narrative or point to what they did. Without a reason, raiding and hardcore play is just work and math. Despite this mutual need, though, their way of play is closer to what I would call "gaming" than mine and so feels more important than mine.

Elsword screenshot
I will admit to sometimes playing the character of The Eternal Noob so that a stream co-host or vidcast guest will have something to be the opposite of. I've asked experts into my columns, streams, and shows dozens of times, but not just because of my lack of knowledge. The fact is that Google knows all if information were the only goal. I ask those people to come with me or play with me for two main reasons.

First, I am always thinking of the newbie in the audience. Call me overly sympathetic, but I tend to worry about those players who are brand-new to a title more than I worry about players who know it inside and out. I am happy to ask the newbie-friendly questions and will always demand that at least a few newbie questions are asked. Plus, I want to pull new players into a game that I like.

Second, I enjoy passionate players. I like people who are into a game. I like hearing other players' stories and get a thrill from seeing them so ready to answer all sorts of questions. Again, the information these experts impart benefit new players the most, so I still win.

I have never met a person who did not respond to an inquiry about a subject in which he is knowledgeable. People love talking about what they know more than talking about themselves. Gamers are especially proud of their achievements, and let's be honest, nerds are great at detailed analysis.

EVE Online screenshot
So over the years, I have attempted to be more humble and to remember that I am not the only one on the face of this Earth who has read up on a topic.

MMO gaming is such a community within a community that passions run especially high. Try asking a group of raiders or hardcore players the best way to take down a target. I understand all of this and take it all into account when I am playing with others, writing my articles, or hosting a show of some sort. As I said, I will occasionally play the newbie role when I need to, but the only real difference between me and any other expert in a game is time. I eventually learn a great deal about a game just like you might eventually learn a great deal about any topic by reading a book here and there. Others take a few months to break max level; it might take me a year or two.

I can tell you quite a bit about Ryzom. You could probably quiz me about Mabinogi. I'm not the crack shot that Margaret is in PlanetSide 2, the game she works on, but I can hold my own in a fight. I'm capable in DC Universe Online when I am on my favorite character and can back you up in Die2Nite. But don't grill me about the exact order in which I should fire off a combo... I don't know. And if I find out, it came to me, eventually.

I like my brain and I like my curiosity. I will never pretend to be anything but me and will be as honest as I can in my writing and coverage of this wacky, wacky genre.

My name is Beau, and I am an eternal noob.

Each week, Free for All brings you ideas, news, and reviews from the world of free-to-play, indie, and import games -- a world that is often overlooked by gamers. Leave it to Beau Hindman to talk about the games you didn't know you wanted! Have an idea for a subject or a killer new game that no one has heard of? Send it to!
This article was originally published on Massively.