General chat, sometimes called "Barrens chat" or "zone chat" or "the party line," is both the bane and the secret fixation of my existence. It's like a text-based reality show that plays out in real-time whenever I log into an MMO. If -- for some rare reason -- I'm bored of playing the game or talking with friends, at least I have the jibber-jabber of screeching opinions to fill my eye sockets.

It's safe to say that general chat earns its bad reputation, but have you ever stopped to analyze exactly why that is? I have. I have traveled that long, terrible path, and at the end I peered over the edge into the abyss, and the abyss told me that I was a carebear who needed to L2P. Here are my findings.

1. Comparisons to World of Warcraft and other MMOs

Well, you knew that I had to begin with this or face losing most of my reading audience to skipping ahead to see whether it's further down the list. I don't know what compels people to jump into one MMO and feel it necessary to publicly muse about how it stacks up to another game. Sometimes it's done in a positive way ("This game has way better fish people!"), and sometimes it's expressed in severe disapproval ("The fish people here do not utilize the proper dialect of their oceanic heritage that I found with Murlocs.").

Either way, why? Really, why? You don't read a book and spend that time thinking about other books. You don't go to the movies and spend the entire time talking about how it stacks up to a completely different film. You don't go to the Cincinnati Zoo and strike up a debate with fellow park-goers about how the San Diego Zoo blows this out of the water. You know why you don't do that? Because you'd look like a fool. Good thing you've avoided that in MMO general chat, then!

2. Which was the first MMO

I do not get this debate at all, and that's coming from a guy who's been studying and writing about the history of MMOs on this website for years now. First of all, what does it matter to anyone which MMO came first? Why does that have an impact on the game we're playing now? It's as if there's this desperate need to prove that there was one golden game that shone with intense, unadulterated creative purity from which all of the other MMOs stole their shameful concepts. Maybe, just maybe, these games borrow ideas from each other while sprinkling in their own iterative innovations. Maybe there's no gold star for whoever was first.

But the answer is MUD1 so shut it.

3. Religion and politics baiting

Do I really need to explain this one? When Trolls go to Below the Bridge University to get their degrees in Applied Annoyances, one of the first lessons they're taught is that throwing a barbed statement about politics or religion into the waters of general chat will send everyone into a frothing frenzy with minimal effort. So it was written, so it is done.

Let me add one of my personal nuggets of wisdom, which is that nobody has ever been argued into changing his mind about something on the internet. Civil discussion and discourse is another matter, but that arising in general chat would be as rare as someone from a third party ever getting elected as Commander-in-Chief, amirite?

4. Ragging on the game that they're playing

I could probably invoke the "don't pee in the pool in which you're swimming" maxim here and you'd get my drift, but this is such a huge pet peeve of mine that I must continue. You don't like this MMO? Nobody's forcing you to play it, pal -- and yet some folks log into this alleged game that they hate so much just to whine about it in general chat.

The thing about general chat is that it's a microphone that goes everywhere, which means it's not really the place for a critical discussion of a game's shortcomings. When people do that, it's akin to someone driving around with a megaphone screaming, "I HATE THIS TOWN! THIS TOWN SUCKS! I'M GOING TO GO TO ANOTHER TOWN THAT STATISTICALLY SUCKS LESS!" You're going to get your tires shot out from under you and nobody will feel bad for you, is all I'm saying.

5. The anti-newbie hit squad

Listen, I get that it can be a little grating for a veteran player to see a naive soul wander into general chat and ask the same, easily researched question that has been asked 1,115,078 times already. But there are those who will respond to a query with welcoming patience in the hopes that this person will join the game's community and feel at home there, and there are those who want to strike that newbie down with atomizing hate rays.

How does the latter help? Well, it doesn't. What it does is create an atmosphere of exclusion and push that player away so that he won't stick around. And then, a couple of years from now, those know-it-all veterans will look around at the empty servers and wonder in ignorance why their game is dying.

6. Guild recruitment spam

I'm kind of on the fence as to the appropriateness of guilds trying to recruit through general and zone chat channels. I've found several good guilds this way in MMOs that lack a dedicated guild finder, but sometimes these messages can be a little... excessive. This is especially true when the recruitment message is a paragraph of text that is spat onto my screen every three minutes. I hate ignoring people who aren't jerks, but that's a genuine distraction when I'm trying to just play the game.

And if you must recruit in general chat, please oh please run your recruitment message through a basic spell- and grammar-checker. You have no idea how bad that makes you look, unless it's a clever test to see who will have the knowledge to spot it and the courage to correct you.

7. Conspiracy theorists

More than a gaggle of teenagers and any gathering at a sports bar on a Friday night, MMO players know it all. This is a relief to me, since otherwise I would not be privy to such mind-blowing revelations regarding the inner workings of game studios. General chat is there to save me from my ignorance, with such learned minds confidently stating the true motives behind every decision that a studio has made. Usually it devolves into something with Hitler, aliens, and the declining use of the slide rule.

8. Puerile "jokes"

Repeat after me: Maturity is not an age; it's a stage of personal growth. Young and old alike can be quite immature, especially when given the semi-captive audience of an MMO. You discovered swear words a week ago? You think that it's funny to "ironically" use horrifically offensive terms for people in passing? That doesn't belong in our chat. At best, it belongs with you and you alone while you're in your Box of Shame, giggling as you spew vile insults to yourself. Feel free to leave that box when you grow up a bit.

9. Gold selling advertisements

Does this irk because there's now a weird string of letters, numbers, and symbols in chat that are trying to circumvent the chat filter? Does this annoy because I'm never, ever going to buy gold, especially not from some shady Warrior with the name "Asdfep?" Does this grate because I know that some of these accounts have been stolen from players, so reporting them doesn't really hurt the gold spammer? Yes, it does.

10. Elitism in any form

MMOs have brought a lot of great things to online communities, but their very design also invites in the horrible specters of greed and elitism. In games where there's objective, numerical evidence for one player's superiority over another, gamers can become corrupted into believing and acting as if they're really better than others.

Thus we get haughty individuals who give us their gaming resume to prove how knowledgeable and reputable they are with their forthcoming opinions, not to mention the folks who like to lecture the world at large as to the game's mechanics and classes as if they themselves created them. I mean, maybe they did! Time travel, hypnosis, long-distance psychic theft by telethiefs employed by the studio -- there are many possibilities here. Best to get out there and set the record straight!

Justin "Syp" Olivetti enjoys counting up to ten, a feat that he considers the apex of his career. If you'd like to learn how to count as well, check out The Perfect Ten. You can contact him via email at justin@massively.com or through his gaming blog, Bio Break.

This article was originally published on Massively.