The Soapbox: On MMO negativity

Jef Reahard
J. Reahard|01.17.12

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The Soapbox: On MMO negativity
Unhappy cat
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.

Last week I was given a link to an op-ed piece at Thade's place, and in lieu of posting a comment there, I figured I'd do it on the Soapbox and hopefully generate some discussion (and traffic) for all concerned.

In a nutshell, Thade questions whether MMO pundits actually like MMOs, and he comments on a perceived rise in negativity amongst what are assumed to be fans of the genre.

I don't know if the blogosphere has taken a turn toward the negative, but if so, there's a pretty simple explanation for it. The games have changed, and the old guard who grew up with MMOs (and are willing/able to devote time to blogging about them) have to try a little bit harder to enjoy themselves as each new title gets further and further from what they like. That's OK, though, and it's also OK -- and even essential -- for the disaffected to speak up.

This cat is not amused
Look, I think it's great that a lot of people enjoy current-gen MMOs. I probably would too, at least with greater frequency, if I hadn't been there at the beginning. But because I dig the earlier titles that are decidedly out of vogue, I probably fall into the theoretical does-he-even-like-MMOs bracket that Thade talks about.

His blog has some insightful things to say about genre and the fact that MMO players and pundits tend to willfully overlook its conventions. I feel he misses the mark, however, because we don't all like the same things. Reading his piece is basically reading a laundry list of reasons not to criticize Star Wars: The Old Republic. Yes, it's predictably World of Warcraft-like, he says, but it lets us have lightsabers, customizable armor, and a few other tidbits, all of which are fantastic.

And I agree, that is fantastic... for people who like that sort of thing.

It's not so fantastic, though, for people who prefer the Star Wars Galaxies approach to a Star Wars MMO (or more broadly, the player-driven virtual world to the dev-driven advancement game). These people have basically had their cup of Ben & Jerry's snatched away and replaced with a cup of broccoli, and frankly it would be a little bizarre if they didn't complain, loudly and often.

Also, it is possible to like MMOs while simultaneously being critical of them. In fact, that's kind of a job requirement around these parts. Would you guys even bother to read Massively if all we did was write about how much we luuuuurv RIFT/SWTOR/WoW? This is a unique and engaging hobby precisely because of the wide range of emotions that various games evoke, and highlighting the bad as well as the good is simply the right thing to do.

Cats in glasses
But, but, rose-colored glasses!

Invariably, discussions relating to MMO negativity devolve into the rose-colored glasses argument, and even though I've debunked that nonsense before, allow me to do it again, pre-emptively and with an extra-MMO analogy.

I prefer my '65 Mustang to the '12 model. The former is faster, sexier, and cheaper to maintain and modify. I'm not looking at cars through rose-colored glasses; I'm assigning a personal value judgment to one set of features over another. Newer does not automagically equal better, folks, and preferring an older product does not automagically warrant the rose-colored glasses logic fail. Capiche? Good, I'm glad we've settled that (again) because the same is true in the MMO space.

I dig player-generated content, crafting, economic gameplay, and the freedom to advance my character sans a pre-determined template. These are things that many post-2004 MMOs are exceedingly bad at, and therefore some of the things I write about post-2004 MMOs will tend toward the negative. Does this mean I dislike MMOs? No! Does it mean I should go away and find another hobby? Some might say so, but I prefer a more optimistic outlook. Eventually, the design pendulum is going to swing back toward the type of game that I enjoy, and I'll be one of Thade's shiny happy game-bloggers (for a time).

Sad grey kitty
Enjoy yourselves

And hey, I don't begrudge newer MMO players their happiness. I remember how it felt when I first logged into Anarchy Online. It was heady, exciting stuff, and the possibilities seemed endless. A dozen years later, the genre is big (and getting bigger), and I would hope that there is still room enough for my playstyle and many others.

Currently, though, there seems to be an overwhelming amount of favoritism toward one particular playstyle. Granted, it's the larger market share, so I have no issue with that. What I do find funny is the notion that folks are somehow obligated to put on a happy face and refrain from voicing opinions unless they're positive.

While negativity may annoy the eternally chipper, I'm OK with it because criticism is what drives progress. Think where we'd be if Richard Garriott and company had been fat, happy, and reluctant to cast a critical eye toward Ultima offline circa 1995. Think about how many film reviews you've read in which the critic says, yeah, this is the same Michael Bay movie you've seen a hundred times, but you should enjoy it anyway because it's new and they spent a lot of money on the voiceovers explosions.

Everyone's a critic

Put simply, what's the point of blogging (about MMOs or anything else) if all you're interested in is praising the status quo? To be honest, the point is progress, and that's one reason why writing about arts and entertainment is generally called criticism instead of positivism, no?

Anyhow, I sympathize with the occasional blogger who gets tired of negativity, and Thade offers some intriguing food for thought that I encourage everyone to read. But a fair few of us MMO fans are finding smelly green vegetables in the ice cream section, and that doesn't really lend itself to smiling faces or hearts full of song. At the end of the day, yeah I like video games (and in particular, MMORPGs). Since I started liking them, though, they've changed.

A lot.

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!
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