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The Soapbox: The stuff from the stuff


There was a great quote from the second season of the short-lived sitcom Sports Night when one of the characters chastises a friend who's overreacting by saying, "You've got to be able to separate the stuff from the stuff." Translated from Sorkinese, it means you need to stop lumping everything into one generic category to be upset about and instead sift through what's important and what is not.

I think this is quite applicable to the MMO community, as I see countless examples of people who just can't separate the stuff from the stuff. Everything, for some people, is a matter of utmost importance and worthy of a spontaneous riot on the same level as everything else. There are no degrees of importance; a mild nerf to a player's class is equally demanding of a 10-paragraph rant as a studio going back on its word just to screw players.

Not everything is life or death. A sign of maturity is learning to pick your battles and to mellow out the rest of the time. Let's see if we can take some steps together toward that goal.

The Soapbox The stuff from the stuff
The Great Resting Controversy of 2004

Let's look at an example of how people can easily lose the ability to separate what's important and what's not. I'm throwing us all into the wayback machine to April 2004, when World of Warcraft was deep in beta testing and already looked as though it would become a serious MMO contender. Lots of people were playing, and Blizzard was trying out several ideas as the beta went along.

Then, in Patch 0.6, the studio introduced something fairly new to the industry: the rest state. The idea was that when player's characters were more rested, they'd get an XP bump (and would get lots of this rest XP in inns or at campfires), and after a period of play, they'd become increasingly tired, resulting in diminished XP gain. Players generally liked the first part of that but went off on a frothing tizzy over the notion that the game would penalize them for playing compulsively.

Penny Arcade (above) immortalized the over-the-top rants that came out during this time because it got so ridiculous so fast. Even today in 2013, I clearly remember watching the forums in 2004 just explode because an MMO that had yet to be released, was still in beta, was still trying things out, and was putting in new systems that nobody had tried before was presumed to be subject to the demands of players who seemed as if they were just looking for any reason to overthrow civilization and burn the world down.

The reason I brought this up is that it doesn't matter today. It actually didn't really matter that much then, either. The purpose of beta testing is to try out things to make the best possible game, and Blizzard kept the best part of resting and chucked the rest. But the controversy? The lengthy forum rants? The players decrying the game based on this one feature-in-testing? It was just stuff. It wasn't really important. It didn't warrant such a high degree of drama. But we've seen the like of this thousands of times before and since.

The Soapbox The stuff from the stuff

Instant gaming drama -- just add internet anonymity -- isn't exclusive to our hobby. You see this sort of behavior any time you get a group of people who are wildly passionate about something, spend a lot of time invested in it, and gradually grow closer and closer to the subject matter to the point of developing myopia toward it. It's all about the small details, the day-to-day drama, not about the overall picture. The stuff takes priority, and what appears (and probably is) small potatoes to an outside observer is the stuff of shirt-rending woe to the hobbyist.

Now, I love MMOs. I do. It's kind of one of the prerequisites to writing for a site like Massively. But these games aren't the centerpiece of my universe. As much as drama is addicting and enjoyable, I've largely become weary of it because I've seen little good that can come from protesting pedestrian "issues" that will be deemed irrelevant tomorrow and forgotten the day after that.

One of my personal goals is to maintain a proper perspective for what's in my life. The worst, most terrible thing that could happen in MMOs will always be far less important than, say, my family or my health. I don't try to idolize these games or build them up to be something more than what they are: enjoyable entertainment that connects me with others and forges mutual memories.

Yet sometimes I can feel myself getting too close to the little stuff and find my blood boiling over ridiculous actions by game studios, developers, or other players. It's here that I need to be able to separate the stuff from the stuff and ask myself, is this worth engaging in, and if so, to what degree?

Patches come and patches go. Classes are nerfed one month and become hugely popular the next. Developers make gaffes and occasionally do bone-headed things. Studios lose sight of the players as people and make it clear that they're dollar signs to be manipulated. Some of it is indeed important, but a lot of it is junk that can clutter up my day with unnecessary worry and effort protesting it.

The Soapbox The stuff from the stuff
I can't come to bed. Someone is wrong on the internet.

I'm not saying that it's pointless to protest or that everything is meaningless and we should just lie down and die already. I'm just saying that it's crucial to recognize the moments when we should pipe up, say our piece to developers and the community, and do so in such a way that we don't come across as hand-wringing loons who accidentally set themselves on fire five hours ago and have yet to stop, drop, and roll.

How do you separate the stuff from the stuff? Gaining experience and perspective helps, surely, but I'm not going to tell you where that dividing line is. What I will do is to encourage you to spend some time reading up on how MMO community managers deal with the waterfalls of daily drama (start here or here or here). Understanding how they sift the important stuff from the meaningless emotional drivel that pours out of thousands of keyboards every day is to understand when and how we should engage on topics that are truly important to us -- and to do so in a way to really be heard, not just ignored.

And then? Let it go. I'm a big believer in saying one's piece and then moving on. Life's too short to spend days worked up over the little things, and gaming is not meant to make us miserable. Find your joy again and let it be the centerpiece of your MMO experience instead of misery, however that needs to happen.

The stuff will always pop up. And the stuff will always go away and be forgotten. It's just not worth it.

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!

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