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The Soapbox: Be as bad as you like

Eliot Lefebvre

There are a lot of reasons I love MMOs, but one of the reasons is the fact that there are so many possible goals in any given game and so many different reasons to pursue them. Even in games with more limitations, you've still got a surfeit of character options, moreso than in almost any other genre. I love to roleplay a character who wouldn't normally be the main character of a story, explore what makes her tick, and give her space and the ability to be heroic and skilled as she deserves.

What I'm less enthusiastic about is when someone asks why in the world I'm playing a particular race and class combination because obviously my character is now sub-optimal.

There's an emphasis on optimization in most MMOs, a push to create the best possible version of a character in gameplay terms that I'm not entirely on-board with. It's one with comprehensible origins, but it's unfortunately taken on a lot of ugly dimensions that sometimes short-change what MMOs can be.

Being the best jouster is a silly goal, but it's really hard to find fault with any goal that ends with a wolverine riding a horse with a lance.In fairness, there are places where being the best you can be does matter a lot. For starters, any time that you're trying to be the absolute best at something, you need to make sure that your character is working at his or her best. And... well, that's about it.

Keep in mind that I'm specifically saying the absolute best for a reason. If you find trying to be the best in the world/district/server/whatever to be a fun pursuit, yes, you should be going for the best of everything. But that's not what everyone cares about. Wanting to be a good PvP player in World of Warcraft is a different goal than wanting to be the absolute best.

Heck, even being the best isn't a limited goal. You could want to be the best at PvP while using a class and race specifically thought to be underpowered. The whole point might be giving yourself a greater challenge just to see if you can overcome it or the degree to which you can overcome it.

And that's not even getting into the number of players who want to play a sub-par class because they like the aesthetics or they enjoy how it plays or countless other potential motivations. Not everyone finds the same thing fun, and not everyone counts "best" as a personal aspiration.

Nobody plays to be bad. Almost everyone plays because he wants to accomplish something. The key point here is that there are many ways to play that do not include optimal play as a necessity. There are reasons to play the game in the manner you want, even if it turns out that what you're doing is deliberately playing worse than you could.

If you're in a race to be the best, this matters. You shouldn't be playing in the League of Legends championships with a sub-par build because your teammates are counting on you. But if you're playing in a random match with strangers to have fun rather than a competitive format, you have every right to play the way that you like rather than the way that is assured to eke out a win.

This is not how everyone enjoys playing games. There are people who play solely to win because that's what they find fun. And that's fine. But not everyone really enjoys that playstyle; some actively dislike it. And it's ludicrous to expect everyone to perform at that level when the game you're playing to have fun doesn't necessarily have the same "fun" parameters for everyone.

I traded my set bonus to feel prettier than ever.  I regret nothing.MMOs are social spaces, and when you're working with other people to accomplish something, you have an obligation to do the best you can. You do not, however, have an obligation to play something that you don't find fun in the first place. If you're working with others to clear a dungeon, you should do the best you can to ensure that you clear the dungeon successfully, but that's within the context of what you enjoy doing and what you would be doing otherwise.

Maybe you play a class capable of healing but don't actually enjoy healing. That's fine; you're not under any moral obligation to heal. If you want to play your character as DPS and your character can do that, you're allowed to do that, even if that means getting a distinct minority of groups.

Other players aren't obligated to work with you, and sometimes you can build your character in such a way that you're opting out of group content. But that's your choice, and if you want to play that way there's nothing inherently wrong with it. As long as you accept the limitations, you have every right to play how you want.

In the early days of MMOs this was a little less possible. Being locked out of groups in EverQuest meant being locked out of almost the entire game, so there was a certain obligation to say that you can't play X with Y. But that was then. Games have changed since those days, group play is no longer necessarily the only reason to play the games, and even those of us around when Final Fantasy XI reminded Elvaan players to never play mages have an obligation to let others play in the manner that they find fun.

And if you're one of those people? Be happy with it. Be proud to spec away from endgame utility because it's less fun. Have your Tactical captain in Star Trek Online pilot a Science Vessel. Play the weaker or underpowered champions in League of Legends. Roll up characters that aren't necessarily synergistic but are the sort of characters you have fun playing.

Yeah, it comes with drawbacks. But the drawback of being slightly worse at certain bits of content seems like a fair trade if the alternative is that the game isn't fun.

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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