The Soapbox: Of course I care what you're doing in MMOs

I mulled being positive about the MMO industry as a new year's resolution. Then I remembered that new year's resolutions are silly because if it takes an arbitrary date and a contrived occasion to do something, that something is probably not worth doing!

With that in mind, let's kick off the 2015 Soapbox season with a mini-rant about one of the nuttier MMO-related misconceptions of all time. I ran across this gem on a forum very recently, and while it's not a new notion, it's a dumb notion and therefore it's worth blowing up. What's the notion? Here, let me just quote the poster.

"Why do you care what other players do in an MMORPG? It doesn't affect you."

Of course it matters what other players do in an MMORPG. It's an MMORPG! If you really believe that the actions and choices of other players don't affect you, and by extension that every MMO player exists in his own virtual bubble where everything goes his way 100 percent of the time, why even play an MMO?

Wait, wait, don't respond just yet! That's both a rhetorical question and a trick question because the correct answer is that you're not playing an MMO if other players can't affect you. You're in a single-player game.

Developers certainly want to sell you solo-focused lobby games under the MMO sub-heading because they know that right now, you're unwilling to drop recurring revenue on a single-player title. But make no mistake, that is what you're doing if other players' actions truly don't matter.

Don't agree? You're in good company, as millions upon millions of alone-together questers have supported the other-players-don't-matter school of MMORPG design over the past 10 years. As such, the genre has effectively morphed into something that is a) not very MMO-like and b) an awful waste of virtual world potential.

In short, of course I care what you and every other player does in MMOs. Assuming you're a genre fan and not a tourist on loan from single-player RPGs, you should care, too.

Label it nosy or elitist if you must, but the reality is that I'm a concerned virtual citizen. I realize that "concerned virtual citizen" probably made you laugh out loud because at first blush it sounds ridiculous. But that's because to many players, MMOs are ridiculous.

They're nothing to this sort of player other than one idle amusement among thousands in our entertainment-saturated culture. And that's a fair position to take as long as you realize that it's not the only fair position and that not everyone takes it. Some people still think MMOs can do better than the mindless, profit-driven machine behind every mainstreaming movement and make something of themselves, bettering both users and developers in the process. This no doubt sounds completely crazy if you're part of the kill-everything-and-get-all-the-lewtz hivemind, though.

So let's put that Idealism aside and focus on the facts. You and your avatar don't exist in a virtual vacuum, even in the simplified strata of the 2015 MMORPG. Despite your desire to be alone in an MMO and to have the game world conform to your every whim, you're not and it doesn't.

Unless, again, it's not really an MMO.

What you do in the game -- and even out of the game nowadays, given how thoroughly monetization dominates design -- influences not only your play experience but also my play experience and everyone else's. Not caring about other players' actions in an MMO is like not caring about your fellow citizens' actions in an election. Clearly the scale is different, and so are the societal stakes. The mindset, however, is one and the same. You don't get to live in a perfect little meatspace bubble and ignore the consequences of inaction or incorrect action; even your smallest meatspace decisions affect your neighbors. And it's the same in MMORPGs... if they're really MMORPGs.

So please, soloists, do me a solid and at least acknowledge reality. I'm not asking you to change your opinion on the importance of MMOs, nor am I asking you to be a better player or a more knowledgeable commenter, blogger, or journo. In fact, I'm not asking you to do anything other than realize that your MMO actions matter to many, not just to you. You're not in a single-player genre, even though your title of choice has story cutscenes and quest NPCs that constantly lie to you about your status as "The One."

I'm a soloer, too, on occasion. But the long and short of it is that this is a social genre. This is not your world. It's our world, and how you interact with and ultimately shape it is most definitely my concern.

Everyone has opinions, and The Soapbox is how we indulge ours. Join the Massively writers as we take turns atop our very own soapbox to deliver unfettered editorials a bit outside our normal purviews (and not necessarily shared across the staff). Think we're spot on -- or out of our minds? Let us know in the comments!