So, lately I’ve been playing Guild Wars 2 (It’s awesome and you should try it out if you haven’t already, by the way). A funny thing happened to me the other day. I can’t recall exactly what I was up against, but after a certain point in my early wanderings, my luck ran out – I couldn’t take them all on, and my last stand was…less than glorious. I was dead.
A random player happened upon the area: I’d never seen him before, and we’d never had any prior affiliation. He proceeded to slaughter the foes which ended my life. Just as I was about to return to a waypoint, he paused, turned, and revived me, then continued on his merry way without so much as a word.
This sort of thing, I’ve come to learn, is normal in the game world- even if it’s tacitly unusual in pretty much every other MMO on the face of the planet. Curious, isn’t it?
My first experience with an MMO, like many, was with World of Warcraft. The players there were a mixed bag. On the one hand, it was possible to occasionally come across a Good Samaritan – the horde player who helped you out with a quest, the high-level alliance player who let you go on your merry way instead of ganking you. On the other hand…those people were increasingly rare as you moved up the ranks. It was more frequent on a PVP server to find yourself at the mercy of some angry manchild than it was to have someone actually help you on your way, and I actually found myself being cussed out once because someone found out I played both factions.
Even players within the same faction seemed to often prefer to do things on their own, isolated within their little cliques. True, there was a real sense of community within guilds, but at the same time, it was a very individualistic setting, which very much gave the vibe of “every player for themselves. You’re on your own unless you can find someone to attach yourself to.
It’s even worse in purely competitive games- but we’ve beaten that horse almost to death here, so I’m going to leave that statement standing.
Guild Wars 2 is…different. A reviewer on Forbes mused that it honestly played like the developers took a list of everything people disliked about MMOs, then made a conscious effort to get rid of the elements on that list. Arenanet has consciously shunted almost every long-standing tradition in MMO history, and the game’s all the better for it.
Players are actually rewarded for helping one another out, and I’m not talking organized, well-oiled guild raids here (another staple of the genre). The traditional quest system (which lent itself very well to a “me first” mentality, along with spawn camping), has been thrown violently out the window. Everybody gets credit for every quest, so long as they participate in its completion. As a result, the mentality has completely shifted from competition to participation. Well, except in the PVP arenas…but that’s another story.
What does this mean? What, if anything, does it say about us as gamers? Is it just a case of similar people gravitating towards similar environments, or is there something more going on beneath the surface? Could it be that the developer of a game subtly influences the attitudes and actions of the players with every design choice they make? That perhaps the League of Legends community is so hateful due in part to a conscious (or unconscious) decision on Riot’s part?
Could it be that human beings are, in truth, actually hard-wired to cooperate, and it’s only when placed into an environment that awards competition that they begin to squabble?
Maybe it’s just that Guild Wars 2’s environment doesn’t lend itself very well to player cruelty, and as a result, toxic players have far greater difficulty spreading their poison to others. You know how it goes – all it takes is one bad apple, and pretty soon you’ve a whole rotten, worm-ridden barrel of filth. Perhaps it’s a combination of the sorts of people the play environment appeals to as well as active prevention on the part of Arenanet itself.
It’s hard to say – there’s no straight, simple answer to this quandary, and I’ve neither the resources nor the time to execute a scientific study into the matter. Ultimately, this post is just a bit of food for thought. Next time you’re online, pay attention to how you act – and how others behave around you. Your attitudes might be influenced in more ways than you know.