"You're Playing Wrong"
There’s one particular topic that appears with tedious regularity on MMO subreddits and forums. That old chestnut about how the genre has become too solo friendly and that it’s to the ruination of the genre. It usually hails from the raiding community and follows a predictable path about high end gear and those who do and don’t deserve it. When you look beyond the initial arguments, you’ll frequently find that such positions are very emotive, couched in judgemental terms and often end in the sentiment “why even play an MMO?” or something comparable. The reason I mention this perennial debate is because it appeared recently on a forum that I still occasionally visit. It saddens me to a degree because, this point has been debunked so many times, yet it still persists (a bit like many political talking points). It also smacks of that attitude I see all too frequently these days. A concern and borderline resentment of what others are doing, irrespective of whether it impacts upon you or not.
So how shall we tackle this question of “you’re playing wrong” because that is effectively what it boils down to. Well, let us start with that very question. Is there a definitive way to play an MMORPG? No is the brief answer. Sure, each MMO has a set of rules and procedures that set out a path of progression. However, nowhere in these rules will you find a statement saying it is mandatory to play this particular way. Humans like to adapt things to suit their own needs. Play is under pinned by imagination and creativity. Therefore, role-players are free to pursue their particular play style in an MMO. Players can create alts and continuously replay specific content only if they wish. It is not essential to be in a guild or to raid and not everyone wants the best gear. Furthermore, I have never seen a major objection towards varied play styles from the developers of an MMO. They usually just seem happy that people can find joy in their creation and the publishers are content to have your money regardless of what you do.
As for the question "why even play an MMO?" it is utterly irrelevant to the debate. A player’s motivation for playing and indeed the very manner in which they play is no business of anyone else as long as it remains within the TOS of the game. Another common argument and variation upon this theme is that MMOs are meant to be social games and that the very foundation of the genre is the need for continuous interaction with other players. I remember Massively OP writer Jef Rehard claiming not so long ago 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". Yet the reality is that a MORPG is only social in so far as it includes game mechanics that can facilitate group interaction. They are there as an option and are seldom mandatory. Therefore, MMORPGs are not solely "a social genre" and it is worth noting that the word social does not feature in the acronym. It is also a common misconception that the social dimension that can be found in MMOs, is a result of the game itself. It is not. The game certainly provides a framework for group interaction but ultimately the social element is organically generated by the players themselves. The game at most is a conduit. Gather people together in any social interaction, friendship and fun will present itself.
As for the issue, as to "who's world is it", the answer is simple. It's the publishers. Gamers frequently make the mistake of believing they have a far greater stake in the object of their affection, beyond their consumer rights. We are all nothing more than a customer and any claim suggesting some vicarious form of collective ownership is nonsense. Fandom is a wonderful thing and has many positive aspects but at times it does cause a form of “tunnel vision” that impacts upon some players sense of perspective. MMORPGs are products created to make money. That is their primary purpose. They are not there to provide a social service nor are they under any obligation to foster a morally righteous community. Such activities are simply a byproduct of their use by the player base. There is equal scope for the community to go in the other direction and become toxic.
The MMORPG genre has changed greatly over the last decade and is now quite different from how it was. All consumer products evolve over time. Why is this situation any different? If one finds oneself aggrieved by such change surely it would be logical to blame it upon market forces and the nature of capitalism, rather than on those players that have elected to pursue their entertainment in a different way to you, as is their right? Thus, the argument that “you’re playing wrong” is a fundamentally flawed concept based on faulty data and incorrect assumptions. It also stems from fundamental misunderstanding of what a players role is within the traditional business and customer relationship.
So, in conclusion, concerns over other MMO players habits are misplaced. Beyond abiding by a games TOS (and hopefully maintaining good manners and common decency), a solo player has no obligation to anyone else and is free to pursue their own endeavours within a game in whatever fashion they see fit. As ever with debates of this kind, it is largely a matter of semantics and logical thinking. As a player who predominantly plays MMORPGs solo, the only way my actions affect other players is through the indirect medium of prevailing business trends. IE being part of a group that offers more business potential to the developers. Carping about this is a bit like complaining that not enough people buy a particular brand of coffee that you like and as a result the supermarket no longer stocks it.
Finally, there is a slight hint of a sense of moral outrage associated with this re-occurring argument. Such sentiment is misplaced in a reasoned and rational argument. This is ultimately a discussion about business decisions and how market forces govern product change. Personal indignation based upon perceived injustices does nothing more than cloud the debate. Developers know that they can't please all customers and it would be beneficial is gamers reciprocated. If as a gamer find yourself on the wrong side of a change of policy or game mechanic, then that is sad for you but beyond that it is of no more significance. However as reasoned and rational discussion is not de rigueur in any public arena at present, let alone just in gaming, I suspect we haven’t seen the last of the “you’re playing wrong” debate.