Anikka over at Sin Healing posted about the dangers in Aion’s community recently. I had been meaning to write on this topic, so I figure now’s as good a time as any.
I’m a big fan of positive communication. I spend a lot of time giving presentations, so I’m always working to get information across to others in effective, concise ways. The majority of my research is on HRI (Human-Robot Interaction), and a big part of that is promoting various avenues of communication. This same effort for clear communication carries over into working here on my blog, and in Aion itself. I try to always be courteous, and I hope that nothing I present here ever comes across as condescending. I make assumptions, and I make estimations; I try to find answers to questions, and solutions to problems. I don’t want to attack people, and I certainly don’t want to present myself as some overbearing know-it-all: I don’t know it all. There’s a lot I don’t know, and that’s why I have so many questions. But right now, my mind’s fixated on one question in particular:
Why is it that Aion has such a high APR (Assholes to Players Ratio)? It seems like everywhere I go, there’s more assholes.
I’m consistently disappointed by reading any player-generated dialogue from just about anywhere in the game. Half of my own legion’s discussions and comments are either rude or offensive to various cultures. Reading anything in the region chat is like asking to jab burning pokers into my eyes. Maybe all the sensible people (like myself) just refrain from typing anything at all. That doesn’t really fix the problem, though: the apparent APR is what will hurt the game, even if it’s not an accurate representation.
And I’m referring only to legitimate players, here. Bots and goldspammers are obnoxious, but they’re easily ignorable. Bots will have to pass tests come patch 1.6 if they spam-gather. Goldspammers don’t really harass any one person: they just spread around a single obnoxious message to every player they can find and then wait for a while. People who find them to be the problem with the social scene in Aion should take a second look. Autonomous players may not help much, but they don’t do nearly so much damage as malicious players.
What is wrong, then? In a nutshell, it’s the overwhelming ignorance and cruelty with which all of the current gamers treat one another. Everyone’s already an expert in this game, and everyone already knows everything there is to know about this game (or so they think). So many players I’ve met already seem to think they know everything, and actually judge other players based on these facts they’ve accumulated so far; they know how to play the game best, and no one in their right ming would ever play any other way.
I’m not sure why people have to be so biased. I mean, doing what you enjoy is good, but it should never actively conflict with someone else enjoying his own thing. You could argue some semantics about PvP being a win-lose situation, but no person in their right mind plays PvP (or any competitive sport) with the delusion that they’ll win every match. There’s no fun in winning every match, after all – there’s no challenge, no struggle. People have an innate proclivity to seek out challenges. So PvP has give and take; it’s the challenge and risk that makes that kind of gameplay fun. But harassing other players in PvE settings, really? Or even worse, harassing other players for doing other things outside the game? Where does anyone get off thinking that’s okay?
The Internet Paradox
The Internet is a wonderful tool, allowing for direct communication betweent thousands of locations simultaneously. Talking with other people, independent of the physical distance between you and them, has never been so easy, openly accessible, and open source. And yet, the farther we move in the direction of using the Internet for communication, the worse our actual communication skills become. Mind you, I’m not talking about 1337 or “r u 4 reel?” stuff – those are degradations of language; I’m talking about communication skills.
This is best summed up by XKCD‘s “Internet Argument.” There’s no better way to state the problem: it’s far easier to be an asshole to a computer screen than to another human being. I think this is particularly relevant to the MMO scene: it’s so easy to get angry and frustrated when things don’t go exactly as you want, and the other people nearby (be they in your group or on similar solo quests) are easy targets. You can vent your frustrations out on them and no one will care; it’s just a game, after all.
Why do computer screens make us lose sight of what it is we’re actually doing? Whispering, “You’re a fucking retard. Why the hell are you using a Greatsword as a Gladiator? Get a fucking polearm!” to another player kinda disturbs me. It’s as if I were stopping a woman in the street and swearing at her for wearing a wide-brimmed hat on a cloudy day: “What the hell, lady? the sun’s not going to burn you, so take your fucking hat off.” Yet it happens in the game.
Whispering, “Fuck you, jackass, that was my Iron node,” is even more common. The act of stealing someone else’s gathering node is also common, and really underhanded. It’s the same as cutting in line at Starbucks; getting your coffee three minutes faster really is that crucial, is it? I’m glad your caffeine addiction takes precedence over your courtesy to other human beings.
Then there’s the personal attacks. “Why are you so slow? Grind more, bitch!” comments are pretty ubiquitous. “What kind of idiot does anything else with his free time? the game’s where it’s at, dude. Level now or just give up.”
Everyone seems to hold the standard that if you aren’t playing for endgame Right Now, you aren’t playing at all. I don’t understand that. I don’t have the time to commit to the game for that kind of grind right now, and I’m really enjoying my pace as it is. And I’m obviously not spending all of my free time in-game: I am writing this, after all. I enjoy the variety. I enjoy having some changes in pace: group grinding on elites today, jogging around gathering the next, and writing up reflections on the next. Why on Earth would I force myself to get to the end of Aion, when there’s so much to be seen along the way? If I wanted to sit in the end-game lull, I’d still be playing WoW. I came to Aion for the full experience; Aion delivers an enriching game from the very first quests. I see no reason to skip all the content of the game simply to be “done with it already.” It’s not like I view the game as a chore – sheesh!
So there’s countless asinine comments flying across every communication thread I join. There are some decent conversations, too, to be fair. Some of my legion-mates are great, competent people with cool ideas to chat about. The problem is that now, so unlike my CB and OB experiences, the vast majority of players are no longer helpful, upbeat people. They’ve sunk into silence or frothing elitism.
This is really a big thing ever since online communication forums were set up for multiplayer games. With the advent of theorycrafting, players who don’t have the time or interest to study their character class and stats can read the outcomes that someone else found. Whether these outcomes are accurate, or even within reason, is completely arbitrary unless cited with in-game screenshots. The theorycrafting is cool: I do a fair bit of it myself, obviously. I am thoroughly offended by anyone who takes this sort of information and uses it to hurt others, however.
Okay, so putting shield defense manastones in your leather armor is a bad idea: I hope that’s clear to every Scout class in the game. But if I mix HP and Attack and Accuracy on my Scout’s gear because Crit stones don’t drop and costs too much on the trading house, do you really feel good in calling me out on it? Optimal or no, it’s not a life-changing decision at level 18 – the gear will be replaced soon enough, anyways. I might as well get a little benefit from the stones I find while I can, right? Or, even if I go exclusively for Parry and dual-wield swords for the additional parry, is that really a decision that you have to insult me for?
Even looking at game mechanics: the Weaving debate. Do you realize just how opinionated some players are on the concept? I’ve heard even my own legion-mates say “Fuck weaving – just mash the buttons, noob.” Now, I’ll grant that weaving is open to debate: I don’t assert that it’s better in all conditions. It also takes more work. But, seeing as I can verify that I get an additional Auto-Attack (along with all of my special attacks) every 8 seconds on my Chanter if I weave my specials rather than spamming, I’m convinced that spamming is not the correct answer in all cases. Either way, it shouldn’t be a big deal: I don’t mind people who button mash, nor do I mind slow weaves that don’t actually gain anything. I do mind people who judge others on the decision, though; intolerance for anything that isn’t deemed “optimal” is a dangerous, destructive approach to gaming interactions. No one’s perfect at this stuff, and even minute details (like latency) can make a stellar weave fall apart. Thus, presuming to have omniscence on the weaving topic is just another way of being an asshole.
The PvP Inflammation
At its core, Aion is a competitive game. There’s tons of competition between Elyos and Asmodians, as well as between players on the same side. Named mobs, quest-dependant mobs, limited resource nodes, and so forth all contribute to the competition. This naturally contributes to the arguments and frustration: not everyone can win, yet everyone wants a chance to be on top.
Naturally, this increase in frustration is a primary fuel for all of the ill behavior in-game. If everything in the game went smoothly, showing off how every player has a good talent in some respect, then there’d be less anger and disappointment seething within some players. But now that everything’s in a competitive arena, there’s so many more moments of failure that players have to deal with. How do most players deal? At present, it seems that yelling at somebody else is the easiest solution.
- Blaming teammates for not being competent enough to keep up.
- Blaming game designers for letting one class have an advantage over another.
- Telling off a new player for doing something slightly sub-optimal as an indirect vent.
There’s several outlets for blame, and a lot of that tends to stream over regional or legion chat. But then, all that anger leaves one player and offends the people on the receiving end. How do those players deal, now that they’re doubly stressed by their own game as well as the anger of some other player?
You can see a vicious cycle ensuing here. This is how divisions between people are made; this is what breaks couples up, starts fights, starts wars, and benefits no one. Even the original person doesn’t feel all that great: someone else is likely bitching at him about something else. It’s dangerous, horrible, and will rend Aion’s social structure apart if it persists.
This isn’t a hard problem to fix, so long as people recognize that it needs to be fixed. The secondary killer of social atmospheres is apathy. Once players stop really caring about the garbage spewing through open chat channels, that avenue of communication is as good as dead. So, hopefully I’ve expressed the problem sufficiently above.
What’s the fix, then? There’s multiple solutions, to be sure, but I’ll focus on just one for now: Sportsmanship.
Aion is a competitive game, as I’ve said before. There’s all sorts of conflict and struggle and there can’t be as many winners as there are winners at any one time. This Shouldn’t Be News to Anyone. If you queued up for Aion, expect to have competition. Expect to even have unfair competition sometimes. If you aren’t comfortable with this, then I whole-heartedly recommend that you look for another game to play. There’s nothing wrong with not liking the competitive atmosphere here – it is harsh, even in the best of circumstances, and there will always be struggle and anger and disappointment to cope with. But Aion is a game, not a chore; it should be something that you enjoy doing. If you aren’t enjoying it, then don’t feel ashamed – just look for something else. It’s your free time, after all – you should spend it in a way that feels relaxing, fun, or entertaining (How can someone enjoy competition, you may ask? Well, weirder things have happened – I enjoy working with math, after all…).
Now, for those of you who do enjoy some, most, or even all of Aion’s game content, be prepared for the disappointment that is inherent in any competitive environment. The easiest way I find to do this: go in with an attitude of building others up. When you’re playing Aion, have the goal of supporting all other players you encounter, rather than pushing them down. This is the true essence of Sportsmanship: promoting the other players on your team, and even on the opposing team, rather than using scathing remarks or foul play to reach your goal.
You might be wondering how the hell this could possibly make sense, but I promise that it does. The key is to promote others without becoming a doormat yourself. Race for gathering nodes, race for mob kills, and fight as best you can in any PvP encounter. However, when one of those fights lands in someone else’s favor, don’t attack them verbally. Congratulate them on doing so well. Learn from what they do. Similarly, when you win, don’t sling insults on the injury. Try instead to suggest what might have turned the fight in their favor, or perhaps another spawn location for the same type of gatherable material. Sure, it sucks to lose, but you knew you were going to lose some fights when you logged in. If you can’t handle that with a smile, then you aren’t playing the right game. Whispering every single person you meet with some compliment is pretty awkward, to be sure, but sparingly-used encouraging comments are far more productive than any amount of insult.
A good analog to this is the game of Baseball. Aion is a lot like Baseball: there are two distinct teams, each with many players, and each player has a moment to excel on an individual level – at bat. If a teammate strikes out, it sucks; if your near-home-run hit gets caught on the warning strip, it sucks. But MLB players get on the field knowing that not everything will work out perfectly. They don’t deride their teammates when they miss a pitch, and they don’t run to the outfield and punch the guy who caught their hit. They’re disappointed, snap their fingers, and wish they’d done better for sure. However, the truly good players will be impressed by the long-shot catch made on the warning strip, and will coach his fellow, batting-shy friend through the motions to improve his swing. Not every player on a Baseball team can be an all-star at once, but the other players on a team don’t ever let their disappointment at missing that opportunity show; they support their lucky teammate, and they smile.
I won’t lie, saying that good Sportsmanship is easy. It’s a pain in the ass, and it’s genuinely a struggle to be sincere sometimes. But the payoff is worth it. I can just imagine what an amazing community Aion could have, if only more of the players took the time to be supportive, rather than derisive. There’d be more group invitations floating around; there’d be so much less garbage on the regional channels that I could subscribe to them again; there’d be competition and struggle without the bitter aftertaste, regardless of who won the competition. There’d still likely be cheating and frustration, but players would be able to handle those infractions with poise: calmly report abuse of game mechanics to a GM, and carry on.
Naturally, this doesn’t get rid of anger and frustration. Outlets are always needed, to be sure. PvE content is one easy way to beat the living daylights out of something to make yourself relax. Maybe just jogging into town to do some solo crafting will take the edge off after a particularly painful Abyss experience. Ranting and raving on a blog is another way to get your frustrations off your chest. I fully understand that things won’t always be perfect, and that no amount of go-getter cheering and support will fix everything. But that’s not the point here. Rather, if we can just remedy the social interactions of the game, I think there will be marked improvement in the game experience across the board.
The first two letters in the MMORPG acronym stand for “Massively Multiplayer.” Aion is a multiplayer game. If you can’t play well with others, I recommend finding another game to play; there’s nothing wrong with this, I assure you. I just want you to enjoy your free time. If you think you can play well with others, then I challenge you to show this to the other players in Aion – lead by example with good Sportsmanship. The ORPG part of Aion is handled by the Aion devs, and they’re doing well so far. Keeping the MM part of Aion alive and enjoyable is the responsibility of the players. Can you help with that responsibility?