Why does anyone play an MMO if they do not want to play with other people? Beats me.
— Syl (@Gypsy_Syl) February 14, 2016
After a somewhat contrite tweet of mine asking why anyone wants to play MMOs only ever to run solo (although I did not specify this very well), my twitter started buzzing with different reactions ranging from introvert personality to time management issues and maybe most popularly “having other people around you for feeling”. One tongue-in-cheek reply suggested other people were the better NPC AI.
The question is obviously close to the dilemma many of us are feeling towards MMOs nowadays, and it spurred two excellent elaborations by Wolfy and Gracie who can identify with the soloing aspect. Naturally so can I and if you’ve been following this blog in more recent times, you will remember me rambling on about how, as aging players, we probably have to accept that many MMOs won’t accommodate our busy schedules and unpredictable game time. There is a younger voice inside of me who judges the slacker I have become; 12 years ago I would have hated being guilded with myself. Actually, I wouldn’t have accepted myself as an applicant. “You want community, people to be around with, learn from, progress with? Put in some goddamn effort!” That’s me. Even as a much more casual player these days, I will not expect MMOs to go all solo-friendly and it vexes me to hear others demand it should be so, as if that affected nothing.
The thing about community and cooperation is that it only thrives as much as people are willing to actively partake. That doesn’t mean you have to group up or socialize around the clock in MMOs, far from it, but it requires a degree of willingness to contribute more regularly. Playstyle variety is fine, pottering by yourself is too – MMOs would be horrid business if soloing was no option whatsoever. And yet when it comes down to it, the soul of the MMO experience has and always will lie in the cooperative aspects for me personally. It’s what sets the genre apart from so many others. I know a blogger or two like Bhagpuss who would vehemently disagree on this point with me. That spares them my particular torment.
To play MMOs only ever to see people run around you that aren’t quite as scripted as NPCs sounds like a dreadful reduction of social engagement to mere window dressing. Does this experience really offer so much more than big-world RPGs such as Skyrim or The Witcher 3 would? Or is it maybe just a shadow of a memory now, a mere habit to log into MMO worlds to solo when you could be soloing anywhere? To turn your back completely on the MMO genre is tough for anyone who has loved it. Keeping at least half a foot in the door means you’re not quite gone, still a part.
I am not judging that and I am hardly innocent; I am however very torn about going against the very thing that defines MMOs for me by mostly soloing and not contributing to server culture and community much. One could take the unadorned and sober stance that as long as I’m the paying customer, I can do and demand whatever I want from my MMO time and of course I can. I can also open the goose’s belly to see if there’s more gold inside but alas, that’s when all the magic’s gone. As much as I love exploring my virtual settings, the music and character progress, MMOs come alive when that unscripted, genuine social magic is happening. I doubt that I can ever stop chasing that.