n my journeys across the great, expansive world of the Internet, I have come to learn that community is ultimately what makes or breaks an online environment, whether it be in the context of an online game, a forum, or even an entire fandom.
I’m a sucker for lame metaphors, and I’ve concocted a doozie to apply to such an examination as this; the online environment itself can be represented by a tasty sandwich, with its community represented as the cheese.
Let me first offer an example centred on one of my all-time favourite online roleplaying games: Guild Wars 2. As a sandwich, I see this game as a big tasty reuben (Arguably my favourite sandwich! But not everyone likes them, so if you’re one of those people, just try to see things from my point of view for the sake of this little metaphor). It is a breathtaking beauty to behold, incomparably delectable, highly and unhealthily addictive, and undeniably one of humanity’s finest creations. The cheese is perfectly melted into the sandwich, in such a way that the two are indistinguishably unified and interpreted by the taste buds as one single delicious entity.
Now let’s turn things around and talk about the other side of the proverbial pancake. I cannot discuss online game communities without mentioning League of Legends, a game notorious for its unwelcoming, quick-to-anger community of players. And this, more than any other aspect, heavily detracts from new players’ enjoyment of the game. I mean, it really seems like an otherwise great game; I was a big fan of the DotA mod in Warcraft 3, and the similarities between the two are undeniable.
I see League of Legends as a beautiful, delicious sandwich, complete with crispy bacon (and maybe some kind of “secret sauce” that is actually just Thousand Island dressing), composed of bright colours and rich in flavour—but stuck between the layers of delectable turkey and crisp, green lettuce is a piece of old and rotting cheese.
Kinda ruins it, eh?
So unless you have already joined the millions of players who have learned to either choke down the bad cheese or just nibble around it, I would personally recommend avoiding this game—at least if you value the social aspect of games as a vital key to an enjoyable experience. I do, but then again I also feel a deeply-rooted love toward a sandwich plenty of people dislike.
Everyone’s different. How can we possibly explain such vastly different experiences based on these games of such similar genres? I have a theory: the games do not necessarily attract different kinds of people (eg. patient and welcoming versus impatient and unwelcoming); the key difference is how the game itself places value on other players, and how the other players are meant to affect the experience of each individual. The key difference is community.
In League of Legends, other teammates may be viewed as mere objects to further the success of the individual player. (Of course, this excludes teammates who are already the players’ friends.) They are disposable and in endless supply, like intelligent NPCs. They can be the constant target of your ridicule, blame, and anger, with no repercussions; after all, it’s not like you’ll ever interact with them again, right? League does have a system where you can report players for bad behaviour in an effort to encourage positive community, but from what my friends who play the game tell me, this hasn’t worked too well.
The first thing you’ll notice about Guild Wars 2, before you even start playing, is the name. It has the word “Guild” right in the title, which brings to mind images of a social experience of playing together online with a big nerdy family of adventurers. And that’s exactly what it feels like right from the get-go once you join your first guild.
In Guild Wars 2, helping other players is encouraged and always met with appreciation. Where in most MMORPGs, two players defeating the same monster will both receive 50% of the experience and loot, Guild Wars 2 gives both players 100% of each. So if a strange player runs in to help you defeat a boss at the last minute, it is not an annoyance.
Sure, one player might receive the same loot without putting in as much work, but in the words of the Guild Wars 2 developers, “Who cares?”
Additionally, in the actual story of the game, all players and races are fighting against the same evil: the Elder Dragons. Victories are celebrated together, and everyone has fun and reaps their full share of rewards.
Before I play an online game or even join a forum, I like to first determine how its “other members” are meant to be viewed. I prefer communities where we can all move toward our collective betterment together, and celebrate each little victory along the way. ♦