I promise! After this one, I shall give break from looking at the changes we (or at least, I) see over time as a gamer, or the types of change we may strive for. But after this one — which leans more toward the former type.
From the time I had my first dial-up modem — a 14.4k V.32 device — and learnt the borders of my computer went beyond the boundaries of my home I was enthralled by the social potential. There was FidoNet and BlueWave which fulfilled much of it, but even within the realm of gaming the time spent simply sitting and chatting rivaled the time spent actively playing.
This continued being true when making the jump into the realm of MMO’s with Asheron’s Call beta somewhere in ’98, ahead of it’s ’99 release.
The social element, the weaving of multiple tell streams, guild chat and fellowship (party) chat in amongst actively playing and contributing XP to the group I was in was the strongest part of the game and kept me going for years.
Meeting new people was not only something I was open to, it was cherished. I don’t know that ‘PUG’ even existed as a term then and if it did, it certainly didn’t carry the same negative connotations that it does today.
Start of the Shift
This openness and attitude carried on beyond my time with Asheron’s Call, I know that much, but it seemed more difficult to pinpoint where it started to fade.
My first thought was that it was with the introduction of the Dungeon Finder in WoW, but I actually don’t think so.
Thinking about it, I can see there was a step before that — where ironically finding what I perhaps thought I wanted led to closing down on other people. You see, I found a static guild that persisted from game to game.
We were open to recruiting new members and bringing people into the fold, but without a doubt it was a start of becoming more insular in nature. An impression of ‘not needing’ people outside the guild.
Global / Regional channels were turned off or at least put into secondary tabs and the ratio of time spent between playing and talking swung hugely to the playing side.
Technology through to Today
That isn’t to say that Dungeon Finder and other technology changes didn’t play a role, as they most certainly did.
Cross-realm play was great from a queue-time perspective, but it further distanced me from any sense of wider-game community. The chance of running into someone again was near enough nil that investing in whatever group you wound up with didn’t seem to hold any value.
Which I suppose more or less carries through to today. The guild is (mostly) gone, but there are a small set of friends that form my core group of people to play with. When we raid, we find a group to join as a group.
Outside of this, though? If we’re not in the same game at the same time?
Then I tend to go solo in most games. There is an odd mix of feelings of anxiousness over not wanting to risk being a burden to someone else but equally as strong, not wanting to risk someone else being a burden to me. I value going at my own pace — be that fast or slow — over the social element I once enjoyed so much.
Outside the gaming space this is far less true. I mean, Hi. Case in point. But also quite happy to jump on a Discord or Twitter or whatever else and talk.
I suspect it also has something to do with gaming time coming at a premium these days and feeling a need to maximise value from it — whatever the definition of ‘value’ might happen to be moment to moment.
I’m unsure how much I can — or possibly even want — to change this. Anthem was a nice departure from this norm though, where playing as a public group didn’t threaten either side of my worries. Still — there was a lack of meaningful interaction and that meant the other people there were just incidental.
Is this just what gaming is now? Does anyone still play with the openness I (we?) once had to new people?