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.

Potentially the start of my interest in blogging?

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.

Image source: Engadget

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?


Gamer, reader, writer, husband and father of two boys. Former WoW and Gaming blogger, making a return to the fold to share my love of all things looty.


Isey · March 8, 2019 at 5:44 am

It’s there, in places like P1999 but is shepherded by the people who cared about it in the first place – and many people play there specifically BECAUSE it is there. It’s the “niche” discussion going around Blognation these days =)

You can’t feel bad for it, because people who engage in games that have that element are mostly aware of it (which is why they are there, often). If they don’t want to engage in that there are many ways to hide from all of that.

I still play with my same shooting clan from BF2141 (FLOT) although it is hanging by a string now too, with fewer players – much for the reasons you cite, the lack of need. Why have real friends (gaming or otherwise) when you can have Instafriends!

As a Parentlancer myself, I am good with it. Although it was more fun having Asmiroth in my group from Leo’s Life the other day than just 4 complete randos – even though we didn’t interact in game outside of killing things and emoting =)

basically, a rambly comment.

    Naithin · March 8, 2019 at 8:05 am

    I think I’ve changed as much as the games have. Possibly a bit chicken-and-eggy, but certainly being a parent may’ve had in impact in my ability/willingness to engage with a game specifically for the social aspects.

    I can’t help feeling like this is a ‘bad’ change to have been through, but possibly it’s just more about adjusting current-day value judgements to current-day situation.

    I still far and away enjoy playing with friends that have made it into my current core group than not, but I would rather not than try pursue meeting new people. There was a time when if I jumped into an MMO one of my priorities was to actively seek out a good guild.

    Not so much now!

bhagpuss · March 8, 2019 at 9:15 am

The widespread adoption of the term “Pick Up Group” is interesting. I don’t remember it being used at all when I was actually grouping in EverQuest. We just called it “grouping”. Googling it, I see references from 2006 but not much before that, or at least not relating to gaming. It seems to have been a term borrowed from music, where I certainly had heard it used long before I ever played MMOs.

I’ve only really become familiar with it as a mild pejorative. At best it seems to suggest a lesser alternative to a fixed group, a guild group or a group of friends. Up until the mid-2000s, though, I thought of grouping with people I didn’t know as thebest way to make friends in a game. There used to be that whole ritual at the end of a successful camp or dungeon run, where everyone would not just add everyone else to their friends list but announce in group chat that they were doing so.

I’m not sure I’d want to go back to those days, though, or not entirely. I really like the post-WarhammerPQ growth of hot-join, open, proximity-enabled systems. They seem to give me just about all the things I liked about grouping with none of the things I didn’t. There’s plenty of chat and banter, I recognize lots of names of people I’ve “grouped” with many times before, and it all feels very sociable. On the flipside, I can come and go as I please, I don’t have to find a replacement or apologize if I have to drop group suddenly and I get my own loot without having to go through the ridiculous need/greed charade.

All in all I prefer things as they are now, I think.

    Naithin · March 8, 2019 at 2:46 pm

    Yeah, likewise in Asheron’s Call — there was no distinction made between grouping with guildies/people you knew vs. any other group.

    We also had the add to friend announcements too. At its best it was an open way of earnestly expressing that you enjoyed your time as a group. At its worst, it could be a way of saying, ‘I approve of you and your and you, but not either of you over there.’

    Funny though that you mention feeling a need to find a replacement or similar in groups you needed to leave. It reminded me of another chat opportunity AC frequently presented — queueing for a group. But I mean literal, physical, standing in a line queueing at the start of the dungeon, waiting for a spot to open up.

    Or at one time, queueing for a specific chest in a dungeon to the north of Holtburg, where sometimes upwards of a Dozen people would be waiting for a go. There was no (or at least, extremely rare) cases of anyone trying to cut the line or take a turn out of order. I don’t recall what the respawn time on it was, but I recall spending much time in there more for the bants than the potential for loot. It was like this whole other secret society, literally hidden away in the bottom of a dungeon.

    In any case, I hear you on that style of drop-in drop-out PQ content. I like it for most of the reasons you outline as well, but I do find my engagement with the people involved seems to be less than it might once have been.

Jeromai · March 8, 2019 at 2:56 pm

I suspect some of this change is due to the easily available outlets for socializing with others outside of a game, and some of this is due to how the games are set up and designed for higher rates of action.

For the first, back in ancient times, the possibility of conversing with others over a modem was already a new mindblowing thing, especially in real-time! And games provided a virtual space and shared interest meeting ground to grasp this new means of communication.

These days, between being wary of all the potential pitfalls of conversing with strangers and the many avenues for all means of out-of-game chat (forums, comments on articles or videos, reddit, twitter, discord, twitch chat) that have helpfully narrowed down the shared interest groups, and at any speed or pacing that suits you, whyever would you try to converse with someone in-game who may not share your interests…unless you need something from them (like temporary mutual cooperation?)

My other theory is that the design of action-focused games has steadily made it physically impossible or inconvenient to maintain a good typed conversation. Typed conversation has more stately pauses, and takes your fingers away from WASD, causing your characters to pause in whatever they are doing. Given that most people want very much to be actually playing during their game time, every potential sentence is briefly weighed (subconsciously or otherwise) for whether it’s worth utterance.

In its place, we have a lot of people turning to microphones and verbal conversation. However, that neatly excises from the conversing community anyone who is not comfortable with the way they sound (be it due to a different pitch or accent, age, gender or country) and those who can’t think fast enough to interject social utterances at the right time (some introverts, and/or people who prefer to weigh their words before speaking). That diminishes some of the available conversation pool.

Then since verbal communications also means turn-taking for extended periods of time (only one person can speak), one tends to end up with a monologue where one narcissist hogs the mic and everyone else is forced to listen, rather than a proper conversation.

I’ve seen better chat and communication in older games that are more strategic and stately paced, where there is downtime where people are more open to striking up conversation to kill waiting time. More casual/hardcore games like Glitch (RIP) and Kingdom of Loathing give rise to a lot of quiet soloers disturbing no one, while the more social have time and space to fill their chat bars. In games like A Tale in the Desert, where enlightened self-interest means getting along and cooperating with your neighbors, you’ll see people more motivated to opening up conversations as supported by the game.

But I honestly can’t say I miss it. I appear to belong to the larger group of people who want action, and want it fast and furious and stuff happening when I play games. If I trade off periods of downtime and being pushed into having to speak and cooperate with others to achieve things, for being able to do it all on my own and having the player interaction asynchronously out-of-game instead, it is something I’ll happily take with both hands and pay for.

Small talk bores me, memes bore me. No, I do not want to tell you about my real life outside of this game. I am not interested in how leet you are, how awesomely you (or I) slew some mob or player, how much damage you dealt or how you feel I should play this game (usually in a way that suits you a lot more than me.) This rather eliminates most topics of in-game conversation – I can’t actually remember when I’ve had a really good one in decades, beyond some impromptu panel-like roundtables in MUDs.

P.S. Wow, I think I broke something, my paragraphs aren’t paragraphing. Edit: I guess they are, but only if you click Read More.

    Naithin · March 8, 2019 at 4:17 pm

    OK, so I might’ve set the character limit before ‘Read more’ shows a little high after all. … Either that or need to go HIGHER STILL! ;D

    I find a habit I have (unless I’m very consciously choosing not to do it) is to type in short blocks of text in instant messaging type scenarios. And in the context of this discussion, I’m now wondering whether that is a habit I acquired by talking in MMOs so much, where the sentence had to be typed in the space of time it took to auto attack an enemy to death. (Yay Melee!)

    I think you also very well articulated my current ‘actual’ stance on it very well too. I’d probably not be able to go back now. It looks good through nostalgia-tinged glasses, and there is still some part of me that assesses this change in value as a ‘loss’, but really…? Those things are old and not done any more for a reason.

    In any case, thank-you very much for the lengthy comment. I’ll take another look at the cut-off before the ‘Read More’ stuff kicks in and see what I can do around that. :)

Comments are closed.