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WoWMay 9, 2019 10:00 am CT

Where can the anti-social gamer find a place in social gaming?

As Blizzard and other game studios push further and further into gaming as a social activity with group finders and random grouping, I grow profoundly and deeply anti-social and I play video games to avoid interacting with strangers. Yes, that’s right — I play games like World of Warcraft and Diablo 3, one of which has multiplayer baked into the very name of its genre and the other being an evolution of the franchise that made Battle.net a force to be reckoned with, and when I do I don’t want to group with anyone I don’t already know.

And I don’t think I’m alone. Well, I mean, I’m alone because I’m very deliberately avoiding other people, but I know I’m not the only player doing that. Gaming has changed repeatedly around me as I’ve grown ever older and more decrepit, like a looming haunted mausoleum of old timey gaming anecdotes that no one has time for — it’s become at once far more casual and more hardcore, with extremes ranging from mobile games to big open world multiplayer shooters and MOBA games. You can spend all your time playing games that never require you to talk to a single other human being, or you can play games that are all about multiplayer, but what kind of person plays games with a strong or even constant multiplayer component but doesn’t want to play with strangers?

Once I was as you are

The thing is, I used to be far more accepting of doing groups with people I didn’t know. I especially loved running random pick up groups in dungeons, which was the primary way I played World of Warcraft for years. I was a Warrior tank back in the days of 10 player Scholomance and UBRS groups, I did heroics as a tank for hire (well, no one paid me, but it was basically the same) which got me my gig in a raiding guild in The Burning Crusade, and in Wrath when LFD tools were first introduced into WoW I was an enthusiastic convert. So what happened? Why did I change from someone who would jump into Heroic Grim Batol the first day and keep bashing my head against it alongside a rotating cast of strangers until I finally walked away victorious to someone who won’t even run LFR unless at least two people I know are there?

Partially it’s my disability — I find that I and other disabled players have to navigate a player space where non-disabled gamers can be deliberately or thoughtlessly cruel to us. They may mock us for taking longer, run ahead of us and pull mobs onto us, or engage in what one could charitably call trash talking except using the word for excrement instead of trash.

There is a specific pace I like to use to tank. It’s the pace I learned back in Classic and when allowed to execute it I usually walk away with an almost perfect dungeon run. But most players would rather go faster, and as my blindness kicks in I become more and more anxious about being pushed in that way.

There are plenty of other gamers with their own reasons for feeling the same way. Some gamers are simply anxious about talking and don’t want to be pushed into voice chat, or aren’t good at typing fast to communicate in game while also hitting buttons to play the game, or view logging on to the game as a time to relax and have some time for themselves instead of dealing with other people the same way they do all day at work.

Time is the fire in which you lol

There are also some really generational reasons. Gaming has stratified by age now — kids in their teens who have been playing online since they were four or five view the entire process with much less discomfort than older folks who remember having to actually be in the same physical location to play some games in a multiplayer method. Even if we’re not talking about segregation by age, the games you came up playing can and definitely do have an effect on what you view as simple and easy. When Legion gated profession content and some questlines behind mythic dungeons that didn’t let you use the dungeon finder but instead required you to either know four other people interested in running them or to use tools that required actual interaction with people, some players didn’t see any big deal and for others it was a virtual dead end.

For many such anti-social players, professions were important to them entirely because they were completely soloable content. You could go farm materials solo, craft items and put them on the AH all by yourself — it didn’t require you to talk to or interact with anyone. Suddenly gating that content behind group content that you had to actually interact directly with people to complete meant that you were taking it away from those players. Putting in Group Finder doesn’t help people who don’t want to group in the first place and — whether or not the game is a MMO — a lot of people play it for the persistent world and the chance to see other players rather than actually play with them.

If you’re the kind of player who can leap into Overwatch and just start completely failing to keep that payload secure alongside that one Genji who has no idea what he’s doing and that Mercy player who has the most kills of anyone in your group, great. I’m happy for you, but that’s not everyone.

The society of the anti-social

One of the reasons I play so much Diablo 3 is so I can curate my experience — I can control who I play with, and usually it’s just me and my wife. I don’t have to worry about — as an example that actually happened to me — getting into a group with a person who has their Paladin’s opening Shield attack macro’d to a series of racial epithets he yells as he throws it. As player toxicity continues to be an issue, we can’t be surprised that some players simply retreat from interaction with a random person they can’t be sure aren’t that kind of player. Telling players who are deliberately avoiding strangers — whether it’s to avoid unpleasant conversations or simply because they value their alone time — to go and play with those strangers in order to achieve their goals essentially says to them don’t achieve those goals.

I’m not arguing that all games should be like this. In fact, I think socially-driven MMO games — whether they be big sprawling worlds like WoW, or MOBA like Heroes of the Storm or DOTA 2, or battle royale games like Apex Legends — have a definite place and I want to see them remain havens for many players to come together. But I feel like there needs to be room in at least some games like WoW and Diablo 3 for the anti-social gamers, and that driving them out of these games will ultimately hurt the longevity of their genres.

Being able to bridge both worlds is exactly what these games can do that League of Legends or Fortnite can’t. Players who just want to be alone or play with their friends often make the best quiet members of a game’s player base. They do things like keep the AH stocked, write complicated transmog guides, or even show up randomly to tank a PUG at 2 am because they know no one wants to talk to them that late.

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