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Soapbox Responses: 'World Of Warcraft Teaches The Wrong Things'
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Soapbox Responses: 'World Of Warcraft Teaches The Wrong Things'

February 27, 2006 Article Start Page 1 of 3 Next

Following game designer David Sirlin's extremely widely-disseminated Soapbox on World Of Warcraft's message, posted on Gamasutra last week, a large number of game professional and other respondents took time to write Letters To The Editor commenting on Sirlin's piece, which suggested that the gameplay lessons taught by the MMO are not healthy in terms of setting a real-life example.

We reprint the responses below, showing the wide-ranging set of opinions on Sirlin's bold editorial. Particularly interesting responses or parts of responses have been highlighted in bold.

I feel much the same way about MMOs; after soloing for a little while on EQ, I quit, finding the whole thing not very interesting.
I found the online experience for Battlefield: Vietnam quite different and refreshing: since there's no character advancement, your skills are the defining part of the experience. It's easy to jump in and play solo, or with friends. Unfortunately, I have heard that Battlefield 2 has more persistence (unlockable equipment and/or abilities I think), which seems to me to be going in the wrong direction.
The "Guild > Solo" concept, in my opinion, is required as a partial counter to the "Time > Skill" concept. If a single person could solo 24 hours a day and even come close to being as effective as a group, everyone would do that. Forming a group requires some degree of coordination and skill, and will generally serve as a brake to those with nothing but time on their hands to play the game.
I find it very intriguing that the entire MMO market (with a few small exceptions) has ossified around a single very well-defined paradigm of play, to the point where a game which does not offer that play is doomed to niche status.
-Geoff Speare

World Of Warcraft

Bravo, Amen, and yeah, brother! Gaming systems have always had an implicit moral framework and it's a damn important thing to see what those implicit frameworks are. In fact, I no longer game and this issue is a big part of why. Jeez! I only found out about this article from the Slashdot link.
Mr. Sirlin sounds like he's making some very good points. Not only that, these assumptions are all too common in the world out there; we're surrounded these days with the kindergarden-level mindset that it's not what you accomplish or how good your work is, it's whether or not you tried hard.
"Oops. I erased all your files and threw away the drive but, look, I spent hours and hours writing my apology letter. Doesn't that make up for it?"
"Oh, I spilled red dye on your beige sofa but look at how tired I am from rubbing at the stain with hand soap. Why are you still angry?"
"Well, I know I promised I'd have your research done by today and I know that I spent the money already and I know that you gave me a month to do it but look, I stayed up all night writing; what does it matter that it's on a totally different subject?"
Labor is not equal to accomplishment. Why didn't we move past that when the communist governments fell?
Let me just conclude that I think that Mr. Sirlin makes excellent and perceptive points and that I'll be back soon to see how his terms of service come out.
-Rustin Wright

This is probably the first time in my life that I've written a feedback letter, because this is one of the rare times I've read something so incredibly bias and ignorant it boggles the mind.
- Skill > Time? Because we all know hard work and investing time in a passion could never lead to anywhere even if you have little talent or potential. /sarcasm
- Mentioning that WoW does not reward solo play at high levels when only paragraphs before he says "The only way to become good is to play against others who are good. It takes a village to make a champion. You can't turn your back on the whole world because you NEED the community to improve."
Now, if WoW gives great rewards to solo players, then a large number of people will break away from raiding and do it themselves. Where is the incentive to organize my time and be sociable when I can become the greatest player in the world by soloing everything?

David Sirlin is upset that as an introvert he is marginalized by the game's emphasis on group play. Should it really be a surprise that a massively multiplayer game emphasizes group play over solo? Besides this intrinsic argument, I think it's a fantastic lesson to teach kids anyway. I'm sorry that Mr. Sirlin is an introvert, but it's honestly to his detriment. There is no Being that is not a Being-in-the-World, a Being-with-others. WoW does not marginalize individuality, it does not purport that the aims of the group are superior to the aims of the individual, only that more can be accomplished as a group. It's not really a novel concept that a team of balanced players working together can accomplish a hell of a lot more than a single maverick shaman running around Azeroth.
Also, the time > skill thing is just the game trying to emulate the reality that skill improves with time. It's a principal mechanic of all RPGs. If it wasn't momumentally harder on the servers, I'm sure we'd all like a real-time battle system, in which time-spent would only play a role as far as loot accumulated and actual knowledge and developed skill. However, even then the people who have been around forever would kick your ass.
Really, I don't think that WoW is teaching anything that isn't just a fact of life.
The ToS is seriously retarded though, I agree with the author there.
-Nelson Trautman

I loudly second David Sirlin's objection that group play is privileged over solo play in World of Warcraft. I'm less sure about some of his other concerns, but he hit the nail on the head when he wrote, "As an introvert, I'm pretty outraged that this game is marginalizing my entire personality type... playing by yourself in MMO is perfectly valid thing to do."
I play computer games to escape -- to leave the real world and enter one where terrorists do not commit mass murder, leaders don't lie to justify their warmongering, and people don't try to take 25 items through the 8-items-or-less line at the supermarket. I want to enter a fabulous world of fantasy that amazes and delights me. But I'm not, by temperament, a joiner of clubs. I don't want to have to get into some "guild" or "clan" or whatever an MMOG cares to call its particular brand of einsatzgruppen, just to be able to get along. I've observed small-group politics close-up for some time now, and they're never pretty; the only thing uglier is large-group politics. Leave me out.
Some might say, "So what's the big deal? Play single-player games." But as we all know, single-player games can't offer the richness and depth of online games, because their content is fixed. I want to be able to do exactly as Sirlin describes -- to be "alone together." To experience the wondrous variety that World of Warcraft and the other online games have to offer, without being forced to take sides in artificial conflicts that I care nothing about, or be part of what I see as a rather nasty form of tribalism. There's enough tribalism in the real world; I certainly don't want to encounter it in the very medium I'm using to escape from it in the first place!
I want an MMOG for loners -- for explorers and adventurers who want to meet new people in strange lands... and then move on, with no penalty for not being a member of the right social clique.
-Ernest Adams

I will state here at the outset that I have not, to date, played World of Warcraft. Most of the article content however, could be applicable to almost any MMORPG, of which I have played many. A moral case can indeed be made against the current breed of MMORPGs, but certainly not with the points brought up in the article. The points put forward strike me as fundamentally wrong on so many levels.
1 & 2) Investing a lot of time in something is worth more than actual skill.
This is not necessarily, and not often false. 99% perspiration, 1% inspiration so the old cliche goes. Indeed, all skill is a result of time spent on honing that skill. All resources, be it in the real world or otherwise, are also amassed through the investment of time and effort.
In other words, the game is teaching its players what the real world is really like, and equips them with at least one of the skills to succeed in it... perseverance. Yes, natural talent can give you an edge, but hard work needs to be put in nevertheless. This too, applies to Street Fighter.
3 & 4) Group > Solo
This too is true in real life. A group of people, unless completely disorganized, will always be able to accomplish a great deal more than a lone individual regardless of how talented that individual may be. This is the basis upon which we have evolved. Without teamwork and cooperation, we would not have our towering skyscrapers, or modern medicine, or visited the moon, or any number of great things that mankind has accomplished.
True, there is a need for individual expression. And they are there, though often invisible to the powergamer. Roleplaying, the accomplishment of small quests, building a small virtual crafting business... They are all rewarding and challenging in their own ways. However, a lone person should not expect to build the Great Wall of China without help. That's for single player games, which can make you feel as "special" as you want.
Meritocracy is well and good. In an MMORPG however, that also includes the development of excellent social skills and graces. Not all skills are twitch.
5) Guilds
"It's a very weird social environment with the same dangers as nationalism and flag-waving."
I believe the point is to, in fact, promote all this flag-waving. I mean this quite literally. That's why there are guild emblems. In all seriousness though, a monogamous guild system does provide an interesting set of social dynamics. There is a great deal more loyalty and involvement. Like minds congregate. Leadership skills are learned. Politics, if it comes to them, is a whole new game in itself, albeit with high emotional stakes.
Most countries, or indeed even project groups would kill to have the cohesiveness that some of these guilds enjoy. A polygamous guild system would be different. Not necessarily better or worse, but simply different.
6) The Terms of Service
This is one point which I at least partially agree with the author. To use out-of-gameworld rules and punishment to control in-game behavior both breaks immersion, and creates a sense of uncertainty and insecurity for the player. (Will I be banned if I do this thing that's in the "grey" area?) It ultimately serves to expose the shortcomings of the game system.
However, in the absence of an adequate game system, external rules may indeed at times be more beneficial than no rules at all. If the rules improve the gaming experience and immersiveness for a majority of the players, they would serve as a good temporary measure. A "society" that has descended into total anarchy is typically not something the typical MMORPG player would want to get involved in. For a Counterstrike or Starcraft player though, it would be a whole different story.
To sum up, the author has a set of personal ideals, probably calculated by playing many traditional single player games. However, an MMORPG is a much more complex creature. The attraction is most often in the social interaction. Game mechanics, no matter how polished, become stale in due time. It's the people that make it an interesting and fulfilling experience.
-Eugene Goh

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