Collectivism is the hot topic in blog circles this week and while I’m sure the term has some official philosophical meaning that is very deep and stuff, I don’t care about that and instead focused on a post at Raging Monkeys that used collectivism as a springboard for talking about groups in Guild Wars 2. In the post Syl wrote that GW2 is the “next evolutionary step” because people aren’t forced into groups to see the content, and in fact the old MMOs are “primal and primative”.
While to be clear I like Syl quite a bit, I find this post to be complete balderdash and just another torrent in the current deluge of fantaticism about a game that no one has played for any length of time.
Good for the Goose is Good for the Gander.
Syl argues that “[f]irst and foremost grouping up [in old games] is a self-serving, necessary act.” I disagree with that premise — there have been plenty of times where I grouped to help someone with a task that I had no interest in myself — but more importantly I don’t see why this doesn’t also apply to GW2. When one participates in an Event, it is generally to obtain the rewards for your character and the experience of doing the Event yourself. Other people may also be around you doing the same Event, but that’s really inconsequential. You’re not there for them, you’re there for your own experience.
How is this not also a “glorified common venture, serving the mutual and temporary purpose of individuals”? How are the motivations to work as part of a group to complete an Event or quest ANY different from working as part of a group to complete a dungeon or quest in a different game? I don’t understand why, apparently, working with others to complete a 5-man dungeon is hopelessly passe, while working with others to complete an Event is people being spontaneously awesome. Both are self-serving acts. (And I don’t mean that perjoratively. That’s gaming for ya.)
As for grouping being a content requirement in previous MMOs but not GW2… well, I look forward to hearing what one lone person can do in World vs. World or a dungeon by themselves without any grouping. (Hint: Not a whole lot.)
Automation is not Intention
Guild Wars 2 in fact has automated many of the options to cooperate that exist(ed) in previous games. If two people are heading to the same mob, there is no longer the option to step aside and let the other person get it. When multiple people are doing an Event, there is no option to group up with people because your contribution is automatically tallied in the total. There is no need to coordinate for who is playing the healer, because there are no healers.
I’m not saying that this automation is bad per se (although it’s not something I personally like), but that the fact that there are fewer ways for people to intentionally cooperate does not mean that there is MORE cooperation. Syl argues against overly “engineered cooperation” and says that it’s something that is lessened in Guild Wars 2, but in fact automation is the height of engineering! Yes, no one can steal a mob before I get to it, but equally no one can yield a mob to me. There is no intention, no choice… it’s not cooperation, it’s game mechanics.
Obligations are the Root of Community
What is community in relation to games? I would argue that they are groups that form due to similar interests or goals. Perhaps your goal is to kill Hard Mode Deathwing, or perhaps it’s to hang out and chat while picking virtual flowers. It doesn’t matter. The point is that community is created by and thrives on shared activities.
In her conclusion, Syl writes that she is happy that in Guild Wars 2 she can “play without the tiring bonds of obligation”. Ah yes, obligation, that old fiend of casual gamers! But are the “bonds of obligation” not also the bonds of socialization in a community? Can you have a shared goal, even if that goal is just to hang out and chat, without any sense of obligation? I feel obligated to log on to RIFT every couple of days at least, because I know my friends there will miss me otherwise. I feel obligated to help them out with quests and dungeons, again because they’re my friends.
Obligation is a fundamental part of community and forming social bonds. Without it, we are all strangers who don’t have to give a fuck about each other.
The overall point of my post is not to pick on the mechanics of Guild Wars 2 — it suits some people, and doesn’t suit others, and that’s just fine. But I object to the Orwellian-language-like notion I see often now that removing the option to cooperate is infact cooperation. I disagree that banishing one’s obligations to fellow players will create some kind of magical utopia where people help each other just because they’re so gosh darn nice. Instead what will happen, in my opinion, is that people won’t bother rezzing to be nice (but they’ll do it out of self interest). They won’t talk to each other because they don’t have to.
Look at real life and the slow death of face-to-face communities and neighbourhoods over the last 20 years. Do you know your neighbours? Do you talk to them on a regular basis? Do you know the people in your Guild Wars 2 Event and talk to them? Perhaps the world, and your game, might be a more pleasant place if players actually felt obligated to be social and work together and not automate away our choice to interact in both positive and negative ways.