Whenever I write about in-game harassment, I hear back from folks who cite that behavior as the reason why they’ve never tried multiplayer. Understandable? Absolutely. But those comments have made me think back on how initially hesitant I was to step beyond single-player and into the realm of online gaming. I, too, had been put off by stories of harassment and toxic behavior (this would’ve been almost ten years ago now, which is a little depressing). So today, I’d like to add a counterweight to this ongoing discussion, and offer a bit of encouragement to those who are thinking about taking the plunge.
I should start with the caveat that there are plenty of legitimate reasons for choosing to fly solo. If multiplayer wasn’t a good experience for you, or if you just aren’t interested in playing with others, that’s A-okay. I myself have games that I prefer to play alone. But to those who are curious about multiplayer but feel skittish about jumping in — gather ’round.
It’s true that multiplayer gaming has its dark side. Everybody going in should be aware of that. There’s a reason why harassment is talked about as much as it is, and nobody likes dealing with griefers and trolls. But at the same time, multiplayer can be an enormously positive thing. In game, I’ve crossed paths with people from every continent, and played with folks who have vastly different cultural and philosophical beliefs than my own. But when we play, our differences are set aside. We work together, each offering our skills and creativity to help reach a shared goal. Sometimes, the task at hand requires serious strategizing. Other times, everybody’s just there to goof off. It’s exhilarating, it’s engaging, and above all else, it’s fun.
Are there people out there who will rain on your parade? Yep. They suck. But there are also wonderful people in the mix, potential friends waiting to be discovered. The grand majority of my friends are either people I met in game, or people who I’ve maintained real-world friendships with through regular gameplay. And even though you won’t form lasting relationships with everyone you play with, there’s something magical about a fleeting encounter with a kindred spirit. I’ve had this happen many times, where I run across someone working on the same quest or defending the same location as I am. We may exchange a few words and agree to work together, or we may confirm our cooperation through actions alone. Our time together might only last a few hours, or even shorter, and we may never see each other in game again, but the sense of connection those moments create can be quite profound (the memorable multiplayer system in Journey was designed specifically to foster that feeling). As much as I value the cozy immersion of single-player games, the camaraderie of multiplayer is, for me, equally praiseworthy.
So, yes, you might run into some jerks, but you might also have a fantastic time. Getting started can be daunting, though, so if you’ve got cold feet, I can offer a few pieces of advice.
Buddy up. Just like in real life, walking into a new social environment with a wingman can put you more at ease. If you have a friend who already plays a multiplayer game that you’re interested in, ask them if you can tag along. A knowledgable guide is invaluable. On the other hand, going in with a fellow newbie can be an awful lot of fun. I love playing an unfamiliar game with someone who’s in the same boat as me. Learning the ropes and making mistakes together is a solid bonding experience (and usually good for many laughs). The other bonus is that if you do meet someone obnoxious, you’ll already have someone cool in your corner. There are few things more therapeutic after a confrontation than having a friend say, “What was their problem? Whatever, come on, let’s go clear our quest log.”
Find like-minded guilds, clans, or community servers. While you can get lucky and meet some awesome folks through randomly-made teams, finding a friendly group beforehand can boost your chances of having a good time. Guilds and clans commonly have websites with a list of house rules, and those that value inclusiveness will often state it right up front. As for servers, keep an eye out for those that call themselves “fun” or “friendly,” and try to find one with active mods or admins. Official game forums are a great place to start searching. If you’re having trouble finding the right fit, advertise yourself instead. Make a post saying what you’re looking for in a group. Chances are somebody there will be able to point you in the right direction.
A note for the ladies: If the guild or clan you have your eye on requires a membership application (as many do), I recommend introducing yourself by your real first name. Not everyone is comfortable doing this, and you certainly don’t have to. All the same, if there are people in that group who are going to give you a hard time about your gender, it’s best to find out from the get-go. Many years back, when I was applying for a WoW guild, I used my real name when meeting the officers, and casually mentioned that I was applying simultaneously with my partner (she’s an awfully good Hunter). Luckily for us, it was a total non-issue, but if it had been, I would’ve wanted to know right away. So be honest about who you are. If people have a problem with it, they’re not who you want to be playing with anyway.
Choose your game wisely. This is a tricky piece of advice, because every game in existence is played by people of all stripes, and there’s no way to predict who you’re going to meet. If there’s a specific game you’re itching to play, then by all means, play it. But if you’re just intrigued by a genre of games, or with the idea of multiplayer as a whole, you might benefit from choosing a game with a good reputation. This is by no means an exact science, but some games are known for being more welcoming than others. Guild Wars 2 and Lord of the Rings Online, for example, are MMOs known for their helpful communities, and Team Fortress 2 is arguably the most newb-friendly shooter around. Now, just because a game has a better reputation than others doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s the right place for you, nor does it mean that a game with a more infamous reputation is guaranteed to end badly. But if rough behavior has you worried, there’s no harm in choosing a game that has some positive buzz around it. Won’t hurt, might help.
Speak up. If you do encounter an unpleasant sort — and at some point, you will — don’t put up with them. Block them, mute them, tell an admin. If someone in your game is being a jackass, you’re almost certainly not the only one bothered by it. You have every bit as much right to be there as they do. Don’t let them ruin your fun.
Be the player you want to meet. You know that old saying about flies and honey? It’s always nice to see people doing things like wishing everybody luck, or thanking everyone (even the other team) for a good match. It’s a simple thing to do, but it helps define the mood of the game, and a lot of players will appreciate it (and if it’s not welcome, then take your good manners and charming wit elsewhere). If you hit it off with another player, don’t be shy about asking if you can add them to your friends list, or if they’d like to team up again in the future. Chances are, if you’re having a good time, so are they.
I can’t promise that multiplayer will be a good experience. For some, it’s not, and that’s exactly why continuing to bring attention to harassment is so important. But talking solely about the bad stuff paints an incomplete picture. While I have had encounters in game that have been upsetting, I’ve also made close friends and warm fuzzy memories. In the end, our community can only be defined by those who choose to take part. So, please, fun-loving, friendly folks — come play! The more, the merrier.