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Essay

Multiplayer Gaming Can Be Rough. Here’s Why (And How) You Should Try It Anyway!


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.

Becky Chambers is a freelance writer and a full-time geek. Like most internet people, she has a website. She can also always be found on Twitter.

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  • http://twitter.com/shinobi42 Shinobi

    I wish I knew more awesome fun people who played League of Legends. It is such a heavily teamwork based game and having more awesome people around makes it so much better. I also dream of an all female league team.

  • http://twitter.com/keltar93 James Gardiner

    I can attest to the friendliness of Team Fortress 2. I’ve played over a hundred hours, regularly played with female players, and have only once encountered a bigot, who was immediately called out by the rest of the server.

  • http://twitter.com/WhatKateDoes Kate Lorimer

    Must admit most of my multiplayer is closed co-op with close buddies, with the exception of guildwars2 and somewhat occasional incognito battlefield3… And thats probably why ive not had much grief. Jenny “not in the kitchen anymore” Haniver’s horror stories fill me with… Well.. Horror :O

  • http://www.facebook.com/john.burkhart.31 John Burkhart

    If you’ve never played online before, start with Co-Op to learn. TF2 has Mann vs Machine; League of Legends has a Co-Op vs AI feature, and Mass Effect 3′s MP is only co-op.

    It’s an excellent way to learn the ropes.

  • Cthandhs

    I’ve played a *lot* of WoW and a little SWTOR, always with female characters and have had relatively few problems. I’ll second the suggestion about playing with a buddy and also suggest turning off general chat. I have a small group of IRL friends that I play MMOs with, and we look out for each other. It makes me much more comfortable playing.

  • http://twitter.com/masseffected Ross

    I rarely play non-co-op MP. Co-op is best, like Horde mode in Gears of War 2/3 or Galaxy at War in Mass Effect 3.

  • Anonymous

    I have a horrible fear of multiplayer games. Even when it’s people I know. I don’t where it comes from, but I’m always sure I’m going to mess up and then get yelled at, so I just refuse to do it. My husband’s tried on multiple occasions to get me to try, but I’m much happier just being in my own space and playing MMO’s more like a straight RPG.

  • Anonymous

    I have an additional suggestion, as someone who’s been gaming almost exclusively massively multi-player since the 90s: Choose your server carefully. The server community can be as big a factor in your experience of the game as the choice of game itself. Most servers have community websites of their own or at least forums on the main game site. Browse through them to see what kind of people you’re likely to find in game — if the forum has a lot of helpful, inclusive people that’s generally a good choice for a server. In the absence of that, if you’re looking for a more inclusive and mature crowd (remember that’s by comparison to the other servers), the RP and RP-PVP servers tend to be a better choice. There’s a chance for problems anywhere, but they’re less frequent, in general, on RP/RP-PVP servers because there’s usually a community attempt to push out trolls and rude players, and there’s a lot less tolerance for bigotry.

  • http://twitter.com/wemibelec Justin Davis

    I have this same fear for game types I don’t play a lot of (strategy, fighting, etc.) even though I play a lot of other games online. The only real way to get over this is to push past it and play long enough to get over those fearful feelings.

    Of course, you don’t really have to do that. If you feel comfortable sticking to solo play, you shouldn’t feel like you have to move outside that zone. If you think you can/want to get past those feelings, I will say that it is possible.

  • Largo Coronet

    Certain games (EVE Online, Planetside 2, and Mechwarrior Online are good examples) absolutely require you to be in a group if you really want to get the fullest experience. Their overarching goals are such that all a lone player can usually do is pad someone’s killboard. So do your research into a game and it’s community before trying things out. Skip League of Legends (LOL) or Defense Of The Ancients (DOTA) unless you’re particularly masochistic.

    Also, everyone needs to watch this at least once: http://www.cracked.com/video_18537_the-7-deadly-sins-online-gaming.html

  • Travis Fischer

    Here’s the funny thing about online multi-player. At least in games with random matchmaking. The same “I’m probably never going to play with this person again” mentality that encourages people to be trolls is also the exact reason you shouldn’t care about what they have to say.

    If somebody is being an asshole, put them on ignore and go on with your game.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Liquid.Engineer Ryan Douchecanoe Schieber

    Keep in mind that with League of Legends, it’s gotten a bit better lately due to Honor points, and if that doesn’t sway you, having friends to play with makes the experience far more enjoyable.

  • http://www.facebook.com/laura.truxillo Laura Truxillo

    I’ll second that, especially in terms on newbie-friendliness. I never liked FPS (they make me paranoid) and I’m a lousy gamer, but TF2 is a really easy game to get the hang of (especially if you start out as Pyro*), the visuals make it easy to tell what’s going on, and the servers are usually really pleasant places. One of my favorite TF2 memories is spending hours playing a server where before each round and during the rough bits, the guy who decided to be team leader would ask, “What’s going to work?” and we’d all shout “Teamwork!” And it did. We left many virtual bodies in our wake.

    *Pyro does have a rep for being a “newbie class” though, especially since fire lends itself to spray-and-pray and lets you see what you’ve hit, which is great if you’ve got lousy hand-eye-coordination. But the best bit about Pyro is equipping yourself properly, learning the maps, and ambushing enemies. And if those enemies happen to be a whole mess of Medics with their backs turned to you in their inviting, easy-to-see white coats and you’ve got a Backburner and an Axetinguisher, well…it’s the little things in life you treasure.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Brandon-Cassata/546628022 Brandon Cassata

    That’s interesting. I’ve always been daunted to play TF2 because I felt that the strong reliance on team work would mean very rigid players who are unkind to people who don’t know what they’re doing.

    I’ve had the game since it was released in The Orange Box and honestly, I just avoided it largely for that reason.

    Now I feel both reassured and guilty for aoiding it for not giving it more of a chance. :(

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Brandon-Cassata/546628022 Brandon Cassata

    That’s why I stopped playing on consoles and rarely use a headset unless I’m playing with friends. I have no patience for people who can’t enjoy the game like I am, when I’m trying to relax. Especially after work.

  • Erin W

    Two questions for the assembled:

    1) I can’t afford a game-capable PC, I only have an XBox 360. Since I can’t choose a server, am I better off leaving it alone?

    2) I’m a trans woman. In meatspace I generally come across correctly, but over a microphone, not so much. I’m either thought to be a guy, which I don’t like, or people figure out I’m trans and I need a hazmat suit. Any help? Does this feed back into problem 1?

  • http://twitter.com/MelissiaKuromoi Melissia

    I would recommend Awesomenauts for an example of a game made better by multiplayer. Because honestly, the cooperating and friendly competition just makes a good game greater, and it has a great community, comparitively speaking anyway.

  • Penny Sautereau-Fife

    I lost interest in even attempting multiplayer after my Splinter Cell; Double Agent incident.

    I joined a normal 3 on 3 match as a spy. I had the mind-boggling luck of joining a match apparently populated by members of the He-Man Womun Haters, because the opposing 3 mercenaries AND my 2 spy teammates all agreed to grief me til I left so they wouldn’t have some “stupid chick” ruining the game. All 5 made it their mission to kill me before I could even get clear of the spawn point. This of course pissed me off, and I proceeded to Xena their asses. I broke my teammates’ necks so I could get out of the spawn area, snuck past the mercs, and proceeded to trap the fuck out of everything I could, and spent the rest of the match killing EVERYBODY. They all reported me for poor sportsmanship.

    I have given a rat’s ass about multiplayer since.

  • Anonymous

    Try it, you may just like it. Now that it’s free there’s always new people playing. You won’t stand out too horribly if you pick a fuller server.

  • MANOSUKEisKING

    You, sir, are lucky… last time I played TF2 seriously was about two years ago. Several dudes were yelling “kill all the n****rs” over and over again. Being a member of that particular clan of people, I took offense (I was having a bad day, yo) I immediately uninstalled and never played it again until MvM came out, which is super awesome fun time and not at all annoying or utterly terrifying.

    I have pretty bad luck at finding servers, though. Even in some games where the servers are labeled as pub/noob-friendly, I just get yelled at by everyone and their moms.
    Welp. Maybe I just suck.

    … hahahahalololnope.

  • http://www.vintango.com Vintango

    I have more anxiety about playing multiplayer games than I do about meeting/interacting with actual strangers in real life. It doesn’t really make sense, but just the thought of online gaming intensely stresses me out…which is unfortunate because so many games now are co-op. I am obsessed with Mass Effect, but I’ll never be able to enjoy the ME3 multiplayer.

    It’s not even a fear of dealing with jerks, it’s a terror similar to what some people feel when they have to speak publicly. It’s irrational…but apparently that’s how my brain is wired.

  • Anonymous

    Yes! That’s exactly it! I’m so glad it’s not just me. I also have a Mass Effect obsession too, but I know I’m not the only one there :)