Until recently, I avoided online games the same way I avoid Justin Bieber fans: by pretending with all my might that they don't exist. Then came Game of Thrones Ascent on Facebook, and since I am a fan of the books/show, I started playing -- and wandered into the bizarre and complex world of online gaming. I had absolutely no idea what this new experience would entail, but veteran online gamers have no problem telling you things you should know, along with plenty of things you never wanted to.
Here are the top five things I learned as a total noob online gamer. If knowledge is power, then I am now a supreme and benevolent leader of an entire kingdom that doesn't really exist.
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5. Online gamers either really love -- or really hate -- World of Warcraft Game of Thrones Ascent is an online multiplayer strategy game with some interaction between players, as opposed to the biggest and best-known massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG): World of Warcraft. WoW seems to solicit strong feelers -- negative and positive -- and there's an orc-load of reasons why. On the positive side, WoW players have very developed senses of teamwork, striking amounts of gaming knowledge, above-average multi-tasking skills and intense loyalty to fellow guild mates and the game itself. On the negative spectrum, WoW has the potential to be quite consuming (a possible deterrent to real-life social interaction), and the way this game is set up means that in order to get better at it, you have to play more -- and more and more.
WoW has a rep, its players have reps for playing it, and I learned fast that saying anything less than great about the game or people who play it is a terrible idea, unless you wanna spend more time getting flamed online than you do playing your game of choice.
4. Online gaming comes with a whole culture
I knew that online gaming had opportunities to meet and chat with people all over the globe, but I wasn't prepared for the distinctive gaming culture that came with that. There are new languages to speak/type made up of game codes, abbreviations for everything and shorthand indigenous to every game. And gaming culture is perpetuated by players with vampire sleep schedules, a penchant for energy drinks, and the ability to focus a ton of energy to gaming, who spend the most time in-game (usually folks with strong personalities). The stereotype about all gamers being fortysomething, unemployed males living in basements with cats isn't true (sure, there are those, but not as many as the jokes imply) but gamers do have some common threads: a lot are introverts, many people work from home, and quite a few players are creative types like artists, musicians, writers and photographers.
And the running joke about online gamers being dorks who aren't getting laid? Based on the amount and intensity of sexualized chat that goes on, there could be a kernel of truth to this.
3. Gaming is a no-lie, complete and total time and money suck
There is nothing more invigorating and attention-grabbing than starting a new online game -- new avatars to morph your personality into, characters to kiss or kick according to your gaming strategy, and strange and exciting new places to explore, farm, invade...and burn to the ground. But the downside of playing a character in a world that isn't real is that it's super-crazy-easy to get sucked into spending more time there than doing things in actual life -- and spending real money to buy not-really-real things to enhance playing. I figured out a week into my first online game that this dynamic is exactly what game developers and game companies want. I don't think these companies are mustache-twirling bad guys: They are marketing a product to make money, and trying to be fresh and in-demand in an insanely competitive market.
As company employees, they are doing their job: So you have to do your job by self-policing and making sure you aren't neglecting the real-real (we've all heard some Dr. Phil sh*t about players getting out of control and effing up their personal/professional lives) and spending too much green to get the magical-awesome-flaming swords of whatever.
2. There is still a thing about being a female online gamer
It's funny how I watched The Guild before I ever played an online game -- and now I totally get all the jokes about being a female who plays online games. From old-school tabletop games like Dungeons and Dragons came the general stereotype that RPGs are exclusively male-dominated pastimes, and that's largely still true, but there seems to be an increasing number of ladies who like to log in and get their loot -- and plenty of male players who don't know what to think about this. When I started playing I was asked at least a dozen times, by male players, if I was actually a biological female (usually "Hey -- are you really a girl?"), and then the bumfuzzled guys would either act all awkward or hover between overly chivalrous and flat-out horny, complete with emoticons.
I'm not sure when the time will come when male gamers are entirely comfortable with female gamers, but it's definitely not here yet.
1. There are normal players, and there are "those players" By now everyone has heard about that South Park episode about World of Warcraft, with "that guy," the 24-7 player who acts like a dick and lords his gaming supremacy over everyone because he can -- and because that's all he's got going for him. After playing GOTA for a few short weeks I ran across a few of "those guys" -- who can certainly be female as well -- and yes, they are every bit as bad as the cartoon image. It's hard not to be completely annoyed with the players who are so determined to online gaming rockstars that they vomit shitty attitude, poor sportsmanship and show off some appallingly bad social interaction skills to the point where you really wonder how they manage to live in the world and not get beat up every single day.
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And that reminds me that online gaming can give people a false sense of accomplishment and purpose -- and logging out long before I turn into that guy is the best gaming strategy there is.