Have we grown bored of talking to strangers?
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 5 November 2013, 2:43 am
The MMORPG blogosphere has recently been full again of nostalgia for the good old days of games like the original Everquest, including attempts to "make games like that" again. It is generally acknowledged that the community was better in the olden days. So the thinking goes that if we had like back then again, we could get the community of back then again as well. But what if it isn't the games that have changed? What if it is us, and our environment? What if we have grown bored of talking to strangers in our games?

I played my first "multiplayer online" game in the early 90's on a university mainframe computer with a text-only, green or amber letters on black background screen. It was games like LPMUD, and "social network sites" were called bulletin board systems (BBS) at the time. I chatted online with Americans who had never spoken to a European in their life before, and were rather fascinated by the concept. A decade later, when I made my first steps in a 3D virtual world in Everquest and was kinda lost, I met a stranger in the game who not only gave me directions but also a magical necklace which helped a lot. Meeting people online was still a fascinating idea.

Fast forward to today, and meeting somebody in a MMORPG is an "oh crap" moment, because you instantly fear that the guy you see before you is after the same mobs or resources as you are. I've seen a website that offered me to share my experience on 284 different social networks. And every game, including Solitaire is now online multiplayer. Meeting strangers online, in a game or socially, has gone from being fascinating to being an everyday experience. It isn't new and exciting any more.

Besides having gotten boring, our technological capacity to meet strangers from all over the world might also have grown much larger than our capacity to handle social relationships. Science tells us that the capacity of beings to connect socially with others depends on the size of their neocortex region of their brain. And while humans beat everybody else on the planet in that respect, our so-called Dunbar's Number is thought to be around 150 stable social relationships. The 18 to 24 year old Facebook users with an average number of friends of 510 are only making a mockery of the word "friend", they aren't actually capable of maintaining such numbers of social relationships.

All that suggests to me that there is little hope for getting the old game communities back. That is not to say that there couldn't be improvements: There are a lot of possible approaches where veteran players are rewarded for helping new players, and that can do a lot of good for game communities. But the time where meeting strangers from half-way around the world was a fascinating idea and automatically caused us to be nice to them is over. At best we have grown bored of those strangers, at worst we now consider them as victims we'd like to beat in the game to get some reward or e-peen. The next Brad McQuaid game will be as unsuccessful as his previous attempt to bring the old Everquest back: Vanguard. Times have changed, and the dinosaurs aren't going to come back.
Tobold's Blog

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