7.29.2018

The Fatigue of War

Although I'm no longer playing World of Warcraft, I purchased the Battle for Azeroth expansion as a just-in-case measure -- I learned my lesson years ago when I neglected to buy Cataclysm until all of the collector's editions were long gone and we were on the cusp of Pandaria, something I've always regretted. The pre-patch has dropped and people are flocking back to the game to get as much stuff done before the new expansion is live in all of its glory.

And for just a brief moment my finger hovered over the "Play" button in my Blizzard launcher.

But the ugliness I've seen flooding Twitter and other social media sites, with some players taking the "pick your faction" promotion way past the point of good fun, made me sit back and really wonder why the World of Warcraft community seemed to be prone to so much toxicity versus other MMOs out there.

Numbers are a consideration, sure. When you've got a bigger sample size of players, you're bound to find more of the squeaky wheels out there than you would with a smaller MMO. But I've been playing Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn -- a game I've been playing on and off since its release, much like World of Warcraft -- and even with its comparable popularity, I've never known toxicity to be the norm.

One of the big differences between FFXIV and WoW is that there's no faction system in the former. You have Grand Companies instead, which are chosen purely for aesthetic/roleplay reasons, and are shown to work together rather than against each other. There's the Wolves' Den battle arena where you can play a friendly wargame while representing your Grand Company, but that's it for PvP options. The only "us vs. them" mentality that's heavily stressed is everyone's characters versus the baddie NPCs -- you fight monsters, not each other.

World of Warcraft has always highlighted the differences between the Horde and Alliance, promoting the separate factions as an identity choice since the get-go and returning to its red vs. blue roots with Battle for Azeroth. Yes, players fight monsters, but they're also encouraged to fight themselves, with Horde players boasting that Alliance are noobs and Alliance insisting that the Horde are the biggest jerks of all. While I'd wager that most players out there still consider it as tongue-in-cheek, the environment that it fosters is one of competition and supremacy instead of cooperation and acceptance.

And with the State of the Real World these days... good Lord, I'm just plain burnt-out on all of that.

This isn't intended as a piece to crap all over World of Warcraft and promote FFXIV. Ultimately I enjoy both games, though certainly less lately in the case of WoW -- and I'm definitely not suggesting that video games cause wars or school shootings. But in today's climate, I just can't handle any more divisiveness. I can't handle being told that my fellow players are somehow less awesome because they're sporting the wrong colors. In a way, I feel that game studios who continually release violent shooters or strongly promote faction as identity are being irresponsible with the power they have over us all. Video games can be a vehicle for so much; they're an escape for many, who see it as more than just an interactive story, but a second home. When that second home too closely echoes the home they're trying to escape from... well, you see where I'm going with this, hopefully.

This is why I've been spending my time playing hidden object and puzzle games, or walking simulators, or crafting games, or hack-and-slash games where everyone cooperates to smash the bad guys -- and why I've really thrown myself back into FFXIV, where people apologize for potentially being perceived as "unfriendly" and band together not just against digital monsters, but work to quickly shut down the very few trolls that pop up. These are the games that I feel we need more of, that will let us still explore all sorts of stories and situations while teaching us to work together. The way we interact with people around us in the real world is directly influenced by the messages that we surround ourselves with, so especially today -- why not make them good ones?