Individualism and Collectivism in WoW and other MMOs
After hearing a discussion on the topic of how individualism and collectivism in global societies affects us in a variety of ways, I began to wonder how different MMOs were affected by the same. WoW, for example, is a highly individualistic game, even in later stages where grouping is required. Rift, I feel, made a strong attempt to make a more collectivist game, as did Diablo 3. Each MMO we play falls on a scale with individualism on one end and collectivism on the other. I thought it would be interesting to have a variety of bloggers respond to that topic, and put out a collective call to do so. Hopefully starting today you’ll see a few of these posts pop up on a variety of sites, and if your a blogger yourself who I accidentally overlooked in this discussion, feel free to respond, as well. Towards the weekend, I’ll put out a correspondence collecting all of the posts from around our community for ease of location.
First and foremost, we may need a quick summary of what the hell I’m talking about. This chart does a good job at summing up the different ways of thinking.
I think that most MMOs want to be collectivist spaces but repeatedly miss their mark. I believe this is getting better in most games, though, as certain individualistic mechanics are being replaced with more collectivist ones. Clearly, some MMOs revel in being intentionally highly individualistic; EVE, for example, has made its mark specifically because the mechanics center around individualistic interactions. In fact, I suspect that a lot of Gevlon’s discussions of play to win vs. play for fun boil down to these basic philosophies. That’s not to excuse “morons or slackers,” as they’re individualistic players, not collectivist ones. Still, as I’m getting older, I suspect that part of my shift towards more social gaming is additionally a shift in this philosophy, as well.
WoW is a highly individualistic game. Despite the fact that the highest levels of play require group effort, even within those settings individualism is king. Players have helped to build that environment. Add-ons that highlight individual’s contributions, such as Recount, emphasize the individual over the task. I’m sure many of us have had wipes because someone was dpsing to push their numbers up when they should have interrupted something instead. Additionally, loot is distributed in a very competitive environment that often emphasizes individual contribution over task completion.
To be clear, none of this is “wrong” or “bad.” As I pointed out, some games make their niche in designing themselves around those environments. However, many MMOs pretend the second M, multiplayer, is a driving factor for their game being “fun.” More and more, we’re seeing MSORPGs come out, games that are played online with other people, but through which you’re never required to participate in any social functions. Those games are defining themselves as more individualistic games, and some people prefer them, and others do not.
MMOs, though, primarily do not mean to define themselves that way. We’re seeing progress on many fronts, too, to make games more collectivist. Loot distribution in D3, for example, was given to the individual for completing a task. Beyond completion, no more competition was necessary. I believe Star Wars works the same way, and I believe WoW will, too, in its future raids. Eliminating that level of individual competition helps maintain the focus on the group and maintain harmony.
Some games are also limiting the production of add-on programs. Not all of them, unfortunately (TSW), but other more modern MMOs (like Star Wars) are maintaining the focus on the success of the group rather than the individual. Again, some people prefer this and some don’t.
Mostly Made-Up Scores:
If I were to score games on a scale of 1 to 5, where 1 is highly individualistic (it’s 1, of course it is), and 5 was highly collectivist, I’d rank the games I’ve played as follows:
Loot systems, early solo-play training, and competitive add-ons make this game a haven for individualistic tendencies. I would argue that extreme high end guilds are not highly individualistic, though, as their focus is more on the group than the individual, but they’re a tiny minority of the game.
Most dungeons require grouping. Lack of add-ons means the focus is on group success or failure, not individual. Loot, though, is still competitive.
Star Wars: 2
I would give Star Wars a 3, but its tendency to disproportionately ramp up difficulty if you play with larger groups means the game is built for solo play. Still, its light/dark side system allows for collective decisions to be made for the cutscenes while individual rewards are given for your personal speech choices. That’s sort of a wash in my book. The loot is individualistic in the dungeons (IIRC), but I believe I’d heard its collectivist in the raids. If that’s correct, it’s another wash. As a result, it gets a more collectivist score than WoW, but not by much.
To be honest, I don’t remember how loot is distributed in this game, but I believe it was individualistic/competitive loot. Grouping is organic and encouraged through world and zone events. No add-ons, again, emphasizes overall success or failure.
The Secret World: 2
The game gets very hard to solo consistently around halfway through, forcing you to group more often. The loot is still individualistic, though, and the game will allow add-ons. The first damage meters already exist, a month after the game was released. In come the math eaters.
Nothing really new here, as it has individualistic loot, some areas that need grouping, but no addons.
D3 gets the most collectivist score because it has no add-ons, heavily emphasizes grouping at harder difficulties, and has individual loot. I’d give it a 5, but I have hopes for more collectivist MMOs to come around, and besides, it stinks.
Some potential controversies:
Does forced grouping make a game more collectivist?
Honestly, I don’t know. My feeling is that it does simply by the nature of having to play and work together with others. Some might argue, though, that being forced together makes people more resentful and individualistic. I know when I first played DDO that one of its “failings” was that we had 4 but needed 6 to do a lot of the dungeons. We didn’t want to have to group up. I’m not sure if that would be true any more. I’m certainly open to hearing opinions on this topic (as I am with all topics).
Do add-ons make a game more individualistic?
I think so. Others would argue that knowing where a problem is and fixing or excising it is actually more group oriented. There’s a strong case there, and it may very well be my Western individualistic upbringing that’s informing that decision. I don’t know. My experiences, though, are that add-ons bring more disharmony than harmony. Once again, in high-end raid guilds, this may be less true, as knowing how to correctly use the data is a major problem in most hostile groups. More advanced groups can better interpret what they see and deal with it in a more group oriented, harmonious way.
What do you think, dear reader? Do you agree with my scores? Disagree? Why or why not? What games do you like, and are they individualistic or collectivist?
Stubborn (and scoring about 3 on the scale)