“Get Thicker Skin” against “We Don’t Tolerate Discrimination”: MOBA vs MMO communities

There are a lot of theories, speculations, and general cries of how malicious individuals that play MOBAs can be. It spans from the trash-talkers to the game-ruiners to the all-around terrible individuals that we don’t seem to directly encounter so often outside of that environment. The question is, why are they so malicious? What makes someone log into a Dota game and start spewing sewage so vile that we would completely avoid that street if we had the choice? This is a huge and complicated topic, but I began viewing it in light of MMO communities, which are far more accepting and pleasant, and what fosters such a difference. I think the main reason comes down to the fact that MMO’s require a personal connection, while MOBAs have nothing of the sort involved in the gameplay. Again, this is not the complete picture of what’s going on, but I do think it illuminates the situation at its core: how individuals are even able to act like vicious demons that they would never let their mothers see.

A Difference of Character

First, let’s look at the types of connections we make with MMO characters as opposed to MOBA characters. MMO characters always require an individual’s input. You design their hair, eyes, skin color, height, sometimes even their voices, and there is no way that your personality is not going to come out in that process. In creating the character, you’re creating something of yourself, something you can endeavor to relate to as you play and  grow with them.

On the other had, you have MOBAs, which create the characters for you. The backstories are, at best, interesting but still already told. There is nothing for you to add to, nothing that you can do to meaningfully impact that character’s core essence. What’s further, these characters already have very distinct personalities which you are going to make a judgement about. They are established persons, in a sense, and as such require no personal input.

So what’s the point? Mainly, that MOBAs require no connection the character – heck, sometimes they have the opposite effect. When you’re playing a bloodthirsty dude with warpaint and bones all over him it’s not as if he’s going to inspire you to be a positive human being.

MMO’s, on the other hand, force you to have a connection with your character. Sure, in both types of games you level and gear up your character, but at the end of a Dota match that’s it – you start over, and probably with a different hero. MMO’s don’t end unless you choose to start another adventure with a new creation of yours.

Alienation

Ok, big deal. Plenty of games have you play with a character that already has a backstory and is travelling along a path that is chosen for you. The difference? In MOBAs you don’t travel that path with the character. Even taking out the aspect of character creation that you find in MMO’s, nearly every game tries to get you involved with the character by sharing its story either by having you watch a video or play through it. Even when poorly done, there is at least an attempt made at connecting you.

More relevant to the discussion is how the chat in MOBAs in presented as opposed to MMO’s. MMO’s are presented as your character talking – your character’s name appears in the chatbox, and oftentimes a bubble will appear above your character (though hopefully you’ve turned that obnoxious feature off). Essentially, those words are envisioned as coming from your character itself – not necessarily from you. This is so built into the games that it’s very common to call people by their character’s name, as opposed to their actual name. Thus, you have your actions and speech directly impacting how your character is perceived, and you in turn.

Alternatively, MOBAs greatly disconnect you from the characters. Your chat displays as your name, and generally you can be reduced to a color on the map despite the fact that you are in control of something far more complex and interesting: a character. This is where I think the key is to the issue: MOBAs are extremely alienating. You have no connection to a character, you have no connection to what you’re saying, and to top it off your own personality is completely washed away in a primary color. Here we become alienated; with nothing to tether ourselves to, we can run amok without consequence.

Some People Just Need a Little Help

But plenty of people do act nice. They try to cooperate, they are generally pleasant, and they’re in the same alienating situation as all these other jerk-faces. This, I think, comes down to the strength of the individual. They don’t need to have their personality within the game in some visible way as they are self-assured enough to communicate their positive attitude regardless of what they’re presented with.

Comparatively, MMO’s provide a helping hand to those that might be a little more aggressively-inclined. They create a stable base that allows a person to build a solid personality, the same way that they would build themselves (ideally). MOBAs are ever-changing environments with vaporous names, personalities, goals, and players. The tectonic shifting doesn’t stop, and it’s hard to find a foothold in such a situation.

Let’s Get Personal

I’ve played MMO’s and MOBAs, quite a lot of both actually. In every MMO I’ve played, every character has had a distinct connection to me. I create them out of love or a mad-scientist-like interest, and either way I come out. I associate with my characters to a degree that I just can’t in Dota. There, the most I can feel is a sort of kinship with specific characters, and that has absolutely nothing to do with the other players on my team. I love Windrunner, and I feel like we could be friends IRL, but that doesn’t stop me from being a jerk every now and then. Her fun attitude doesn’t have anything to do with me – she can be happy and I can still be mad! Whereas in MMO’s, if my little Lalafel does a happy little dance, I can’t help but feel happy too (granted, the cute factor might be affecting me a bit here).

In Conclusion

There’s a lot more to be said on this topic. I know the community in an MMO has a lot to do with the niceties as well due to the idea of there actually being a world in which to build a community, but that’s a pretty deep thing to get into at this point. In any case, I’d love to hear any comments anyone has about their experiences or thoughts on what I’ve tried to share here.

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