Are You Ashamed Of Playing MMOs?

Race To World First

Being the first out of 10 million people to achieve something is nothing to sneeze at

Last year I watched a fascinating documentary called Race to World’s First which followed the struggles of an American World of Warcraft guild called Blood Legion in their attempts to becoming, surprise, surprise, the world’s first guild to down raid bosses in WoW. I don’t know the exact details of how the rankings work but, essentially, you get scored on how quickly you progress through the raid system, all in attempt to be the first guild in the world to take down new bosses as they are made available. I guess it’s like a high level macro game that makes the raid component of WoW far more competitive, all with the top guilds in the world battling for that special number one position.

The documentary is very good and I’d definitely recommend shelling out the three bucks it costs to watch it as it not only offers a real insight into the types of people that get sucked into this ultra competitive sub-world of WoW raiding but it shows a lot of the human side to it all. Just like some of the best documentaries out there, it doesn’t labour too much on the mechanics of the game but instead takes a detailed look at the people who play it and how it affects their lives.

Strangely enough, the film both reinforces and negates in equal measure many of the stereotypes that we associate with hardcore MMO gaming. For instance, it came as no surprise to me that a fair number of the individuals seen in the documentary to some degree embodied the negative assumptions we place upon gamers, such as being unemployed or living at home with their parents or being physically unhealthy etc (for the record, I’m not here to judge and I couldn’t give two hoots about someone else’s lifestyle). Surprisingly though – or maybe not so much, depending on your perspective – there were also plenty of positive images reflected as well, such as the friendship, camaraderie, and general social benefits that playing MMORPGs can bring. Likewise, the stereotypical myth that only single, overweight, unattractive men play video games was totally destroyed by the presence of plenty intelligent, attractive and socially mobile males and females.

Perhaps the most interesting thing of all though was how these players were perceived by their friends and family and the lengths to which some people either had to justify their hobby, defend it or completely hide it. Now, I’m not saying locking yourself in your bedroom for 12 hours a day playing video games is healthy but I think it’s pretty safe to say that the activity itself is still regarded very negatively by a lot of the Western world. Frankly, I think it rather odd that someone who, for instance, was obsessed with golf or football or knitting is regarded as perfectly normal yet those who enjoy anything related to computers are still ostracized. I’ll caveat that by saying that really any hobby should be enjoyed in moderation and not obsessively to the point of impacting other parts of ones life.

However, it seems that even in this day and age, many of us are still ashamed by our MMO hobby. Something that really stood out for me in the Race to World’s First documentary was the particular case of one of Blood Legion’s members (a Paladin who I’ve completely forgotten the name off) who told no one, not even his closet friends and family, that he played WoW. He was also the furthest thing from any type of gamer stereotype, a well-balanced, physically fit and highly social individual who somehow (I’m guessing he didn’t sleep much) managed to squeeze a hardcore raiding schedule into his demanding life as a law student at a good university. He was the epitome of a closet gamer and didn’t want anyone to know that he did it.

I understand completely where he’s coming from. It’s not that I’ve ever gone to great lengths to hide my interest in MMORPGs but, if I’m being completely honest with myself, I don’t exactly make a big deal out of the fact that I’ve being playing them constantly for 13 years either. They are a big part of my life and yet, upon reflection, I suppose it is a little sad that I’m not more proud of it. Somehow, regardless of how open and enlightened the modern world is today, and even how much the term ‘geek’ is becoming a positive rather than a negative, I still feel there’s something decidedly embarrassing about admitting that you play online RPG video games.

See, even there I just used the term ‘admitting’ as if acknowledging the hobby is ‘wrong’.

Although video gaming itself is slowly becoming more accepted, there still seems to be something about the MMO genre in particular (maybe something to do with the Dungeons & Dragon RPG aspect or the time requirements factor perhaps) but somehow it still just feels… odd… to come out and talk about it with non-gamers. Ironically enough, I’ve never been judged or criticised for my interest in it at all yet, no matter how much I know that there’s nothing embarrassing about playing MMOs, I can’t quite bring myself to being confident about it in discussing it openly with anyone or everyone I meet. If someone asks me what I’m into it, MMOs are probably the last thing I’m going to tell them about.

So, am I ashamed of playing MMOs? If I’m being completely honest, yes, maybe just a little, something that is fundamentally wrong because I shouldn’t have to feel that way. I’m a well balanced individual with a good family life, a good career, and staggeringly handsome to boot. I shouldn’t have to feel even remotely the slightest bit ashamed of loving MMOs. And neither should you.


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  1. bhagpuss says:

    In my experience, while there is a strong cultural element, it has a lot more to do with your personality and your audience. It was much more socially difficult to be a “comics fan” in the 1980s than it is now.

    It will be easier to be an MMO player in twenty years time than it is today. That’s down to the direction of travel of the culture. It takes a few decades for a new pop-culture form to go from weirdo to mainstream. Go look at the history of the novel, jazz, movies, science fiction, rock ‘n roll … If the form picks up a primary association with children in its early stages as comics, video games and dungeons&dragons did then you can comfortably double the time it will take for the form to achieve mainstream acceptance.

    When you get to sub-genres of genres, which is where MMOs are, it’s entirely possible mainstream acceptance will never be achieved. You won’t encounter a lot of social resistance when mentioning at a party that you love to listen to Led Zeppelin and have all their albums but try the same with Maggot Slayer Overdrive and watch people find someone else to chat to.

    If you have good self-esteem, are well-socialized and enjoy healthy self-confidence most people will accept any interest you let them know that you have as entirely acceptable. Indeed, if you’re really good they will part from a conversation with you feeling that it’s they who are uninformed, ignorant or culturally unaware because clearly you are cooler, cleverer and way more on the ball than they could ever hope to be.

    • Gordon says:

      I don’t mind talking about with the right people but it’s not exactly on the top of my list of topics to discuss with random folks I meet. It was also something I downplayed a lot when I was a bachelor out of sheer embarrassment. Fortunately my wife is Japanese and women there are used to extreme geekery ;)

  2. Adam says:

    I was going to give you a long reply, but then I read what Bhagpuss wrote and he more or less stated everything that I was going to say. This is his most pertinent point, however:

    “… If you have good self-esteem, are well-socialized and enjoy healthy self-confidence most people will accept any interest you let them know that you have as entirely acceptable.”

  3. Klepsacovic says:

    Having been raised Catholic, I am ashamed of everything. That’s the real problem, not any particular activity, but people generally not feeling comfortable being themselves and enjoying what they do.

  4. Azuriel says:

    I was asked to write out all my management experience at work, and I contemplated for about a solid 30 seconds about whether or not I should list GMing a guild over 3 years as “experience.” I decided that it would hurt my chances more than the fact that I successfully managed a transcontinental team of staff, delegated responsibility, had weekly meetings and progress reports, solved complex tasks, handled interpersonal conflicts, engaged in morale and team-building exercises, decided on recruitment and advertising strategies, etc etc etc.

    Had this been a Chess club I been running, I might have added it. I may even just call it a “game club” and not mention anything more specific than that. There is simply no way I will mention WoW to other non-WoW people; maybe our children will be different, but I find it equally likely that the South Park-esque stigma sticks around. After all, once you start setting your schedule around a video game…

    • Gordon says:

      As an employer, I wouldn’t think twice if someone put down MMOs on their CVs but then I do work in a geeky industry and am a gamer myself. I certainly wouldn’t put my hobby down on my CV if I was looking for a job.

  5. Xintia says:

    A very cogent post full of excellent observations. I have made similar comparisons whenever people talk about video game addiction. Video games in general, and perhaps more specifically MMO’s, make a convenient “target” because they are a phenomenon that is still relatively new, but most importantly, they are a phenomenon that the current cadre of “power brokers” has no experience with. When you look at the current generation of politicians, businessmen, and scholars, these people know next to nothing about video games. It is an unknown to them, and the unknown is dangerous. Thus instead of talking about more dangerous hobbies or addictions, video games (and MMO’s) become the scapegoat for whatever ails society. For almost every mass shooting incident since Columbine, video games have been invoked somewhere in the discussion as a factor in the perpetrator’s act of violence.

    I would argue that our reluctance to “openly” admit we are gamers and discuss our hobbies and interests can only exacerbate this problem. It may never be “cool” to be a gamer, but we are no different than the folks who hang out at the bar every Sunday and watch NFL football, or the folks who get together on the weekends and knit a quilt, or the folks who play bridge for hours on end. A hobby is a hobby and they can all be valuable, and they can all be damaging. Ours is no better, worse, or different than the rest.

    • Gordon says:

      As Bhagpus said, I think it just takes time for cultures to accept new things. In 20 years time, those who have been gaming since childhood will be in their 40s and 50s and it will be incredibly commonplace and acceptable.

  6. Telwyn says:

    Wise words at the end, and a good take on the topic. Perhaps since I’ve worked in IT most of my working life I haven’t ever felt the need to hide my gaming. Admittedly I might not put World of Warcraft as a hobby on my resumé…

    With companies Facebook stalking potential employees these days it does have wider implications – personally if a company is that prejudiced I don’t want to work for them. I guess I’m lucky not to work in an industry/sector that is so close-minded (thinking of the example of the law student in the documentary you describe).

    I’ve had similar discussions with my partner. We spend some money on monthly subs and have done for a long time, but then we get a lot more enjoyment out of that than we would on the equivalent of one night our or one trip to the cinema. I am also lucky in that I’ve gotten most of my family into gaming so there’s absolutely no judgement coming from them! ;-)

  7. [...] It sucks.”And Gordon at We Fly Spitfires has a fresh and original take on the old question of why many people feel embarassed about admitting we play MMOs – “Being the first out of 10 million people to achieve something is nothing to sneeze [...]

  8. Syl says:

    Is it allowed to answer in a link? well, I’ll do so in this case –
    that’s my answer. or in short: hell no.

  9. Dril says:

    I’ll admit that I play games a lot; I’d never really, openly, sincerely admit how much I played an MMO to someone who wasn’t also a gamer.

    Also: “being the first out of 10 million people to achieve something is nothing to sneeze at” if only more people looked at it that way ;)

  10. lexicorro says:

    I wouldn’t write how much I play ffxi on my dating site profile that’s for sure!

  11. Ferrel says:

    There was a time when I would say yes. I more or less kept my real life and my online life pretty well segregated. “In the old days” nobody knew what an MMO was and guys like me were just weird shut ins (even though I went and played with three to four other people at the same place). These days if I say MMO someone says “WoW?” and I just nod. It is all WoW to them.

    Once I did the blog and the podcast and the book I just sort of said “You know what, this isn’t a phase. This is something I’ve done for over 50% of my existence. It is just me.” So I talk about it at work. I go to the cons, I write, I do my stuff. I even have my real name out there which still scares me to death but it is what it is! I’m an MMO-geek.

  12. Moon Monster says:

    I’m not so much ashamed of the hobby or its accoutrements, but I am ashamed of other video game players. You know, the ones who are virulently misogynist and racist and happy to share that with everyone around them. There’s too many negative connotations for me to freely admit to playing video games.

  13. [...] recently Gordon wrote a great article asking whether people were ashamed of playing MMORPGs and I had to comment there, just as I do now. When I meet people outside of the genre and I say [...]

  14. [...] not for me, I can fully understand the thrill and enjoyment people get from activities such as competitive raiding and the [...]

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