Gamer L33tism: Crymore N00b

Vindictus users boarding a raid boat in Rocheste.

Do gamers place too much importance upon perfection and competition?

On a typical weekday night, after skimming assigned readings and having a mini conniption fit over long put off essays, I log into Skype. Almost immediately, I’m added to a group call with three or four individuals; more specifically, the members of a guild that I belong to on a game called Vindictus.

At some point after swapping stories about our daily comings and goings, the conversation boils down to one question:

so are we playing tonight?

To which most of us reply:

sure i’m logging in now

If you’re not a huge nerd like me and it hasn’t become apparent already, Vindictus is an MMORPG. This massively multiplayer online role-playing game, created by the Korean game publisher Nexon, allows players from all over the world to connect through the internet either through the Eastern or Western North American server and simultaneously play various stages within the game’s universe. For no cost, players are able to create their own account, choose and customize a character’s appearance and stats, and complete main and side quests given by NPC (non-player characters) to receive combat experience, level up, and progress through the plot. And unlike console games, MMOs allow for more flexibility when it comes to pacing, increased player interaction, and an overall unique experience that varies from player to player.

I started playing Vindictus two years ago when my best friend introduced me to the game during the summertime. Having grown out of Maplestory, another Nexon MMO, she made the switch to a more mature game and invited me to join her guild and become “elite”. Vindictus was the first and continues to be the only MMO that I’ve ever played; most PC games that I’m familiar with are also made available on consoles like the Elder Scrolls, Fallout, and Portal series.

Initially, what struck me the most about Vindictus wasn’t the shiny graphics (which are amazing when set on VERY HIGH), intense raid battles, or the whimsical soundtrack. It was the sense of community between its players, who one can often see sitting in groups among a campfire on different channels. Some users converse using the regular chat option that allows for everyone in the channel to participate, while others prefer the private chat (whispering) and party chat options for exclusive players. Regardless of how a chat takes place, players are almost constantly talking to one another about quests, abilities, items, and each other as real people outside of the game.

In some ways, MMO guilds mirror the social groups that people with common interests form in society. Underneath each player’s title, username and level is a guild name between brackets. Not every player has to belong to a guild, but it’s a well-known fact that being invited and accepted into one allows for certain privileges. Mainly, as the members level up so does the guild. Gifts in the form of AP capsules, stat buffs, and lowered armor repair costs lure many into higher leveled guilds like Sengoku and Noire, whose reputation for excellence precedes them. Not always positively, however.

With increased power often comes an increased sense of entitlement, arrogance, and intolerance for failure. Like a virus, it’s easy to let success infect you, and it’s contagious too.

The name of this “sickness” is elitism.

#you suck n00b

#just log out, delete your character and never play again 🙂

#if your ATT is below 14k and you don’t have a +15 weapon don’t even bother lol

proceeds to get kicked from the party boat

Join any high level Vindictus raid, play GTA V or COD online, or visit the forums for these games, and you’re bound to encounter elitist behavior like the examples above. Sometimes, when faced with an entire group of them, new players can get overwhelmed and decide to quietly make their own exit. For good-natured players like me, who only want to socialize and have a good time, it’s a real problem.

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Take the guild I belong to as a model for how gamer etiquette should be. All of us play different characters that fill different roles; I’m a Fiona, a tank with the highest DEF to block raid bosses, while my best friend is an Evie, a mage with burst ATT damage that knocks off HP bars without breaking a sweat. Guild members like AlphaLaZenca and Kraiser, Hurks who are 10-20 lvls below us, often need an “assist” to quickly become stronger. Instead of abandoning them to join a more elite guild, we chose to help them in lower level stages until we can all play at the same level.

We recognize each other’s imperfections and weaknesses. I’m too slow to counterattack. She can’t take more than two hits before dying. His armor breaks too often and he can’t afford a new weapon. “Pay to win” is an expression that Vindictus user Kraiser often says, and it remains a mantra for many elite players who spend real money for better gear and items.

So what exactly does it mean to be (if I may use an outdated expression) “l33t”?

“You don’t lose. It means you always win and you’re always serious … games are serious for elitists, and if you’re not serious you’re not elite,” AlphaLaZenca answered.

“It’s a status people want to achieve. They want to be the higher-ups,” Kraiser added.

It seems like this strive towards perfection in the world of gaming is a relatively new concept when thinking back to my own experience playing old-schools games as a child of the N64, Playstation, and Gameboy Color. Or perhaps it’s always been around and has only grown in strength over the years with the popularization of co-op games.

“So how have the times changed?” I asked my friend Sam, the man behind AlphaLaZenca.

“Things became too easy in today’s game, which hold your hand. Back in the day, GTA III missions were hard. Sometimes you wouldn’t even pass them. But in GTA V they dumbed it down and with that you lost that sense of achievement.”

“You don’t really work for anything anymore. They make it user-friendly and easy for new players that come along and just pick up the game,” added Sam’s friend Edwin (aka Kraiser), a fan of challenging games like Megaman, Golden Sun and Dark Souls. “Back then, you would have to buy strategy guides but you don’t even need them anymore.”

Both Edwin and Sam are what I would dub “hardcore” gamers, but they certainly aren’t l33tists. Still, it’s easy to see how growing up playing games with next to impossible levels of difficulty could cause you to think you’re better than the average joe gamer.

Where does this superior attitude and ambition come from? It is especially disconcerting when you take into account the number of players who are NEETs; people who aren’t in school, are unemployed, and have little to no real life skills. Why invest real money and time into a game and not into real life achievements or activities? Is there something to gain out of it?

“Some kind of validation that caters to their strengths … escapism maybe,” explained my friend James, a “casual” gamer who wishes to refer to himself as ‘the late Howl Johnson r.i.p.’.

“Gaming as a real life pursuit is something that is gaining a little more leverage but obviously not enough that’s worth considering. But yeah, you have people who play professionally on DotA teams for cash prizes that have been at a million dollars … the advent of e-sports.”

With the incentive of money, respect, entertainment, and a temporary escape from the harshness of reality, does this so called “e-sports” have any negative aspects?

“I think e-sports is bad for the enjoyment of the games. For the most part, I think professional pursuit of a hobby has a lot of tendencies that gravitate towards unhealthiness,” ‘the late Howl Johnson r.i.p.’ told me.

It’s clear that for some gamers, perfect scores and competition is everything. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to play your best and feel accomplished while doing so. But when it becomes unhealthy to the point when you need to shame others and ignore real life responsibilities, I say it’s time to log out, take a breather, and remember that winning isn’t everything. After all, the fun doesn’t stop after that trumpet victory music plays. Sometimes all you need is a tight circle of rad friends to laugh at the l33tists with you.

So whether it’s doing a small thing like pressing F2 to thank a player for reviving you, or a larger mercy like lowering your own stats in an unequal PVP match, enjoy the game it was meant to be enjoyed: casually and all in good fun.

Photo Credit: Alixe Wiley

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