I’m not a social gamer. For decades, I’ve preferred to escape into video game universes alone. Even in MMOs, I’m reclusive and stick to soloing almost exclusively. My anxieties carry over into games, I guess. I never really thought that was possible until I started delving into Xbox Live and feeling the same panicky nervousness that often pervades new social situations I find myself in. It doesn’t matter if its an 8-year-old that I’m getting destroyed by, or a guy in his fifties asking for tips – I cower and turtle up and shut off my mic and exit to home.
It wasn’t always like this though.
Long before social networking sites, I spent a good deal of time in chatrooms. I wasn’t looking for romance or anything like that. I just enjoyed the setting – the openness of the environment filled with people that I could care less about their opinion of me. It was the future. I was myself in those settings – something I couldn’t be in real life.
That eventually led to fantasy and sci-fi roleplaying in chatrooms, merging the computer with tabletop gaming. I found MUDs interesting and enticing, though limited in creativity at times. Then came the first MMOs, like Ultima Online, and it was a natural transition from roleplaying to online gaming. And in all that interaction, I never shied away from conversation. I was a people-person online.
I can’t really remember what caused it or when it happened. One day I opened my mouth to say something over Teamspeak, and I froze. It might have been during a mission with the Razorbacks in WW2Online. It may have been during a Raid with Vengeance in WoW.
One day I shut off the mic, closed the chat window, left the guild, hosted a private game, started declining invites, and stopped playing with other people.
I regret that. I’m still not sure why it happened. I’m introverted enough in public, I don’t need to be so in a setting where I’m essentially anonymous. Why do I cringe thinking about logging into The Old Republic and looking for a group so I can tackle the tough flashpoint without having to wait until I’m 20 levels above the recommended level?
Is there a matchmaking type site for gaming groups? I don’t mean a dating site for gamers – I mean a place where I can be matched with gamers like me instead of suffering through random groups, or shoddily run guilds, or open matches flooded with ten-year-olds who don’t understand words like flank, pull, or fall the fuck back.
I don’t have a lot of friends, and the few I have aren’t really gamers. The ones that are play games that I find boring, like Call of Duty, or Madden. Xbox isn’t really conducive for co-op gaming on the couch with my girlfriend, and I really don’t feel like dishing out a thousand dollars to get a lappy that’s comparable to the PC we use with the television to play MMOs.
Maybe I’m missing it. Maybe its out there and I’m just looking in the wrong place. Maybe I’m just eternally socially awkward and will never be able to make those kind of friends.
What I’m imagining is a deep matching system that doesn’t just look at the games I play, but how and why I play them, and then finding people with similar gaming goals. It should ask if I’m looking for a single partner or a guild, a patient experienced veteran, or a relentlessly confident newbie. It shouldn’t be just about the games either. What kind of music do you listen to? What books do you read?
The reason why it can be just about liking FPS, or owning GTA IV and Skyrim, is that the games and genres themselves aren’t good indicators of my preferences.
I play GTA because I can make it real. I play Skyrim because I can make it real. I play Mass Effect because I love exploring sci-fi worlds, not sci-fi combat. I play Marvel vs. Capcom because I love Marvel Comics, not because I want to memorize a series of buttons to mash to beat some Vietnamese kid name HolyJesusCarnage33. I play WoW because I love the world, the races, the ability to create a story of my own and interact in that universe with others who simply enjoy the ability to escape.
Here’s an example of what my profile might look like:
Location: USA (Region not specified)
Desires Group/Partner for: WoW, SW:TOR, Guild Wars 2, Baldur’s Gate, NWN, Tribes: Ascend, Red Dead Redemption
Preferred Systems: Xbox, PC
Preferred Genres: RPGs, MMOs, FPS
Gaming Styles: Completionist, Explorer, Roleplayer, Total Immersion
Gaming Skills: Quick Learner, Adaptive, Experienced, Number-Cruncher
Styles: Completionist, Explorer, Roleplayer
Skills: Strategist, Creative
That’s just the profile. Like other matchmaking sites (I’ll say eHarmony specifically because, well, that’s how I met my soulmate), it matches based on deeper core values and philosophies. The system should ask meaningful questions like:
1. Have you ever logged into an MMO for an hour or longer without moving from your spawn point for the duration? (i.e. to reorganize your inventory, watch other players, talk to someone in chat, wait to see if someone comes online, etc.)
2. In games where the option is available, do you prefer to use fast travel methods or make the full trek by mount/foot?
3. Do you walk in-game?:
b) only when roleplaying has been initiated with another player
c) only when approaching a roleplaying area (but from a distance so it looks like I always walk)
d) you can walk?
4. In games with linear quests, but that have additional mob-spawning areas away from the quest flow, do you:
a) attack only those mobs that appear on the linear path
b) dodge as many enemies as possible en route to the quest end
c) wipe them out … all of them
5. The most important rule in group combat is:
a) Know your role
b) Follow the Leader
c) Keep Moving
d) Reload/Buff Often
e) If you have to discuss strategy before the match/raid/instance, you suck and need to learn to play
There are deeper connections that are possible within the gaming community, I think. There’s someone out there that prefers to create and build in Survival Mode in Minecraft, and that person would love to have to build massive quarries just to get the rock/ore we need to build a replica of downtown Dallas. There’s someone who wants to do all the quests in a zone before moving on to the next zone appropriate for our level, even if we could skip those quests and not lose anything gear or experience wise. There’s someone who wants to build a team where everyone has their assignments and follows directions and stays in cover. There’s someone who would love to follow a dungeon-master-esque writer’s occasionally scripted material to deepen the roleplay experience while maintaining continuity within the context of the game’s lore and current quest line.
If that service is out there, I haven’t found it. If you know of one as comprehensive as I’ve described, let me know about it.
Until then, if you ever want to game with me, my Xbox gamertag is: Jabberwookie
Or give me a shout: firstname.lastname@example.org