Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Not-So-Friendly Teamwork

As a kid in school, I felt bad about groaning inwardly whenever a team-based game was announced in gym class, and cheering inwardly about 'every man for himself' type games. I'd been taught that team games had all these virtues - building comradery, teaching people to work together, encouraging cooperation - did I not appreciate those virtues? Was I a selfish person because I didn't want to be on a team?

No. I'd simply noticed something. When we played games where every player succeeded or failed independently, no one cared if I did poorly. I'm not a very athletic person, never have been. I can't consistently hit a semi with a ball, much less another person. When I played only for myself, that never mattered. I could fail most of the game and still have lots of fun.

But put me in a team, and the bullying starts. At best, I could just hide in the background and do nothing, and they might ignore me. More often, people would start getting mad at me whenever I missed a throw, claiming I was useless and so on. At the same time, the opposing team would be uncharacteristically nice to me, even though most of my usual bullies were boys and we usually played boys versus girls. In one game, where you had to steal balls from the opposing team's base and players who got caught were stuck at their base until rescued, I'd actually deliberately get myself caught so I could fool around on the football net framework thingy while joking around with the same boys who usually bullied me.

In World of Warcraft, my favorite part is questing. No one but me cares if I have to retry a quest boss 10 times in a row before I finally kill him. If the entire game consisted of questing, I would be much happier.

But it's a multiplayer game. And as such, there are times that I'm supposed to work with other players to complete various achievements - and even worse, this is the only way to get really good loot. The battlegrounds (where 15 or more Alliance fight 15 or more Horde) aren't that bad, because I can fade into the crowd and no one notices that I've spent most of the battleground waiting to resurrect. At worst people level criticisms at large categories of people (eg 'everyone who is dpsing in mid instead of going after the flag') and I usually am not doing the same thing as everyone else.

The worst are the dungeons. Five players form a team to take on very difficult monsters - three damage-dealers, one tank, and one healer. Occasionally, I get a good dungeon group, especially in the lower to middle levels. But very often, I find people looking around for someone to pick on (usually me) and verbally abusing them. People will inspect what gear you're wearing and if it's not (in their opinion) the optimum gear for your class and role, they'll freak out and try to get you kicked from the team. They will also kick people for using the wrong combinations of abilities, or sometimes for no apparent reason at all. Sometimes they'll kick a person for a failure that another person caused, such as kicking the healer for not healing when the tank didn't wait for the healer's mana to regenerate. Or kicking a tank for dying when the healer was trying to be a damage instead of healing. Or kick a damage for dying because the tank didn't keep the enemies off of him or her.

Honestly, if I heard that there was an offline version of World of Warcraft where all the other players are replaced by non-player characters who can do the same jobs, I would cheer. That would really make my day. Of course, far better would be if people could avoid freaking out over everything another player does that could possibly be criticized, but I don't know if that's even possible.

And I don't think it's coincidence that every game that people turn vicious in is a team game. And the fact that I hate all team games doesn't mean I'm not a team player or someone who appreciates cooperation and such. It's a reasonable reaction to the way teams tend to act.

I think it's the fact that in a team, your success or failure could depend on another person instead of on yourself. For psychologically healthy people, this isn't that big a deal, because failure isn't a big deal - it's just a game, after all. But for a perfectionist, failure is devastating. And if your success or failure depends on other people, then you may decide to scrutinize and criticise your teammates in the hopes that you can either get them to improve or (more likely) get them excluded from your team.

Of course, this is not an appropriate choice. If failing in a game is so devastating to your self-esteem, it's better just to not play. After all, though you may hate to hear these words, it's just a game.

And to school gym teachers (and video game designers) take note: team-based games aren't all good. They can bring out some really vicious behavior among the players. Personally, I would like team-based games banned from school altogether, and replaced with individual fitness activities. You can have them as optional extra-curricular activities, but don't ever force a kid to play them. You can use the individual activities to build team-game skills, such as dribbling. Better yet, you could actually teach motor skills instead of just calling for more effort (we wouldn't accept any other subject being taught so poorly). And not only will these changes greatly reduce gym class bullying, but they'll improve lifelong fitness. After all, how often are adults able to rustle up a large enough group to do a team game? Individual fitness activities can be done much more easily in adult life.

Meanwhile, I'm left wondering if World of Warcraft is worth all the hassle. I love the storyline, I love the gameplay style, but the other players have gotten me so miserable that I'm thinking maybe I should stop playing. At least until the next patch comes out and I have more questing zones for my max-level characters.


Blogger Adelaide Dupont said...

Hi Ettina!

I notice that the senior adults in my life tend to play games like tennis and golf, where it can be very much "for yourself".

It's interesting [and infuriating!] to see the team dynamics in both the offline and online worlds.

There are people in WoW offline who do the playing character's jobs, like making gold.

My favourite part of PE was probably the athletic activities we did, like stretching and jumping.

One individual sport which can be very competitive is cycling!

7:59 PM  
Blogger Saul said...

Ah, I know exactly what you mean. More so regarding your Wow experience. I can't contribute more to what you have already said, but it was for those single reasons alone that I gave up Wow forever. I had a string of characters (all at 85), but I found that the more I played, the more I began to dislike how the school yard mentality towards individuals while in large (dungeon) groups.

10:44 AM  

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