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Getting Back In The Game: Arming Yourself To Play With Strangers

With millions of players worldwide, <em>World of Warcraft</em> is one of the largest and longest-running massively-multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPG).
Blizzard Entertainment
With millions of players worldwide, World of Warcraft is one of the largest and longest-running massively-multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPG).

In our Getting Back in the Game series, we're showing you how to get into the wide world of video games — whether you're new to gaming or a former player who hasn't picked up a controller in a while.

One of the biggest changes in the video game world in the past 10 to 15 years has been the growth and pervasiveness of multiplayer online gaming. What used to be the small, exclusive domain of those PC gamers lucky enough to have a high-speed modem and Internet connection has now become a wide-open playground for players all over the world.

Online gaming can come in many forms; you might be an adventurer running into other players or raiding dungeons with a group in a MMORPG like World of Warcraft, or perhaps gunning down an opposing team in a shooter like Call of Duty or Battlefield. But there are also games like Journey, where online interactions with other players are more subtle.

These big, worldwide online communities can be intimidating for some would-be gamers. After all, why would anyone want to pop into a game and risk getting yelled at — possibly in another language — about how terribly you're playing?

Because it's fun. Since the days when arcades ruled the landscape, video games have been a shared, social experience. That's the spirit to take into multiplayer gaming online.

How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Game

My own first foray into multiplayer online gaming was World of Warcraft. I was wary; I'd heard horror stories of trolls and harassment, so I played the game solo for about a year before banding together with other players.

When I first jumped into a group with four strangers, I was terrified. I had no idea what I was doing. After some unforced errors I assumed I was going to see a litany of insults fill the chat window before being unceremoniously kicked from the group.

Instead I was greeted with a simple question in the chat window: "First time in a dungeon?" Yes. And then the other players proceeded to tell me what I was doing wrong, where to stand, what to shoot and how not to keep killing my comrades.

I was stunned. These weren't the horrible, unhelpful and mean-spirited players I'd heard about. They were patient, understanding and pretty cool — you know, like people.

It wasn't always pleasant of course, but that initial positive meeting helped me get over the fear I'd had of online gaming, and I moved on to different groups and bigger dungeons. It also opened the door to playing a myriad of other great multiplayer online games. Along the way, I've met a lot of great people and had a lot of fun slaying monsters, capturing flags and building empires.

Slay The Dragons. Ignore The Trolls.

There are a lot of strong opinions about the "right" way to play multiplayer games, so I might get some blowback about this, but the only "right" way to play a game is the one that you enjoy most. After all, that's why you're playing.

That's also why these online worlds will always be filled with people who reap great enjoyment from harassing other players (in gaming parlance it's called griefing). Just ignore those players the way you would ignore trolling comments on the Internet. They don't matter, and you don't need to concern yourself with them.

Here's the dirty little secret when it comes to online games: Most of them can be played without talking to another player — ever. Like I said, I played WoW for more than a year without engaging in its social aspects.

Does that mean you're going to be the most effective team player in a game like Battlefield 4 or League of Legends? Probably not. Like most team sports, the best teams are the ones that communicate and coordinate. What it does mean, however, is that you can still enjoy the game without engaging some of its less savory characters.

Playing Defense

So while multiplayer online gaming isn't a wretched hive of scum and villainy, there are ways to bypass certain people — like crossing the street to avoid someone in public. Here are some ways to shield yourself:

  • Turn off chat functions: Most games that have chat functions also allow you to disable them or block individual players.
  • Turn off voice chat and microphone: Similar to the text chat, games that utilize voice communications also have the ability to mute them. If you still want to use your gaming headphones, be sure to turn off the mic too.
  • Consider using gender-neutral gamer names: It's actually embarrassing to have to suggest this, but the truth is there is a vocal minority in the gaming community that targets female gamers for an extra level of harassment. I support taking a stand against this knuckle-dragging nonsense and not being forced into hiding, but if you would rather not be bothered, the easiest thing to do is create gamer tags and character names that don't specify gender.
  • Report abusers: Most online games have methods to report or flag abusive players — use them. It might not immediately solve the problem or get rid of that player, but enough complaints against a player will usually get a response from a game's administrators.
  • The last thing to remember is that you hold the controller — or mouse and keyboard — and you can choose your level of involvement. That's one of the greatest things about video games.

    And of course, there's always the nuclear option if an online interaction gets too heated: Just turn the game off.

    Games To Try

    Here's a quick list of some multiplayer online games to check out (for reference, here's our game genre guide):

  • MMORPG: World of Warcraft, Guild Wars 2, The Elder Scrolls: Online, Rift, Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, EVE Online
  • Shooters: Call of Duty: Ghosts, Battlefield 4, Loadout, Titanfall, Team Fortress 2, Halo 4, World of Tanks, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Left 4 Dead 2, PlanetSide 2
  • Real-Time Strategy: Starcraft II, Dota 2, League of Legends
  • Action/Survival: DayZ, Rust
  • Once again, I throw the conversation to the gamers out there. If you have something to add to the conversation or an online game to suggest, let us know.

    Steve Mullis is a Web producer at NPR. If you have any gaming questions or suggestions, please write or tweet him. You can also follow the action on our gaming Tumblr, NPR Plays.

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