While I realize that the term “Care Bear” is usually an epithet used to deride those of us gamers who choose not to PvP or engage in player-killing – or, more importantly, only engage on our own terms — I embrace the term and wear it with pride. If it accurately describes my choice of playstyle absent perjoratives, then why not? I say, yes, I’m a care bear, and I have no regrets or shame about my playstyle.
I was introduced to the concept of player-killing in StrangeMUD, where people used the /pk flag to engage in duels but the whole exercised seemed rather pointless. In an environment where kiting, cover, or line of sight were not part of the equation, battles simply came down to whoever typed faster, had better shortcuts, more DPS and a better connection (this back when we were connecting using 9600 or 14.4k baud modems; good luck against someone with one of those new-fangled 56ks!). At the time, nobody seemed to take advantage of the ability to form up for group vs. group combat, so my early perspective is admittedly soured by unfair 1v1 battles.
My enjoyment of Guild Wars as a skill-based game was related to the amount of variety available to me in choosing what skills to venture forth with at any given time. I’ll be the first to admit that I am not a high-skill player, so strategy and tactics and interrupt speed are never going to be abilities at which I excel. Nor will I ever be able or willing to keep up with the metagame of ‘this build counters that build’ and so on, so when it came to pitting my skillset against others in PvP, I opted to opt out. I did participate in a few Alliance Battles with my guild and emerged victorious more often than not, so there isn’t a complete aversion on my part; more a reticence due to my own lack of skill and the kind of trash-talking politics that pervade the PvP communities in every game world I’ve traveled.
So how is it that I bought and subscribed to Warhammer Online, and found myself enjoying it? I plead temporary insanity! Or perhaps I enjoyed it for the same reason that we carebears are said to: low-risk, no-commitment PvP. What I do know is that I was queueing for scenarios from level 4 onward, and answering the rally call to keep sieges whenever they went out. I appreciated Warhammer’s effort to make me feel involved at every step of my leveling journey, and encourage me not to feel demoralized at my realm’s defeats. Meanwhile, the isolation from the other realm via language barrier enabled me to avoid, well, the enemy.
I suppose my overarching opposition to PvP and player-killing in MMOs boils down to exclusion. Either players on the fence are turned away by the nature of interaction and conversation within the PvP community, or by the barriers to entry of high-level PvP – whether imposed by the game mechanics such as Aion, or player-imposed in games where arenas or open-world PvP simply lack participants until everyone is max-level, or knowledge of the metagame is required to be competitive. Players want to wait until they have access to every skill in their arsenal, every piece of armor that will give them the advantage, and they’re not wrong to. I just happen to be perfectly fine with not having the advantage. I just want to be able to play, with others more like me.
I’ve heard the PvP playstyle compared to sports more than once, using the analogy that it takes skill and dedication to become a professional athlete, and that to lower the barrier to entry to enable every amateur to play would be to distort the nature of the original game. Well, I don’t propose that we change the rules of high-skill/high-stakes PvP in as many words, but to allow for multiple venues for PvP. A group of friends who want to toss the football around will never play in a packed stadium, but they are still free to form teams and play in a park or backyard for the heck of it. In that vein, Warhammer’s ease of accessibility and lack of penalty enabled me to sample something I would never have given a serious try otherwise, and I even found I liked it, given those circumstances.
Maybe I am the only one out there who feels this way; after all, I found the arenas in low-level Spellborn, City of Heroes, and Everquest II to be empty outside of organized events. Players looking to enjoy a cage match in Champions Online are at the mercy of min-maxers and powergamers, but would anyone even queue up if no xp points or perks were awarded? Is there room in more MMOs for, as an example, minigames like Guild Wars’ Costume Brawl or Snowball Fights where each player swaps out their skill bar for a pre-determined set of skills to compete with? Is there any way to encourage players to participate in PvP at low levels outside of offering xp and other rewards? I like what I’ve read about WoW’s recent changes to battlegrounds that match players based on gear and whether their xp is turned off, but I have no idea how this has affected the real landscape of queueing up for games at every level tier. Or is the secret to keeping queues going at every tier simply the result of the advantage that only WoW has: its massive player base?
I can’t wait until 2010 to see what the MMOs of! the! future! have planned in this respect. More of the same, inspired improvements, or something new altogether?