Is there a Social Contract in Cooperative Gaming?

Disclaimer: This is not a post about social justice, safe spaces, or toxicity in gaming and/or the gaming community. I know in today’s troubled times titles like this automatically make people think about politics in gaming. This post has nothing to do with any of that. I just used the title I felt was appropriate based on the actual definitions of words.

If you’ve been reading my blog or following me on Twitter for a while then you know I hate multiplayer games. I hate that the industry is steadily moving towards always online shared world experiences. I hate that end game is all but a thing of the past. I hate that DLC is the new normal and that it’s getting to the point where I can’t just buy a fully finished game that gets to a hard plot based end point and then is just over so I can move on to the next game. I like single player games. I like the solitude of gaming alone. I like being able to fully complete a game without relying on participation from other people.

AC MP Prestige

 

Games like Destiny, The Division, and I’m sure in the future Anthem irritate me because they require me to interact with and rely on other people to get a complete experience. Possibly even more irritating is that so often they try to pretend like that’s not the case. But anyone who has actually played any of these games knows that it is absolutely always the case. Sure you can play these games alone. But you can’t really beat them in a normal amount of time at a normal level of play. Sure some people can solo raids, but that’s not normal nor the intended way the developers design raids to be played. You can make a clan/league, set it to private, and not let anyone else join. But the chances of you being able to do enough on your own to get valuable league challenge rewards are infinitesimally small. In so many games today, you are forced to play and coordinate with other players. Even mobile games have leagues now.

When I play a game, I play to reach the end. I don’t just play games arbitrarily as long as I’m “having fun”. I don’t just start games and say I’ll play till I get bored. I take my gaming seriously. Starting a game for me is a commitment. I commit to reaching the end. And if I don’t know if I want to reach the end, I don’t play the game. I certainly don’t buy the game. This has become extremely difficult in a world where end game means the game has no clearly defined ending. What I now do is set end goals for myself and stop playing once I’ve achieved that. I got the platinum trophy in Skyrim. That’s when I stopped playing.  There was plenty more to do, but I had achieved my chosen goal and then stopped playing. I reached prestige level one in Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood multiplayer. I could have kept going. You can get all the way to prestige level 99. But that wasn’t my end goal. I’ve had to set my own clearly defined but ultimately arbitrary end goals more and more over the years.

Destiny2Clan

The end goal idea works fine for me in scenarios where my gameplay experience isn’t tied to other people via clan/league. But recently this has become more and more a necessity in many games. When clans first became a thing back in the OG Halo days, you didn’t have to participate. If you really liked multiplayer and didn’t like playing with randoms, joining a clan was a sensible option to fix this problem. But over time it has pretty much become a requirement in a lot of games in multiple genres. Take something like Injustice 2 where you get league rewards. This concept forces you to join and participate in a league or lose out on a steady stream of what can be really good rewards if your league is strong and active. A lot of games go out of their way to promote interaction among league members. Even mobile games with leagues now have built in chat functions, rewards for participating every day, and a number of other incentives to make you play cooperatively and actively with other people. This poses a problem for me.

I don’t particularly like playing games with other people online, but I take the commitment of joining an online team/community very seriously. When I join a clan, I’m part of that clan. I’m not just there to leech off other people without contributing. I contribute and I take my ability to contribute seriously. I make it a point to be as active as possible, contribute to the team goals/challenges as much as I can, and I don’t just abandon the league when a better option presents itself. Only in extreme circumstances will I change clans in a game. In fact, in the last 10 years I can only remember doing it one time. And there’s a long story behind why that happened. The problem for me in this scenario becomes ending the game. As I said, I always have an end goal. I’m not just playing to play. And even when I join a clan it’s in pursuit of that end goal. It’s not that I want to join. It’s that I believe joining will get me closer to my end goal faster and more efficiently. And it does. But when I reach my end goal I’m still part of a league.

Injustice 2 mobile league

I get angry when people just drop out of leagues for no reason. Especially when they’re an active player that makes a great contribution. When they suddenly just exit the league or stop playing without saying anything, it genuinely irritates me. Because the league was relying on that player. All the members helped that player obtain rewards that couldn’t be acquired as a solo player and in turn relied on that player to do the same in return. So when a person just drops out with no warning it feels like getting robbed. At least that’s how it feels to me. And I don’t want to make other people feel that way. But what happens when I reach my end goal for a game?

COD clan

This is a big issue for me right now. I’m in leagues in games that I’ve already completed for my purposes. But I don’t feel right just abandoning all those other players who have come to rely on my contributions as a strong, active member of the league. But it’s still my time and effort. So what am I supposed to do in this situation? Do I keep playing until the league gets strong enough to not need me anymore? Do I keep playing till the league collapses for whatever reason so I don’t feel beholden to anyone? Do I just quit without saying anything because screw everyone else as long as I’m happy? I genuinely don’t know the correct answer to this question. All I know is that I’m involved in games that I don’t want to be involved in anymore but I don’t want to abandon people who have invested time and effort into helping me because I feel like I owe them in exchange for that assistance.

Do gamers have a social contract with each other when they join clans? Is there an unspoken social responsibility to support those who have supported you in games and come to rely on your support? How do you leave a league?

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As always, thanks for reading. Please take the time to follow my blog, leave a comment, and check out some of my other channels if you enjoyed what you read.
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