From tired Chuck Norris jokes to racial slurs that would make a Grand Wizard blush, public chat channels in MMOs are often filled with more filth than a backed up toilet at the local Denny’s. But, like watching a train crash in slow motion, there remains something fascinating about witnessing our socio-cultural standards run right off the rails. Tales From Public Chat attempts to chronicle what happens when people on the internet stop being polite, and start getting real.
Oh, Global Agenda. You see, there’s something unique about the way the game handles player interaction that makes it perfect for this column’s inaugural edition. While each instance of the world’s hub — called Dome City — has its own version of Local Chat (which, according to the veterans, is best used by noobs to embarrass themselves as little as possible), most communication is done in the one-size-fits-all splendor of City Chat.
There are no separate servers, factions, or language barriers segmenting the playerbase. There exists a singular City Chat for the entire population. That’s it. Everyone gets to participate in this one, giant mosh pit of poisonous proclamations. Oddly enough, despite the banal discourse, individuals exhibit an extraordinary (read: above 5th grade) level of education, a condition that can likely be attributed to the fact that Global Agenda is still something of a niche title and thus far has been able to repel the majority of the sludge spilling out of the intertubes on a daily basis.
And even when someones does butcher the English language, it can be probably be blamed on the large amount of exuberant foreigners who play the game.
But just being able to spell doesn’t mean you can write like Hemingway or philosophize like John Locke. A game like this has the habit of attracting the usual “lulz” crowd of hardcore PC gamers that otherwise spend their time tweaking fellow /b/tards (denizens of 4chan’s most infamous board — i’d explain better, but I had a hard time finding any link remotely safe for work) or “Gooning” it up on the Something Awful forums. If you have little experience with either of these communities, all you need to know is this: trolling people is always in style.
That said, most of them are sheep and couldn’t come up with an original thought if it meant escaping a trip to the party van. So between catcalls of “UMADBRO?” and “MAGMALANCE IS EZ MODE!” your average City Chat slob’s favorite pastime is either asking the question, “What was the first MMO?” or answering it.
This usually means bringing up the only thing Global Agenda players seem to like talking about more than Global Agenda, itself: World of Warcraft. Of course, when you’re playing a niche MMO, it’s hard to ignore the elephant in the room and the fact that many of your fellows in the game are Azeroth expatriates, often proud of having escaped the yoke of Blizzard’s genre wunderkind. Despite the obvious and sweeping differences between the two titles, these derisions often lead to some form of debate as to which is superior, and said debate then leads to the meme that has single-handedly destroyed any semblance of intelligent discourse City Chat might have once had.
That is, the most common answer to the question posed above: “World of Warcraft was the first MMO.” You would be hard pressed to go two minutes without someone parroting this very phrase, but it gets worse because it has spawned perhaps hundreds of knock-offs that people feel compelled to chime in with when they see the above pop up in their chat box. Everything from “Pong was the first MMO” to “Halo was the first FPS.”
It’s a phenomenon that has gotten so bad that the developers have threatened to discipline players who dare bring it up in some non-specific manner (revoking chat privileges, perhaps; outright banning people would easily eliminate half the game’s userbase). But this is not a beast so easily quelled, and despite the advantage of centralized servers to monitor activity, there has been no evidence yet of a single person being punished for their transgressions. Honestly, it only seems to be getting worse.
As usual, that leaves players to fend for themselves in the only ways they know how: by filling up their ignore lists or squelching City Chat altogether. Truly interesting conversations are usually held behind the veil of Agency chat or private Ventrilo servers, anyway.
The real problem with this scourge is that is patently an old one, merely the latest form of a troll argument meant to rile up those that take video game history far too seriously (or rather, are so stuck up their own bum they can’t recognize a malcontent when they see it). The internet has only made people more skeptical over the years — unless you’re over the age of 40 and/or still forward chain letters to everybody on your contact list — which means that the meme has long since lost its creative luster.
And yet, it continues to infect Public Chat channels everywhere. While I have found it to be the worst in Global Agenda, it has wormed its way into all sorts of other MMOs, primarily those that have actively fostered anti-WoW sentiment and subsequently fallen to the crushing force of Blizzard’s juggernaut fists. Rather than joining the debate, sometimes the best thing to do is just roll with the punches.
Besides, real video game scholars know that the first MMORPG was Meridian 59. Well, that’s if you don’t count MUDs, anyway.