In-Game Communication: Is Typing a Dead Art?
When I was introduced to the blooming new gaming genre of MMOs in the late 90s, the majority of us were on dialup connections and voice communication wasn’t even a dream yet. Cell phones were 2-ton bricks and cost an average of $8/minute so unless you had two phones lines at home, you were doing all your communicating through a keyboard. As long as you learned how to type at a decent speed or at least knew how to set up some macros with commonly used phrases such as, “Out of mana” or “Add incoming”, you got by just fine.
As time moved on, technology moved with it. Eventually, services such as Ventrillo and Teamspeak began popping up and proved popular with gamers. Now they were able to finally keep their hands free from distraction while they concentrated on the game and communication speeds increased accordingly. This allowed developers to slowly start introducing encounters that would prove difficult for players to coordinate through typing, but easily manageable through instant voice communication.
Little did we know that in 2006, Turbine would set the world of player communication on fire with the release of Dungeons & Dragons Online with its in-game voice communication service. On the surface, it seemed like a great idea. To this day, I’m sure there are plenty of players that still feel it was. By implementing its own in-game voice service, it allowed those that didn’t want to deal with setting up a third-party program from having to deal with the hassles that entailed. Unfortunately for everyone involved, the addition of this system had an unintended consequence.
When you were grouped with other players, DDO had an icon that would appear if you had voice chat activated. At the very least, it would show if you were set to hear, even if you had no microphone. Since the game itself included a voice communication service, most players felt there was no reason for others in their group to not have it turned on. As a result, it quickly became virtually impossible to find a group if you had yours turned off. To this day, there are those that feel it should be mandatory for other players to be able to hear their group when playing.
On the surface, such a request seems innocuous but this view leaves out one important piece to the puzzle – the human equation. I’m in the category of those that didn’t (and don’t) like to turn on their voice chat. When I play games that aren’t for work, I play for the sake of relaxing. I like to be immersed in the actions and adventures of my character. Having players talk (even if it’s only about in-game events) immediately breaks this sense of immersion.
More importantly, I don’t want to hear about what’s going in the daily drudgery you call your life. I’m sorry if your truck needs a new carburetor. I’m sorry if I don’t want to listen to your drunken ass ramble on about how awesome your dog is. I’m sorry if you feel it’s rude, but I don’t care that your baby is beginning to crawl. In other words, we all have a billion things going on in our lives and I play games to take a break from all of it. That means that I have zero interest (or tolerance) for listening to those that insist on sharing everything about theirs.
Obviously, this dynamic can change when you’re dealing with personal friends. This includes those made online as well as off. My complaint comes largely in the realm of pickup groups. I don’t care what’s going on in your life when the chances of running into you again are very small. If we do happen to find ourselves playing together on occasion, then I’m happy to have some general chatter in-game, but only through text. This allows my brain to compartmentalize anything that takes place in the chat box. It also allows me to choose when and if I even look at the chat box.
As games continue to get more and more complex, I can understand the desire to lean more heavily on voice communication, and if I were in a raid, I would completely understand a request to have voice chat turned on so you can hear instructions from the raid leader. That being said, that’s the only time I’m willing to compromise on this.
So this brings me to my question for all of you. How many of you prefer typing to chatting? Is it a generational thing? Since I also don’t use a headset when playing on my Xbox 360 or PS3, does this just mean I’m an anti-social ass? Don’t be shy. Be sure to leave a comment below. If you’re not comfortable doing that, you’re also more than welcome to give me a holler on Twitter!