I’m not exactly what you would call a social butterfly. I like to keep to myself, do things my own way, and just mind my own business. That’s also how I like to game. If I can solo it, you can be sure that I will.
I hate grouping. Just the thought of joining up with other real players used to make my stomach twist in knots and made me doubt everything about the way I play the game. I would stall and delay and postpone joining a group for as long as I possibly could, and forcing myself to finally do it was like forcing myself to jump into murky, wave-tossed water. (Did I mention I have a fear of drowning?) For me, grouping was scary.
Part of it is because I’m just not a social person. I don’t have the social graces some people have. It’s hard enough being social face-to-face, and it’s even harder when I can’t see the person I’m talking to and can’t judge what they’re thinking. The other part is the fact that I’ve had my share of bad experiences, and they’re ones that have really stuck with me.
My trouble began when I started playing Aion. I was used to the original Guild Wars, where you could add NPCs (non-player characters) to your party and never have to talk to anyone else to get through the game. In Aion, however, there was a lot of important content that required a group of up to six players to complete. I didn’t want to have to skip this content, so I decided to take a chance and join a group for the very first time.
Truth be told, it wasn’t that bad. In fact, it was good. My groups were tolerant and supportive. Most of them just wanted to be done as quickly as possible, which was fine by me, but others were more casual and there to have fun. No matter the case, it was good, and I got a lot of content done. At that point, I decided I liked grouping, and so I kept at it as I got into higher level content.
That was when the real problems started. More often than not, the groups I was joining were suddenly not so nice, and I experienced some pressure to live up to my responsibility as a part of the team. The content was getting harder and so I needed to pick it up, but I wasn’t quite prepared for the commitment it required. Turns out, I was expected to be a good player, and I started to doubt that I could be classified as such.
But I was still optimistic about the whole grouping thing, and I joined a group with a cleric and a ranger one day to get through a pretty straightforward area. We were taking a short break and the cleric started talking to me. He asked me about my weapon choice. My class in Aion was a gladiator–a damage-focussed warrior–and most glads in the game used greatswords because they dealt the largest damage in a single blow. I used dual swords, however, because I hated how slow the greatswords were and I liked the look of two swords better anyways. I explained this to him and he respected my opinion, but the ranger wasn’t quite so tolerant. What he said haunts me to this day:
You choose your weapon based on how fast you can get it? Yikes. Not a big fan of game mechanics, huh?
I didn’t know what to say to that. I felt like I was being criticized for wanting to have a character with personality who wasn’t just made up of numbers and percentages. The whole reason I started gaming was because I wanted to play a hero so that I could experience an adventure, not because I wanted to have the highest attack number in the whole game. At that moment, I doubted my worth as a player, and suddenly my character didn’t look quite so heroic.
I continued with that group, feeling a bit disgusted by what had just happened, and we got into a harder area. At one point, our group came dangerously close to dying, and the cleric began to complain that he couldn’t keep saving us like that. He then continued on to say that we needed more damage–specifically from me. Talking about my character, he said, “Steelfire is fast, but does little damage.” Now I felt like I was the scapegoat, somebody they could blame for our entire group’s difficulty, and I was starting to become bitter.
We arrived then at the hardest content of all, with the fiercest monsters and the most overwhelming enemy groups. I was the tank in the group, the person responsible for taking the damage so that the others could cast their spells, but every time I went to gather the enemies’ attentions, the ranger ran forward and became the target for all their attacks. I was then left to struggle to reclaim their attention, while the ranger kept running farther and farther ahead of the cleric and me–without telling us what he was doing.
Yet, strangely enough, I was the first one to die.
After that, our group gave up and we parted ways. I was frustrated and upset and ready to just log off when I got a message from the ranger. “Yer terrible :/” he said, and then proceeded to tell me that I didn’t tank a thing and that I kept getting in his way. That was the final straw. I knew at that point that I was a bad player, and I was plenty ready to accept that, but the fact that he went to all the trouble of messaging me, just to tell me how terrible I was, was more than I could handle. Right then and there, I decided I was done with grouping.
I can take it when people tell me I’m a bad player. But when I’m blamed for something I haven’t done, I get frustrated. And when I’m criticized for designing my character to make me happy, I am offended. But I also begin to worry.
I stopped playing with others after that incident, but it really didn’t solve the problem. What was said about me being a terrible player had gotten under my skin and started making me believe that I was just that: a terrible player who wasn’t dependable in a group. I started feeling embarrassed about how my character looked–about my armour not being the best in the game, my weapon not being the most powerful–and about how I played her.
For the most part, I was able to ignore my anxieties and still play the game to have fun, but I made sure to avoid contact with other players. That is, until I started playing Guild Wars 2.
Most of Guild Wars 2, like the original, you can solo. But if you want to do the dungeons, which tie into the game’s story, then you have to get a group of five. I really didn’t want to miss out on this part of the game experience, and so when I was a high enough level to do the first dungeon, Ascalonian Catacombs, I prepared myself to find a group to play with.
I stalled for a good long while, always finding an excuse why I didn’t have time or would be better off waiting, and I actually gained five levels in the time between deciding to do it and actually sitting down one afternoon to do it. I loitered at the dungeon’s entrance, trying to coax myself to put a message in chat, when I suddenly saw a group advertising an empty spot. Before I could hesitate, I messaged the leader and was accepted into the group. My heart was pounding as I realized that there was no turning back.
The nerves kicked in and I started anxiously going through my skills. Would they laugh if they saw my skill choice? I wondered, panicking, but then they were asking if everyone was ready to enter and I had no more time to fuss.
“Just this one dungeon,” I promised myself. “If it goes badly, I don’t have to play another one ever again. If it goes well… we’ll see.”
And so, feeling as if I was jumping into the murky, wave-tossed water, I held my breath and entered my first dungeon in almost three years…