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Atheos avatar 7:23 AM on 09.22.2012  (server time)
Travelin' 'Round Tyria: Cooperative Camaraderie

Let me tell you a story...

As Tairaid, formerly my level 85 Undead Death Knight in World of Warcraft, I was once more on the hunt for elementium ore, a common valuable metal within the game, flying a well worn route around the bleak deserts of Uldum. With naught more than the relaxing sound of my gyro-copter's cacophonous engine blaring through my headphones, I sped through, one eye ever on my minimap, ready to descend from on high at the first sight of the much sought after ore. Predictably, a lone golden blip appeared along the western cliff side separating Uldum from the godforsaken kingdom of the long since fallen Qiraji and I immediately made way for my quarry. Just I was about to land and claim my prize, another player swooped past and in the blink of an eye scooped up the minerals and made off. I barely had time to make out a name, but I could clearly see he was of the same faction as I, a fellow member of The Horde, a brother in arms so readily able and willing to take from another player without remorse. It wasn't the first time such had happened, and it wouldn't be the last.

In World of Warcraft, all of the game's gatherable resources are shared between the entirety of a server's playerbase, free to anyone of the appropriate profession and skill level, so long as you make it there first. Such a system promotes direct competition between players, regardless of affiliation, and is but one of many ways WoW and countless other MMOs pit their players against one another.

Another day, another tiresome bout of dungeoneering. Once more I found myself leading an expedition through one of World of Warcraft's many endgame dungeons, on a quest for randomly dropped loot and points to buy gear. After besting the trials of the Night Elf Queen Azshara in the historic time-displaced battle of The Well of Eternity, our group triumphantly broke open her stash of precious parcels and were rewarded with a whopping load of ONE piece of gear, a cloak with stats conducive to dealing damage. A fancy DPS cape. I cast my virtual die, along with another member of the group, a Warrior, and promptly lost to his higher number. Deprived once again by a fellow friendly player.

Gear, in Player vs. Environment (PvE), is primarily acquired from dungeons or similar instanced challenges in most MMOs. The bosses therein have set tables of loot, from which one or more pieces are randomly selected and "dropped" after their demise, ensuring no player can ever guarantee exactly what it is they're going to get. To further prolong the process of gear progression, most such MMOs force groups of players to compete with one another, for the very gear they just aided one another in trying to acquire, by prompting them to "roll" against each other for the right to loot. If you want that cape, you'll have to deprive a friend, guildmate or random stranger of the same, all in the spirit of "friendly competition."

Yet again I find myself trudging through my list of daily digital chores, quests which offer the promise of reward for repetitious completion. Dailies, as they are known, and I loath them. Compelled, as ever, by the prospects of better gear and necessary enhancements, I suffer through the monotony, trying best as I can to complete these trifling tasks quick as possible. One such quest, just as so many before it, requires I visit virtual genocide upon a resident dwarven village in the Twilight Highlands, a simple task. As I fly from Blood Gulch to my target of Thundermar, ready to cut down all who stand in my way, I notice a distinct lack of stout, bearded bastards to kill. It would seem, as in nearly every other aspect of the world, that I have competition in the craft of war. I must fight once more against my fellows for the right to progress.

In World of Warcraft, and the many games which both inspired and took inspiration from it, you must first "tag" a foe to receive any credit for dispatching it. If someone lands even the slightest blow before hand, it would be a waste of your time to fight it. You'd receive no experience, no loot, and if on a quest to explicitly kill such creatures, no credit towards completion. Once more, such systems promote competition, and inadvertently, kill stealing. This results in players fighting each other over quests and creatures they could just as easily cooperate to complete and overcome.

Paradoxically, WoW, and those like it, try to both force players to compete against and cooperate with one another at the same time, so much so that most players go out of their way to avoid each other. I, like everyone else I knew, played predominately solo, for the simple reason that I didn't want another person dictating my pace of progression and taking my resources. Purposefully promoting such play styles by way of the fundamental mechanics of the game undermines the massively multiplayer nature of the game itself, and ultimately isn't very much fun.

As Justine, my Engineer in Guild Wars 2, I'm free to play alongside other players without suffering the trivial nuisances of other MMOs. I can gather wood, ore and plants in peace as resource nodes are unique to each player. I can help others kill anything, regardless of who hit first, and still receive full credit, experience and loot as there is no "tag" system. Players automatically cooperate with one another in quests and dynamic events, without the need of formal groups, by simple being in the vicinity of each other. In dungeons, everyone has a shot at looting the boss, and no one need deprive their fellows of gear. By NOT forcing players to group, Guild Wars promotes cooperative play, and by NOT forcing players to compete with each other the game fosters a true sense of camaraderie. In WoW I'd rarely go out of my way, even for friends. In Guild Wars 2 I find myself roaming with players regularly, free to come and go as I please. After seven years of fighting against a digital world, it's revitalizing to finally feel like a contributing part of one. I'm shocked that it took so long for someone to realize that in order to get people playing with each other, you first need to stop them playing against one another.

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