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LONG BLOG

Finding commonality in a toxic community - FFXI

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I absolutely hate starting a blog, or story, or whatever with a typical "All my life, I wanted to be a _____  or I was a young __ years old, but I'm cooking mac and cheese for the office tomorrow and watching the national championship game, so I really can't be bothered anymore with trying to think of the perfect lead in. So, here we go!


The beginning

I was a young 16 years old, thumbing through the latest EGM mag, when something really caught my eye. I was looking at a preview of Ultima Online, and my head instantly started filling with the possibility of communicating and adventuring in a digital open world environment with real people. I had never seen or heard of anything like that before. For the first time ever I was faced with the reality that I was no longer limited to playing with people in the same room as me ... I could play with people from all over the world and from all walks of life. It, frankly, blew my mind. 

I was a console kid though, so the game came and went without me ever taking part in the spectacle of it. In the years following I continued to track it's developments from a distance and went back to the familiar comfort of offline console gaming. The ideas, concepts, and interactions that I had read about always stuck with me though. Especially the interactions. It was a world inside the computer, and like the real world, problems were bound to come up between people. Boy did they. I didn't care about the horror stories though ... reading about the issues people were having with each other just made me want to experience it myself even more. It added to the realism of it. It's a fantasy world with real interactions with real people, some bad and some good. That was an exciting development for gaming way back then!


I can't say how I would have reacted in this situation, but even so I couldn't believe that something like this was able to happen in a game. (I mean that in a good way)


Finally taking part in a young, but quickly growing genre

The MMORPG genre of games expanded somewhat slowly after Ultima Online was released, but standout titles like Everquest, Asheron's Call, Ragnarok Online, and Runescape helped grow and popularize the genre further. Then, one day in early 2002, it happnened. Square Enix, my favorite developer/publisher at the time, showed the world their very first attempt at this suddenly rapidly expanding game type. It just so happened to be an entry in my favorite series of all time.


Fuckin' A
  

I avoided taking the plunge into the genre previously, but I quickly realized I had no reason to avoid it anymore. My interest in the genre had been rekindled. I was living out on my own at this point in the military and had plenty of disposable income with no expenses. I decided that soon I would be playing an online Final Fantasy game and interacting with thousands of other people at the same time. I dove in and found the experience to be ... challenging, but also enjoyable and most importantly very rewarding. Nothing came easy in FFXI, but when you did something noteworthy you felt a really good sense of accomplishment. You typically required help so when those helpers witnessed your achievement and were happy for you it felt amazing. Of course, now you had to pay it forward. That's what the game was about for me ... the coming together of people for mutual goals. The game pulled it off wonderfully. Every aspect of it required help from others. From the biggest, hardest Huge Notorious Monster (HNM) that took a full
alliance of people to kill to the lowly leveling party. Of course as I advanced in level I quickly found out a lot more about all those horror stories I read about years ago.


Competition (and a lot of time) breeds contempt

Now something to understand about the game for those that weren't able to experience it in it's glory days is that you had to compete for everything. End game was basically groups of large linkshells (LS) competing to claim various HNMs that only popped once a day. These HNMs spawned in real time and everyone in the area was forced to spam claim abilities to insure their group got the mob. Even large 30+ man instanced battles like Dynamis were subject to competitive elements since they could only be activated one group at a time. I'm sure these concepts are very similar in a bunch of these older MMORPGs, but I can only attest to how it was in this one.

The structure of the game required you to spend a lot of time to accomplish almost anything noteworthy. There was no instant gratification. The best equipment was extremely rare or extremely expensive. In some cases we are talking about years of waiting. Of course this bred a very competitive
environment which led to an escalation of third party tools, MPKs, verbal shouting matches, ninja lots, and a litany of angry threads spread across the internet. Some of the worst cases involved stealing and stripping of characters and online relationships leading to theft. There was a "call for help" feature you could activate on every mob in the game putting the mob into a status where it would not drop it's loottill it was reset by being zoned or wiping out everyone in the area. As you can imagine this feature was often misused in a spiteful way.

It was a very, very toxic atmosphere on most servers, but it was also very compelling and interesting. Like I had mentioned earlier these kinds of interactions appealed to me as they mirror the way people respond to similar trials in life. It was real. It was Black Friday at Wal-Mart. It was fighting for a parking spot at a sold out event with your kids in the car. It was a lover screwing their partner over for a small personal gain. It was jawing with fans of another team at a football game. Every time you entered Dragon's Aery you felt amped up as if you were walking into a boxing match.

This is a game without typical PvP, mind you. In place of that PvP atmosphere that SE so wanted to avoid a LSvLS environment developed as
we all just went at it. Only one could win and shit talking your opponents was just part of the game. Not everyone participated and it wasn't all the time, but some days it was there, you could feel it in the air. Someone's frustration was boiling over, and something big was about to go down. Drama was incoming.

Not something I personally witnessed, but just some typical random drama from another server.


An enemy long forgotten resurfaces

As we were all kicking and scrapping and fighting for our little piece of glory, something else was taking place back in the areas most of us had long left behind. An enemy to the entire game world had begun to push into areas that previously only the most skilled players had ventured. Real Money Trade had changed strategies from endlessly farming and camping the early, easier NMs and decided to push further into areas that were introduced in the Rise of the Zilart expansion. The first to fall were the areas we lovingly referred to as SKY. Here they could monopolize NMs that dropped pop items used to spawn sub-bosses that would drop other pop items to spawn the HNM known as Kirin. They had no interest in actually beating Kirin at first, but the pop items they farmed were extremely lucrative, and spawn windows were somewhat more forgiving. Then, suddenly they could kill Kirin, and all the sub bosses, and they sold their services as mercs in addition to the pop items.

We were always aware of RMT, hard not to be really, but for the firsttime in a long time they were having an effect on areas we thought to be safe from their influence. They were seen as a problem that endgame players had long left behind ... a noob problem. They were becoming more skilled at the game though and their new presence in these zones added more to the frustration present in these endgame areas already. SE would try to manage this problem with varying degrees of success, but like Hydra, ban one and two more would take it's place. 

and again, and again, and again


Moving forward with old problems in tow

Like all MMORPGs forward progression in new areas is part of the game. As such pushing forward into the Chains of Promethia and Treasures of Aht Urhgan expansions was ongoing as all of above was taking place. I managed to level up a couple more, much more useful, jobs. There were other adventures waiting in SEA for my HNM LS, and we attacked them with most of the other big LSs of the server. SEA was very much like SKY, but RMT rarely stepped foot there. The story missions being much more difficult was thought to be the primary reason, but it didn't matter ... we were free again! 

For a while life was good. The battles in SEA were much less frustrating since SE decided to make all the pop items farmable from standard enemies, which were plentiful. Competition still ran wild between LSs, but SEA was a place where that largely didn't occur. I got a Novio for my BLM which was seen as one of the best items you could get for the job at the time. Then, like they had always done in the past, RMT started to push into SEA. They had their sights firmly on the Jailer of Love and his drops, including the Novio, that all sold for large amounts of gil.



A hard battle for most LSs at the time, Jailer of Love was thought to be impossible for RMT to kill.



The call goes out - get your ass to SEA

I don't remember much about this incident as far as times and other details. Unfortunately, the thread that contained the recorded history of the event was lost forever when the FFXI informational website Killing Ifrit was taken offline. Killing Ifrit's forums was where most of the drama threads I referenced earlier were stored. You can still find a few around on other sites, but in the earliest, most drama filled days of the game Killing Ifrit was where to be. What I do remember was hanging around in the large hub city Whitegate when someone in my HNM LS made mention that RMT was attempting to kill Jailer of Love. The idea that we should all go up there and see how they were doing was brought up, and most of the people online decided to head that way. Competing LSs had also gotten word of the RMT Jailer of Love attempt and headed out. Sometime during the trek out there it was decided that we were all going to join forces and attempt to wipe the RMT alliance by any means possible.



This is the only screenshot I have of the MPKing in action. There were others at some point, but they have been lost.



We all converged on the scene and allianced up. SE had taken measures previously that had made MPKing in the traditional format impossible,
but It was still possible to pull mobs into the battle from other areas and call for help on them. Or train multiples into the fighting area, some of which remained claimable, and mess up the black mages targeting since the JoL spawned babies that had to be nuked quickly. All the additional mobs in the fighting area were mainly to cause confusion with the casters and potential mistargets. Eventually they were starting to wipe. The black mages were dying, and the babies that JoL spawned were targeting the tanks and melee instead of being quickly burned by the mages. The white mages couldn't heal fast enough. It took hours to get them to completely wipe, but they did. They were not pleased to say the least, and a GM was called to investigate. The RMT scourge that infested the game was something that SE had been fighting for years. So when called to defend a RMT linkshell against the upstanding players of the game ... SE didn't do anything. They came, watched, then left. We had won. They were all dead, the JoL in question became unclaimed, and we all took it and killed it together. Then this guy popped ...





... and we backed away. The senior members of the LSs decided who got the drops, and we just hung around for a while and laughed and
joked about what we had just accomplished together. The three biggest and most competitive HNM LSs on the server just came together and
defeated a mutual foe. A foe that had spread like a virus across the server, unchecked, except the occasional roadblock SE would place in
front of it. We had all agreed that it was one of the best nights in our servers history, and that we had a great time fighting this menace
together. It felt like the scene in Independence Day where the president gave his speech and the human race decided it was time to fight back.
Then once the spaceship was defeated they spread the word to the rest of the world. Which is exactly what we did. A thread went up on Killing
Ifrit telling the other servers of our victory, and how to take RMT down. (at least for this very specific fight)


Changes

All of us watched SEA for the next couple days, and we had noticed that the RMT LS went away. SE most likely banned them like they had banned them several times before. The people behind those characters went on to just steal someone else's character or create a new one I'm sure. We also came to a realization that, even though we were nasty to each other in the heat of competition, we really didn't dislike each other or anything like that. We were just on different teams. WoW was crushing XI by this time anyways, and changes were incoming that would alter the way the game had been played to that point in time. The game tried to get more casual. Grouping together wasn't as necessary for everything. Drama wasn't as widespread. Those interactions that made the vanilla game so interesting started to fade away. Before all these new changes started to occur ... I had already moved on. Real life was calling and i had to pick up. I tried to go back years later but it wasn't the same. As toxic as the game was in those early years ... it was endearing to me, and I missed it. 

I was never able to replicate the same feelings in any other MMORPG since then. I gave WoW a go, but it didn't really grab me. I moved on to Rift, but it was just a passing fancy. Then I tried my hand at the new big boy on the block. Surely if there was any game that could bring back those good memories of the olden days of FFXI it was this ...



... and it is a lot of fun. It's not a replacement for FFXI though. It's a quiet and friendly world. You don't really need to communicate with people as much. Gear is obtained at a much more reasonable pace with much less conflict. Personally, I don't feel the same level of accomplishment in completing a task in XIV then I did in the early days of XI. A lot would contend that this is all for the better, and maybe they are right. I still miss the hard old days of XI though. I miss the competition and the sometimes mean spirited interactions. I miss the camaraderie and occasional contempt. I miss that flavor. Some may read this and think I'm crazy for wanting that kind of experience back, but in a post WoW MMO landscape, every game I try just reminds me of how
compelling that old toxic community used to be ... and of how interesting and sometimes surprising it was. Maybe I am a horrible person, I mean we MPKed those RMT people, but it happened. They were real people, and we screwed them over, but they were exploiting the game, so we took a stand. I miss those kinds of MMO altercations, even when on the receiving end.

That's pretty much it. My MMO memory. So what are some of your most fond memories of your time in a MMO? Doesn't have to be FFXI ... just lay 'em on me. Also if you know of a good, under the radar, MMORPG that's worth giving a shot let us know. Also, forgive the minor format issues in the blog ... I'm sure those of you that do this regularly know my pain in trying to get everything just right. I actually typed this up over the New Years weekend in response to everything that was going on at that time, but the horrible blog manager bumped it to the bottom right away so I hid it till now. Then I went through the copy/paste process ... making things worse. Then I just stopped caring about minor issues and just posted it ...  because whatever. Here's some good video game mashup music just because:

https://2mellomakes.bandcamp.com/album/final-fanta...

Thanks for reading my second ever Destructoid blog ever!

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About Voodoomeone of us since 9:39 AM on 06.10.2013

I just like to play games. I don't especially enjoy dealing with modern publisher bullshit, and won't waste my time or money on a product laced with policies I don't agree with. As an older gamer I have a lot of respect for a gaming experience that can be delivered to me in a pure and complete form.

Favorites include: Persona 3 and 4, Final Fantasy 6 and 4, Lollipop Chainsaw, Shadows of the Damned, Batan Kaitos, Lost Odyssey, and most Nintendo series. I am partial to JRPGs, and am sad to see them in such decline. :(

I also collect and have quite the sizable console and game collection. As modern gaming continues to swirl, I've been spending a lot more time doing the whole retro thing.

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