Why Are We Gatekeeping MMOs?

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My launch into gaming started very young with NES and Super Nintendo. My first real venture into gaming was the original crystal Xbox and Fable. Gatekeeping in gaming wasn’t something I learned about until much later in life, when I started playing MMOs. It wasn’t until I dove so deep into my first MMO that I really felt like people saw me as a “gamer”, and that was during World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria. Shortly thereafter, I saw how hard being a new player in an MMO could be.

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World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria

MMOs are a lot of fun, but they can be a hard crowd to jump into. In the WoW community specifically, it can be hard as a new player, even at low levels. Usually, you’d think that a lower level would mean more inexperienced players—a group of people learning the ropes together. Unfortunately, new players tend to dive into their brand-new characters hopeful, and once they reach the ability to run dungeons, they are met with impatience and hostility, often leading to being kicked from groups.

This is because most of the time, these are veteran MMO players, levelling their hundredth character. With World of Warcraft, in particular, having alts (a character other than their main) is paramount for a few reasons. One, when you reach the endgame, you eventually run out of things to do, or the things left are tedious like grinding for mounts and transmog equipment. Two, having different classes and races can bring different things to your guild or raid team. And three, you absolutely need different alts to handle all the professions available to you.

Unfortunately, this means you have master players grouped in with brand-new ones from their first dungeon, which leaves little room for error as a newbie. Rather than joining a community, it can feel like you’re trying to bash your way into a clique that really doesn’t want you. I was lucky enough to start playing WoW with a group of friends who carried me until I learned, but without that, breaking through those barriers and making new friends can be hard.

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The conversation above perfectly describes how it can feel to be a new player in WoW. Of course, you can get lucky and find a guild that is kind to newcomers or even a stray player or two willing to help, but most of the time, you just dive in and hope for the best. Ten years later, and although I’ve done all the raids and dungeons up to Dragonflight (far too many times), there are still some mechanics I don’t entirely understand because no one ever took the time to walk me through it, we just pulled everything and crossed our fingers.

“Rest assured, on January 16th, players will be kicked out of Vault of the Incarnates LFR left and right for not knowing the fights inside and out.”

This rings true for the most recent expansion, World of Warcraft: Dragonflight, as well. I’ve been writing about my struggles in a series called MMOs & Motherhood, but the difficulties don’t just lie with me because I’m a parent. Dragonflight has been out for a month, with the raid Vault of the Incarnates released on December 12, 2022, and it won’t reach the raid finder until January. So, unless you have a tight-knit raid group, you haven’t seen it yet. Rest assured, on January 16th, players will be kicked out of Vault of the Incarnates LFR left and right for not knowing the fights inside and out.

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World of Warcraft: Dragonflight – Vault of the Incarnates

It seems like veteran players have decided that everyone should fully research each raid and dungeon online before they jump in. Though this may be the case for serious raid teams, expecting this kind of commitment for LFR is ludicrous. It also doesn’t take into account different learning styles and abilities. Personally, until I am hands-on with something, it’s near impossible for me to master it. This falls into a similar debate on game difficulties, like Souls-like games. “If it’s too hard for you, you aren’t meant to play it,” or in this case, “If you can’t learn it ahead of time, it’s too bad for you.” Is this really the stance gamers want to take? 

The issues go even further if you’re raiding or completing mythic keys in World of Warcraft. MMO players can not only gatekeep whether you’re ABLE to complete these—since they’re impossible without other players—but they can gatekeep your class, race or talents just to participate. 

I love playing a Beast Mastery Hunter, but there were expansions where Survival would do more damage. In order to raid I needed to re-spec into Survival, re-learn how to play, change all my gear, so I had the right stat priority, and make sure I had specific talents to ensure that we were maxing out our DPS and crowd control. Every patch there are rankings for DPS and Healers, and if your class isn’t in the top, you may be asked to use an alt or re-spec. I’ve seen plenty of people refuse certain classes of tanks because they were too “squishy” during that expansion.

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Image Credit: Icy Veins

All of this is for the love of gaming, right? I realize that people play MMOs competitively. There is always a race to “world first” when it comes to levelling or raiding. There are people who eat, sleep and breathe their games. But there are also people who want to have fun. There are players who are happy to jump from class to class or between DPS, Healing and Tanking. There are people who only enjoy one role. Unfortunately, you will have to hunt for a more relaxed community if you want to play the game your way.

For me, gaming is something I share with my family and friends. Though my son is only seven, I would hate for him to pug a group when he is old enough to play to only be put down and kicked. The same goes for games like Fortnite. I rarely play duos, trios or squads unless I have friends online. I don’t need to hear that I suck, where I want to land is stupid or that girls can’t be gamers. Gaming in any genre can be surprisingly toxic.

In an interview with Lead Combat Designer for World of Warcraft: Dragonflight, Brian Holinka, he touched on the role that WoW plays in his family, boasting about his son’s excitement for the new expansion and raiding tied to memories of his son’s birth. The game designers themselves share MMOs with their families and friends. How can we continue this tradition if we need to worry about toxic communities and constant gatekeeping?

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Elder Scrolls Online: High Isle

I was incredibly lucky. I joined World of Warcraft with friends, and when they got tired, I managed to fall into a guild of amazing people. We raided pretty seriously but still had people willing to host dungeons and raids to teach other players. We wanted progression, but not at the expense of players having fun. Without those people, I would never have lasted in WoW, and I probably wouldn’t have had the courage to jump onto other MMOs like Lost Ark, Elder Scrolls Online or New World.

“If you’re one of the players that continues gatekeeping World of Warcraft—or any game for that matter—remember that you were once a new player too…”

The good news is, there are kind players who just want to enjoy the game and the community that comes along with it. Joining Facebook groups for Dragonflight has shown me both sides of the coin: players that are being ostracized because they aren’t pros, and pros that want to help new players progress and enjoy the game. 

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If you’re considering learning a new MMO, do some research. Join groups, talk to players, and find out which servers have players that meet your playstyle. You can’t be a new player expecting to jump onto a Mythic raid team with no experience, but you should absolutely find a place where you feel comfortable enough to learn the game and gain experience.

If you’re one of the players that continues gatekeeping World of Warcraft—or any game for that matter—remember that you were once a new player too, and you have no idea who is on the other side of that screen. Massive multiplayer online gaming should be a group of people that create a community, not a war.

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