Wednesday, January 05, 2005

The WoW Age War

Linked above is an interesting thread on the World of Warcraft forums. In it, a poster proposes that Blizzard create a 20-or-over RP server to attempt to filter out some of the immaturity in the game. The original poster finishes her post with, "And for all I know, it is the adults, but I think this would help the problem somewhat for those of us that want to play a semi-serious game."

What follows is 12+ pages of arguing, accusations, insults, and general good times. G'head, read it. I'll wait.

Actually, maybe I won't.

It's interesting, because lately I've noticed that WoW, more than perhaps any other MMO I've played on (and I've played a lot), has a bit of an age-gap problem. On one hand we have the hardcore Bliz-kidz who migrated over from Diablo 2 (one of the most exploited and abused games out there, and one which was released back in the 1700s and still finds an audience of loud, leet-speaking cheaters), and on the other hand we have casual gamers who were attracted by the bright lights and pretty colors. In the middle we have experienced MMO veterans, but we'll leave these aside because most of them just want to get in there, kill monsters and take their stuff, and log out with a smile on their faces. As always, in this case, the silent middle-ground majority isn't worth a damn thing, because it's much more fun to talk about the whiners and screamers.

Most of these arguments seem to devolve into arguments about the merits of actually typing real words rather than Internet shorthand. "U" versus "you," "LFG" instead of "looking for group." Someone gets called a "grammar Nazi," someone else gets called "intolerant of young people," and someone else gets called "a jaded, bitter old fogey." And though I am all of those things, I resemble those remarks.

In my last job I wrote for a magazine that, despite its own public protests to the contrary, was skewed toward younger audiences. The trick to getting a younger audience is to convince them that you're really going for an older one. A 13-year-old will always be interested in what a 17-year-old is doing, but the opposite is rarely true. One reason why kids seem to grow up so fast is that the media and people marketing to kids constantly feed them more and more "mature" content, because they know that young teenagers don't want "kiddie stuff."

So young people flock to games that seem more mature, making older people, who believe that they are the ones for whom the game was made (and who are often right), uncomfortable. In a society in which the "age is maturity" idea lies at the heart of the "separate every age group by the year" school grade system, the Internet, and MMOs in particular, bring kids and adults together in the same world and simply say, "Play nice!" When one person in an area wants to spark a conversation about "OMG, Ashlee Simpson is soooo lame, i hear she effed Fred Durst lolololol roofles," while another wants to kick back with a beer and slay some orcs with his wife while the baby sleeps, you don't have a real healthy environment for cross-demographic solidarity.

To set the record straight, I'll say what no one else will. Older people are, on average, more mature than younger people. I can say that as someone who is peering over the edge of 30, and I know that people older than me will generally agree. Unlike most people in the world, however, I also experienced the younger ages, as well. I know for a fact that saying, "Older people are more mature than you," to a person between 13 and 18 will generally spark a "Nuh uh, you are a Nazi, loser," response. Younger people don't like to be confronted with the fact that they are young. The same phenomenon makes 14-year-olds write in to game magazines pleading that the editors convince their parents that they can handle Grand Theft Auto. The fact that they will, indeed, grow older and both A) become of age to purchase those games and B) become mature enough to really handle them almost completely escapes them. They want to be older now, to feel older now.

A lot of it comes down to respect. Young people don't get much respect. Young people think, "When I'm older, I will be able to play whatever I want and do whatever I want, and older people will respect me, because I have the power to act on my will." Because they are constantly pandered to by media and marketers, who serve them the sex and boobies and course language they think instantly makes them more mature, these kids think they're ready NOW, and so they should have that respect NOW. Cue sense of entitlement, end argument.

On the other hand, older people think that people aren't truly mature until they are exactly the same age that the older person is. As if, at age 25 or so, a person goes from Diddy Kong to Golgo 13 in one smooth shift of perspective. Older people cannot accept that every social ill is more likely caused by someone around their age, and so they blame younger people. The main characters in The Full Monty are older people, folks. So are Trey Parker and Matt Stone, Mike Judge, the Ramones, Paul Reubens, and Blink 182.

The solution? Older people must attempt to understand what drives younger people. Kids just want to be treated like people, man. Really, that's it. And they are people. When their parents and older people around them won't give them respect, they got to television, music, sex, etc., who are there with all the respect the kid can buy. Give a kid REAL respect, and you make them socially bulletproof.

Meanwhile, younger people need to understand that wisdom does indeed come with age, even if it's not exactly directly proportional to it. Older people tend to have a better grasp of what's important in the world, they have often lived through hard times and made it through, and they generally have a better sense of perspective. Back in the day, young people used to "learn stuff" from older people. I know I did.

We're all on the Internet together, and no one is going to change by staying the same. While it makes the WoW forums more interesting (which is, I believe, the point), it doesn't serve anyone to have this odd age war. If you want to hate an age group, hate babies. They're goddamn useless.