Last time I talked about some, if not nearly all (that would be impossible) groups that formed the City of Heroes community, Real World Hero, The Cape Radio, Robokitty, Titan Network and all those countless others. Even logging in I had to selectively decide which groups I would watch today because my chat tabs were exploding. This time I’ll try to talk about mores specific people and what they meant for me and also about some of the darker sides and pain a game with so much emotional impact for it’s players could cause.
While massive gatherings of people aimed at specific goals are awesome you need something more to make your life as a superhero complete. You need friends. And while the community of the game is very open and accepting people will as they always have select their friends carefully. But COH gave you the means for that, it was almost tailor made to let you notice the sort of people you would want to hang out with. With a leveling experience based on teaming you usualy hang out with 7 other people. Between their choice of costume (which tells you nothing about their stats but everything about their taste in this game), their bio, whatever they say in chat and their playstyle you already get a pretty good feel for a person even on a simple team up. This also allowed closed gate communities to look for new candidates. While the large global channels catered to broad subcultures of the game these groups would be about more specific things or simply a hangout for like-minded people. In some cases these gated communities were also supergroups (guilds) or some just a loose connection over chat.
After a few months I ended up in one of these, people who came up and talked to me after I had been in a particular odd team. My suspicion was that they are all insane. I was right and they thought I’m a compatible type of insane. This I came to the Legion of Freedom a collection of the most powerf.. heroi… slefl.. weird people I’ve ever hung out with. These were people I didn’t think exist. Freaks on a compatible level to me, so specific in their strangeness that the chance to meet on in real life is low enough to be statistically irrelevant. But here the few outcasts from all over the world that could share their worldview, despise and weird likes could hang out like a bunch of happy teletubbies. In the end I was in 3 groups like that, all at the same time. Having conversations on different levels in different themes with all. From hardcore roleplayers I ended up having to ditch to casual gamers in Next Gen to the insane folks of the Legion. I would share character concepts with the Union Supreme, team with my fellow mutant outcasts in Next Gen and talk about the world, god, hamsters and everything in between until the early morning hours with the Legion of Freedom. Sometimes logging in for just five minutes for some of that company in the morning would get me through the day then I didn’t think I could face life yet again.
This is not the place for it but I’m gonna include a thanks to you T-Bird, Grim, Eli, Tak, Wirra, Summer, Libby, Davpa, Rain, Prole, Sweet, Fury, Boi and let’s face it dozens of other who I can not include at this point but made my life better and brighter in some way. I could go on for another ten thousand words without being done talking about these people. But this entry is about City of Heroes in general. These were my friends, other people had different crowds. Some even found real life friends or even their real future spouses in the game. I never got so far involved my friends never were more than people I talked with on Skype both due to distance and other issues I carry. And they still changed my life. The important part is that anyone who tried to contribute found people who would complete them. No matter how weird you are, if you sometimes think you might as well be an alien. In City of Heroes you could find your pack.
With great power…
Every hero learns to control their powers, learns new tricks and grows during his career. It wasn’t enough that City of Heroes put me in contact with awesome people. It also helped make me a little bit more awesome. A community with positive feedback can give you many things, from companionship while your life is down, the feeling that you matter while real life tries to crush you to actual teaching you skills you did not have before both active and passive. I can safely say I was a different person before I played this game. It has changed me both mentally and spiritually. My grasp of english improved to the levels you have to suffer through on this blog, I learned how to lead small groups, how to inspire people to give their best, how to integrate into groups, I learned about technology and I turned from a hermit who wouldn’t look at people into the leader of a major roleplay group on the Virtue Server. If you think that has no real life application you couldn’t be more wrong. I used those skills to get a job as a technical writer, found a minority union group at work, establish a work council and get voted into it. I have a decent standing with a lot of contacts in other companies, I got to help a lot of my co workers and helped imprive work conditions all over the company (also got to visit seminars in expensive hotels for something around 12 weeks in the last two years which was kinda sweet too honestly). I found the courage to look for help in some of my most important issues I made friends with people I would not have been able to talk to before. None of this could have happened without the things I learned in Paragon. I’m not good but I’m defiantly better and those are just the passive people skills I picked up simply by being there.
The second sets of skill is what people actively taught me. My first MMO was WoW and I was mediocre at best. And that’s probably flattering myself. Yet I came out of COH and into Star Wars: The Old Republic and using the basic concepts of building characters, laying out keybinds and focusing while staying calm I was able to keep up with all the PVE and play in a ranked PVP Guild. The same people mentioned above took the time to teach others in the community to improve their game, DJ Blue even had a life show dedicated to the subject. From energy management to concepts of getting optimal results even with basic equipment there are skills that can be applied to any game. The economic skills translate a little harder but they do work while the basic gameplay abilities like setting up quickbars, useful targeting, chatwindows that don’t distract you are instantly useful in almost any game.
Characters in City oF Heroes functioned with such a wide variety of skills and there were literally hundreds of valid endgame builds. Instead of learning to press the specific five buttons for a specific guild City of Heroes told me the basics of character stats and mechanics, not what to equip and what to press but how to decide for myelf what to equip and what to do. One last set of skills that shouldn’t be underestimated is how to make teams fun. Players in other games are a dreadfully tightlipped and serious crowd. Try the difference then you get to lead a warzone and don’t begin with “3/2/2″ but “Alright everyone, we’ll have a threesome mid, a two person romcom east and some leftovers to go west like the pet shop boys”. And afterwards we’ll all have cake!” Stupid? Yeah, but the positive feedback isn’t. City of Heroes taught me to put some effort into my community and while your own server radio station is awesome it actually starts with the little things like the way you treat your fellow players. They are worth the effort of a full sentence, trust me it pays off.
…comes great responsibility
Sadly I didn’t always use the powers given to me by COH and its players. Sometimes I simply forgot what options they had taught me. Sometimes I even abused them. And I wasn’t the only one. Often the weight of carrying our amazing community was rested on the shoulders of a few brave souls while the rest of us simply enjoyed the benefits. I can neither count nor remember all the times I could have helped other players and didn’t or then I simply spent time hovering in the skies over Atlas, talking in globals, bashing costumes I didn’t like and doing nothing that gives back to the game. New players that would have needed help and advice were instead simply ditched after a mission to go on with more veterans, eager applicants for a supergroup were left hanging because no one had the time or patience to deal with them. While COH made me a better player and taught me the value of investing in my community I am not one of the people who made our game that awesome. I and many others were doing our part to keep it good but we could and sometimes should have done more. There’s a lot more useful stuff to do than spend a whole morning laughing about roleplayers dating in Pocket D. No one needs to be perfect but spending just a little more effort would not have hurt me or my friends. Thinking of oneself as a jaded veteran and simply ignoring the things around oneself is a tempting trap to fall into after a few years and sometimes you have to do it. But maybe a little less often. Especially considering that most players including me have not nearly reached their A-game but instead rest on a level comfortable half-competence that’s simply enough to win at the stuff they usually do. Letting this sort of behavior go out of control will lead to the selfish, uncaring communities you will find in most other games.
Apart from being a little less selfish and a little less rude I can remember a few very specific instances in which I simply should have been better.
- The breakup of Evolution-X in which I took sides without ever hearing out the poor sod who founded the group.
- My less than friendly departure from the Union Supreme in which I needlessly lashed out because I hadn’t realized that the diversity of playstyles is what made Paragon so great.
- The rivalry between Next Gen and the Alexander Cooperation in which I simply used the superior position we had to throw insults at them, humiliate them in a PVP match they couldn’t win and most likely hurt the feelings of our own members who were friends with them more than I realize.
- The numerous times I ignored problems in the supergroup until they grew to such proportions I had to solve them with decisive and hurtful reprimands or even kicks simply because I couldn’t be bothered to take care of them while they were growing.
- The numerous time my directness and fucked up humor insulted people who deserved better.
- The fact that my social skills are simply too limited to ever let DJ Steel and Shecky know how much we appreciate what they did for us.
- … I’ve been in city of heroes for five years just consider that this list could go on for a good while..
A city of villains
In addition from the failings of myself and sometimes my friends Paragon City was plagued by much worse problems. There you find heroes you will find villains and in our case: Supervillains! And no I’m not talking about the expansion “City of Villains” which added the Rogue Isles and more player character options. Strange enough that one worked out so badly that the Heroes and Villains never really even felt like a different faction. Whenever a real threat came up they would pull together to save the world. As it would be during our last days which will be mentioned in part 3 of this. No this is about things outside of the game mechanics. People and circumstances that caused major problems for players. And just like Paragon could reach out to touch lives in a positive side it could also cause real damage. The following list just contains a few examples and strange enough few people were “just” that, sometimes it was a side that came out while others were perfectly nice people except for this one destructive habit.
- The elite roleplayer: The elite roleplayer laughs about your puny biography of 150 words and the casual way you adjust your character to have fun. The elite roleplayer has a 40 page essay about their character and every single thing about them is known. They will never adjust to fit into a group, their story is written. Everyone should adjust to them. Most importantly everyone else needs to be just as serious as them for a single character with an “unfitting” name will ruin his immersion utterly.
- The powertroll: The powertroll somehow took a wrong turn. He doesn’t really like City of Heroes. The game has no balance and not even decent PVP. And all these weirdos who take time to make costumes and talk in weird ways. The powertroll does not understand why puny players waste time with that sort of thing. Time is valuable. But not so valuable that he could not waste hours and hours seeking out these roleplayers he does not understand and running in their mids firing of powers to force them out of their emotes and positions. The powertroll is lonely and needs attention.
- The angry god: While usually a benevolent being protecting the city and creating new content the job of a developer can be draining. And sometimes it is simply easier to blame the customers for “playing the game wrong” instead of admitting a mistake. A classic example would be the otherwise nice Positron’s announcement to CRUSH character that abused the Architect Entertainment system after not remembering that they could use their own anouncement tools to maybe tell people that they don’t approve of this sort of thing weeks before.
- The leech: This is a very simple type of villain. The type who gives nothing back. A community can not survive with people putting effrot into it yet the leech simply takes everything that is offered without ever trying to do anything themselves. Worse the leech will critisize the work of others constantly. As he never has to put in effort he is not burdened by the knowledge of how hard it may be to do something and can freely find things to critisize and nag about.
Yet the final threat did not come from player or even developers. The most dangerous trap of City of Heroes were the shining streets of Paragon City themselves. For all its glory Paragon could not give the comfort of a complete social life. It could not provide achievements to really get a life in order. But it was easy to forget that and for some the rush of superpowered battle, the clubs of inhumanly beautiful people and the addiction of gaining just that bit more power were so dangerous they could damage or even ruin their real lives. It is easy to get lost in a place that provides so much and in that forget that it simply can not give you everything. Jobs were lost, friendships broken, families estranged. There are some people who can not live with just a little of the City, once they had a taste they want nothing else. This is a problem of almost any game but in one like COH that could do so many things better it is especially painful to see that there are some things that even superheroes can’t fix.
Despite its fault City of Heroes was a beloved home for thousands of players and that it could mean so much and be such a fantastic place despite it’s faults only highlights just how good most of it was. Even the downsides were usually problems that could be solved by simply finding groups and channels more suited to your particular preference. As with everything else City of Heroes needs you to know then to take a break and then to find new people to hang out with. Most importantly you needed to understand that you didn’t need to force your preferences on anyone. You could simply move through the community until you found the right place for you. Paragon City was a plaze that rewarded tolerance not zeal. The city of heroes was not perfect. But it was the best.
Next time I’ll talk about the sudden and undeserved end and the last stand of the COH-players. Something most of us will be both sad and proud of for a long time.