Great Community, By The Way – The Other Side of Toxicity

I want to start this post very simply – I really, really enjoy Final Fantasy XIV. I think it is a fantastic MMO and a breath of fresh air for me quite often.

I want to say this, however, and this will become the theme of the post – there is an undeniable undercurrent to the community that cuts against the perception of the playerbase that everyone has.

One of the most uncontroversial statements you can make in the MMO space right now is that FFXIV has a great community. I agree with that statement, because it is true. In-game, people are generally polite, respectful, and the game has robust community policy enforcement for those who step out of line. This is especially stark in contrast with World of Warcraft, a game which oozes toxicity from most modes of play. There are all kinds of issues, from the way PvP is just an utterly vile pit of human depravity (join a random BG on the losing team and just see) to the total free-for-all that happens in most city chat channels, coupled with a completely obvious lack of meaningful enforcement from Blizzard. I’ve never had any slurs in any chat I’ve seen in FFXIV, and I have confidence that if I did see one and reported it, it would be acted upon. In WoW, the report function is effectively just a really-good account level block – because you know Blizzard won’t do shit about it, so you just hit it to mute all characters on an account globally (life hack!). It is such a failure of community management that Blizzard doing anything about it at all is a bullet point on the features list for 9.1.5!

In WoW, my experience as a player is very carefully cultivated by me. Most of my characters have left City General and Trade chats. I make frequent use of ignore and report when people are shitty and I’d be better-suited to not play with them again. I put out only what I want into the World (of Warcraft) with polite chat interactions, casual help stated and framed as suggestions, and generally try to be congenial and polite with everyone I play with. I’ve also been keen to add friends and keep in-contact with people who I vibe with on that level, and there have been multiple times where I’ve regrouped with players further down the road to run content or even just to have fun generally – before I briefly unsubscribed from WoW at the end of July, I ran a +2 with a group I had pushed keys with earlier in Season 2 of Shadowlands just for fun, and we smashed the dungeon to pieces and had a lot of fun.

As a blogger (I almost said content-creator but oof I don’t like that term), I tend to be a little more vitriolic about the game itself – as a flavor and voice thing, but I always bring my best data and arguments for it and try not to whine about the game excessively. It’s not always great – what’s new?

As I have expanded my focus to Final Fantasy XIV more over time, I’ve kept largely the same style and voice. When I write about FFXIV, I try to use the game-specific jargon (it’s glamour, not transmog) and I generally couch my writing about the game as an opinion.

My experience writing about WoW is this – even at my most vitriolic (any post about Sylvanas past 2018), most WoW players who come and read are generally fine and engage with the discussion well, even when they disagree. In my FFXIV catalog, however, I have basically two posts that sort of challenge the game from a more critical angle (even as they also both confer praise on the game) – my post about raiding difficulty comparison of the two games, and my recent Inversion post discussing things I personally think WoW does better than FFXIV.

I’ve already spoiled this in a few recent posts, but let’s take a guess – which game’s fans have been more banned from my comment section?

It’s FFXIV.

In fact, there is only one person I’ve ever banned from commenting via a WoW post, and the post wasn’t even really about the game itself but rather a social experience I’d had in the game! On the other hand, I’ve now banned 4 people from commenting due to being shitty in the comments of an FFXIV post – mostly in defense of the game (1 of them seemed to be from a mindset we’ll get into later here, but the other 3 were uncritical supporters of FFXIV).

For me, I actively welcome disagreement – but if you say I’ve “never played the game” (there is a broad wealth of writing and screenshots here suggesting otherwise, but go off) or get shitty towards me (or other commenters, for that matter), I don’t care what the context – banhammer goes down. I don’t owe anyone a platform on my site but myself – I find value in comments and I like having discussions with all kinds of people, even ones who don’t agree with me, but if you’re going to namecall, insult, or otherwise be an asshole, I’ll ban you without thinking about it. In the case of the Inversion post, there was a fair point to be made about a mistake I had made (implying that Mogstation-purchased dyes could be resold for Gil, which was inaccurate), but the 4 who caught these bans couldn’t just point that out with grace.

But I’m not interested in getting much deeper into my menchies, because I find that vapid.

What I want to talk about here is the differences I’ve observed from both communities that I think get glossed over, and that is the in-game versus out of game experience. As a blogger and someone who goes to the subreddits for both games and reads the comments, I find it fascinating the contrasts.

For the WoW community, in-game, they have a reputation that I think is earned as being largely toxic. I refuse to PvP in WoW because every time I do, there’s slurs and insults, shitty behavior, at least one Caps Lock Commando, a really angry (and underperforming) loser, and a general shitshow that I find little value in. It is a shame, because I did genuinely enjoy WoW PvP for a long time – I played multiple hour AV matches in vanilla, ran AB back to back to back when it launched, did my fair share of Warsong Gulch, and even did a premade WSG match at the first Blizzcon. I spent a good chunk of Wrath inside Strand of the Ancients, and it was fine for quite some time. I don’t know when it shifted, but it did.

However, I think something about WoW fans I’ve observed is that by venting in the game, they are often kinder outside of it. Not always, certainly (I don’t think Taliesin and Evitel’s YouTube channel would have ever succeeded if this was universally true), but most people I engage with across this site, YouTube comments, Wowhead, Twitter, and other forms of social media are generally pretty okay outside of the game. I can’t speak to how all of them are inside the game, but outside of it, I think there’s a good discussion that can, generally, be had. My theory is pretty straightforward – because they can be caustic and vent their frustrations in the game, there’s no need to outside of it. I also think that most WoW fans generally accept that the game is declining and has been for a little while now, and I’ve heard the phrase “nobody hates WoW like WoW fans” which I agree with. For myself, I don’t feel any real need to defend the game – a spade is a spade and I get that modern WoW is certainly not for everyone, and a big chunk of that is the design.

This is part of my theory about FFXIV’s community – in-game, there’s no place for that negative energy to go, so when they leave the game itself, they vent it in all sorts of directions at people it has nothing to do with, or to talk shit about the people they just played with. FFXIV fans are also, generally, far more loving of their game and thus far more likely to defend it, even if the criticism they choose to engage with is very soft and itself grounded in an enjoyment of the game. For example, a comment on my raiding difficulty comparison post brought a fan out of the woodwork who was insistent that comparing the two MMOs was wrong – not because of any technical error, but just that it was wrong because they were different games. I went to excessive length to very carefully not rank either game above the other because they are different and well, fuck me for trying I guess?

Defending the game against slights, whether real or imagined, is a theme. A lot of the recent shitshow with WoW creators trying the game has been against boosting, which like, I get it, but also, stop badgering people about their choices! Like, the WoW creators like Limit Max that I saw boosting and getting shit for it were people who don’t care about the story – they aren’t saying it’s bad or they hate it, just that it’s not what they are here for. That isn’t an attack in the slightest on FFXIV, but it brought out this massive wave of people criticizing them, and even in posts on the FFXIV subreddit, the discussion was mixed – fairly grounded and pointing out the nature of these players and the choice they had made, but there was always a voice in the other direction – they’re doing it wrong and this is an affront. Which then raises the counter-question – if it is wrong, why does Square Enix even sell boosts?

But speaking of doing it wrong, there is a bigger and more toxic aspect to the underbelly of FFXIV’s community.

One of my early Shadowbringers experiences was marked when I found the Tales from the Duty Finder subreddit. Tales from the DF is basically where the elitist end of FFXIV players go to talk down on players they ran into. Sometimes, I sympathize with the posters who do these things nicely – they’re trying to help an underperforming player by talking them through a rotation, or assisting with learning a new job, and usually end up in that subreddit because the player on the receiving end of the gentle assist melts down. Sometimes, it’s a very good subreddit when they call out players using slurs, being transphobic or homophobic, and generally just being jerks. A lot of the time, the people posting there are the jerks.

One of the big things that FFXIV has is a rule against third-party tools. Because the game has no built-in damage meter, this means that getting usable data on your performance requires a third-party tool, like Advanced Combat Tracker or FFLogs. The community understanding, reinforced by YoshiP, is that so long as these tools aren’t being used to belittle or harass other players, they’re fine. So in-game, you’ll rarely see people mention performance. However, subreddits like Tales from the DF are where the types of people who would dump on you in WoW for being just beneath them in DPS end up, so they can spew all the epic clapbacks they would have had if only the pesky game didn’t have rules! And sometimes, that’s fine – a lot of the people in these are doing hard content and meeting with players that don’t know what they’re doing, but some of them are also super mad about people learning the game, which always feels a little bad to me.

I do want to be kind here and say that upon revisiting the Tales from the Duty Finder subreddit in researching this post, it has gotten a lot nicer and better overall than it was near the start of Shadowbringers. Back then, it was toxicity city, hoo boy. Even now, it can be hard to tell what is genuine and what is being snipped and shown out of context for memes or upvotes.

All of this ties into a central meme you might hear as you dig deeper into FFXIV – GCBTW, or “great community, by the way.” If someone says this, especially acronymized, you know they’re dunking on the group without outright saying it. Sometimes, I think there’s a tension enabled by the rules and enforcement in FFXIV that creates a problem – wanting to help someone improve, done politely, is a kindness and the sort of group dynamic that MMOs thrive on, but there is an effect of silencing genuine help if there’s a fear, however irrational, that one might be suspended temporarily for it. Players telling each other they got suspended for “trying to help” devoid of context creates a perception that if you bother another person in any way, you’ll get suspended, which is inaccurate. A lot of the people I’ve seen complain about these things often “try to help” in shitty ways, which is what gets them suspended and then they create the legend of how they were “trying to help” as the means to absolve them of wrong-doing.

A lot of the origins of this meme come from people responding irrationally to basic help, though – it really is a two-way street. The funny thing is that generally, I’ve had so few negative interactions directly in FFXIV, and even if I add the shitty commenters to that count, it still pales in comparison to the number of negative interactions I’ve had in the same timespan in WoW, so take that as it is. The plural of anecdote is not data – and thus I would have a hard time saying that the GCBTW meme, the Tales from the DF subreddit, or the experiences of content creators being dogpiled by FFXIV fans are representative in any great measure.

All of that prefaces one final story I want to tell in more depth today – the tale of Scottzone.

I’ve hinted at this in prior posts about the seedier side of FFXIV, but today I want to cast aside hinting to say it directly – there is an element of the FFXIV community that is just as vile, awful, and bad as anything I could say I’ve seen or heard of in WoW. Scottzone was (was) a streamer who got big on Twitch by streaming FFXIV through the end of Stormblood into Shadowbringers. His streams, documenting his move from WoW to FFXIV, were popular and gained him a fairly large viewership as he went strolling through the content on the way to Shadowbringers launch. He then had a video with a fairly standard opinion that a lot of WoW players have about FFXIV – that the standard raid tier size in FFXIV is small, at 4 bosses compared to WoW’s 8-13 boss tiers. It’s different – neither good nor bad, but if you’re used to the content cadence of WoW, having 4 bosses for a period of time, however quickly the next tier comes, can feel a bit small and unsatisfying comparatively. FFXIV fans were not having it ad gave him a big negative reception on that video, with multiple DMs attacking him personally, his content, telling him to leave because “we don’t want you,” and the cherry on top, a death threat with his home address, family work locations, and a demand that he stop playing FFXIV. He shared this on Twitch with blurred out information minus the fake email address used, and was banned for a month from Twitch because that email being displayed violated ToS. The threatener got what they wanted – Scottzone stopped playing FFXIV, stopped streaming, and gave up on the community.

FFXIV fans have handwaved this away in some places I’ve seen – that the person writing the threat wasn’t a fan of the game, that it could have been made up, etc – and I just find myself thinking that anyone who was getting 1,000+ concurrent viewers on Twitch giving that up is a sign that something bad happened, and it totally fits. The FFXIV community takes a lot of pride in being so well-lauded, in being the poster children of what an MMO fanbase can be, and I think they are that, more often than not. In writing this, I want to be clear that all of the vileness seems to be outliers – that it isn’t indicative of a larger underbelly waiting to be exposed or anything so scandalous. But I do think that the way a community stays good and manages to grow without becoming a cesspool is to acknowledge that not everyone is a perfect angel, that the fanbase has its problems, and that there is progress to be made – that not every comparison of FFXIV to another game that favors the other game is an attack, that people can like different things about the game without that being an indictment of you or the game, and that some people will just not like FFXIV – and that’s okay. I have a few people in my life I’ve tried to sell on the game, failed at it, and we move on. There’s nothing to be gained from going hypertoxic in response, and in fact, you’re more likely just pushing people further away from the game you claim to love.

In general, in fact, and in closing, I want to say this – we all have an opportunity to be more kind to each other in general. The world beats us all down in various ways and the last thing most of us want is for our hobbies to be battlegrounds. We can help shape the communities around us, regardless of game or setting, by being what we want to see and helping to ensure that is reflected in the space around us.

Oh god, this is getting a little dopey now, eh?

Well, I guess I can end in a different direction – be fucking nicer, or I’ll smash your shitty comment into pieces with the banhammer.

Eh, that’s an overcorrection too.

6 thoughts on “Great Community, By The Way – The Other Side of Toxicity

  1. Asking for help is such a minefield in gaming, let alone MMOs, that I think most folks shy away from it. Not many want to admit they are a learner when that can easily mean you get abuse from a toxic player or get just plain wrong advice from a know-it-all. Often both of those being combined in a single person. Until the various communities make serious efforts to stamp out these types of ‘grovel at my holy font of knowledge for I am better than you’ situations no one is going to be comfortable asking for help except from those they know and trust.

    There’s also some tribal issues with Wow and FF14. Wow is that being toxic, being a dick is a supported behavior in Wow. Can’t have that WAR in Warcraft if you don’t trash talk others, if you aren’t ready to stick it to other players. In many ways it feels like a bunch of nerds trying to get revenge for others perceived meanness to them. Can’t make someone miserable in real life, but boy can they try to be a jerk to others in game. And get away with it.

    As far as FF4 goes, it feels like if you dare say the community might have problems, here and there, a few grab their torches and pitchforks to drive out the heretics. They must go forth to purify things so that they can continue to be all kittens and sunshine and a shining example to all other MMOs. The irony being obvious.

    As with real life, the middle who can give and receive constructive criticism are quietly enjoying their games. They are so busy having fun they don’t feel the need to join any of the conversations going on. Thus subsets who are vocal end up constantly setting the tone and topics of various conversations.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This post sums up everything I’ve been feeling about FFXIV for years, and more, and I’ve been playing (more or less off-and-on) since 2.0 launched.

    The community is amazing, except (the rare occasion) when it isn’t, and the bad apples don’t reflect on the community as a whole, but they are absolutely something we need to be aware of and strive not to add to if at all possible.

    It’s heartening to see that it isn’t just me feeling refreshed by the community as a whole compared to, say, WoW, but also feeling wary of the toxic edges that even we have arise on occasion.

    Thank you for your hard work and your very insightful post! May you ever walk in the light of the Crystal!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Been playing XIV since ARR and it’s gets so exhausting. I was so disillusioned with the community because they refuse any criticism of the game. The latest thing they do now is if they perceive someone as toxic (not falling into their bubble of oblivious behavior) they tell them to go back to WoW. They really are repressed. And if you check the main subreddit, you can never spark discussion because it’s always downvoted into the abyss. That said, fortunately there are places where people don’t hide from the truth but engage in critical discussions and excellent arguments. You should check you xivdiscussion.

    Like

  4. Thank you, it’s something I’ve seen small hints of and had suspicions-really anytime you have a community of millions on the internet, no matter how lauded it is for its wholesomeness and greatness, people gonna people, and I always worry that these kinds of self-congratulatory claims often serve to let toxic elements fester unobserved/unmonitored and seep into the community. By this I mean that of course the community can’t have toxic elements seep into it-it’s such a great community! Of course any toxicity can’t be an indicator of a greater issue, because it’s such a great community! etc. I’ve played Warframe on and off for years, easily on my top five gaming experiences I’ve had, but the players also like to pat themselves on the back for the greatness and loveliness of the community. I stopped playing for a few years and haven’t returned though because some things said, uncritically, in-game and some community responses to incidents were so vile that it was a long, long time before I could bear to play another large-scale multiplayer game. FF14 still seems overall miles beyond many other large scale multiplayer experiences, and I think both the producers and community are overall exceptional at preventing the kind of toxicity that’s so common as to be *expected* in these games and at this scale, but an unaddressed sickness can easily grow. Becoming notably kind and then staying that way/not being shitty about it are very different tasks.

    Like

  5. You should try tanking or healing even leveling dungeons. That is the single most toxic place in game in FFXIV. If I’m tank I ask please wait for me to pull, if group doesn’t like you get the boot. I have my DRK dungeon mount but sure kick me cause your pulling as DPS. If your a DPS and you don’t die you seldom notice the toxicity. Try tanking or healing and not specifically doing whatever that party desires. Most groups are good but these are toxic memories. That and sitting for literally an entire 24 hrs human to buy a house in game to have one alliance members not give a crap and move their house there…

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.