It’s Not the Band I Hate; It’s Their Fans

I have never played Path of Exile. I probably never will.

A promotional screenshot from the action RPG Path of ExileThis is not entirely because it’s a game that doesn’t appeal to me. As a free to play fantasy ARPG, it’s in my wheelhouse enough that it should theoretically be worth a look, if nothing else. Unfortunately, its community has done a singularly good job of turning me off the game.

You see, I can’t recall ever hearing anyone say anything good about Path of Exile that wasn’t couched in the form of a dig at Diablo III.

This is a turn-off on a number of levels.

Firstly, if the only good thing you can say about your game is that it’s not another game, well, that’s not exactly a ringing endorsement, is it? Drawing comparisons is one thing, but any game should be able to stand on its own merits.

Second, there is a strong streak of elitism in the criticism leveled at Diablo III, and therefore also in the praise of PoE. While some people do have legitimate grievances of D3 that I won’t argue with, a lot of the time it’s people who seem to think it’s too “dumbed down” and childish, whereas PoE is a “real” ARPG with “proper” skill trees and an appropriately “mature” tone. UPHILL. IN THE SNOW. BOTH WAYS. LIKE A REAL MAN. GRR.

Related to the above, a lot of the things people hate D3 for are the very same things I like about it. I like that I don’t need to Google a guide to figure out my build. I like that experimentation is encouraged. I like that freedom and flexibility.

My crusader in Diablo IIIThe end result is that I have been given the overwhelming impression that PoE is not just a game that isn’t for me, but a game designed for and occupied by people who don’t want players like me around.

Now, I grant it is possible — nay, probable — that I am being unfair. I don’t doubt that a great many people playing Path of Exile are perfectly fine, and not embittered edgelord elitists. It’s also quite possible it’s a fine game I might enjoy.

Unfortunately, the embittered edgelord elitists are the ones you hear from most often, so for me they have become the face of PoE and its community. They’re the first thing I think of when I think of the game, and it’s a negative association that’s gotten so ingrained over the years that it’s hard to overcome.

I started off this post thinking only about Path of Exile, but mulling it over, it occurs to me that PoE is not the first gaming experience I’ve been turned off of by the community.

Despite the fact I’ve playing MMORPGs avidly for the better part of a decade now, I’ve never really gotten into raiding, as longtime readers undoubtedly know. I flirted with it during Wrath of the Lich King and Cataclysm, but once the Raid Finder was added, I gave up on “real” raiding forever. Not even my beloved Secret World could make me care about its raids. I never even attempted them.

On reflection, this has at least as much to do with raiders as it does with raids.

A raid group in World of WarcraftMy experience with the raiding community has been almost uniformly one of bitterness, scorn, and elitism. Raiders are the ones who spent years calling me a “filthy casual,” and that’s by far the least offensive label I’ve been given. Raiders are the ones who fly off the handle the moment anyone like me has even a shot at minimal progression. Raiders are the ones I saw treating everyone outside their clique as something less than human.

And again, I know not all raiders are like that. Many are just fine, I know. But that was the prevailing experience I’ve had with raiders. That is the public face of the raiding community, and that bile is what immediately comes to mind for me when I think of raiding.

And that is one of the driving reasons why I never became a raider. There are other things I don’t love about raiding — such as the time commitments — but the community turned me off so badly I never had much motivation to give it a serious shot. Maybe I never would have gotten into raiding anyway, but we’ll never know.

My disinterest in PvP is also affected by this kind of community negativity. Never, in my entire WoW career, have I seen a battleground team lose with good grace. It always ends in name-calling and rage, without exception.

Now, PvP is fairly outside what I find compelling in games to begin with, and I have other issues with PvP outside the community, but the experience I’ve had with people who PvP hasn’t improved matters. PvP was never going to be a favourite activity for me, but it might have made up a larger portion of my gaming diet if my experience with its community had been one of sportsmanship and respect rather than a teeming mass of homophobes, tea-baggers, and nerd-raging man-children.

My rather pitiful rank in Heroes of the StormAll this is just more testament to how negativity and toxicity is poisoning gaming. If you want your hobby to prosper, you need to present a welcoming face, not elitism and hostility.

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Exploring Audio Dramas: From Quiet, Please to Limetown

Lately I’ve been looking for new ways to occupy my time during dinner. Usually I like to watch “TV” (on my computer — I haven’t owned an actual television in years), but I’ve been trying to save money on streaming services like Netflix, especially since there isn’t much on said services I really want to see at the moment.

The Broadcast mission in The Secret WorldThis past October I had the idea for a seasonally appropriate diversion. One of my favourite ever pieces of content in The Secret World was the Halloween mission “The Broadcast,” which involved a series of haunted radios. Exorcising all nine radios awarded the player with an in-game item they could use to listen to the audio dramas playing on the radios at any time.

It’s an incredibly cool idea, but I’d never really gotten around to sitting down and listening to them, with the exception of the famous Orson Welles War of the Worlds broadcast. I suppose the idea of radio plays just seemed a bit quaint in this day and age, though I now regret that rather narrow-minded view.

At any rate, this year I decided to finally dig out my Paranormal Shortwave and listen to the remaining eight dramas. They were a bit hit and miss, and some really haven’t aged well, but on the whole it proved a surprisingly enjoyable experience.

It takes a little getting used to, but once you become accustomed to the lack of visual stimuli, it’s amazing how easy it is to get lost in the stories. There’s something deeply immersive about pure audio.

My two favourites of the dramas I listened to in TSW (Northern Lights and The Thing on the Fourble Board) were both from a show called Quiet, Please. They were delightfully surrealistic pieces of Lovecraftian horror.

I find there’s something about the audio format that makes horror much more palatable for me. Normally I’m not much of a horror fan, my delirious love for TSW notwithstanding. But as I’ve talked about before, I do enjoy horror that can create a sense of ambiance. Something that’s spooky, rather than scary.

Audio is less immediate and yet somewhat paradoxically more immersive than most other forms of fiction, and that hits a perfect sweet spot for delivering the kind of ambient experience I seek from horror.

My positive experiences with Quiet, Please and the other dramas in TSW left me wanting more. I was already peripherally aware that the audio drama format is undergoing something of a low key renaissance and that there were many free audio dramas online, so I began researching them.

When I looked for recommendations, one name came up over and over: Limetown.

An official banner for the podcast drama LimetownFrom its description, I took Limetown to be a supernatural mystery in the vein of TSW, and I jumped on it. I’ve spent the last few weeks getting caught up, and I’ve now enjoyed every episode of the two seasons that have been produced so far.

Limetown blew me away out of the gate. The voice acting, the mystery, and the sheer ambiance of it was just impeccable. It’s strange to praise the sound design of an audio drama since sound design is basically all it is, but still, the sound design of Limetown is flawless. The subtle background sounds and foley effects put you in the moment so brilliantly.

I think it’s fascinating that at no point has Limetown given any significant physical description of its main character, Lia Haddock, yet I can picture her perfectly in my mind.

I will say that as time went on my love for Limetown did wain a bit. Going in, I was worried it would be another story where questions keep getting piled on without any answers, but it actually ended up being the opposite extreme. Limetown is perhaps a bit too quick to offer answers and resolve its big questions.

Also, I found it slowly became less about the speculative elements of the story and gravitated more towards being a simple thriller a la Jason Bourne or its ilk. As a sci-fi/fantasy nerd, that disappointed me.

That being said, it’s still pretty damn good. All the praise above regarding voice acting and sound design remains true throughout, and it never fails to be a thrilling, intense story. It might not have 100% lived up to the promise of its first few episodes, but at the end of the day I’ve only downgraded Limetown from “absolute masterpiece” to “pretty good and definitely worth your time.”

There’s no word yet on if there will be a third season of Limetown, but I certainly hope for one. The story is there, waiting to be told.

The producers seem to have ambitions to make this a whole franchise. There’s already a prequel novel (which I will probably read at some point), and in theory there’s supposed to be a TV series at some point (on Facebook of all places).

For my part, I need to find a new audio drama to listen to.

I feel silly for not pursuing the idea long ago. As I said, I have been aware of audio dramas for some time. I produced* a short series of them when I was a teenager, for Pete’s sake, and I’ve also listened to Blizzard’s forays into the medium with its audio Legion tie-ins.

*(By which I mean did very little and somehow got nearly all of the credit.)

Well, better late than never. Now, I understand the appeal. Now, I have heard the future.

(Limetown fans will understand that last bit.)