Online video game communities have gained a reputation as being highly annoying at best and poison-filled pits at their worst—and the sentiment is not unwarranted. I clearly remember my early Xbox Live experiences, when being called a monkey, ape-boy, and worse was a regular occurrence during Burnout 3: Takedown sessions.
That was my first true foray into online gaming. I briefly tinkered with Xband in the 1990s, and its awfulness prompted me to stop playing online with strangers for a long, long time. In fact, reviewing games is what made me return to online gaming, because multiplayer action is such a huge component in contemporary titles. It was not at all shocking to see that the online experience had worsened during the Xbox 360 era.
Call me a sucka if you will, but I don't need -isms and -phobias screamed into my ear by maladjusted humans as I attempt to kick back with a game of choice. The everyday world, after all, is already a dark place filled with injustices of all sorts.
Yet, I've come around to the idea of engaging in online communities again thanks to the wonderful Fire Pro Wrestling World fan base.
As I stated in my in-depth Fire Pro Wrestling World preview, I've logged 40+ hours in the game, with a significant chunk of that time spent playing others in online bouts. Though Fire Pro Wrestling World lacks an integrated voice chat component, it has a text box that lets you communicate with another fan either before or after a match. I've used it far more than I would've imagined.
The last Fire Pro game that I religiously played was the Dreamcast version, which came out in 2001. That's a long time between Fire Pro games, which means I missed out on several gameplay additions. So, when I fired up Fire Pro Wrestling World on my gaming PC, I had many questions. What are Concrete matches? What are Pro Wrestling matches? What are Corner to Center attacks? I didn't find many answers during my first few hours with the game.
That is, until I decided to utilize the aforementioned in-game text chat. I expected snark and bile, but instead found myself paired with people who were genuinely eager to assist me. In fact, our conversations often extended beyond Fire Pro to touch upon wrestling as a whole. And, at other times, we didn't even talk video games at all. I've added one of those kind souls to my Steam Friends list, so that we can run matches and test our Edits before uploading them to the Steam Workshop.
And on the topic of the Steam Workshop, it would a large mistake on my part not to give massive props to the Fire Pro die hards who are grinding away creating Edit characters. Developer Spike Chunsoft moved away from the series' rich history of including thinly veiled versions of real-life wrestlers, leaving it to Fire Pro stalwarts to supply the community with Hulk Hogans, Kenta Kobashis, Super Delphins, and other notable wrestlers, sports entertainers, pop culture stars, and politicians. At the time of this writing, there are more than 11,000 Edits in the Workshop, ranging from the silly to the sublime. Sometimes those two sectors overlap.
People give props to well-made Edits, and offer constructive criticism to those that could use a more work. Constructive criticism, not "you suck, die slow!" I haven't seen that in many online gaming forums.
I have a running hypothesis about why the Fire Pro Wrestling World community is so welcoming: Relatively small, but passionate, fan bases are happy to see to their game enjoyed by others, so its members are eager to lead you down the path toward happiness. This isn't exclusive to the Fire Pro community.
I've had terrific interactions with the Tecmo Bowl online community, too. I discovered the fan-run TecmoBowl.org shortly after Eli Manning led the New York Giants to a victory in Super Bowl XLII. I was curious to see if anyone still played one of my all-time favorite sports games, and discovered the vibrant community after a short Google search. Not only did I learn that community members tweaked Tecmo Super Bowl's ROM to include all the NFL teams, but they also updated the rosters on a regular basis. The forum members were incredibly cool, pointed me toward FAQs to get the game up and running on my PC, and encouraged me to jump online to play with others. It was fun!
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Certainly, there are Grade A assholes in the Fire Pro community—every group has That Guy, after all—but I've yet to experience Fire Pro Wrestling World-related venom. Except for the one person who went on a rant after I absolutely squashed him, that is.
Of course, text-based communication removes people's ability to assume your race or gender based on your voice, but I know of too many other forums where even that doesn't prevent a random poster from acting a fool.
This shouldn't, by any means, be mistaken for me glossing over the awfulness that permeates online video game culture. Not at all. But in an era filled with people spewing trash on a daily basis, it's worth appreciating the people who provide a warm place to play.