Image: iStockphoto/gorodenkoff

According to a recent study published by Gismart, the number of active users of apps and games has increased by 200% since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. Even the World Health Organization has launched a campaign to encourage people living under stay at home restrictions to participate in digital game play. These are truly unprecedented times.

The joys and benefits of playing digital games are well known to those of us who engage in the activity on a regular basis, but those of you with less gaming experience, particularly online gaming experience, may be a little confused and slightly intimidated by the prospect. To be certain, online gaming has a reputation for being a little rough on “newbies,” but we can help relieve most of those trepidations with this set of practical tips to guide and help new players enter, and eventually master, the wonderous world of online gaming.

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10 tips to help new online players

1. Have fun

While at first glance, this tip would seem to be obvious, you might be surprised at how many gamers seem to forget it on a regular basis. People (all mammals really) use game play to stimulate and exercise their most important organ—the brain. The point of games is to try new things and have new experiences without suffering the real-world consequences that come from failure and defeat. Games are not supposed to add more stress to an already stressful life—they are supposed to relieve that stress. So, relax, take a deep breath, and have fun.

2. Play your game

While the term “online gaming” is most often associated with first-person shooters (FPS) like Fortnite and Call of Duty or massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPG) like World of Warcraft and Elder Scrolls Online, they are not the only types of games available.

Some of the more popular games–the ones not receiving the headlines–are based on old board games, familiar card games, or puzzle solving. For example, if you and your friends normally play poker once a month, keep doing it, just do it online. You don’t have to play the “popular” game that everyone else is supposedly playing—don’t fall for the hype.

3. Prepare yourself

Whatever game you choose to play, there is no greater newbie sin than jumping online and not knowing what the game is about. Particularly with games in the FPS and MMORPG categories, it is important to at least know something about the game before you enter the game world.

There are huge active online communities for most online games, and they are a great resource for learning the basic story, the basic gameplay, and the technical problems to avoid. Before jumping into a game, check out the associated websites, read the forums on the official site, and watch an hour or two of streaming play on Twitch or YouTube to get a feel for how everything works.

4. Bring friends and make friends

One of the most enjoyable ways to enter an online game is by bringing along some friends. Sharing the experience of learning a new game with real-life friends creates memories that can last a lifetime. It is also one of the best ways to make new friends inside the game—the more fun you and your friends have the more new friends you will attract.

5. Start slow, learn the ropes

It depends on the game of course, but in general, there are levels of player proficiency involved with any online game. Less experienced gamers should stick to tutorial and beginner levels while hardcore gamers will want to seek tougher competition in the advanced ranks. As a newcomer to the scene, stick to levels that match your skill set and then progress to advanced competition. You’ll get more out of the experience and have much more fun.

Horde garrison in World of Warcraft.

6. Use provided controls

Unfortunately, just like the real world, the online world contains a small but noticeable population of jerks. You know the type—people who can only derive a semblance of joy by zapping some of the joy out of your life. Toxic people like this should be avoided whenever and wherever you encounter them.

Most online games provide you with a set of tools for blocking and reporting toxic behavior and naming the individuals responsible for it. Treat the identification and reporting of these jerks as your patriotic duty to the gaming community.

7. Make online existence kid-friendly

In conjunction with identifying and reporting toxic jerks in the game world, you should also take steps to make the online experience kid-friendly before allowing younger people into the game world. Toxic people don’t seem to have filters, regardless of another player’s age or temperament.

For example, MMORPGs are often safe gaming environments for preteens with a certain level of maturity, but only when other random players are eliminated from the equation. Most games have tools to block general and open chat channels, which will isolate younger children from the larger player base. With a few tweaks, children (and frankly, anyone else) can restrict interaction to known friends and associates. Take advantage of these tools when necessary.

8. Don’t overspend or overplay

Many online games have a feature that players have dubbed “pay-to-win,” which can get new gamers into trouble. In a nutshell, here is how it works:

An online game will advertise that it is “free-to-play,” and all that is required is a download. However, after you start playing, you realize that to progress at a reasonable speed in the game you should have better armor, weapons, and perhaps a mount. You now have a choice—grind for hours to possibly achieve those items or pay a few real dollars now to guarantee you get those items and that you get them instantly.

The problem is that the money you spend for better loot the first time will only get you so far. You will quickly find that there is even better loot just a few dollars more away, and so on and so on. Some gamers realize too late that they have spent hundreds of dollars on a game that was supposed to be free-to-play. Don’t get caught by this potential trap.

On a similar note, online games are designed to tap into your neurological desire to successfully achieve a goal and get rewarded. The virtual rewards of leveling a character, getting new talents, new stuff, and becoming more powerful actually manifest in a physical release of dopamine. In the simplest of terms, leveling feels good.

For most people, this is a pleasant experience with no harmful consequences. However, for some people gaming can become an addiction, with real chronic symptoms requiring specialized treatment. Even though many of us are spending a great deal of time at home, gaming–and everything else for that matter–should be undertaken with moderation in mind.

9. Don’t overshare and practice commonsense security

One thing gamers often overlook when they jump online is common sense security. While you are just playing a game, you are also logging in to a server with thousands, perhaps millions, of other people. Some of them are bound to have malicious intent. And not just malicious intent to steal your in-game stuff either—poor security practices could expose more than just that cool new sword you looted last night.

Practice common sense security measures when setting up any online account:

  • Use strong passwords (not the same password as any other account)
  • Never share a password
  • Make sure your kids don’t share passwords with friends
  • Never share personal information with strangers in game
  • Don’t share personal information like mother’s maiden name with anyone online
  • Don’t click links in emails that appear to be from your game’s publisher
  • Be careful which email account you use for your account
  • Don’t click links from strangers from inside the game
  • The game publisher will never ask for your password

10. Show grace under fire

This touches on the jerk problem mentioned earlier. Don’t be one of the jerks.

Don’t be the toxic person that sucks joy from others. Be kind. Show grace in both defeat and victory. And you will experience defeat and failure and embarrassment, so be ready for it.

The whole point of playing games (not gambling) is to have fun. If you loose perspective and start applying real life consequences to the loss of virtual imaginary stuff, you may end up being one of the jerks and you don’t want that.

The other thing to keep in mind is that how you act in an online game produces a lasting impression on the rest of the community. The character you create is your avatar. It has an identity and you are earning a reputation every time you log in. Earning a bad reputation circumvents gaming principles and places real life consequences on your play.

Dalaran in Crystalsong Forest World of Warcraft.

Digital gaming

In good times and bad, games provide social interaction, brain stimulus, and a sense of community. Playing games is just a natural part of being human—something we can all do. Extending games to the online world is an obvious way to add to the pool of potential positive interactions. Just be sure to prepare yourself and your family before you jump in with both feet.

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