I learned to type quickly, efficiently, and accurately playing Everquest. While other people I knew were enrolled in typing classes to increase their speed and precision, I was trying to keep up with my Befallen group, letting them know between heals that I was low on mana, and had about three pulls left in me before I needed a rest. I learned to communicate on the internet through text primarily.
When I started raiding in World of Warcraft, VoIP was still relatively new; the idea of logging onto a server to talk with internet strangers was a bit much for a lot of people. I thought it was fascinating, and quickly joined the server. If memory serves, I was one of the first, and I realized that when I spoke out loud, people would listen, largely because I was one of the only people (in a raid group of 40) who would talk aloud. Eventually, the raid required that people at least log into the server, though no one was required to talk and we kept a close eye on the chat log.
Over time, we got comfortable with each other and more and more people spoke. There was always a miniature celebration when someone who’d lurked for months or sometimes years would finally speak up– it wasn’t always great for people’s anxiety about speaking to begin with, but it was as welcoming as any of us knew how to be. We were always happy to hear a new voice, and I know a lot of people built up confidence in just talking to others through our raid– I know this because I was one of them, and I’ve talked to others.
Now, pretty much all of my in-game communication is over voice. When folks are all playing the same game, voice chat is hopping and busy, with people congregating into one or more channels to play games together, or even just chat while we play. It’s so embedded into my sense of gaming that I (and others) have arranged our gaming spaces so that we can sit on voice and play games together, even if we’re on a console and not the PC. It’s like an extended living room where we’re all playing together, except better, because we can customize it for our own comfort.
I occasionally run into other folks who are reticent to log into voicechat, or shy about speaking. I understand it; I was there once. My approach now is the same as it was then– if someone feels like joining the server, great! If not, no worries. If we’re doing something where they absolutely need to listen, I’ll ask that they log in and listen; but no one is ever required to say anything. At this point, it’s pretty comfortable, I think, and I hope people feel welcome joining us.
I get a lot out of being able to communicate verbally with my teammates while in a group. It makes the experience feel a lot more “multiplayer”, to me, to the point where even playing with others in a game without voice, I feel like I’m playing solo. If I feel like playing alone, I’ll simply not log into voice, though more often I’ll join voicechat even playing a solo game.
One of the things I really want is the ability to loop services like Teamspeak and Ventrilo into my consoles. One of the things that keeps me off of playing games on my console is my inability to use the VoIP server that my friends hang out on. I would pay good money for a controller with a push-to-talk button and a plugin for Teamspeak. If one of the major consoles released with Teamspeak support, I’d likely use it exclusively for my console gaming, and I’d get to spend more time on my comfy couch.
At this point, I can’t imagine not having the group of folks to log in and “play games with”, even if we’re all playing different games. When voicechat is quiet, or there’s a lull when people aren’t around, it often feels like something’s missing for me.