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Roundtable #2: MMORPGs At A Glance

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Every Thursday, the VideoGameInfo crew engage in an open discussion concerning a topic that relates to video games or video game culture. This week's topic is: MMORPGs At A Glance

James: I’m just going to come out of the gate and say it: the only MMOs I’ve really gotten into are Runescape and ToonTown. And they were pretty fun. Simple, but a good time waster. I’m pretty into completion, so as long as there are plenty of quests to do, I’m going to be happy with any game, MMO or not.

Lee: So you’re okay just doing quests, whether or not they offer quality storyline or a good reason for your character to do them?

James: I will stand by a game for a while, if it offers me a fresh setting. I like the medieval setting, but anything that is in space gets me. Even though I had no clue what I was doing, that’s why I tried out EVE Online for a few weeks. ...and then slunk away in shame.

Lee: Well, there are lots of MMOs that give you that cyclic “quest/level/get stronger/quest/level” sort of initiative. Only some require monthly payment, and some are free. What is it that sets the paid ones apart from the unpaid ones?

Josh: The subscription-based MMOs usually offer that “cyclic” formula, also known as “the grind.” Whether or not it works is up for debate. World of Warcraft did it exceptionally well, but other companies seem to struggle with this formula. The free-to-play (F2P) model usually means paying for additional content and/or aesthetic changes to your character (different clothes/hair/items that do not affect gameplay).

Lee: Like Maple Story. But we have to consider the “multiplayer” aspect. I played a lot of Maple Story at one point, and found that other players take you a lot more seriously if you have... non-free hair and eyes and such, because it shows a dedication to the game.

You’re paying for “status” amongst the other players, in a way... just like real life.

Jon: That’s interesting point. A lot of games like have a free section and a pay area, whether it’s items or levels.

Lee: Yeah, even on WoW people will run around asking if you’re full version or trial version. Currency makes for class distinction, in a sense.

James: Though honestly, I’d rather play on a multiplayer server but by myself. I have a lot of respect for MMOs that don’t require any teaming up.

If I need to trade or get a specific item, I can do that, but if I can go about my business it makes for a better experience for me.

That’s just my personal preference. And so I’ll try a few MMOs just because I can klutz around in the first few starting areas by myself, have a taste of the action, and then be done with it. It’s how I tried Lord of the Rings: Online.

Jon: I get that. As Sartre said, “Hell is other people.” Other people RUIN EVERYTHING.

Lee: But why play an MMO solo? Doesn’t that defeat the purpose?

James: Yes, but why would I play video games with other people regularly? That would defeat MY purpose of having richer, single-player experiences.

I treat MMOs like I treat the “real world:" Everyone goes about their business, and I go about mine. Occasionally I’ll team up with someone, but I’m basically out on my own.

Josh: Look at Bioware’s Star Wars: The Old Republic MMO. It is intensely story-driven and much of it can be played as a single-player game. Its subscription numbers have drastically fallen recently because many people played the main story line and quit.

Jon: One of the things I dislike about MMOs is that many of them try to be these grand and epic adventures, but in the back of my mind I know whatever I do is inconsequential.

Anything I do has been done by a million others. Like in the new Stars Wars MMO, you start off having a story line, which then devolves and disappears. At first you are the ocean in the drop, then you become the drop in the ocean.

Lee: That’s true of solo games, too, I mean of non-MMOs, you just don’t see it happening. There are a million people who are doing whatever any of us are doing as hobbies; but if guy #999,999 on the Planet Earth Leaderboards had thought, “Man everyone’s already done this,” he wouldn’t be a master painter; cross-comparison to other people breeds either positivity or negativity.

Jon: But in those solo games, you’re playing a character. You’re experiencing someone else’s singular experience. In MMOs, you’re playing an avatar, a supposed extension of yourself.

Lee: You can’t ever really not be experiencing your own experience. You can experience a character’s journey, but the implications, successes, failures, trials, and tribulations of said journey are no less filtered through your own hands, eyes, ears, and brain.

Jon: What about the social networking aspect of MMOs? I’ve met some interesting people while playing online. What about games like Draw Something, do you consider that an MMO?

Lee: Because the “real world” isn’t really a solo experience. It’s possible because of current society. But if you lived 500 years ago you’d be wroth to find a way to live entirely self-sustained. If you didn’t live in the USA, you’d be much more community-minded.

I’m not saying that’s a good thing, either. Civilization means men & women having freedom from other men & women, but still, there are some things we can’t go solo on.

At least in real life people don’t run up and dance naked while you’re trying to smelt fel iron. (usually)

James: See (and this is just my personality again), making “internet friends” or joining guilds never appeals to me because that relationship is fleeting. It’s the same reason why I don’t do message boards or chatrooms, which are often integrated into MMOs. Therefore, the biggest hook of MMOs is completely opposite my tastes, which is why I only dabble in a few MMOs.

Lee: So you see that relationship as less flesh-and-blood than someone who is a real, living breathing person in front of you?

(Playing devil’s advocate; I also feel that way)

Why do you think so many people are more comfortable in technology-assisted social situations?

James: MMOs tend to mimic real life, minus the actual interaction. We shouldn’t turn this into some sort of rant against human interaction, but really: You can either sit in one area and do nothing, or go out and meet people.

Your “job” is more in line with a job that involves a creative team: Pick something that you think will benefit your group, and profit from it. Keep evolving and expanding.

There’s that instant connection, the “oh I get this” moment that comes with MMOs, which is why they are so popular. You don’t need to learn any gravity-shift mechanics.

Lee: I do think there’s considerable reward from being a cog in a machine. Like, being the healer in a traditional RPG party. You know your role, and you do it. As long as everyone does that, it works out.

Games have been filling roles forever. Bowser fills cause, Princess Toadstool fills effect, Mario is given a role.

Even early FF had a good sense of the closeness that results from experiencing a character’s interaction with his/her party members. MMOs are just trying to make it so the party is all real people. We can’t really throw on robes and armor and go questing together after dragons; but if we could, it might be like World of Warcraft.

Isn’t the fact that your party members are real, and your enemies (either the Alliance or Horde) are all real, thinking people the entire point? The content in the game is nothing mind-blowing, but we know that no AI healer will ever be as malleable and effective as a human one, and no AI enemy can threaten your virtual purpose like a human one can.

Josh: Yeah, the cog-in-a-machine type of gameplay, also called teamwork, is extremely rewarding (and addicting). I think that’s the major selling point of these games.

Maybe that’s how World of Warcraft became so popular – by making it easy to find groups of other players to team up with.

Lee: Human beings love succeeding. What they love more is succeeding and having lots of people see it.

James: And while working in a group towards a common goal is such a human need, I prefer to be satisfied through more personal, singular goals in singleplayer games. Either way, it all comes down to achieving a goal (whether it’s beating missions or just having fun).

Readers are welcome/encouraged to post comments or questions concerning this roundtable below. Stay tuned for a new roundtable on a new topic next Thursday!