Friday, November 19, 2010

Does Not Play Well with Others; or, Why I Don't Like MMORPGs

Millions upon millions of people play massively multiplayer online roleplaying games without me. I am a retro curmudgeon, and MMORPGs aren't anything like the games I grew up with. They're not my style. At all.

Since this blog hasn't had a good rant for a while, and since I'm already warmed up for complaining about things that everyone loves, I think this would be a good time to express why I am not millions upon millions of people.

1.) Social Interactions: For me, video games are a solitary matter. Or, if I'm killing time on a PC, a solitaire matter. Hur hur. Games are an escape for me, either from the seriousness of Real Life or to an immersive fantasy world I enjoy being a part of, and other people tether me to the Real World.

Now, when I'm hanging out with other people and playing video games with them, I want to be tethered to the Real World. I typically view competitive multiplayer games as a fun diversion with friends, and co-op gaming as a game-oriented bonding experience with friends. In both cases, the games are just a vehicle for sharing time together with friends (or family). The gameplay only really matters if it's terrible.

MMORPGs are not my scene because I really have no interest in making 12 million friends just so I can play one game with them. To put my feelings into book terms, an MMORPG is like a novel that can only be read in a crowded public place such as a stadium or a shopping mall. You can't just read the book; the people are part of the deal.

2.) People Are Jerks: I've spent enough time on the Internet to know that interpersonal interactions are different when someone's identity is hidden, or someone is a big jerk to begin with and are too far across the world for you to smack them around.

People will conduct themselves in a way that diminishes the authenticity of the fantasy world. People will punk your kills and steal your loot. People will hack your account and leave you a pauper. People will spoil your favorite TV show with idle chitchat.

3.) Playing on Someone Else's Schedule: Scheduling your game time around when you and your buddies are available to play. Starting up the game on days when you'd rather be doing something else, just to win some stupid hat in a one-day-only event tournament. Waiting for a big update to install before you can actually start playing.

This is part of the reason why I don't watch TV—MMORPGs require me to work my schedule around the game, not the other way around. This isn't like hiking, where you see it's a beautiful day and feel inspired to drop what you're doing and go take a hike. Actually, it totally is—it's a beautiful day, and the game says, "Your free time can go take a hike. You've got a stupid hat to win."

4.) The Gift that Keeps On Taking: A flat rate of $80 or so bought me Chrono Trigger, which I'm still playing some 15 years later, now for free. World of Warcraft charges you two cents an hour for not playing it.

5.) The Neverending Story: I like satisfying conclusions. I like sitting down to a game and knowing that there is a definite endpoint. Even with open-ended games such as SimCity and Animal Crossing, there always comes a time when there's simply nothing more to do except start over again. MMORPGs are designed to continually have new content and more options, and the completionist in me just wants to cry.

6.) We May Never Pass This Way Again: What happens if the game company goes out of business, or releases an expansion pack that completely destroys some of your favorite quests? What if everything you loved about the music, game balance, and locations gets thrown out the window with the next upgrade? How would you like Mario 3 if one day you got to World 5 and discovered that the boot-riding level was nowhere to be found?

There is nothing about MMORPGs that is inherently appealing to me. The only thing that could possibly draw me in would be a game based on one of my all-time favorite franchises.

A friend got me Dungeons & Dragons Online when it first came out. Of the two hours I played, 30 minutes were spent reconfiguring my computer so I could improve my video performance to something better than 7 FPS. Forty-five minutes were spent customizing my character. Fifteen minutes were spent wandering around a town, another 15 spent trying to assemble a group to enter a dungeon, and the last 15 minutes were spent getting stuck killing all the skeletons while the rest of my group abandoned me to race ahead, except for the rogue, who would stand just far enough away to steal even the skeleton's skulls before they hit the ground.

Another friend gave me a beta key for Star Trek Online. I spent two days trying to download the program, which was ultimately corrupted and didn't install at all. I still get their e-mails, though, so it's almost like I play.

Now there's a Mega Man Online in the works, available only in Asia. I got upset upon seeing the first trailer, which made it look like an uncharacteristically serious game that would uncomfortably bridge the gap between the original series and the X series, but we're cool now that I've learned a bit more about the premise (I.e. it's not actually a wonky crossover, but an adventure way in the future where they've replicated the bodies of famous robots like Zero using robot DNA). If nothing else, it looks way better than Mega Man Universe.

Will I play it if it ever comes to the States? I want to say "no," but the truth is that a Mega Man online roleplaying game (MMORPG, for short) seems more suited to my play style than a typical MMORPG. I generally like platformers more than RPGs (especially real-time RPGs with no pause feature), and the "people element" looks far less important; sort of a New Super Mario Bros. Wii thing going on where you can play with friends if you want, or you can play on your own with absolutely no trouble at all.

It's only a matter of time before yet another friend gives me another MMO to try, and maybe the next time I'll actually be able to play it. Will I embrace it? Will I categorically reject it? Only the blaster on my hand knows for sure...

No comments: