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In My Understanding

An old school gamer discusses the challenges facing the MMORPG community and it's leaders.

Author: jesad

The Stepping Stone

Posted by jesad Tuesday November 27 2007 at 1:26PM
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Some comments are just too dang big to clog up people's chat strings with.  In an attempt to pay respects though to the people who inspired this weeks entry I would like to attract your attention to the people who started this conversation first.

Laura Genender who inspired me with her blog spotlight lead-in to another bloggers post.

http://www.mmorpg.com/showFeature.cfm/loadFeature/1584

And Interl0per who inspired her thusly.

http://www.mmorpg.com/blogs/Interl0per

Now, assuming that you have popped over and read those posts, I can begin.

When I was a kid, in my 9th grade class, we watched a film in my science class about drugs.  I remember being scared out of my wits at the depiction of some tore up teenager making a drug induced decision one day that maybe, if he got enough height on the outset by scaling a tall building in his local area, that he would be able to fly.

Needless to say, dude didn't fly, and his lack of airspeed not only served the purpose of the example that it was supposed to set, namely, "Don't use drugs and do stupid things" but it clearly drove home the overall theme of the filmstrip to me and my entire class for years to come which was simply, "Don't do drugs."  Years later, amidst smokey rooms full of unemployed adults all huddled around glowing boxes linked together by cables and routers, I would often recall that filmstrip to my friends in the middle of passing a phattie back and forth or running to get another beer and remind them that "in spite of the euphoric feelings that may be produced from the intoxicants that we are about to recieve, NONE OF YOU WILL EVER BE ABLE TO FLY!"  Of course the room would break out into uncontrollable giggles as a lot of those guys went to my same school and knew exactly what I was talking about, but the message remained the same.  It was a good one.

Fast forward passed those days of Quake and Lan parties and friends to the day that me and my now famous one friend landed in the land of Athas in the Dark Sun Online game.  Sure, for it's time it was a pretty awesome deal, to be able to get online and play an rpg along side other folks who you didn't know and could compete against in levels and in combat.  Who wouldn't jump at a chance like that? 

Little did we know though, that it would be that little obscure game, that didn't host more than a couple of hundred people at a time, that would turn into a decade long addiction that to this very day has us repeatedly scaling tall buildings and jumping off again and again in that "oh so glorious" attempt to achieve altitude.

You see, no one ever tells you that MMO's are a drug at the beginning.  Sure, you learn soon enough after you take that first hit by logging in and building your character.  Most MMO players are more than happy to elude to the "crackness" of MMO play during a casual conversation.  Even then, however, it comes off like a joke, like something to laugh at and not to be taken seriously.  It doesn't come to you with the seriousness of that 9th grade filmstrip, it comes to you with the chuckle of that smokey room full of Quake players who, in their "maturity", have decided that in spite of the seriousness of the message, that it does not truly apply to their particular situation.

It won't be for years until one discovers, after a few lost relationships, a few lost jobs, and a plethora of leaps off that building and subsequent crashes to the hard earth, that this is EXACTLY that situation and that how you handle it has everything to do with whether you are going to end up like filmstrip boy (metaphorically speaking of course) or whether you are going to be able to actually look back on the time you spent in MMO-land fondly.

My friends in Vanguard probably think that I am crazy because, after every big grind, i.e. Wardship, Cragwind, CIS, Swamp Gear, I take a few weeks off to "come down" from the experience of having climbed to such heights.  A lot of them are younger and stronger than me of course, and still in the heights of their MMO abuse and, no sooner than they are finished with one thing, are raring to go get started on the next.  I however, have finally figured out, like Laura and Interl0per, that this is simply a race to the top of a building that is inevitably going to drop me crashing to the ground in a jumbled heap PROVIDED that I do not give the construction workers time to build more floors for me to climb.  We just put up our guild house (finally!), in Vanguard, and I haven't been there consistently in weeks since. But there is raid content right around the corner and I plan to be refuled and ready for the fight as soon as it drops.

Epiphany!  If the construction workers keep building floors there is a fairly good chance that my buzz might wear off before I reach the top of the building.  That I might simply choose to NOT go to the top and subsequently NOT jump over the edge.  WOOT!  I get to keep living! 

This would be a good end to an MMO.

Just like the day that we realized that we could not walk around in a constant state of weed induced stupor or drunk off our arses all day long, there should also be a day that we realize that "this game just isn't doing it for me anymore" and on that day we should not be unhappy or spent or metaphorically (or otherwise) dead.  We should be able to look back on our journeys as good ones, good times spent with good friends that although have passed, were worth every moment.

Am I saying to not play MMO's because they are bad for you?  Of course not.  If I did that it would be the ultimate in hypocrisy.  All I am saying is what that film strip said me me years ago still applies.  Be it drugs, alcohol, epic weapons, guild houses, or even Red Bull, none of this stuff is truly going to be able to make you fly, at least, that is my understanding.

Thanksgiving Thank You List

Posted by jesad Wednesday November 21 2007 at 9:33AM
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Thanksgiving is normally for giving thanks for the blessings that we have recieved over the last year.  I realize though, that sometimes we might forget some of those blessings during the busy every day rush and craziness that can sometimes become our lives.  To tell the truth, I can not really recall the last time I wrote a positive post on any forum in the last year or so.  I, like many others, am guilty of only coming out of my shell to complain or request, there's always something that could have been done better, always something that could have been done differently.

Today I would like to remedy the lack of consideration I have shown to the guys and girls who make these games that I love to play and which have given rise to so many thoughts I have had over the years.  I am out of my element here so please bear with me if any or all of this post is less witty or more boring than any of my previous entries.  So without much further adeu, I'll begin.

Thank you MMO's for...

Inspiring me to learn how to type.  Because of you I have been able to parley that skill in to many many different channels both monetarily and personally lucrative to my life.

Providing me with a heavy bag to absorb the internalized aggressions that, expressed otherwise, may have led to my incarceration or early demise throughout the years.

Giving me the chance to actually play a role playing game instead of always being the one to run them.  You may not have been the best DM for me over the years but you most certianly have been the most consistent.

Allowing me to leave my house, socialize, pick up chicks, pick up dudes who look like chicks, drop dudes who look like chicks back off before actually doing anything that might tarnish my reputation, make friends, have some really great conversations and exchanges, hang out with my ex-girlfriends and so many other things that I might have never done, without actually having to physically get out of my chair (except for bio's and food) at any time, day or night.

Giving me the power to end drama with the flick of a switch.  Only nightmares come close to your ability to let things spin drastically out of control and then to escape them reasonably unscathed and with little or no fear of re-entry tomorrow.

For the graphics.  For allowing me to see myself dreaming and to enter the dreams of others.

For actually giving me a reason to want to learn Algebra.

Taking part in the inspiration for many people to use VOIP software.  Not only has this given me a chance to get to know many different people from all over the world but it has also given them the chance to get to know me.

Monontenous repitition, because it allowed me to survive for several years in some pretty hairy customer service jobs that sucked but that ultimately paid the bills.

For the chance to be a leader, the opportunity to lay low and follow, and the wisdom to know the difference.

For putting hair on my chest.  For the Dragon's, Alien Monsters, Demon's, and even Kings that you have allowed me to fight.  All to many times, in real life, such beings are so far removed and well protected that none of us ever get to even see them as much as challenge, fight, and/or destroy them.  And thank you for making the attempt every bit as incredible and as glorious a battle as anyone would expect.  Such things do not leave us how they found us but leave us changed, more and more, with each try.

For the breasts.

Finally, for giving me something to write about that I can begin, become involved with, and end without ever getting bored.  Many a "wanna-be" writer has looked for such a thing all their life and not found it.  I, on the other hand, can crank out these posts all day.

 

Well, that's it.  I tried to keep it as general as possible and I invite anyone who reads this to add to the "thank-you" list in the comments section.  I wish you all a HAPPY THANKSGIVING or whatever holiday you might celebrate in your country on that day and give thanks to you all for clicking on "In My Understanding" and at least running up the counter enough to inspire me to keep me going.

We're All Orcs

Posted by jesad Saturday November 10 2007 at 11:48PM
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I've been looking at the differences between MMO's and the different books and movies that inspire the content from which they are created and I've come to a fairly dark conclusion.

We are all Orcs.

The basic story features a protagonist, an antagonist, and a particular situation that causes the two to clash.  In the best stories, the ones that inspire us and make us wish that we too could live in such worlds and take parts in such conflicts, either the protagonist, the antagonist or both are spawned from rather humble beginnings and through some strange and wonderful, or likewise horrible, twist of fate find themselves thrust into a strange new world full of incredibly unique situations of which they (the protagonist or antagonist) are key in effecting.  This is the hook that makes us keep watching/reading as the story, no matter how incredible, unfolds. 

The key element of the basic protagonist/antagonist of any story then is that he or she is special.  Even among other special beings the protagonist/antagonist of any good story, the hero, still has that little something extra that sets them apart from the rest of the pack.  A something that, as the story unfolds, will not only carry them from their humble beginnings to a place of belonging but beyond that still into the category of "Hero".  This is the theory of wonderment.  It is the gratification ultimately earned and deserved by the reader/viewer of any book that makes the time spent reading/watching, time that the reader/watcher will never get back, worth while.

It has already been stated on this blog, and in many other places, that MMO's lack the theory of wonderment.  Obstacles such as "balancing", "the gestalt formation", and the overall greed of the player base vs the overall laziness of the producers have made the word "wonderment" almost unattainable in most aspects of the games we play because, well, after all that balancing is done, after we learn that a good group needs a Tank, a Healer, and DPS at it's base, and after we all figure out which one of these things is going to bring us as close to being a key player in any configuration, we all end up just being Orcs.  Random soldiers of random battles can neither advance us individually beyond the preset caps that have been put in place to keep us gaffled nor advance our worlds in any way special or memorable beyond what the next group that comes along can do.

Luke Skywalker was not just a Jedi.  He was the Jedi that was fortold who would bring balance to the force.  Bilbo Baggins was not just a hobit, he was the first hobit willing to leave his comfortable surroundings in the shire and venture out into the world to DO something that would effect it.  Even though Frodo's story was all encompassing and infinately more involved, it was Bilbo who we most identified with because to him these things were all brand new.  There could have been no Frodo without Bilbo and so Bilbo carries the mark of the hero, the theory of wonderment.

MMO's have to find this theory again.  Put away the out-dated and commecial concepts that this is replayability suicide.  A Clue - Most people aren't lingering that long anyway.  Your best weapons for emmersion then are the weapons that are usually spent prior to the opening of the game i.e. player/development interaction in the context of role-play and world changing events.  Sure, a lot of these elements still exist but, in my opinion, they are far too few and far too long in between to really amount to an interactive world with a properly functioning theory of wonderment.

I look to the future for something different.  Something or some way to seperate us from the orcs.  The Awakening of the Sleeper, was a good concept but I think there is still WAY more to be done in this area.  You always here them asking in OOC.  "Will there be events?".  "What is the best weapon in the game?", "Which is the best character?".  To me, the answer to these questions should not be plural, meaning that they should not represent the same thing to all members of the game, they should be publicized, planned and plotted content meant to provide players with the sense of wonderment that they all came to recieve.  Sure, in a system like this "there can be only one".  But isn't that what it's really all about?  Isn't that why we cheat?  Hack? and Exploit the game?  Done properly, I think that a good event system could increase the player base of any game exponetially.  Some of the best games out there to play already know this.  I still look for more however.  More in the way of world shaping, more in the way of the ultimate power or the possibility of pinnacle of player performance.  We all rage against the levelling machine, the raiding machine, the perfomance machine, and in the end we all end up the same.  Orcs.

We don't need another hero, we need a legend.

Be it occasionally sponsered, seasonally programmed, or one-time hard coded, events are the way to go.  It can be facilitated in a variety of ways.  Give stories to some of these huge patches, start rumors about incredible weapons or items of power and then assign these items a finite number.  Already, in games that I have played, there have been nerfed items that have been left in the game after the nerfing that have provided the player base will all kinds of wonderment and differentiation.  I'm just saying, lets do more of this on purpose.  The reason we leave, the reason we roam, is because eventually, sooner or later after all the raiding is done and all the content has been consumed, we all become orcs.  In order for future games to differentiate themselves from the pack then, in my understanding, developers must harness that which is happening by mistake and give it a name, create that which causes change and name it the same, support that which promotes alliegience and call it that thrice, and an excalibur or glaive, or even R2-D2 would be nice.

Heh, time for me to stop for now.

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