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Reliving My Childhood Through MMOs

Columns By Lewis Burnell on September 26, 2016

Reliving My Childhood Through MMOs

My daughter and I regularly go exploring in the woods not too far from where we live. She’s five and on Sunday we were joined by my nephew, who’s also the same age. Despite living in the city, where we live is incredibly green and the woods stretch on for miles. We explored for hours, searching under logs, hunting down Goblins that were hiding amongst the bushes and running away from bears. Any tree markers we saw, Lily and Luca were convinced was the writing of Trolls. At one point we reached a rock face that had a small alcove and, according to them, had a dragon sleeping inside. My two year old son, Leo, quickly waved his hand and shook his head for us to go back.

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My daughter has a vivid imagination. She’s been raised on the likes of Willow, Labyrinth, Coraline and Dark Crystal. Anything my brother and I enjoyed as kids, she has lapped up. Her latest favorite, a Nightmare Before Christmas, made an appearance on Sunday as we searched for doors in the large oak trees we stumbled across. As we walked, with my wife looking over, I thought to myself, “It won’t last long.” There will be a time, not too far away, where all this fantasy will come crashing down. There’ll be the rude awakening that mythical creatures, Father Christmas, the Tooth Fairy - all these distortions we tell our children in order to foster an imagination - will cease to exist. They’ll realize soon enough that they don’t and will quickly move onto the reality that is real life™.

While my son has plenty of years to experience all the delights of goblin hunting, in another year’s time I suspect my daughter will have moved onto much realer things. It was a sad realization for me and there’s a pang of sorrow at the fact that it’s simply so short lived. I still remember adventuring with my brother, miles from home, in a place called The Grips. It’s a huge natural reserve where my parents live and we’d regularly, as a large group, explore for hours. My Grandad would often make us wooden rifles or swords and shields so we could enact our fantasies: it’d never happen now.

It dawned on me after watching my daughter and nephew that my love of games and more specifically, MMO’s, probably spawned from such adventures. When you’re old enough to realize the real world is pretty boring (by fantasy standards), it’s not surprising to think that many find solace in worlds far more exciting than our own.

I still stand by that there is no greater feeling in gaming than exploring a new MMO. Logging in for the first time, not knowing what the world has to offer or what creatures are around the next corner. I guess it’s a feeling similar to what my daughter experiences whenever we go exploring somewhere new. It’s a feeling that no other game provides and although it dissipates with time (until a new zone or expansion pack comes along) it’s still the main reason why the genre continues to draw me in. 

It would pain me immeasurably if the future held few new releases for the MMO genre. I know of none on the horizon that have peaked my interest but I’m confident just about any could still give me that sense of childhood exploration. Irrespective of how an MMO looks or plays, a sense of exploration, excitement and curiosity will always be there. I’m not suggesting a single player game can’t recreate this, certainly Dark Souls or the Elder Scrolls series does an incredible job. The difference however is the human interaction with real people, not just NPC’s. Not only does this add weight to the world you’re in but for me, adds a level of immersion that leaps ahead of the competition.

Unquestionably there are moments when that immersion is broken (just like when my daughter asks if we can have a McDonald's, while out in the middle of nowhere) but those brief bumps in the road don’t particularly alter the journey. MMO’s are a genre filled with possibility and intrigue and even if it’s for a few brief moments, allow me to relive some of my childhood despite being a middle aged man sat in front of a monitor.   

Is exploration important to you in an MMO? Do you ever think your adult enjoyment of MMO’s is linked to your childhood? Do you miss the feeling of arriving in a new MMO? Let me know in the comments below!

Lewis Burnell / The only game to have distracted Lewis away from MMOs over the last 15 years was Pokemon Red. Despite that blip, Lewis has worked his way through countless games in the genre in search of something that comes close to his much loved and long time dead, Neocron.