A few weeks ago, at an event for a particularly popular MMO halfway across the world, I found myself spraying food and hate across a dinner table. What had started as a charming meal, had turned into a skirmish that floated somewhere between the dumplings and Shiitake mushrooms.
Why? Well as often happens when MMORPG enthusiasts get together, just after swapping EverQuest corpse-run tales, and right before it all broke down into campfire musings about just what Star Wars Galaxies could have been, someone mentioned Player versus Player.
I won't mention names, but their view on this mechanic seemed fantastical, illuminated, and almost ethereal. I was intrigued. My ears moved in the way that something surprising will provoke. "You see, what I love about PvP is the camaraderie, the tactics, working in a team to take down a target."
I sat and listened patiently. We all "ummed" and "awwed" in the way that polite company will, and then without knowing, my finger extended accusatorily, and I dropped the bomb: "It isn't like that though is it? It's essentially a game of one person running around in a circle, like a little b*tch, jabbing the "1" key."
Then things got heated. I may have called into question the legitimacy of his birth; he might have insulted the poor Queen Elizabeth. It all went down. It all came out... but I'm still not done.
How on Earth can people think that this particularly sordid piece of MMOing good? It's a travesty of a mechanic, a dirty little immersion breaking "aren't I a great little backstabbing bastard" type of thing. I blame it for everything that is bad in online games. The incessant duel requests, the constant "HAH ONLY 136DPS, N00B!" dialogue, and worst of all, those competitive sorts it brought: the type of half-wit that says things like "Oh, the tactics of it all blah blah blah."
I started playing online games in 1999 (yeah I'm going there). Player versus player-ing was but a pipe dream: the sparkle in some kid's eye, or in Mark Jacobs' showering cubicle (a story for another day). If you wanted to hurt someone else, you had to physically find them and punch them in the mush cave. Or failing that, rob them blind in Ultima Online and start a campaign of hate that drove some people near madness. There weren’t any structured environments in which players could safely slap at each other's faces like pansies. If you committed to stabbing a virtual other, you followed through. Larceny and murder. If your victim was left wearing nothing but a pair of underpants, you'd done your job.
Which is why all this pampering boils my blood; plus the fact I'm absolutely awful at it. There was a time when all you had to do was jab the "a" button, and sit back in your chair. We were less "in" the game, as much as coaches of it. We equipped our swords, set up our buffs, and then asked our avatar to go out and do their best, as we sat from the sidelines, hooting and hollering in praise or criticism. It also gave us more time to eat cheese.
Now we have hotbars, cooldowns, teams, guilds, specific roles, scenarios, 50 versus 50, honour, prestige, waxing, and the spork. It's all too much. In days gone by, really committing to a role was printing out a hand drawn map of Black Burrow and staying up until 2am. We didn't do talent trees, or builds, we just simply logged in, and enjoyed the game. What was wrong with that?
I suppose my specific gripe with PVP these days is the almost separate game of it all. To me an MMORPG is something you lose yourself into. It is a world apart from our own, it has lore, and it has an atmosphere. Your actions and stories are as anecdotal as the physical world; and there's something utterly compelling about that - and yet, as soon as you start talking PvP builds and what's best in that certain element, it all sort of crumbles apart.
PvP makes it all seem like such a game. And I know, that sounds utterly pathetic, of course it is a game, I'm not so deluded as to think I am indeed a grey-bearded dwarf hailing from the furthest reaches of Ost Goroth. Oh if only. But what I mean is that it seems so out of character with everything else about the MMORPG genre.
You are transported, as if by magic, to this certain battleground - and regardless of how many times you've trampled through there, it is still an endless skirmish, your actions meaningless. Doesn't that get to anybody else? The only player conflict I can stomach is the DAoC/WAR style, and yet we've thrown that by the wayside because its deemed too hard to organise - or perhaps too difficult for a new gaming culture that is bred on quick matches and a lack of brain. (I’ll give you my take on GW2’s WvW when I get some time with the thing.
But I can concede that I am in the minority. I can happily believe that most of you are now spitting bile, and calling for my death - which is fine, because you probably have a really good Rogue PvP spec build that could do the job. Why wouldn't you? You spent all that time perfecting your virtual trade.
I am simply a man embittered by more hotbar savvy foes. I panic. As soon as enemies start circling, I start to spasm, jump, run side to side, flee, and plead. I've even been known to dance - well, in school the bullies might leave you alone if you were funny, right? Right?
Player versus Player - love it or hate it? I know which camp I certainly sit in. Is it the non-skilled, jab fest that I believe it to be? Or like my fellow MMORPG journalists claim, is it a game about tactics, working together, and all that highfaluting conflict? Am I missing something? Am I just a boring English bastard? Let me know in the comments below.