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The Devil's Advocate: Dead MMOs and Emotional Connections

Column By Victor Barreiro Jr. on May 10, 2013

On May 8th, a friend of mine tweeted an article from Massively which he disagreed with, primarily because of the reasons given. The article, which was a Soapbox piece titled, “Your MMO is going to die, and that's OK,” filled me with a strong initial violent reaction. I asked my editor to give me the leeway to postpone the original write-up I had half-finished in order to tackle this most heinous essay. Bill allowed me to do so, gently reminding me of his faith in my ability to provide counterpoints to people's opinions.

I couldn't write afterwards. I was too hopped up on rage that I basically went to bed wondering why I was so worked up over his article. Today's Devil's Advocate is an examination of myself, of why I felt so angry, and ultimately, why I both understand his point of view and disagree with it all the same.

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Why I Became Angry

In his piece, Mike Foster's second and third paragraphs (in part) state,

The side effect of this online requirement is that every online game, no matter how popular it may be at the moment, has a finite lifespan. Eventually, your favorite game is going to die.

This is a good thing. Here's why.

Foster then cites a number of reasons which initially irked me to no end. The running theme of the his points was transitory. Dying MMOs allow us to have beautiful moments with games, which we can then reminisce on fondly. Dying MMOs make us move on to newer MMORPG delights by forcing us to move on. Dying MMOs let developer-made stories end, and our characters can finally rest.

None of these seem like justifiable reasons for an MMO dying. They do not seem like justifiable reasons for people losing their jobs or for companies to simply throw a game out due to expediency.

What irked me most of all was that, in some twisted corner of my mind, all I could see was the Adam Orthian corollary argument: “Deal with it.”

The Emotional Connection

Working for Rappler, a news website that features a Mood Meter which encourages the crowdsourcing of emotional reactions to news stories, I developed the habit of asking myself a question after feeling something: Why was I feeling that way?

I thought I had answered that with the above, but then I had to ask a follow-up question to myself: Why were my thoughts on the death of MMORPGs eliciting such feelings from me? The answer I gave myself, after a long, uncomfortable pause in the dark, was this: because games, as well as the industry surrounding it, meant something to me.

The emotional connection I had was twofold. I spent a good part of my high-school, college, and working years steeped in gaming. It was partly an escape, partly a reflective lens on which I could think about the world at large, and partly a pastime that could let me get beyond my own issues. It was also the source of my first full-time job as a video game news writer.

As such, I developed an emotional connection not only to the playing of games, but to the industry itself. The idea of an MMO's death stung me sharply because I could imagine what it felt like to lose a job in the gaming industry, and would not wish that to happen to any decent, hardworking member of the industry itself. For someone else in the industry to imply that such was a good thing, whether knowingly or unknowingly was something I couldn't stand for.

The emotional connection I had to my MMORPG characters was also something I cherished. As an MMO traveler, I have played nearly every MMO without a region lock available. I have memories of people, of adventures, and of personal growth that came because I played a game and shared in a world with a character I had created. To have the Hunter I've maintained in WoW, or the Warden I've battled with in LOTRO, or the Sarnak I've slaughtered goblins with in Everquest II, disappear into the ether would wound me deeply as well.

The Uncomfortable Thought

I understand where Mike Foster is coming from. He accepts that MMORPGs will, unfortunately, eventually die. I disagree that it is a good thing, because of emotional connection to it, but the uncomfortable thought – that of an MMO dying – remains.

Players who are loyal to a game, or who have a strong bond to a game or the industry as a whole, have every right to be annoyed at Foster for putting forth the uncomfortable thought of any sort of death (even an MMORPG's death) as something good and something that can simply be dealt with, with all the pain of loss excised in a moment. But the uncomfortable thought remains.

Foster was wrong, sadly, in saying at the end of his article that “MMOs die. Stories end. But we players live forever.” Speaking quite literally, no one lives forever, and the memory of our adventures in MMOs will also eventually fail. The uncomfortable thought remains, and is perhaps more distracting as a result of that revelation.

The passing of a world, one which was shared by millions, or hundreds of thousands, of thousands, or even of hundreds or maybe even tens of people... this is not something great. It is not something easily dealt with because the emotional connections we have toward the game, as well as toward the people we have adventured with or the people who have poured a portion of their lives into building these worlds, is severed to some degree.

I will never rejoice for the death of the world. In fact, I would much rather pray. The prayer is short, and paraphrases a line said by Augustine of Hippo in the 4th century.

“Grant me the acceptance of a game world's death, and the memory to reminisce on my virtual adventures... but not yet.”

Mike Foster’s original article can be read here.

Victor Barreiro Jr. / Victor Barreiro Jr. maintains The Devil’s Advocate and ArcheAge columns for MMORPG.com. He also writes for news website Rappler as a technology reporter. You can find more of his writings on Games and Geekery and on Twitter at @vbarreirojr.


Victor Barreiro Jr. / Victor Barreiro Jr. maintains the the Landmark/Everquest Next and Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn columns for MMORPG.com. He also writes for news website Rappler as a technology reporter. You can also find him on Twitter at @vbarreirojr.

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