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The Devil's Advocate: In Sickness & In Health

Column By Victor Barreiro Jr. on August 16, 2013

I’m writing today’s Devil’s Advocate in a somewhat compromised state. A typhoon visited the Philippines early this week, and I got rained on while looking for a place that sold food as I tended to work duties, and my workstation is rather close to the air conditioning vent. You can guess what happened afterwards.

By the next day, I was feeling dreadful. By day two, I was basically addled and unable to really keep my mind focused on writing anything coherent. Right now, I’m penning this thanks to nearly 15 hours of on-and-off sleep and a serving of medicine. In looking at the list of games I had in my computer, I thought, “Why isn’t sickness and well-being more gameplay-affecting?”

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Corrupted Blood

Most gamers who’ve played World of Warcraft have likely heard of the 2005 Corrupted Blood plague that hit Azeroth. It was a spell cast by my good “friend” Hakkar the Soulflayer in Zul’Gurub that basically drained the life out of someone for a few seconds and spread to people in a nearby vicinity to anyone infected.

What made it become the first (arguable) world event of WoW was that, if you could teleport out of Zul’Gurub and into a densely populated area, you could infect other people. It was also reportedly a pain in the behind to have your experience so thoroughly colored by a disease.

Then again, the point of today’s Devil’s Advocate is that health, wellness, and sickness may seem more interesting in a game if they’re supposed to have effects on one’s fighting prowess. It might also be interesting to have a world event in an MMO where the effects of being ill or being well-rested and fed can have more dramatic implications on a character’s ability to kill ten (plague-filled, horribly debilitating) rats.

Being Sick

I think sickness should be an equal opportunity effect that should be exploitable by players against enemies, by enemies against players, and by players against other players.

Imagine a warlock in WoW or a Final Fantasy MMO’s black mage casting Bio or a small, unassuming rabid chicken pecking at your foot. That disease is meant to eat at your health, but depending on the game, you can see it affect a character’s stats, or make your character colored purple or green, but it doesn’t lessen your battle prowess by a significant factor.

True enough, unlike casting a slowness or rooting spell, you don’t actually feel the effects on your character, because illness is treated as an annoyance, and not an extension of the clammy hands of death that it should feel like.

Why in the world would you still be able to wield a battleaxe if your body feels sluggish? Wouldn’t you be slurring your words if you were addled by fever, causing you to fumble that fireball spell? When you consider that in a number of games, drunkenness is visibly a deterrent to your enjoying unimpeded gameplay (flashbacks of Ale-based events in The Shire), I’m amazed the flu doesn’t do as much.

Health and Wellness

Connected to this, considering a state of wellness might also be something interesting to implement. Many MMORPGs already have food creation, eating, and resting as part of the game’s repertoire of activities to promote in-character wellness through statistical or experiential gains, but what about taking it a step further?

For instance, being well-fed is nice, but food in games never seem to spoil. Unless it’s defined by a quest, you don’t really have to worry about melting ice cream or the effects of salmonella on your orcish constitution. I’d like to see overeating cause loss in stat gains for stat buffs, and eating different kinds of foods aiding in acquiring food eating achievements, but also in a sort of hidden life quality that makes your character fight better.

Better still, why not institute a means to make certain foods helpful in fighting off or preventing a sick state (as opposed to potions)? If a game would be interested in making the effects of disease more pronounced and possibly longer lasting, it would seem advantageous to be able to buy, cook, or otherwise eat food that increases resistance to illness or lowers the effects or shortens the effect time of disease.

To that end, I’d shudder to think what the above image would do to even a dwarf’s hardy system if he ate all of them one after the other for stat gains.

The Bottom Line

I write these last few lines feeling markedly better than I did when I started this piece. Perhaps the idea seems foolish, but I’d gladly advocate for an MMORPG that gave me real-life tips for wellness or recipes for cooking that I could earn as I played, a real-life reward for derring do in the virtual world.

It would be the game slyly reminding me that I can make an excellent life-enhancing casserole in my actual kitchen that I can enjoy far more than the grub I’m stewing in my imaginary crafting interface in-game. Better still, if an MMORPG is actively hurting my character’s ability to kill stuff due to an illness, I can make the time well spent out of game.

Gamers may not take to it, and it might flop as an idea, but if my character is going to be in some kind of sick, battle-compromised state for 15-30  minutes, I can at least make myself a sandwich or, heaven forbid, toss a salad while I wait. If a game itself gave me the recipe for a quick, delicious meal, even better, I’d say.

Just please... no ale brewing recipes. *BURP*

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.


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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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