Sometimes I like to write about something that has little or nothing to do with videogames, and then explain why actually it’s just like videogames. Sometimes I link a topic directly to a feature of MMOs, if I’m feeling especially smart.
When you strip away the fluff I believe there are a few key reasons why people play the kinds of games we like here at MMORPG dot com, and I was reminded of one of them last week when I went to the movies.
Everyone I know was avoiding spoilers for The Force Awakens, but everyone already knew the biggest reveal of all. No matter how good a movie Episode VII is, it can never live up to the magic of Star Wars (or A New Hope, if you prefer).
Star Wars is more than a collection of films, it’s so embedded in our collective cultural subconscious that even people who have never seen the movies can tell you the names of most of the characters. When does a story become so strong that it breaks free of its mechanism of delivery? When does a character stop being a character and become a legend?
For the last few years it’s seemed like the answer to this is ‘when Disney buys the rights to it’, but this story began a long time ago...
I like to call cultural phenomena like Star Wars ‘singularities’. They become so powerful that they warp the cultural landscape around them, and for a while it seems like everything is being dragged into its all-consuming maw. Sooner or later then pattern grows larger, and it becomes harder to see the ripples the singularity left behind. But, like the wings of a butterfly, the storm it creates rages on.
The Force Awakens is a testament to this (The Phantom Menace was too, but let’s not kill the mood), while it’s a really fun movie in its own right, it’s a testament to the power Star Wars still has.
Until the dust settles and everyone knows that Bruce Willis was a ghost all along, that’s where the conversation will end, but I believe that as time and distance gives the nerds room to pick at every teeny crevice that this movie offers, the subtle differences will show a film sensitive to its position and its audience. And that’s an audience that is almost wholly different from those who queued up in 1977. We know who Luke’s dad is for a start, people who haven’t seen the movie know who Luke’s dad is.
This is usually when I start talking about how this reminds me of videogames, and MMOs in particular.
The real point is, there are videogames that occupy the same kind of singularity position. From the early days of Pong and Donkey Kong, all the way to Candy Crush and Minecraft, our cultural touchstones exist and inform our perception of the medium. While compared to a sprawlingly diverse mainstream audience like that of Star Wars our clubhouse is a little small and smells a bit too much like boys, we have our monoliths too.
There’s a comfort in this shared literacy. A lot of us know why the cake is a lie, or what people who live in Vault-tec Vaults wear, some of us even know where Mankrik’s wife was.
Sometimes, I think it’s a shame that in our thirst for innovation in games we forget the importance of these shared experiences, especially within the context of MMOs.
We need to remember that the places that our experiences overlap are the places that can be the most personal, moments that are made all the more special by being intrinsically tied to other people in another time.
I see a lot of talk about putting the individual at the centre of MMOs, some people feel like they deserve a unique experience as a speck in a sea of others with the same goal. They use that Syndrome meme, apparently proud of their inability to grasp the point of a cartoon for children.
I like recounting my DayZ war stories, or those times things got weird on the PvP server. It’s great to feel like you were there for that moment, and it was just for you. On the other hand, I also like knowing that I’m taking part in something much bigger than myself. I like to add another perspective and thought and sometimes a voice to ideas presented and shared.
I think that games are big enough for the tiny and intimate to exist along with the colossal and shared. I also think that demanding one at the expense of the other is short sighted. It’s the singularities that create the huge shifts necessary for new experiences to flourish.
I hope you enjoy/ed The Force Awakens, and I hope it reminds you that it’s okay to enjoy something that other people have enjoyed, too.