Whether you’ve been playing MMORPGs for a long time or you’ve just started, one thing is for certain, the experience of a game varies wildly based on the how you interact with the community. For decades, most of the interactions that players have had in game revolve around chat windows and predetermined emotes. Recently, I spent some ample time within the virtual world of Zenith: The Last City, and had an overwhelmingly positive experience that gave me hope for what the future of MMORPGs could look like.
When it comes to the way I play MMORPGs, the best way to describe me is, anti-social. I enjoy grouping, and will often prefer a match-made PUG for its ease of access, with the primary caveat that I won’t be very talkative, and only chime in if I’m well versed in the encounter. I rarely participate in global chat, and turn it off when I notice it will devolve into widespread trolling, and the thought of an in-game voice chat party with random players makes me contemplate if playing the content is actually worth the risk of the kind of inane communications that may soon befall me.
Yet every so often, the pieces fall into place that reminds me why MMORPGs are so special, and why I keep coming back to them. This recent encounter happened in a place that I never would have expected. The VR MMORPG Zenith: The Last City. I’ve been a proponent, however skeptical, of VR games for years, and stepping into Zenith was an experiment to assuage my curiosity as to how far VR MMOs have come. I think RamenVR has created an exceptional experience, even if it may not be perfect. As a newcomer, even as I was introduced to the basics of the game, I was left with a lot of questions as to where I should go, and what I should do.
Within moments of walking through the world, I was approached by other players. My nightmare was soon realized when I found that voice chat was enabled by default, so people would randomly come up to me and ask questions, many of them asking the same questions that I had.
Where do we go?
How do I get out of here?
What do I do?
These questions were not questions I could answer, and after turning off my voice chat in the settings, and no text chat available, I figured I could just be on my own until I figured these things out. Off I went into the unknown virtual world alone as I have often done in dozens of MMORPGs before, but shortly after I set out, something strange happened. After nearly eating dirt several times to some devilish monsters in the starter area, I was approached by someone who saw me struggling, and he asked if I could use some help.
As my voice chat was turned off, I couldn’t directly communicate, but I raised my hands up in a shrug as a response. What followed was a peculiar communication exchange where my physical cues, such as nodding, shaking my head and pointing or gesturing with my hands filled the necessary requirements that led to teaming up with a stranger, joining a guild and making new friends. The experience didn’t simply stop at one lone user reaching out to me either. Once immersed in the world it became exceedingly easier to nonverbally communicate. As a Tank, I was able to easily gain aggro, saving players who may not be able to handle the number of enemies they were tasked with dispatching. A simple nod, a wave, or even placing their hands together as an expression of thanks made the most mundane interactions feel worthwhile. Without having to erupt into a conversation, receive a private message, or scan a chat window for an emote notification, other players and I could easily get our intentions across to each other.
Despite the fact that I’ve had a mixed past with VR games that I’ve tried before, the community involvement and positive outcome of my experiences within Zenith gives me hope that there is a future for meaningful interactions in MMORPGs. While I don't look forward to a future of headsets and wonky locomotion peripherals, with the right design perspective, I can see a significant improvement to community involvement. For those times where we don’t want to speak, or to type, or to put in the effort of making conversation, my experience found that the simple physicality of Zenith opened up an avenue of communication that was immersive, enjoyable, and led to the most fun I’ve had in an MMORPG this week. I hope that these ideas of accessible communication are obstacles that developers expand on as they design our future MMOs.
VR Games certainly aren’t for everyone. Whether you get headaches from the headsets, or you just aren’t enthralled with the premise of a high amount of movement during your game sessions, the takeaway is that, it’s not just the developers who make MMORPGs. You do. We all do. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the excess systems and core game loop of an MMORPG, where grouping can feel like it is only a means to an end. So, whether you’re an introvert or you just don’t have the energy to make small talk with your fellow virtual humans, that’s okay. Take advantage of the communication tools you’re comfortable with, and revel in the community of your favorite MMORPG, even if it’s just to help out a poor newcomer like me.
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