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Player Perspectives: O Hai Thar!

Columns By Isabelle Parsley on October 29, 2010

O Hai Thar!

Looks like I’ll be taking over Jaime Skelton’s column, and aren’t those big shoes to fill, so I figured I might as well start by introducing myself.

My name is Isabelle Parsley, my game-name is Ysharros, and I am an altoholic. I’ve been playing MMOs for 10 years and I wasn’t a sprat when I started – in other words no, I’m not going to tell you how old I am. In Internet, MMO and dog years I’m about a million and three.


My very first MMO was Turbine’s Asheron’s Call, which I started playing almost exactly a decade ago, back in October or November 2000. Sure, I’d played a few single-player RPGs in the 90s, but that first MMO was like a different world. A huge world! With loads of other, real people! All running around in my world!

It took me a while to understand that I couldn’t save my game before logging off – though in those days of shaky dial-up connections, one thing it didn’t take me long to realize was that when I got disconnected (a distressingly frequent event) I would most likely log back in at the lifestone, which was where you went to resurrect when you died in that particular game.

Ah, the good old days. Back then, there was no way of knowing where you’d left a corpse or six: you just had to remember and make notes. You know, in a paper notebook, with a pen. Uphill, in the snow, both ways. And barefoot, given the drop-your-stuff-on-death rules in force in many MMOs at the time.

I played Asheron’s Call for several amazing years; there really is no gaming experience quite like the thrill you get from your first MMO, no matter what game it might be. Since then I’ve played and/or beta tested most of the AAA Western games on the market (or off it, depending on how well they did). In no particular order and with probably lots of omissions, I’ve played: Ultima Online, Everquest, Dark Age of Camelot, Star Wars Galaxies, City of Heroes/Villains, World of Warcraft, Vanguard: Saga of Heroes, Lord of the Rings Online, Everquest II, Warhammer Online, EVE, Fallen Earth.

But while I may have a hard time remembering all the titles I’ve played, I do remember each of them for its feel, its atmosphere, and the way it played (good and bad). I don’t think I’ve ever hated a game, even if the lure of the new and shiny keeps pulling me away to newer titles. I’ve returned to games several times over the years, notably WoW, EQ2 and EVE, and had a different experience of them each time; in many cases games only get better with age, even if they also tend to get a little too familiar.

Aside from being an acknowledged (and entirely unrepentant) altoholic, I should probably also fess up to not being a raider. I don’t play games for “the end game” and I’m not motivated by the acquisition of items, which means raiding really isn’t much of a draw for me. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate it, I’m just not that interested in it for my own gaming. I do like to watch the debates that rage over itemization, monsterization, and raiding in general. How difficult is too difficult? When is a raid too easy? How many people is an ideal number for a complex challenge without feeling like you’re trying to herd cats?

So why do I play? First and foremost, probably for the fun of smacking things in the teeth with or without friends present. (Oh come on, don’t deny it. Smacking things in the teeth – or tentacles – is FUN!) And because wandering around in these gigantic, hand-crafted worlds is still an unparalleled escapist experience, no matter how jaded I may occasionally sound. And because my friends play; in fact, some of my closest RL friends are people I originally met in pixel-form. I’ve built up a wide circle of acquaintances that wouldn’t exist if I didn’t play these games. Here’s a secret: we may call each other names when things get heated, but the gaming community is, on the whole, a very intelligent one. My life is richer because of the games I play.

I’m not a designer, but I’m definitely an armchair designer. I like to think about why systems and mechanics work or don’t work in games, why something that sounded great on paper is absolutely horrible to actually play, and how designers and developers can entice us into doing the things they want us to do – while still letting us think it was all our decision to begin with.

How people play and why is an endlessly fascinating subject for me. We all have different playstyles, and I’ve been a very vocal advocate of letting people play the way they want to and not the way we think they should – the ongoing solo-vs-group debate is one example. Roleplaying in MMOs is another big hot-button issue and likely always will be, given that MMOs are firmly rooted in the pen’n’paper gaming tradition. Gender issues… oh, we won’t even go there today; there’s a firestorm and a half and my flame-proof suit is at the cleaners’.

Well, that’s the gaming me in a very small nutshell. I like to write and I’ve ended up writing about games for the last couple of years, purely from a player’s perspective. Developers really shouldn’t always do what we ask them to do (column idea: Boneheaded things players asked for and actually got!), but that shouldn’t stop us from expressing ourselves about the games they make. The good, the bad, and the really ugly – it’s all part of the gaming experience.

We all have one thing in common: we’re passionate about games and we like to discuss them, sometimes endlessly. That’s a good place to start.

Isabelle Parsley /