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Portnoy's Current Complaint

Richard Aihoshi Posted:
Columns The Free Zone 0

According to various experts who rank such things, Philip Roth is the pre-eminent living American novelist. Still writing at age 77, he came into the public eye with his first published work, Goodbye, Columbus (1959), which won him one of the country's four most notable literary honors, the National Book Award. He subsequently received a second for Sabbath's Theater (1995) plus National Book Critics Circle Awards for Counterlife (1986) and Patrimony (1991), PEN/Faulkner Awards for Operation Shylock (1993), The Human Stain (2000) and Everyman (2007), and a Pulitzer Prize in fiction for American Pastoral (1997). Perhaps a bit ironically, he may be most widely known for none of these, but rather the 1969 work referenced in the headline of this column.

Apropos of the general topic area I've addressed the past couple of weeks, I recently read an interview with Roth in which he mentioned something he's been talking about for at least the past few years, the decline in reading. He feels his craft is losing its audience as people turn away from books or never learn to appreciate them. Instead, they favor the immediacy offered by screens - movie, TV and computer. Novels won't die, he says, but he does foresee a future where no one will read them. I'd like to think this is an exaggeration for effect. Regardless, he points out what may be an inexorable trend in our modern society.

What does this have to do with MMOGs and free to play? It’s somewhere between nothing and a whole lot depending on your point of view. My main issue is that all too often, the writing in games, including other categories, appears only to aim at satisfying the lowest common denominator, people who care little if at all about this element. At worst, this led or at least contributed to the bad localizations and translations we've all decried in some imported F2Ps. Thankfully, it has been a while since I saw a truly awful one, so perhaps the minimum standard has risen above that level.

Unfortunately, I also haven't been awed. Can you name an MMOG, regardless of business model, in which the quality of the writing is at a level comparable to the work of Philip Roth or any other top-notch author? Yes. I'm well aware that the demands of the media aren't the same since games are interactive. But even allowing for this, how often do we see, for example, characters that are well developed with interesting - never mind fascinating - individual personalities, backgrounds, etc? Or lore that actually makes you feel it's worth the time it takes to read it?

What I see is a lot of copy that's merely serviceable. It's utilitarian and gets the basic job done, but it doesn't leave me thirsting for more - not like the way I feel when I read a good book or even a short story and immediately want to see more that the author has written. That would stand out instantly for me. But sadly, it has yet to happen.

Will it? I'd like to be resoundingly optimistic, but in reality, I'm only mildly hopeful at best. As the MMOG category continues to grow, perhaps there will be sufficient room for titles to set themselves apart by being better written. They'll still have to be well made and fun, but for me at least, once that threshold is met, better writing would hold quite a bit of appeal when it comes to choosing the virtual world(s) where I'll spend my personal time.

In the MMOG space, I've seen very little demand for better writing. Criticizing the poor examples, which are mostly from the F2P sector, is one thing. But an even greater desire is to see the bar raised at the other end of the spectrum so that some day, someone will want to rank the pre-eminent living game writers.

/rant off - on this subject area anyway. :p

Name the F2P

Described as an action-oriented tactical combat game, the mystery title this time is not yet available in North America, although a publication agreement has been announced. It's the MMOG adaptation of a multi-million selling hack and slash franchise loosely derived from the classic Chinese literary work Romance of the Three Kingdoms. However, the game originates in Japan where it launched in 2006.



Richard Aihoshi

Richard Aihoshi / Richard Aihoshi has been writing about the MMOG industry since the mid-1990s, always with a global perspective. He has observed the emergence and growth of the free to play business model from its early days in both hemispheres.