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Shiny Happy MMO People

Isabelle Parsley Posted:
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I had a big rant all prepared about how people aren’t people to each other anymore in MMOs – and I will in fact probably favour you all with a rantlet – but here in the States it’s Thanksgiving time, and although it wasn’t a holiday I grew up with, it’s a pretty good one. So one of the things I’m going to do today is be thankful for some of the good stuff that’s happened to me in, or because of, MMOs.

But first, the rantlet. MMOs are full of festivals these days, from the sublime to the mostly ridiculous. I don’t think there’s a week of the year in EQ2 nowadays where there isn’t some sort of world event going on, from the game-only city festivals to the various mirrors of real-world holidays and events. WoW is well-known, and occasionally lambasted, for some of its seasonal events. In short, I don’t think there’s a major MMO out right now that doesn’t have at least one yearly “festival”-type event.

Which is fine. I love festivals and holidays in MMOs. They make a change from the same-old same-old, they don’t usually last all that long, and they almost always have a bunch of fun stuff to do and goodies to get.

Where I start to object is when these holidays become more about the stuff to do and get than about the people. (And yes, I’m fully aware of the irony and the parallels with real-life in our frantic consumption-driven society; I just think games can attempt to rise above some of the more prosaic and excessive elements of real life. I’m an optimist.) Some of the quests and achievements you can get do require “interaction” with other players, but it’s often just inflicting an emote on them or getting them to trade something with you. So instead of being all brotherly and sisterly and fellowship-of-man-ly, what we’re doing is running up to friends and strangers and treating them like achievement-token slot machines. There’s no real intent to interact – the only intent is to increment whatever counter needs to be incremented in order to obtain that season’s shiny goodness. Cha-ching!

I don’t usually talk religion or politics in MMOs – it’s one of the things that is and mostly should be masked by the medium. I can get together and play with people from different races, countries and languages, and with people who don’t hold the same political or religious views as me. That’s the beauty of it: when you’re pounding critters into the dust, it doesn’t matter who you voted for in the last election.


But whatever your religion or lack thereof, holidays are for getting together with people. For actually being with these people and enjoying their company. Achievements and quests are fine, but when they cause us to treat other players – people, remember – as though they were virtual NPCs whose only benefit is that we can obtain something for ourselves when we interact with them… that’s not right.

So next time you pull the lever on that player slot-machine in Stormwind or Ironforge or Qeynos, try to remember that it’s actually a real person you’re dealing with. Say hello. Exchange a few words. Wish them a happy {insert holiday} or a happy un-Birthday or whatever. Just be aware.

And now for something completely different. Well okay, not all that different; this is just the shiny happy side of the holiday rantlet.

In the last decade, the very least thing MMOs have done for me is provided me with literally thousands of hours of entertainment for what remains a pretty reasonable price. We often hear the movie-ticket comparison, because it’s a good one. For less than the price of a movie ticket (and associated waistline-damaging snacks and drinks), I can play 200 hours a month if I really want to. Even at my most addicted I’m pretty sure I didn’t play 200 hours a month, but you get the idea: much as we complain about subscriptions – a model that’s slowly dying anyway – you just can’t argue that they aren’t good value for money in most cases.

So that’s one thing. Another thing, and far more important to me, are the friends I’ve made along the way. I made some friends in Asheron’s Call 10 years ago now who, today, are my neighbours in real life; but at the time I was in the UK and if you’d asked me back then, I never in a million years would have guessed that I’d end up on another continent living practically next door to them. (I’m not stalking them! Honest!) It was some years before we actually met in person, but these people were much closer friends to me – and still are – than a lot of my “real life” friends. The virtual/real-life line is a lot more blurred these days than it used to be, so that probably doesn’t sound all that weird, but 10 years ago it was a little odd to have really good friends you’d never actually met face-to-face.

(The world tends to come full circle. 100 years ago it was not odd at all to have friends you’d never met in person. People would carry on lifelong and very intimate friendships via letter, without ever setting eyes on each other.)

Actually, it’s because of that MMO, Asheron’s Call, that I’m now in the US. I met my now-husband in that game, as well as all those other friends. That has a downside as well as an upside, because I miss all the folks I left behind in the UK, but I still get to see some of those… online, in MMOs.

It was an MMO that really started me blogging. I initially started writing about Warhammer Online and just kept going even when we stopped playing. It’s because of MMOs that I’m here today. Some of the most entertaining, thought-provoking, head-explody and side-splittingly funny conversations I’ve ever had have been in MMOs, and I really have literally fallen out of my chair laughing (note: try not to hit desk corners on the way down).

So here’s to you, the MMO Gamer and Gentle Reader. I may not know most of you but I’d certainly have a pint with you and enjoy getting to know you better. Because even if we are of different nationalities and creeds and speak different languages, we do have one language in common. We speak MMO.

For those of you who celebrate Thanksgiving, I hope it is and was a happy one. For everyone else, have a happy Friday!


Isabelle Parsley