YMMO (Part 4)

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My previous articles addressed issues I have with the supposed ‘social’ nature of MMOs, now I want to go down a slightly different track. From my view of MMOs they offer no single feature which is unique to the genre. Everything that they do offer can be found somewhere else, where it is usually done better. The single exception to this I can see, and even then only certain MMOs meet this exception, is the specific combination of their mediocre features that they present.

This idea may seem odd, even confusing, but to demonstrate I am going to go back, way back, to the earliest examples of MMO type games: Multi-User Dungeons (MUDs). MUDs were an early attempt to produce an environment in which users could interact in a game like setting, they were similar to large multiplayer text adventure games. In fact, they are large multiplayer text adventure games, but with less humor, none of the great stories, and a load of obnoxious other people constantly bothering you for help or killing your monster for you. In essence, they took all of the more boring elements of text adventure games and added the nuisance of having to play with annoying people.

In much the same way, the MMOs of today draw many of their best game elements from other, single player role-playing games which did a far better job of implementing those elements. One fairly simple and easy to demonstrate example of this is the leveling systems used by MMOs. You can literally pick up any single player RPG from the last 15 years and see examples of leveling that are better thought out than most systems used in MMOs today. If you insist on talking about some of the better MMOs, then I say simply look at newer higher-end single player RPGs and again you will find better leveling systems. Similarly, the quest systems from MMOs reflect largely the systems that single player RPGs had been using for some time. The postal quest, the kill a certain number of enemies quests, even the run to the end of the dungeon quests are all as old as NetHack itself, and have much better thought out and detailed examples littered through out games in general than any of the quests found in MMOs. And then the story, for me the reason to play a game is its story, and here MMOs are somewhat lacking. I say somewhat lacking, I mean they hide it behind pointless events, annoying special quests, and occasional updates or sequels. Even Guild Wars, one of the best at actually containing and presenting story to its audience, more or less used the story as an excuse to say “Quick! Go to the next region full of monsters now and forever 5 levels higher than you!”

But wait you say, they can’t have all those in amazing uniqueness because they have to incorporate the ‘social’ elements. Fie I say. Again they are essentially implementing systems that have been in existance for a long long time here, Usenet I think it was called. Every single one of the social elements in the game, with a few small exceptions (the characters appearing next to each other on screen and maybe character emotes…), have been around since dirt. Or the internet, either way. The party is essentially a chat room. Guilds, basically a mailing list. Friends lists, instant messaging if ever I saw it. Heck the towns are basically Battle.net but with extra pretty pictures. These are especially true in instanced ‘MMOs’ such as Guild Wars where the only time you can run into someone not in your party is in the towns.

So there you have it, I am unimpressed with these features and see that the way they are implemented I could find more enjoyment from playing the single player games they derive from. Admittedly MMOs are the only place I can find all of these things together in one program (by ‘all of these things’ I mean limited RPG systems and stunted social systems…), but I would rather run say two or even three programs to get this functionality than be limited by what the MMO creators decided they had time for while squeezing other almost functional systems into their games.

Continue to Part 5

MMO BOOT CAMP: Day 4

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MMO Boot Camp: Social

Welcome to boot soldier/ warrior/ mage! Below you will find a list of basic social terms and abbreviations found in most MMO games. Study them. Familiarize yourself with them. There will be a test following the ten mile hike. DISMISSED!

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* Terms and abbreviations may vary from game to game.

** This is by no means a definitive list of MMO terms and abbreviations. Got something to add? Comment below!

MMO BOOT CAMP: Day 3

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MMO Boot Camp: Social

Welcome to boot soldier/ warrior/ mage! Below you will find a list of basic social terms and abbreviations found in most MMO games. Study them. Familiarize yourself with them. There will be a test following the ten mile hike. DISMISSED!

Basics 3

* Terms and abbreviations may vary from game to game.

** This is by no means a definitive list of MMO terms and abbreviations. Got something to add? Comment below!

Surf Report – 7/9/09

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Surf Report

Welcome to a Thursday edition of the Surf Report.

.: God :

The concept of Christian accountability has always rubbed me the wrong way. I am uncomfortable with the concept of confessing my own personal struggles, with others that hardly know me, in a group setting. It is not that I am afraid of being transparent or even known. I want people to know me. However, I want the individuals, who are listening to me pour my heart out, have some sort of personal investment in my life. That isn’t asking much. Hanging out once a week, conversing through e-mail, that sort of thing.

Related to this topic, I came across a blog post by Mike Foster that discusses why he doesn’t believe in Christian accountability. Drop on over to his site and take a look. Let me know what you think.

.: Life :

Summer is upon us! JohnnyBGamer.com wants to know…

.: Gaming :

Pokemon LogoThe summer of 2009 is a time for experimentation. This summer, JBG is going to see what happens when 3 guys in their 20’s jump into the world of Pokemon. We’ll keep you posted.

Wave Splinter

That is it for this weeks Surf Report. Make sure to comment below and have a good week!

YMMO? (Part 3)

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My previous article dealt with the claims of MMOs as ‘social’ games, and for this article I would like to look at a similar claim. Many MMOs have long claimed that they have a great community of players, and I have often wondered how true this is. I am not trying to argue that they do not have a community element to them, any group of people with similar interests can be considered a community. I doubt, however, this interpretation of community is what is intended by those who mention the community facet of MMO gameplay. For the next few paragraphs I will be inspecting MMOs in terms of community, how they function as communities, what they lack, where they go wrong, and -if I am feeling nice- where they go right.

Before we look at MMO communities in general, a few things need to be established. First is that I, admittedly, am an outsider looking in to the MMO phenomenon. I have very limited personal experience with MMO worlds, and that experience I do have is limited to hanging out with my real life friends for a few hours in a virtual setting. Next is something I attempted to establish near the end of the previous piece, any virtual social interaction is necessarily limited by the nature of the medium. Finally, something that is often forgotten about communities built around MMOs, at least when they are referenced in real life, they are focused around a game and deal primarily with the things of that game. With those few points out of the way, I am ready to continue.

Now for my big question about MMO community: is there really any? I will freely admit there is plenty of community in the sense that any fan group is a community, but what I am asking is this: Is there really a thriving functioning social community in game? Do these games actually support community in something like the same way a town or small city does? I have seen many descriptions of the nuance and subtlety of guild relations and inter-party speech which seem to imply this type of community does exist within these games, but these descriptions belonged to what I often observe to be a minority within the MMO environments. From my vantage point, on the outside looking in, I see a few small groups of people that get along in a way that resembles a real community, at least with respect to game things, and much larger collection of people that simply want handouts or someone to beat the monster for them or someone to drag them to where they can quickly gain levels worth of experience. What results is less a community and more a collection of players trying to exploit each other toward the same end. This system simply cannot meet or fill the same emotional and mental role of an actual community, it fails by being to narrow and focused on the game and by leaving real concerns or issues untouched. It is also telling that those who form the small community like groups tend to extend their interaction to things and modes outside the game, they were friends to begin with, or they use e-mail or instant messengers to talk about things other than the game when not playing. Essentially, these groups form community by using the game as a spring board to further, and different, interaction. For them the game is not the end of their community, it is merely a part of it.

There is one other problem I have with the MMO approach to community, a problem which I admit is a bit odd considering the ‘social’ premise of these games. It has always bothered me how difficult MMOs make it for someone who attempts to play without engaging in their little community of mutual exploiters. If I wished to play the game on my own for a few hours, I would be very limited in my choice of quests, enemies, and even character types. I admit that these games were intended to be social and that by forcing some degree of interaction they are better able to accomplish this goal, but sometimes you just need to be alone and these environments make for very immersive and enjoyable places to be alone, if you didn’t have to drag a party with you to find anything interesting to fight. On a slightly more social note, this particular limitation also makes getting your characters to a level where you can effectively interact with your high level friends during gameplay far more of a chore by forcing you to grind low level ineffective enemies, simply because you are playing alone for a while.

Again, what I seem to be saying here is that the answer to the question is determined largely by how you chose to approach the game. If you are using the game as a meeting ground, something to bring you together long enough to find other things to relate and talk about, then community is possible from an MMO. If, however, you take what appears to me to be the more common route of viewing the game as essentially social and not using it as merely a starting point, then you will find it to be lacking in the community aspects for which you are looking.

Continue to Part 4