The Human Element in MMOs
Life is expensive and the world is really lonely. Out on the streets, we meet a lot of people, but meeting is all we do, if that. I guess the better descriptor there is that we see other people with our eyes, but there is no connection. Go into any store and there is someone behind the counter, you can talk to them, sure, but your interaction will be short and they will speak from a script. There isn't a lot of Human to Human interaction out there... that is cheap.
Friends are awesome, but they cost a lot of money. Each friend is a financial commitment in both gas and luxuries that most of us can't afford. If you want to go to a bar, you'll need to buy drinks, but each drink is the same price as lunch and dinner, and oh you'll need a lot of 'em before the night is over. If you try to talk about Happy Hour you'll get scuffed at as if only true scrubs show up at the bar when it's economical to drink.
Let's not forget driving, trying to combine schedules, someone is late, traffic, or whatever either calling your meeting with a friend off or making it uncomfortable, the general idea originally though was to increase your comfort in the world. Then, there is the unknown, it's scary out there - Police "raided" people who were feeding the homeless in one city. Who knew that charity work was against the law?
I mean, I am making it sound a bit worse than it is, but only to highlight the difficulty in meeting and hanging out with friends in real life, outside of fixed events like Church or game nights where everyone has it set to their schedule to meet up and hangout, there just isn't a lot in the way of easy low-commitment hanging out, you know. Life isn't Seinfield, that's for sure.
Then there are MMOs. For either no fee or a small tithe to the gaming gods each month, you can access a virtual world where you are represented by an avatar either similar or not like yourself. You can talk, interact, and even be forced into social situations with other players. You can barter for goods, become a baron, or even a king and all of it without much investment or even sometimes involvement from you.
You're given this wide open world where you can chat and talk and interact with people and they're all Humans. In WoW, there was this peaceful moment recently where I realized, in my dungeon there were four other real life Humans. If you use your keyboard to type something, odds are they will say something back to you. It might be "reported" or some allegation of what your mom might have did with them last night, but a real human will type it.
It's funny how quickly we, as a community or a large slice of the gaming pie, forget so quickly that the people wandering around in Destiny or that Orc in WoW is a living, breathing Human being. We've all adjusted to it and it's common place and children being brought up today learn at an early age about the people online. They meld so quickly into our reality, that we often forget that they're real or why we even sought to associate ourselves with the game and the people who play.
Because real friends cost money and time, and as great as they are and necessary for a healthy social life, the people online are there 24/7 and you don't have to get out of your chair to talk to someone. It's not like a forum either or a reddit or a twitter or a facebook, there are living and animated representations of people who have other worldly powers that come to your aid and assist you on this epic quest to gain power and fame.
We used to see a lot of webcomics that would romanticize this, one of them was the Flintlocke's Guide to Azeroth comic or even the old days of Penny Arcade or GU Comics or even VG Cats. They used to all run these really animated stories of fictional adventures in the game and contrast that with the character's real lives (like in PVP (Online)). Remember The Guild? The early seasons when they actually played video games?
In the mid to late 2000s, there was a lot of really fun things that made MMOs feel sort of like Sword Art Online or Log Horizon or Hack // Slash, like these virtual communities with bars and inns and people all over the world.
Now, though, it's so much of a part of our lives, that we forget the novel feeling it brings. Just like cellphones, 10 years ago almost no one had one. Now, people start shopping for their kid a phone around 8. The takeaway here is that we're so accustomed now to gaming with people online we've forgotten they're people.
We, as a community, actually hate games that place people as a limiter to content. In the old days of WoW, there used to be these elite quests that forced you to get a group and play what was essentially legacy MMO content. You had to crowd control one enemy, then pull the other, then DPS it down as fast as possible while keeping the other under control (kiting, fearing, poly, etc.), then dispatch the other one, and then rest. This was a condensed version of it, but it still forced you to play nicely with others.
That's gone, obviously, as it's a barricade to fun, fun being some awesome Space Marine that can never die ever and you one shot everything and you're just so cool aren't you. The only time we get to really get intimate time with one another is doing premades or dungeons together, which is great, but we try so hard to streamline and militarize the forces in the game we often lose ourselves into sort of a loot business.
I do hope that games going forward aren't afraid to make people stop and see each other. ArcheAge does a fantastic job with the criminal system, it gets people talking on chat, making jokes and making friends, while letting people go farm in their gardens. I mean, that's the attraction to games of the yesteryear, right?
I don't know, I do hope we don't forget the Human element in games. Destiny, while not an MMO but is an MMO, doesn't even have couch co-op. On the flip side, the PS4 lets you play a friends game remotely, which is great, but I mean at the same time I just long for that we have 10 minutes before we can do anything in this game, how was your day?
So, with that, let me ask, how was your day today?