For those who might not be aware, I've been very quiet the past couple weeks as I've been settling into a seasonal summer job. Basically I carry a pickaxe (a real one! - not the Landmark trailblazer kind) and a chainsaw and hike off into the local national forest to clear trails for hikers, horseback, and ATV riders. So far, I've yet to find any burled wood.
It's been a very healthy change of pace from all the heavy writing I did over the past year and a half (covering Landmark and EverQuest Next primarily) and its giving me a lot of perspective on things and lots of time to think and contemplate. The past year has been a maelstrom of change for me with my third child, a move half-way across the country (twice) and two job changes; and that's before all of the gaming-related stuff with SOELive and the rapidly evolving MMORPG genre.
Back to Nature
One of the best parts about my new gig is getting some much-needed time in the outdoors. There's a unique majesty about nature that is easy to forget about when you're not fully immersed in it. It's powerful and compelling.
I've spent a fair bit of time thinking about nature in general and the order of the world, but more specifically I've been thinking about the nature of video games and what drives us to participate. When it comes to MMORPGs (my favorite genre of gaming), I've long felt as though the magic of massively mutlti-player games has gone missing - especially with role-playing games. I know I've written countless articles about this topic, but I know my journey is not yet complete.
I'm still watching EverQuest Next, and keeping an even closer eye on Revival - but they're both still distant mysteries.
It's fun to theory-craft and imagine what the developers have talked about and where those games are going and even how they might eventually look - but it's all still vaporware. They aren't real games yet, and that doesn't sit well with me. When I look around the genre at the current landscape of games, nothing really stands out. It's kind of depressing really. I've resorted to picking up classic games with close friends and diving back into the nostalgia there, even picking up old Sega and NES titles to enjoy the RPGs of a different era altogether.
They're passing the time, but there is still a large void where games like vanilla EverQuest and Ultima Online once thrived. Hell, even just doing some text-based AD&D RPG gaming in an AOL chatroom sounds good right now. Anything to bring back the feeling that I'm exploring and intriguing world that was alive and vibrant.
I know what made those experience special: other people.
In MMOs today, real people have gone missing. Living, believable characters with personality are completely gone. If you scour the genre's best games and biggest RP servers, you might stumble across a couple - but a couple does not an MMO make. I remember where there were dozens, hundreds, even thousands of unique characters, with real people behind them. Those worlds (though also completely static) acutally felt alive back then.
They felt populated.
Today, not so much. There's too much in the way of socializing. There are too many achievements to pursue, too many directions to go in, and too many barriers keeping people from playing with who they want - when they want. Probably more important than anything else, strangers have absolutely no reason to invest their time in interacting with you. Pick any game on the market and you'd be lucky to list a handful of mechanics that inspire, encourage, or demand social interaction (with few or none linking up total strangers in a meaningful way).
That makes these games feel hollow.
And why not, right? If you're an MMORPG, and the world doesn't feel massive, multiplayer, or like you have an important role to fill - what's left from that acronym besides 'online' and 'game'? At that point you may as well be playing a MOBA or a First Person Arena Shooter (and the majority of online gamers are - myself included). There's no point to invest your time in an MMORPG these days, because they don't really exist - at least not in the way that they used to.
The nature of MMORPGs is dead (or dormant, at least).
The core experience that early online gamers fell in love with is hardly more than a memory right now, and the more we keep throwing money at sub-par experiences because of a lack of options, they more they're going to believe that we actually enjoy what these games have become. Even the crown jewel - World of Warcraft is seeing it's experience eroded with more superficial content than ever before, and game mechanics that continue to further isolate players from each other.
I really want to challenge readers to comment why they play MMORPGs (why you used to, why you do, and why you still want to). Feel free to use examples from the past, present, and even future hopes. Tell me why you like MMORPGs and if you still like them as much today as you do the first time you played. I'm honestly curious about what everyone collectively thinks about the nature of this genre.
Does it still even exist?
Where do you stand on the current crop of games out there and which ones are holding your interest, if any? Can you share why?
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