Chasing the Virtual Dragon and the Search for Wonder

by Wolfshead on April 22, 2011

There is no doubt that many years ago when I first started to be seduced by the charms of EverQuest — the first fully realized 3D virtual world — I was overcome with a feeling of euphoria. Being transported with friends from all over the world to a strange magical land of fantasy and adventure was unlike anything I had ever experienced.

After the eventual decline of EverQuest I found myself continually searching for a replacement virtual world. Although World of Warcraft created a superbly detailed and immersive experience there was something always missing. Many years later and many MMOs later I still feel that no other MMO has ever been able to successfully recreate all of those feelings that EverQuest produced.

So here I am, 11 years after the release of EverQuest still chasing that virtual dragon.

The phrase chasing the dragon has a very dark meaning for those who have suffered drug addiction. According to those who have faced the relentless bondage of addiction once you get your first taste of the drug, the next time as your body starts to develop a resistance and you find yourself needing more and more.

I often wonder if my experience of being a part of the virtual world of Norrath has left me with a similar unfortunate craving. They called EverQuest “EverCrack” for a reason: it felt very addictive. I remember waking up early before work to play; I remember losing nights of sleep as well; I recall caring more about Norrath then the real world — all classic patterns of addiction. Yet at time I used to cringe when people used to bring up the subject of EverQuest and addiction. I knew I could quit anytime but I didn’t.

The only reason I quit was because eventually EverQuest just played itself out. EverQuest died a death of a thousand cuts or maybe it just died of old age. Regardless, I’m glad it did.

You rarely hear much about addiction and MMOs these days. MMOs and video games have become an accepted part of our culture as other seemingly addictive pursuits such as watching television, texting, surfing the Internet, online gambling and more.

I know what you are thinking. Here goes Wolfshead warning us all about the dangers of addiction. Not so. What I really felt like writing about was how I feel about the MMO genre lately. The truth is that MMOs have become far less important in my life. In fact I barely even think about them and rarely play them and occasionally still write about them. I’m not alone either. Many bloggers have either quit blogging or they feel the same way as I do.

Either MMOs have gotten worse or I have become jaded. I think both of these observations are correct. But I can no longer deny that the sense of wonder is gone for me.

One of my favorite songs is Harry Potter and the Paganization of Children’s Culture Michael O’Brien makes this lucid point about Tolkien:

In his essay “On Fairy Stories” J.R.R. Tolkien pointed out that because man is made in the image and likeness of God he is endowed with faculties that reflect his Creator. One of these is the gift of “sub-creation” — the human creator may give form to other worlds populated by imaginary peoples and beasts, where fabulous environments are the stage for astounding dramas. The primal desire at the heart of such imagining, he says, is the “realization of wonder.” If our eyes are opened to see existence as wonder-full, then we become more capable of reverential awe before the Source of it all.

This is very deep stuff and as an aside I wonder if Richard Bartle is even aware of Tolkien’s theories as religion in virtual worlds seems to preoccupy him lately. (By the way,  the rest of the essay is well worth the read if you have the time and inclination to learn more about the intersection of culture and religion.)

Reading O’Brien’s take on Tolkien makes me feel that perhaps it’s not so bad after all to want to experience a sense of awe and wonder. Could this inherent human longing be a divine gift? Has God instilled in us this supernatural yearning for heaven? Why aren’t virtual worlds doing more to tap into this innate human need to experience wonder? Could it be that fantasy virtual worlds have failed to realize their fullest, deepest and even cosmic potential?

Anyone who regularly reads this blog knows that I believe they have not realized their potential. There has to be virtual world virtues that exist beyond those of just sheer entertainment and amusement. I highly doubt that Chris Metzen, Rob Pardo, Tom Chilton or anyone else in charge of any major MMO today has any clue of the power and potential that they wield in their mortal hands. Of course I may be wrong but not likely. The creation is only good as its creator and therein lies the true problem.

Imagine if Tolkien had the power and resources of Blizzard at his disposal. Oh what a wonderful world it could be…

-Wolfshead

{ 31 comments… read them below or add one }

Nils April 22, 2011 at 3:44 am

There is exactly one reason today’s MMORPGs have not realized their full potential: They are made for working people with a family and many other resposibilities. Just wait a few more decades when the first MMORPG generation retires. If we still have a working social market economy then, wonderful virtual worlds will be created and sold.

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Wolfshead April 22, 2011 at 11:10 pm

That’s a very interesting point to consider. I would agree that much of the success of the WoW MMO model is based on letting people accomplish things in a short period of time. There is definitely a philosophy that seems to want to dole out faster gratification to players. So this might help explain why MMOs have become more accessible to a wider demographic.

We are though at that point now with Facebook where there are lots of people (especially females) who spend countless hours there.

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Shane Hughes May 5, 2011 at 12:02 pm

I agree with this. It would be nice if there were less instant gratification, but still have the ability to work on said quest as time allows. If a quest were to be made up of sections that required ranges of time from 15 minutes to 2 hours, then i could log on before work, work on that quest for 15 20 minutes and still have it matter.

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Dblade April 24, 2011 at 11:16 am

I’d say they have. I don’t think any MMO can compete with Second Life in terms of potential or feature set. No MMO gives as much power to shape their character and world as it: the only thing that is missing from it is carrot and stick progression.

MMOs are not moving that way though, but the opposite. They are becoming more limited, not less.

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Tesh April 22, 2011 at 8:43 am

Well, look at the “gamification” blight. It’s driven by metrics, both to mold behavior and make profit… because it works. That sense of wonder is too ephemeral and, well, spiritual to really hang something as base as behavior manipulation and pickpocketing from.

I’m with you, I think that wonder has a touch of the divine, and it’s something that drives my sense of play and my designs. It’s just… games are big business. That changes things. Big games (and make no mistake, MMOs are big financial risks) aren’t being made because they need to be made out of a sense of cosmic creativity, or because they need to be shared. They are made to make money.

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Wolfshead April 22, 2011 at 11:19 pm

Yes I agree with the gamification disease. Blizzard is the main offender here as they stated from the start that the “game” part of WoW would always take precedence over the “world”. This is why there is still no player housing in WoW and probably never will be because the game is their Holy Grail.

Tolkien started work on the history of Middle-earth in The Silmarillion long before the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings was released. I don’t believe that he created that cosmos with the expectation or desire that it would make money and someday be the big corporate moneymaking venture that the Tolkien Estate and Tolkien Enterprises has become.

I’m not against making at all but there has to be a better balance between creating good art and turning a profit. I find only using demographics and metrics to be repugnant and I feel it has no place in the design of virtual worlds. This unfortunate practice is the reason you see so many generic soulless WoW clones out there.

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SteinAuf April 22, 2011 at 8:49 am

agree, agree, agree. MMOs have hardly scratched the surface of what they could become. I’m playing RIFT now because I did not play WOW and wanted to experience the current MMO state-of-the-art. It’s not all-that-and-a-bag-of-gold, but it’s a pleasant diversion for what it is.

Tolkien’s scholarship and his religion helped legitimize fantasy for me when I was younger. And I believe it did help me see more wonder in the real world. This is a valuable way of accessing faith that Catholics are better at than Protestants (me).

I still think about trying to do some small part to move MMOs forward…if only I don’t stop dreaming first.

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Logan April 22, 2011 at 9:42 am

i don’t think wonder is the right word… wonder is too broad and difficult to define… i would call it curiosity.

human beings desire understanding… it’s part of the reason we created religion in the first place, as a way to explain things we didn’t yet understand (like why the sun rises every morning, or why it rains, or why the starts move in the sky)… it’s this curiosity and desire to learn and understand that makes virtual worlds so enticing.. at least to me anyway.

think about a really good story… it doesn’t fill you with wonder, it fills you with curiosity… it makes you want to keep reading/listening to find out what happens next.

We’re definitely not the only species with a sense of wonder/curiosity, dolphins immediately come to mind… so the idea that humans alone are touched by divinity seems a bit absurd to me… then again the whole idea of divinity is a bit absurd to me.. but anyway…

Tolkien was good, but personally i’d love to see George RR Martin’s world from the Song of Ice and Fire series turned into a virtual world… but it would take years and years to do it justice, and by the time it was released it would be so outdated there’s no way it could make a profit…. true virtual worlds are hard.. and the rate at which technology moves makes it almost impossible to keep up.

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Wolfshead April 22, 2011 at 11:25 pm

That’s a very good point. I think curiosity is a kindred spirit of wonder.

Regarding Martin’s world the new HBO series Game of Thrones has been getting incredibly good reviews and HBO has renewed it for a 2nd season.

I agree that it would be a good candidate for a virtual world. I think Eddings world of Belgarath would be another great candidate for a MMO.

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Max April 22, 2011 at 12:35 pm

@Nils
Interesting angle. I do however think there are plenty of people today who would want immerse themselves in virtual worlds . How big is this market compared to others? -hmmm. Hard to beat farmville.

I think audience for virtual worlds would still stay small – it requires certain kind of people who would enjoy it (just like not everybody enjoys reading ) .

@Tesh
The path of gaming industry reminds me that of a movie industry. Majority of stuff is just junk made with a template for profit as sole reason.

But then once in a blue moon you get a truly great movie (like memento for example). And even some mainstream stuff is good occasionally

Barriers right now is that MMO requires lots of resources- I remember one analogy that if games are like movies then imaging that you had to invent camera and film for every movie and handcraft every object in the scene . Your actors are manekins and you have to frame capture them to make them move .And so on

When making MMOs becomes less expensive we would see innovation

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Tesh April 22, 2011 at 1:31 pm

Agreed wholly. I’ve argued almost precisely that before. Lately, I’ve theorized that the industry would have better iterative evolution if smaller scoped games were more prevalent; more Guild Wars (subscriptionless, a storyline *end*, not designed to be played for years), less WoW treadmills (string players along for years and suck ‘em dry).

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Longasc April 22, 2011 at 1:11 pm

Interesting… but how about some reputation and barter token grind plus dailies and progression raid locks? We will rinse and repeat the scheme with every content update and expansion. *runs for cover*

While I don’t play Minecraft, maybe the next big thing will be something like that. It has this world and creation thing going, and it entices a lot of people. Or maybe Guild Wars 2 will do the trick, but I have the gut feeling that it will be more a standard MMO than GW1 and just offer “public quests v3.0″, no idea how good this will be in the end.

Oh well, I’ll probably continue playing casual MMOs for working people with a family and feel old while doing so. :P I still claim the very first MMOs were much closer to the things you described, despite all their flaws, than our contemporary breed of MMOs. I wonder what abbreviation we will have for the next big thing that might fulfill the desires that contemporary MMOs no longer seem to satisfy.

I think I am now one step further, instead of hoping for the next bigger, better MMO I now hope for an entirely new genre or type of game. Funny… :)

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Wolfshead April 22, 2011 at 11:21 pm

It’s hard to think of both Tolkien and Bartle in the same league but I wonder if both of them as creators of worlds had something in common when created their worlds : passion.

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Dril April 23, 2011 at 4:03 am

Gaming becoming more mainstream is becoming both a blessing and a curse; I wouldn’t say the current (and alarming) decline in time required is unique to MMOs, but has been observed through virtually every medium of entertainment.

Take books (or, rather, stories in general). Apart from a few noted exceptions, large, multi-volume books aren’t a huge, money-making deal because they take time to read and get through. But you know what is popular? EastEnders. Soaps. Why? Because they’re easy to understand. You can become immersed quickly, watch it for 30 minutes, and if you miss an episode the omnibus airs on weekends. It doesn’t require much time or thought, and it delivers semi-daily thrills and horror at all their pursuits. It’s a roller-coaster: you get on for half an hour, experience the joy and the disgust and the drama, and get off again 30 minutes later. Now, what does that sound like? Yeah.

Music is another. Before everyone here was born, watching it was was either a long, drawn-out and above all extremely costly affair (and they still exist in the form of, for want of a better term, “classical” concerts. Obviously classical is just one subset of music distinct from baroque and the like, but it serves as a generic term.) Or, it was a family or friends affair, singing and dancing to well-known tunes passed down from generation to generation, but with the advent of mass communication and the 21st century, we’re now stuck with samey, generic, hopelessly boring songs topping the charts every week. They’re accessible, easy to listen to, and you can bop your head to them. But they do nothing more. No one’s going to look at the current chart toppers here in the UK and go “yes, that was a defining moment of musical brilliance.” Because it’s anything but.

Both of the above cases have very striking parallels here in the MMO sphere. But we can draw hope from one thing: in both cases, the old guard, for better or worse, still exists and, if not thrives, then at least gets by. Mayhaps TOR, GW2, TSW, ArcheAge or hell even TERA will fit into the mould that suffered a heart attack with the advent of TBC, was beaten around the head by WotLK, was shot-dead outright by Cata and was finally pissed on and buried 20 feet under by RIFT.

We can hope that our leisure activity follows the path of others. I maintain the hope that it will. But I fear we will, for a good few years at least, be looking, ironically, into the future for the MMO that’s a throwback to the past.

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Tesh April 23, 2011 at 9:26 am

For what it’s worth, a friend of mine told me that “wonder” translated into Spanish meant “to ask one’s self”. I think it’s worth noting that players have to take an active part in wondering. If we buy into the gamification, we’re not holding up our end of the bargain either.

Even in WoW, there’s still a world to explore. The artists, at least, cared enough about it to make it well. We should go explore it more and stop whining about the Golden Path that we’re free to ignore.

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Tesh April 23, 2011 at 9:31 am

…mind you, I detest content gating by level, but once you have flight, you can go almost anywhere. If you’re not afraid to sneak around, you can go a lot of places you’re not “supposed” to go to. There are ways to see the world.

Not so much in the way of influencing it, though, which really is unfortunate… but understandable given the griefing potential. Without a good way to cull abuse and abusers, we’re stuck with some handrails on the experience.

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Wolfshead April 23, 2011 at 3:16 pm

The problem with exploration is that it is a finite resource. Once you’ve explored everything what is left to do for the explorer?

That is why exploration must be integrated into other aspects of virtual worlds/MMOs such as achievement and in most cases it is. Exploration should be a reward for advancement. Want to see the world? Level up young man.

No one component can and should stand on it’s own. It’s all about creating and crafting a balance. WoW is out of balance and in a state of disharmony as it relies far too much on the game (numbers, stats, strategies, etc.). There is no doubt that this is the pernicious influence of Tom Chilton. This is the guy that after hearing that players actually like to *gasp* role-play in virtual worlds thought it was “interesting”.

Huh? Talk about someone who is completely out of touch with his playerbase. I’d much rather have someone like Raph Koster in control of WoW than Tom Chilton. At least there would be some balance.

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Longasc April 24, 2011 at 4:32 am

Just read the Wikipedia article about Tom Chilton and Ultima Online: Age of Shadows, paragraph criticism. None of the original three WoW lead designers was a huge world/roleplaying fan, Pardo and Kaplan were min/maxers and raiders first and foremost. No idea what credentials Chilton had except ruining Ultima Online.

Kaplan is now supposedly working on Titan and while he was quite *cough* in his youth he did a lot for WoW and also had the most interesting talks at Blizzcons, at least IMO. He might have some new ideas for the future, hear hear! Calling Chilton the PvP Guru at Blizzard and taking a look at WoW PvP I can only wonder how the guy got the job and even more that he still has it.

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curzen April 25, 2011 at 6:48 am

I’m waiting for actual groundbreaking innovation at this point. a game that is an mmo but goes into a totally different direction than running a character around, quest, loot, level and raid. might have to wait for a long time though…

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Richard Bartle April 25, 2011 at 9:11 am

>I wonder if Richard Bartle is even aware of Tolkien’s theories

Yes, I am, although all I knew when I wrote MUD1 was what was in the LotR appendices.

Why wouldn’t I be aware of Tolkien’s theories?

Richard

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Wolfshead April 26, 2011 at 1:33 am

Hello Richard,

I’m a big fan of your work.

I’m not quite sure myself why I phrased it as I did. I believed at the time I was somewhat annoyed with some of your recent presentation.

Let me just start by saying that many of the literary establishment and intelligentsia of the past century had a problem with Tolkien and his writings. I suspect much of this animus is due to the fact that he didn’t embrace modernism and that he was a traditional Roman Catholic.

http://www.lewrockwell.com/carson/carson10.html

After reading the last paragraph in your recent presentation “Gods and Games” it seems you are admitting you are an atheist but I may be wrong. As someone who admires your work, I was taken aback by what you said and now I realize why you prefaced the article with the mention of “hubris”. These days any mention of religion or god is like walking through a minefield but I admire your courage for doing so.

Atheists don’t normally go out looking for evidence of the existence of God nor would they be likely to support theories that would support the existence of God. Many atheists in the news lately especially in post-Christian Europe have become rather militant; they are no longer content to not believe in a god, they want people of faith not to believe as well.

From my point of view, someone like yourself might not be predisposed to want to examine a theory that Tolkien according to O’Brien believed that our ability to want to create is due to the influence of a creator who created us. Of course I may be completely wrong and I apologize if I am.

Both yourself and Tolkien are fellow creators and “gods” in your own right. Given what you have in common, I would hope that you would find his theory interesting and hopefully fascinating even if you don’t agree with it. Why we create is just as important as what we create.

I’ve been interested in virtual worlds for over 12 years and to my knowledge I’ve never heard a MMO commentator or luminary mention that particular Tolkien theory that helps to explain the innate human need to create. Again I may be wrong.

(I would be very interested in hearing your thoughts on Tolkien’s theory if and whenever you have the time.)

In your book, Designing Virtual Worlds you give a fair amount of respect to Tolkien’s achievements in creating Middle-earth. It has been years since I read it and if I had remembered what you said I probably would have phrased my comments in the original article quite differently realizing that as an academic you’d probably might have been exposed to some of Tolkien’s other writings.

Thanks for stopping by and keep up the good work!

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Richard Bartle April 26, 2011 at 5:13 am

>I believed at the time I was somewhat annoyed with some of your recent presentation.

That’s fine, I wasn’t expecting it to be universally approved…

>many of the literary establishment and intelligentsia of the past century had a problem with Tolkien and his writings.

I’ve got no problem with Tolkien. As I’ve said several times before, The Lord of the Rings was an important influence on the development of MUD – not so much because of its content, but because it was a proof of concept: it showed that a self-contained, believable, consistent imaginary world could be created. It showed what was possible.

>After reading the last paragraph in your recent presentation “Gods and Games” it seems you are admitting you are an atheist

Well yes, I am an atheist. I say so in my book (twice!).

>These days any mention of religion or god is like walking through a minefield but I admire your courage for doing so.

It shouldn’t take courage at all. No modern religion advocates causing harm to people who don’t believe it; if there are individuals who do advocate that, then that’s a problem for other adherents of that religion as much as it is a problem for those in the firing line.

>Atheists don’t normally go out looking for evidence of the existence of God

No, but if presented with compelling evidence then they would accept it. However, if there were such compelling evidence then a lot of religious people wouldn’t accept it. Much religion is based on faith; if there is compelling evidence, then you don’t need faith, therefore a big bite is taken out of religion.

Also, it depends on the religion. If Zeus suddenly appeared and announced that the Ancient Greeks were correct and all this monotheistic stuff is nonsense, that would displease a lot of religious people even more than it would displease atheists.

>they are no longer content to not believe in a god, they want people of faith not to believe as well.

Well, it’s more of a case of secularism versus non-secularism. Religions in general and certain faiths in particular (depending on the country) sometimes get special dispensations that some people believe have no place in a modern society. It’s not so much that “militant atheists” want to convert religious people (well, no more than religious people want to convert atheists); rather, it’s that they want a level playing field.

>From my point of view, someone like yourself might not be predisposed to want to examine a theory that Tolkien according to O’Brien believed that our ability to want to create is due to the influence of a creator who created us.

I don’t particularly want to examine that, no, as it is predicated on a belief that there is a creator in the first place. Likewise, I don’t suppose that, were he alive today, Tolkien would be predisposed to want to examine a theory that said: having created a number of worlds, and learned the rudiments of world-design as a result, we can deduce that if our reality were created by some kind of deity, that deity wasn’t a very good designer.

Also, I don’t recall what Tolkien said about where the presumed creator’s ability to create came from.

>Given what you have in common, I would hope that you would find his theory interesting and hopefully fascinating even if you don’t agree with it.

Yes, it is, but I don’t buy it. The universe we live in has a number of basic design errors that anyone who has designed worlds for any length of time just would not make. Tolkien is impressed by the level of detail, which is indeed impressive; however, above that level there are just too many faults. Tolkien sees the design of the world as evidence of the hand of a creator; I see it as evidence of the lack of the hand of a creator.

>Why we create is just as important as what we create.

I agree.

For Tolkien, it was an important part of his faith – he was doing God’s will – and it brought great joy to him and to the millions who have read his books (including me).

For me, it’s to do with freedom. Reality is oppressive and constraining; we can never be who we really are. All we can do is create ways to glimpse and experience being our true selves.

For some people, religion does this – rarely (but not impossibly) in this world, and hopefully (but not guaranteed) in the next. That’s fine if you’re prepared to believe what you need to believe in order to gain the benefit; I’m not, though.

>I’ve been interested in virtual worlds for over 12 years and to my knowledge I’ve never heard a MMO commentator or luminary mention that particular Tolkien theory that helps to explain the innate human need to create.

I’m pretty sure Ted Castronova has. I may be wrong, but I think Tolkien’s theories may have had some bearing on his own embracing of Catholicism (he dallied with atheism for a while but that didn’t really work for him).

I suppose for form’s sake I should point out that Tolkien’s theory doesn’t “help to explain” the innate human need to create unless you’re a particular brand of religious person, because evolution also explains it. This is still OK if you believe evolution was engineered into the universe by your deity of choice, but it’s not OK if you’re a creationist.

>Thanks for stopping by and keep up the good work!

You’re welcome!

Richard

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smee, T April 30, 2011 at 1:08 am

Did an author just troll on a minor video game blog?

If anyone missed it, he basically called all religious folk morons who will believe anything and atheists the most logical people in the world who would believe in God if presented the evidence.
Making a massive assumption with massive repercussions in the process. Basically accusing all those religious to be completely illogical. Based on your assumption, does that mean that this goes beyond their core belief? So does this ‘faith’ based thought affect their everyday lives?

This assumption also assumes that atheism (I’m guessing specifically evolution) is the least faith based, which is interesting considering it is a process that has never been seen. That is from one species to the next, molecular to man.

Your vast assumption raises an amazing amount of questions, like where did this assumption come out of (a.k.a. evidence)? And can it actually be applied? It is interesting that a man who obviously defines himself by facts over faith would make such a faith-based assumption in and of itself.

Then you continue to make assumptions (or character assassinations on those who disagree with your beliefs, as I’d like to call it) based on NOTHING about an example of an Ancient Greek god. Stinks of troll, reminds me of other atheist trolls who accuse those who are religious by bring up old faiths that have run their time.

“modern religion advocates causing harm to people”

Just goes to show you know nothing of Islam.

Sad, you pretty much ruined all your creditability. Too bad, I think I was baited! Yet it was an extremely good troll, because even the common trolls don’t go so far as calling a whole group of people stupid at the core just for believing in something that they do not. This is a judgement of the whole person rather than just their choice to believe in something.

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Richard Bartle April 30, 2011 at 7:51 am

smee, T>Did an author just troll on a minor video game blog?

My Google vanity search picked up my name, I saw that it was suggested that I was ignorant of Tolkien’s work, so I pointed out that I wasn’t.

>he basically called all religious folk morons who will believe anything and atheists the most logical people in the world who would believe in God if presented the evidence.

Believe what you want to believe. I didn’t say that, but if you want to believe I did, I can’t stop you…

>Basically accusing all those religious to be completely illogical.

Show me where I say that.

Religious people can be incredibly logical; the only difference is whether or not you accept the axioms of their logic. They do, I don’t (and you just go for logic-free ad hominem attacks).

>This assumption also assumes that atheism (I’m guessing specifically evolution) is the least faith based, which is interesting considering it is a process that has never been seen.

Next time you’re in hospital, ask for good old-fashioned penicillin rather than any of the modern antibiotics that have been developed to combat the bacteria that have evolved to resist it. If there’s no such thing as evolution, you’ll be just fine.

>That is from one species to the next, molecular to man.

No, that has been observed – it’s called “speciation”. See http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/speciation.html .

>Then you continue to make assumptions (or character assassinations on those who disagree with your beliefs, as I’d like to call it)

As you like to read it. It wasn’t how I wrote it.

Look, if you’re own faith is shaky and you want to strengthen it by making wild accusations, there’s not a lot I can do to stop you. Go right ahead, knock yourself out. Just don’t expect it to make one iota of difference.

>Stinks of troll

Are you sure that stink isn’t coming from you?

>Just goes to show you know nothing of Islam.

Modern Islam doesn’t advocate causing harm to people who don’t believe it. Sure, it wants converts, but it doesn’t want people who are forced to convert – that’s counter-productive.

>even the common trolls don’t go so far as calling a whole group of people stupid at the core just for believing in something that they do not.

And where did I call these people stupid? You’re the one who’s calling them stupid (in my name), not me.

To everyone else reading this: sorry, I didn’t expect to clog up your blog with this kind of stuff when I first responded. My apologies…

Richard

Wayshuba April 25, 2011 at 12:54 pm

I think part fo the boredom stems from two things:

First, there has been very little innovation in the MMO space since Everquest. Yes companies have created some sub-systems, or come up with some interesting quests, but few (or none) have figured how to keep players engaged and have turned everything into grind-grind-grind. In fact, it is rather disturbing that they know this yet they continue to do it or make it worse (LOTRO with the recent Update 2 comes to mind). Their p***-poor excuse is that this is what MMOs are and I call BS on that. If you know players don’t enjoy it then its time to design a game differently, not hide behind a lame BS excuse and subject players and customers to utter boredom.

Which leads to the second point. I see very little in current MMOs that capture the amazement that came with pen-and-paper games. There is a reason DnD became huge and it wasn’t because they incorporated the least fun thing to do in the world in it – grind. It was about story, amazement, new experiences, etc. With all the technology available today, why can’t developers think about this and try to incorporate it in? When you see comments on the most memorable games, what is it mainly about – story.

Honestly, this industry needs some designers beyond the current crop. They are turning out the same old junk from title to title but thinking if they put different weapon systems, or a different type of quest it will attract players. They believe that the sense of wonder will simply come from the art and graphics; rather than realizing that is just one part of the whole. Almost all of them are missing the point.

The only exception I see recently is GW2. It is refreshing to see a company looking at the core design issues, discussing and analyzing them intelligently, and seeing how technology can be used to deliver that amazement again. You mentioned explorer and they recognize and have even addressed this – through a world that is planned to be constantly changing.

As a side, I know some will mention SWTOR and the fact it is being done by BioWare. While they have done great RPGs in the past, I see little so far, that shows they are doing much different other than adding voice over. While I’m sure many will be attracted because it is Star Wars, veteran MMO players will probably find themselves bored again in short order when they realize it is the same thing as always with a different skin.

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Lumin April 25, 2011 at 4:05 pm

I created a game like this, it’s called Faery Tale Online.

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Jon April 25, 2011 at 8:50 pm

I agree in part. However, I think we look at our distant past MMO/EQ experiences with rose colored glasses. EQ in 1999 was brutally unforgiving much the time. There was virtually no tutorial. I remember my little Erudite Wizard being literally blind in Tox Forrest after sundown due to that race’s inability to see at night and no wizard spells to help with the problem. Thus making Corpse Recovery a very difficult and frustrating new player experience. The near constant mob trains to dungeon exits that were very dangerous and largely out of a group’s control if and when it happened. The hour(s) of experience loss for an single unresurrected corpse. As a wizard it was foolish to group because I could get far better experience soloing as there was no group experience bonus back then. The experience grinding required for all levels, especially the “hell” levels. Not having any idea what the character attribute points effected when creating your first characters. Having to look at one’s spell book while medding!

Those are just the annoying things I remember off the top of my head. And I won’t even get into the bugs and poor EQ quest system. (Missing or incorrect quest items turned in? All items destroyed! UGH!)

BUT I do agree that there were very interesting and new game play experiences that lead to excitement, anticipation and even wonder. Especially before the Allakazam item/quest websites got going. Where almost all EQ knowledge was attained through in-game rumors and help from fellow players. The thrill of venturing to new and potentially dangerous areas as you slowly leveled. The fun of haggling and trading gold and items at the West Commons tunnel marketplace. The thrill of a named mob popping with a rare drop. Seeing high level characters in wolf form or having cool pets or exotic weapons and armor, hinting at the wonders yet to come for you, if one could only level up. Even the fun of giving a hapless noob a helpful weapon or item, maybe making their day, on the way back to sell at your home city. I think many of these experiences cannot be fully reproduced because they fail to be *new* experiences anymore in modern MMO’s. Meaning future MMO’s will have to come up with features that provide fundamentally new game play experiences or we’ll never have an EQ like “feeling” ever again.

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Wolfshead April 26, 2011 at 1:42 am

Jon, I feel pretty much the same as you! EverQuest gave me so many amazing memories. But isn’t it interesting how we remember all of those “virtual’ hardships. However, I can barely remember anything memorable in WoW.

I think I’d rather live in a world where I have to work for things and where existence is a challenge, compared to a life of luxury where I sit around all day and am pampered.

Every MMO developer since Blizzard seems to think that everything has to be “fun” or it’s not worth being included in a MMO. Well it sure isn’t fun having everything handed to you.

The current crop of MMO devs need to stop pandering to players. The truth is that players don’t know what they want.

I agree with you that we need to start seeing some NEW features. It’s time to reinvent the venerable MMO wheel.

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Nollind Whachell April 26, 2011 at 9:25 am

I’m reminded of the Matrix movies when Neo is told by Agent Smith that the first iteration of the Matrix (as a complex virtual ecosystem) was a failure because it was too perfect for humans to accept.

We’re experiencing this same problem within MMOs because we’re removing too many of the limitations and hardships within these environments, thus making them feel “perfectly” wrong in the process. In effect, how can you achieve a sense of space, if you don’t create boundaries to define that space? Thus it’s not so much of a question as to why we should remove boundaries but why we should retain them. Often times, when you change to that perspective, you’ll start seeing all sorts of connections within your world and communities created by these edges and boundaries.

I never got the chance to play Everquest but I did play a WWII MMO flight sim gamed called Warbirds many years ago. It was probably the most enjoyable community experience I ever encountered within an online game, even though it had a large learning curve and a very realistic experience within it. For example, it required a lot of dexterity and intelligence to maneuver and outwit your opponents. So right there, that’s one big barrier. In addition, to achieve victory in the game, you often had to take off at your own occupied air bases and fly a considerable time to the enemy’s air base (at least 15 minutes), plus engage it with others because it was almost impossible to capture alone. That’s a couple of other barriers right there (i.e. creating space which adds time, as well as not soloable).

Yet it was actually because of these barriers that the game was so enjoyable. When you flew for 15 minutes or more, you often had time to chat and strategize with other countrymen or squadrons. Often times in an evening, you’d coordinate on multiple bases with the same people, thus friendships could easily be established in just a few hours of play because you quickly get to know the person and get a feel for them. Plus when you actually got to your destination, achieving a single kill on an enemy pilot was an amazing experience because it took a lot of effort to get to that point. And yes, even though getting shot down was frustrating, it still made the overall experience that much more precious and rewarding.

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Wolfshead April 28, 2011 at 2:18 am

We’re experiencing this same problem within MMOs because we’re removing too many of the limitations and hardships within these environments, thus making them feel “perfectly” wrong in the process. In effect, how can you achieve a sense of space, if you don’t create boundaries to define that space? Thus it’s not so much of a question as to why we should remove boundaries but why we should retain them. Often times, when you change to that perspective, you’ll start seeing all sorts of connections within your world and communities created by these edges and boundaries.

Agreed! This misguided quest for perfection that involves removing every single possible irritant in MMOs is going to end up creating a completely bland experience; in fact we are there right now. The is the result when “fun” and “game” and accessibility become your design Holy Grail.

The sad thing is that so many of the people that play in today’s MMOs will never know what it’s like to be part of a real virtual world where there is hardship and community that forms around defeating shared adversity.

Those s0-called geniuses at Blizzard should know better. They all experienced and enjoyed the majesty and triumph that was EverQuest firsthand and the result is a watered down, McHappy Meal of a MMO that is neither game nor world. They should be ashamed of themselves for what they have done.

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Jon May 9, 2011 at 4:14 pm

How come you aren’t playing on the new progression FippyDarkPaw EQ server?

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