What is it about the concept of belief that captivates the imagination of the human race? I can recall many instances even in cinematic history that demonstrate belief. Alastair Sim’s total transformation in the Dicken’s tale of A Christmas Carol as portrayed in the 1951 movie classic Scrooge when he uttered the words to the ghost of Christmas Past:
I believe…spirit…I believe!
Who could forget the opening scene of The Godfather where undertaker Amerigo Bonasera utters the famous words to Don Corleone:
I believe in America. America has made my fortune. And I raised my daughter in the American fashion…
And even more recently the poster in Agent Muldar’s officer in the TV series the X-Files that shows a picture of a flying saucer with the caption “I WANT TO BELIEVE”.
What does any of this have to do with online worlds?
I think for many of us that had the honor of being part of the EverQuest experience we can say we “believed”. I sometimes look back on the fact that I gave that virtual world thousands of hours of my life and realize it became a passion, heck even a lifestyle. For me the fields of the Commonlands were are real as my own backyard and the Cascade mountains of Washington State that I can see through the window of my study. The races, the languages, the cultures in the game became very real for me because I lived and interacted in those places on a daily basis.
I was impressed with the comments made by Inictus on a recent Vanguard: Saga of Heroes thread. The poster talked about how after cancelling their subscription to EQ2 that he and his wife are now “homeless”. That is a very poignant statement and really sheds light on the depth of love and passion that many of us have for the online worlds we inhabit. Brad McQuaid in a recent interview with Woody alluded to the concept of home in online gaming:
But then there are those of us, both players and developers, who want a home, not a beer-and-pretzels game that only entertains us for a few months.
Online worlds have the power to immerse us in ways that mere games that occupy our computer for days or weeks can’t. I remember playing Diablo. I enjoyed the game and moved on. Yet I played EverQuest for 5 years and “believed” in the world. I never believed in Diablo.
Virtual worlds have the power to transform lives of quiet desperation and monotony by letting us communicate and interact with like minded souls from around the world using our computers. I can’t tell you how many people I have met in various online games that I later found out were infirmed or disabled. Online games gave them a chance to do what they could not in real life. That truly is a noble thing that we can all take pride in participating in.
Online worlds also provide us with the ultimate form of escapism where we can play the hero or the villain. Games like Meridian 59, Ultima Online, EverQuest were the pioneers that deserve our respect for what they achieved with limited technology. Still online games have yet to realize their full potential. One wonders if EverQuest was just a fluke? Will success in the online gaming industry be just more clones of EQ? Or will a new contender arise to challenge the status quo and truly break through to the next level?
We as players can do much to change things. We can start demanding more from online gaming companies. We can vote with our dollars and stay away from dumbed-down online worlds that offer easy advancement and sophomoric gameplay. We need to start challenging devs and designers to elevate the genre. We need to expect more from each other as players and as citizens of online worlds. Too often players pay their $15 a month and show up expecting to be entertained and never give a thought to role-playing or trying to enhance the world they live in.
Raph Koster once wrote an essay on the “Rights of the Player”. He stated that avatars had certain rights much like those afforded under the U.S. Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I agree with him. I would also argue that players also have responsibilities. Game designers are loathe to expect anything from their players and are even loathe to punish them. See WoW’s newly implemented Honor System for evidence of this.
Of course virtual worlds don’t happen by themselves. We can’t just will them into existence. They are the result of the dreams of visionaries. I think we have precious few visionaries and leaders left in the online gaming community. Instead of thinkers, creators and conceptualizers we have CEO’s, accountants, and marketing people. Many of the major blunders of the past few years can be attributed to putting profits over integrity. As I said in my response to SOE’s John Smedley’s announcement to allow players to buy/sell accounts and items–it’s time to chase the money changers from the temple of online gaming.
Although some recent trends have disappointed many of us we must be ever hopeful that the online gaming genre will bloom and reach new heights. We must continue to fight the good fight. We must keep the torch of increased expectations burning. We should strive to elevate and improve the genre whenever possible.
I believe in online gaming and online worlds. I believe in the power and majesty of this genre to transform lives. I believe that someday existence in persistent online worlds will be the ultimate form of interactive entertainment where people can aspire to grow pumpkins, slay dragons, rise from pauper to prince, become Kings and Queens and even lead revolutions. I believe that we can make virtual worlds come alive–full of fun, passion, ideals and give players chances at true nobility and heroism. I believe someday we will have online worlds where cunning, wit, and compassion are held in equal esteem with the combat-centric thinking of todays games. I believe we can do much better then the current mindset dictates.
The time has come once again for the thinkers and visionaries to hold sway.