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.
For a long time I’ve wanted to make a statement about how much I believe in the concept of online worlds. It’s hard to sound positive without sounding like a cheesy fanboy or marketing rep. These days it’s very easy to be negative about the online gaming industry. Much of the commentary you see on various websites and blogs is critical and negative. Hopefully for my part, at least this once I hope I have left the impression that there is much we have to be thankful for and that online gaming is an amazing genre to be part of.
Strange kind of praise, for me it sounded very negative. You talk about “dumbed-down online worlds”, and players having to “demand more”, “being disappointed”. As I see it, the past was worse than the present, and the players got exactly what they have been asking for, “easy advancement” and “beer-and-pretzels games”.
I also see how these new games draw in far more players than the old ones ever did. I see friends who looked at me as if I was a freak in the past because I played MMORPG now happily playing the new games themselves and being fascinated.
I believe that MMORPG now are better than ever, and that there is a strong trend for them to become even better, reaching even more people.
And I don’t believe that increased escapism is the answer to anything. For every poor handicapped person in a wheelchair being happy to be able to run in a virtual world, there are a hundred of normal people who neglect their studies, their work, or their family, because they’d rather escape into a fantasy world than face the responsabilities of this one. The G in MMORPG stands for game, and that is how it should be. I don’t want the future to look like in The Matrix, where our real world bodies are put in suspended animation while our minds are wandering a virtual world.
What’s negative about wanting my limited precious time spent in an online game to be more immersive? Don’t kid yourself, we are all escaping when we play these games. At least I’m not ashamed to admit it. For me escapism is not a dirty word. I never said escapism was the answer to everything. Don’t put words in my mouth please. I’m being honest about my passion for virtual worlds. Many other people share a smiliar passion for escapism by reading books, watching films and so on.
As far as the being aware of the problems of those that take online games to far I started a thread on the Vanguard Forums a while back entitled “The Cost of the Raid-centric mentality”. Go look it up if you care to do so. I know full well the how some people can take online gaming to the extreme and it’s something I’m very concerned about.
I too would like to see MMORPGs reach a broader audience but not at the expense of the integrity of the game and the world within. I’m troubled at the lack of innovation in today’s online games and I believe the genre is essentially treading water with an industry full of EverQuest clones. Obviously you come down on the side of the game view of MMORGs. I believe there is far more potential in making a better virtual world then there is making a better game. Computer games haven’t changed their basic structure in years. Virtual world have far more promise and that is what really excites me.
Thanks for the comments Tobold.
You are right that I tend to see things from the game perspective, thus my enthusiasm for the current success of game-centric MMORPG. But I believe that the success of a game like WoW also makes it easier to get financing for a more world-centric MMORPG.
If I dislike world-centric MMORPG, it is only because I’m very much rooted in the present. There simply isn’t a world-like MMORPG around which is as good as EQ, EQ2, FFXI, or WoW. It is easy to complain that all of these are just EQ-clones, class based, level based, bash monsters until you are high enough level to raid. But where is an existing virtual world which is as successful or as fun as any of these? Virtual worlds might have more promise, but I refuse to hail them before they actually kept that promise. I don’t have the time to study all the wonderful games announced for the future, most of which will either not arrive at all, or be not as wonderful as initially claimed.
I did like the world aspects of EQ, and I do like the world of WoW. But I enjoy them as being in addition of solid gameplay, not as being just an empty sandbox the players have to fill themselves. I quit SWG because the game was bad, and much of what was bad with the game stemmed from the priority given to the world. I’m kind of looking forward to walk on Middle-Earth in the upcoming Lord of the Rings Online, but if the game is bad I won’t walk very far on that world.
Maybe you are in betas of virtual world MMORPG that I don’t know yet, but I don’t see any progress in the development of virtual worlds. While on games the development is a lot faster than you give it credit for. WoW is pretty revolutionary, in spite of looking like an EQ clone on the first glance. But what you call “dumbed down”, I call “accessible”, and that is a huge step forward for the genre. There is nothing in EQ which would require any more thought than the same action in WoW. The only thing EQ requires more is time, and there is a natural limit to how many copies of a game you can sell if it needs too much time.
Anyway I’m a bit surprised how enthusiastic you are of EQ on the one hand, and how strongly you condemn SOE on the other hand. Surely the former would have been impossible without the latter? Nobody “ruined” EQ, we simply grew out of it.
Amazing stuff! Keep it up.
Heh, I wonder what Tobold would have to say now. It’s been almost 10 years and now there’s a vast amount of people craving for those “empty sandboxes” that he disliked so much.
I really hope an mmorpg comes out that’s focused more on the world instead of the game soon…