Tuesday 20 November 2012

A Second Life

Syncaine is quite right when he says that the first rule of MMORPGs is that they're for the long term. If you don't keep playing, if you aren't forming connections with your fellow adventurers, then you aren't getting the best out of the game, and perhaps MMORPGs aren't for you.

However there is a second leg that Syncaine is missing, even in the title of his piece: RPG. An MMORPG is not just a team game where as a team you work to achieve a particular goal. It's also a simulation of a world. If you are not immersed in that simulation, then again you aren't getting the best out of the game, and perhaps MMORPGs aren't for you. If the game to you only involves learning the right sequence of keys to press in response to changes in graphics on your computer screen - if you aren't inhabiting that world - then perhaps you'd be better off playing Tetris.

As Nils says (in an article on randomness), "As long as the player is immersed in the simulation part of the game, everything's fine". At some level, you've got to believe you are a mage or a starship captain or a pirate or whatever. Once you start to bring into the foreground of your mind that you're just sitting in a small room pressing buttons, not casting spells or launching missiles, nothing's fine.

And one of the biggest breakers of immersion, for me, is other players (which might help explain to Tobold why some people prefer to adventure in quiet zones) .

RP means playing a role. It doesn't  mean you should start talking stiltedly as if you were in a bad play about Henry VIII, but it does mean you should assume the role of the character you are playing. This is something that sRPGs are very good at: in Skyrim it's easy to stay in character, because every other character you meet treats you as a character in that world. In MMORPGs, the biggest strength - the many players - can also be the biggest weakness, as other players constantly jolt you out of immersion.

Of course, the best of both worlds is to find a guild that you are comfortable with, whose members have a similar world view to you. I love that on many servers, alliance guilds outraged at the bombing of Theramore took it upon themselves to go to Orgrimmar and bring Garrosh to justice. If only we could make a permanent change to the world.

Tuesday 13 November 2012

Good and bad angels

Note: I normally try to keep to one voice, in this blog - my own voice, Dàchéng the mage. Sometimes, when discussing matters relevant to Earth, such as the state of the euro, I might use the voice of my avatar in Earth OnlineUsually it's clear from context who is 'me'.  In this piece, though, I find myself jumping between several voices like a schizophrenic. I leave it to you, dear reader, to figure out which voice is which.
Incredibly, it took me until this month to explore the turtle's back with my Pandaren, Paoquan. Sadly, I didn't find the Pandaren starting zone all that satisfying. Lack of immersion was the problem - all these wise old men telling Paoquan what a great fighter she is at level 5 or 10. It just reminds me of their insincerity. All these monks are relying on some dumb noob to fix their problems.

But the point I'm at now is one that I can't seem to progress beyond. Here's my dilemma. Paoquan has just learned that the turtle (Shen-zin Su) on whose back the Wandering Isle finds itself is in pain. The pain is coming from its starboard side, and there's a ship has crashed just there. Off to investigate, what's the first thing she meets? Taurens! They remind her of Yaungol. Oh, they are Yaungol! I, Dàchéng, know of course that the Pandaren are fighting Yaungol in Kun-Lai Summit, among other places. I'm not sure what Paoquan knows. Presumably she would have learnt about them in primary school. Anyway, the one thing Paoquan does know is that the turtle's pain is located here, and so are the Tauren. Now I find some idiot level 10 hermit helping them. Has he never heard of Yaungol? Doesn't he know Shen-zin Su's pain emanates from this area? Hasn't he put two and two together? I'm a bit more suspicious of these people than the hermit is. And the leader of these Yaungol Tauren, Korga Strongmane, wants me to help arm his compatriots. Well, why in the world would I want to do that? Strongmane tells me that I'm his new ally. Dream on, Tauren.

Actually, how come he can speak Pandaren? Where would he have learnt? Is this a deliberate attempt at infiltration, or is this just Blizzard's thin storyline creaking? Anyway, I can't target him and kill him.

Instead of helping the tauren or the mad hermit, I do what every adventurer's first instinct tells him to do. I head down to the crash site. There I see humans under attack from lizard men. Again, I can't attack the humans. I can't speak to them, either. They don't know Pandaren. Or perhaps they're too busy fighting for their lives. Old Wei-Palerage, the hermit, doesn't think it worth helping these people. He's too busy helping the Taurens. There are medical supplies on the ground, but for some reason, I can't pick them up. The paper-thin storyline is reminding me at every step along the way that it's just a game, not a world.

So now I can't advance. The on-rails nature of the game prevents me from progressing unless I help arm the Taurens. Every instinct in my body tells me that would be a grave mistake; so here I am trapped in the intersticial void between the world and the keyboard. I know I'll still be here next Samhain.

Edit: Paoquan did indeed stay there for another year.