Posts made in February, 2013

Just Shut Up and Play

Posted By on Feb 27, 2013 | 2 comments

The title of this post is something that I have to constantly tell myself when I game. And, as it turns out, that is not nearly often enough. People have threatened to give me a stack of Post-It Notes to stick all over my monitor and/or wall with that emblazoned on it, and it still probably wouldn’t help. Specifically, here, I am talking about my tendency to overanalyze choices and turn an ostensibly fun hobby into something that is much closer to a stressful chore.

Let me paint you a (totally hypothetical and in no way real) picture, here. Say that you are trying out a new game – one that you’ve even ridiculed in the past for being dumb. This is a game that presses all sorts of silly (and/or terrifying) buttons, and one that you aren’t expecting to ever do anything more than mess around with for a few hours before you find something else to distract you. You spend the time to download and install the game, maybe take a quick glance at the official website to get a feel for what your options are, and then dive right into the character builder.

At this point, most games offer you a choice. Sometimes it’s a class, sometimes it’s a race. In this (again, totally made up) situation, it’s to pick your race. This isn’t actually too bad, since I have a few things that I tend to like and dislike aesthetically, so I pick one. Let’s say it’s the hilariously adorable uplifted animal race for the game. Cool, we’re on the path to playing and deciding if this game is any fun! Obviously, it’s hard to choose between the slightly-too-realistic sad cat (think Puss in Boots) face and the proud-of-himself hamster with a curly handlebar moustache. In the end, both are awesome, so you go with one. Still, even at this point, there is a nagging sensation in the back of your head… But you soldier bravely on!

Now comes a trickier choice. Which class will you play? Let’s assume that there are, I don’t know, eight classes to pick from. Those classes can be broken down in several ways. First, I usually try to decide if I want to play a melee class or a ranged class. But then there are other, more subtle choices. Do I want to play someone that can tank? Heal? Do I want to use magic or a bow? Do I want to use DoTs or direct spells? Do I like to AoE, or do I want to be strong on a single target? Does the game offer stealth, and is that something I would want to explore anyway? Do I prefer axes or swords or two weapon combat? Holy shit there are a lot of options and now I do not know which one to pick and this matters so much even though I am only playing this game on a lark to appease my curiosity and it was free anyway and what if I decide I really like this game but all my friends are healers and my class is a healing class and then we can’t go to do group content together because you can only take one healer and that other person definitely likes healing but I haven’t healed in several years and I might suck at it and then everyone will be sad and they will quit and they will blame me or worse yet I will get left out and/or have to reroll into a useful class and start this whole process over and oh god what is happening this is the hardest decision of my life!

So, umm… yeah, that happens to me. Usually, I end up just picking one, playing around with it for a while and letting all those thoughts stew in my mind. Inevitably, those demons get the better of me and I’m like, “Well, I’ll just try this other one out for a little while cause I saw one in the game and it looked pretty cool!” But then the same thing happens again and again. And while I am still in the starting area – rerolling level 1 characters and fiddling with the character generator – the people that don’t suffer from this same crisis of thinking are happily puttering away and spending their attention-for-this-game capital by actually playing the game. At which point, I start to feel like I’m falling behind, and that certain people have already established themselves as “the tank” or “the mage” or whatever, and the process turns in on itself again.

This is not some new phenomenon in my gaming life. And I know that I’m not truly isolated here. There are plenty of people who have come up with some sort of term for this – the one that I’ve always used is Multiple-Character Disorder (MCD) – and I’ve seen plenty of talk about the same kinds of issues on forums from time to time. I’m just not really sure how to combat it, or why it happens. But I do know that I’ve been suffering from MCD for almost 20 years now. This started back in GemStone in the mid 90s. There were just so many cool mechanics and classes to try! WoW was, of course, a serious offender here. I’ve struggled with it in RIFT, and SWTOR, and basically every other game I’ve played since. And when I tried out the SWGEmu thing a few weeks ago, I was already over-stressing about it. And I only actually was logged in for a total of about 5 minutes before I remembered how genuinely unfun that game was at the beginning!

The strangest thing, to me, is that I don’t always have this issue. In games like Mass Effect or Dragon Age, I am (usually) able to pick a class and just go with it. If I ever have any regrets or misgivings, I am able to say, “Yeah, it might be fun to do that – maybe I’ll take a crack at it on my next playthrough!” That extra playthrough that never happens, by the way, but I guess the point is that it could. But maybe that’s the point. Maybe I’m able to deal with it better in games that have a defined lifespan because there is the potential to replay it. Whereas characters in MMOs tend to be a much larger investment of time, and they live without any really well-defined end point. I guess, in those cases, the gravity of that choice appears much heavier.

Do you guys struggle with these issues? What have you done to combat them, if so? I’m definitely open to suggestions. Although, again, they probably boil down to “Shut Up and Play”.

Also, in case it wasn’t obvious, the latest game that I was referring to was TERA. Actually, nevermind. Let’s never speak of this again!

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For some reason, I was having a conversation with Liore and Arolaide the other day about the end-of-Burning Crusade zombie event in Warcraft and whether or not we thought it was the most awesomest thing ever. For those that don’t remember (and I hardly recall the specifics), there was a plague going around the major cities that turned all the infected characters (PC and NPC alike) into zombies. Zombies that could explode and infect other people. When you were a zombie, you moved slowly, were attackable/could attack other people, and got a special hotbar with skills (hiding your own for the duration). Basically, this ended up with a ton of dead NPCs and the main cities being unusable for standard activities. I think the whole thing lasted a week or two, but my memory on that is fuzzy.

The community, as usual, was split. Some people seemed to love it and think it was the greatest thing that WoW ever did. And then there were other people who yelled and yelled and yelled about how horrible it was and how it interfered with their ability to play the game and was essentially Blizzard-sponsored griefing. And, for a lot of people, those feelings still burn almost as brightly! Which, to mean, only strengthens the fact that it was awesome. In our conversation, Liore basically said, “That kind of chaos is the whole reason I like multiplayer games! People are content and I want them to be able to do horrible shit to me!” Aro, on the other hand, came down firmly in the “Don’t fuck with my experience, griefer asshole” camp.

For my part, I basically called Liore an MMO Libertarian (although I think Anarchist is probably closer to what I actually meant), but simultaneously told Aro that she was wrong. Is that incongruous? Probably. But it’s how I felt. I really *like* world-affecting events, and I want more of them. They make things feel alive, and give the setting a feeling of constant change. On the other hand, people are jerks. I don’t know that I’d really want to spend a lot of time letting them be jerks to me (or defending myself against that inevitability).

Back in MY day…

I’ve mentioned it before, but one of my major gaming influences was a MUD-style game called GemStone IV. Its mechanics are based on the Rolemaster P&P game, and there are just so many “hardcore” things about it. Aside from the Rolemaster crit-tables of doom (one point of damage to the wrong place could be enough to kill you), the game itself had a strong time-limited experience mechanic. Levels took progressively more experience to gain, but the XP/hour was more-or-less fixed – often leveling time was counted in weeks. If you died, you would drop your weapons on the ground – where, if the monsters didn’t pick them up and kill your rescuers, the in-game garbage collection algorithm might sweep through and destroy them forever! If you weren’t rescued within a certain amount of time, then your corpse would decay and you’d return to life naked – with all of your gear left behind to the same fate. On top of that, if you hadn’t bribed the church enough (another increasingly expensive endeavor), your character would just be lost to the underworld forever.

The game was also set up so that free-for-all PvP was enabled at all times. Characters with the pick-pocketing skill could steal loot from other characters (limited to small commodities and cash), but unless you were diligent about closing every container you wore – or spent valuable training points in perception and pick-pocketing yourself – you might not realize that your healing herbs were gone until you went to grab them at a vital moment in combat. When you were in town, there was an automated sheriff who would sweep through and arrest people that killed others or were somehow caught stealing (and accused promptly). But, in general, the thieves would hang out just on the edge of the sheriff’s jurisdiction because they were also the only people who could open lockboxes – the game’s primary form of treasure reward – and sometimes those boxes were trapped and would kill everyone around them when a skill check was failed. So, typically, you were out of luck if someone jacked all your treasure in the few moments you had to spend in a place like that.

Player killing was moderately regulated – the GMs didn’t particularly appreciate people who just went around killing others for fun, and killing people multiple times in a row was strongly frowned upon. But, in the end, the world was very loosely patrolled externally. Most of the societal constructs had to be built by the players, and the “rules of the town” were only as strong as the enforcement of the community.

The problem, here, is that it’s really easy to find situations in which the community either can’t or won’t mete out appropriate consequences. In GemStone, for instance, there was a constant meta-debate on the forums about whether stealing was something that was reasonable for people to do. “The skills support it, so it’s totally fine!” and “Elanthia is a frontier setting, and bad people get ahead!” competed with “I just want to do my own thing, and this sucks” and “Real frontier towns would have hanged repeat offenders”. And I was pretty firmly on the side of “stealing sucks” – despite having a rogue that was fully trained in it. There were also plenty of people who would just provide services to everyone regardless of their reputation for doing shit like paying their healer and then immediately stealing back all of that money.

But would Elanthia have been as fun if there hadn’t been any of these choices and arguments? I’m not sure. I am sure that a Might-Makes-Right society sucks unless you are Mighty enough to actively participate in the rule-setting process. Despite that, I played GemStone for years.

That’s great, but how does it relate to zombies?

If I’ve painted GemStone as some sort of free-for-all craziness, it really wasn’t. What it really was, first and foremost, was a role-playing opportunity. Certainly, there were parts of the community that didn’t participate as heavily, but straight-up out-of-character(OOC)/real-world conversations were unacceptable in public chat channels, and another good way of getting a talking-to from the GMs. Players created all sorts of interesting interpersonal relationships and storylines. But one of the most important sets of events were GM-run storylines. They’d build NPCs, script intricate world events, create unique items, etc. Basically everything you’d want out of a cool tabletop game, but with several hundred players trying to participate instead of just 5 or 6.

When I first started playing graphical MMOs, this was always one of the pieces that held me back. Star Wars Galaxies had a bit of world-building, and at least the world itself didn’t feel particularly static, but the storyline did. When I first started playing WoW, I spent a lot of time trying to get similar RP experiences – that’s really what I knew and what I wanted, a game with fun mechanics AND good RP. But the world and story were both SO STATIC. And I had to rely on players who had all sorts of different ideas about the world and what was fun, and it just didn’t work at all. So, a couple years later, when the Zombie Invasion hit, I was totally psyched up by it. It hit all the right notes about a changing world and the shit that was ostensibly going down affecting my character. Sure, I couldn’t train or do my professions as easily, but who cared? I got to (try to) fight off a zombie infestation in my city – and that was awesome. Yes, it sucked that I couldn’t actually fight off the invasion like I had been able to back in GemStone, but at least it showed a glimpse of it.

Many words, no real point

But how would I feel about an event like that these days? Is it something that a current MMO could pull off again? I’m not sure. I do know that Blizzard hasn’t had any major events like that since, and I think that’s a shame. There have been a few events in RIFT (like the end-of-1.x Storm Legion invasion) that did affect all the capitol cities and were hard to avoid, but none of them were really on the quite the same level of take-over. I think it completely depends on the type of game I am playing, and my reasons for being there.

I do not generally agree that people having the opportunity to be assholes to each other is necessary to gain really interesting gaming experiences. People say that a lot about a game like EVE (and also, 40 hours of boring spreadsheeting for 5 minutes of totally awesome gaming), but all that ever did was make me want to stay away from it. PvP servers are similar to me. MMO PvP can even be really fun! But getting murdered 10 times in a row while I’m just trying to pick berries and have literally no opportunity to defend myself is just… shitty. Sure, I can log off and go play another character for 30 minutes, but that’s letting the other guy win, and despite it not being fun, I am not built to accept that easily.

So, I don’t know. I guess I don’t mind when my game world is antagonizing me, but dislike when my fellow players are allowed to do that.

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