What makes us go Ding? Part 1 - Minutia in the Machine
May 04, 2006 18:06:00

MMOGs (Massively Multiplayer Online Games) may not be taking over the world just yet, but one thing that can be said without a doubt is that an enormous group of gamers has latched onto the MMOG model and isn't letting go. More and more frequently, massively multiplayer online games are said to be far more than a casual diversion and are more akin to a lifestyle, a social outlet, and a massive project that is always underway. Due to the lack of winning conditions, the incredible depth of content, and the person to person relationships, no other kind of game commands a greater share of our time, our minds, and our emotions. Put aside that elaborate but shallow assessment and you will find that at the core of these games there are a handful of simple features that cause us all to spend hundreds and hundreds of hours immersed in these virgin worlds rather than the handful of hours we spend in other games, at the movies, or watching TV. In this multipart series, we'll explore "What makes us go ding?"

Part 1 - Minutia in the Machine

MMOGs are complicated. Even a game that is easy to initially digest (and will not result in massive woulda-coulda-shoulda's at later stages of play) like World of Warcraft is steeped in strategy, mathematics, and ever-increasing levels of complexity. It may be one of the most noob-friendly MMOGs ever created (along with ROSE Online and Dofus) and yet its roots in the MUDs and first-gen MMOGs means that its overall complexity and attention to detail towers over wiz-bang titles such as Halo, Half-life, the Sims, and Madden, not to mention the entire Nintendo empire. This is not to say that that it is better than those titles, but rather, it serves to point out that a MMOG is anything but "just another video game".

This inescapable minutia serves equally as a barrier to entry and a tar pit of wonderment. Players of the aforementioned non-MMOG titles can often be heard saying that MMOGs are complicated, time consuming, not relaxing, and engage the brain far more than any recreational diversion should. Most MMOG players would agree wholeheartedly with this assessment, and yet, it is that obscure yet ultimately penetrable minutia that keeps them intrigued. Plenty of MMOG players turn to FPS games, RTS games, and platformers in order to take a break from the toil of their favorite MMOG, but if asked, they will still consider themselves MMOG players to the exclusion of other gaming diversions. In fact, many MMOG players would likely consider the two things mutually exclusive, one is a quick diversion, the other is a way of life.

MMOG players love the learning curve. Three days of my massively multiplayer history stand out in my mind as the pinnacle of my MMOG experiences, and while I've had plenty of great groups, raids, and comical moments, those aren't in the list of 3. The first occurred on the day I was introduced to MUDs. Having been an Infocom player since my pre-teen days, the concept of a text adventure that required timing and strategy over simple problem solving was mind blowing. Roll in the hundreds of other players that were running around the world and I was addicted in about an hour. Addicted and confused. Even with a solid computing background I found my first day or so of mudding to be a challenging endeavor. My typing skills weren't up to the task, I had to read or skim material at an inhuman rate if I wished to stay alive, and I had to become familiar with a host of commands that were cryptic to say the least. (Later these commands helped my UNIX/Linux education immensely.) And yet, I loved every minute of it. The mudders among us know what I'm talking about. Mastering the minutia of MUDs became a merit badge unlike anything the boyscouts ever offered and the learning curve was a price you paid to gain access to some of the most creative and innovative game content ever designed. After that, a long while passed. The Final Fantasy RPG series, Unreal Tournament, and Starcraft were grand games, but nearly ten years
after that first mudding experience, I found myself staring at the walls of Kaladim. A cryptic and unintuitive interface lined the edges of the screen. Out of character chats scrolled urgently through a tiny chat window. EverQuest had arrived. In that moment, I knew that I knew nothing, and that an amazing experience lay in store. I was right. And finally, I had this sensation recently. This time I recognized it as an old friend that I thought had been lost forever, buried beneath the jaded gamer growing in me. Eve Online's tutorial blew my mind. I watched and participated in the extensive training screens completely slack-jawed in awe. The second I saw the slick, but ridiculously detail laden UI I knew that this was a game that I had to master. Now I?m two or three months into Eve, but I still feel like a newbie who doesn't know the first thing about the game. The amazing thing is that the feeling of idiocy instills a sense of wonder and a sincere desire to learn and explore not only the world (which we'll get to in another segment) but also the game mechanics.

A core part of what keeps MMOG players tenaciously planted in front of their PCs is a desire to overcome the complexities of the game system itself. Mastering the minutia of MMOG play is indeed a barrier to entry, but it is a barrier laden with victories. It is a trophy of accomplishment. And, it is one of the things that makes us go ding.

Read Part 2 of What Makes Us Go Ding? "They call it Rubberneckin'"

Submitted by Brent on May 04, 2006 18:06:00 CST (comments: 0)


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