Friday, March 2, 2012

I got sick of holding back

I was digging through a text file with a couple of posts i had made on a game forum some time ago, while trying to write a much longer post on the subject of improving MMOs. I ran across something i had forgotten.

Many times i hold back. I try to be polite. I try to be considerate. I try to keep in mind that not everyone who hasn't reached my conclusions yet is incapable of doing so, and i shouldn't simply bash them. I should try to reason with others in the hope that i hit the one in a million reasonable ape. Sometimes, i fail to do so. These are a couple of examples, the first from a forum post from three or four years ago (prompted by some guild wars 2 promotional videos and their simplistic visuals), the second from an e-mail written about a year ago.

No, see that's the point. My judgment is based on an observation: they're gearing the game's atmosphere towards idiots. Based on that, it's logical that they're also catering to idiots in other aspects, like the actual gameplay.

They're going for mass appeal. The masses are primitive, stupid, moronic, dumb, idiotic, dimwitted, imbecilic, cretinous, drooling animals unfit to share a planet with me, and that's saying something since i'm much too primitive myself. And please, please, don't even try to paint me as the aggressor here. This is the internet, the grand escapist fantasy. This is where i should be able to get away from summer blockbusters, romance novels, sports stars, reality tv and all the other lowest-common-denominator fabrications of consumerism. There should be at least some products here aimed at the tiny niche market of people i can actually talk to.

If anyone feels insulted by automatically placing himself in the general group i'm insulting, then by all means, advance. Look for something more than an endorphin fix in your pastimes, something more than making yourself feel good. Look for, i don't know... complexity, novelty, subtlety, cleverness?

Anyway, that's the last i have to say here. The most infuriating part is that i'll likely end up buying the game anyway, faute de mieux.

And the e-mail snippet.
 None of this can be included in WoW-clones like LOTRO and Rift, which reward you solely for repetition. They're just banking on operant conditioning, the reinforcement of that stimulus with what seems like a reward. They're using the same principle as slot machines. Pull that lever enough times, kill enough of the same little mobs, and you get rewarded with a jackpot, purple loot, bragging rights, the illusion of social status, the ultimate currency of social animals. Making that social status an actual requirement, making cooperation meaningful, would include the possibility of failure, and that would scare normals away. In the same way, mass-market products do not require players to have any qualities like intelligence, creativity, good reaction time, multi-tasking, attention to detail, foresight or strategic thinking because they're afraid to scare their customers away. WoW-clones are bad products because they are aimed at normal human beings and normal human beings are idiots, morons, cretins, imbeciles, retards, dumbasses, stupid little wastes of air, and yes, i am better than them, and so are you and a bare handful of people i've ever met and you should be looking for a better type of product. You should be looking for the undiluted concept, the matrix, the engrossing world-unto-itself escape from reality that's promised by the internet.

The thrill of a real MMO is the scope of the game world itself, not the pathetic little endorphin boost of being told you're a hero at every step of the way. How many flaming ring icons did you churn through in LOTRO? They are nothing because they have no further effect on the game world. In a real virtual world, killing something, taking something deprives another player of it or gives you something he can no longer have. You band together in guilds because it gives you an advantage, and communication is necessary at every step of the way. Your actions have to be relevant, within the context of that world, and you have to be able to accept that you will not always come out on top, that the purpose of a virtual world is not to constantly boost your ego with "congratulations, mission completed, you saved the world !", but to grow with you, around you, because of you or by trampling you, it doesn't matter.  Your success or failure, your glory or ignominy is just part of the story. Ever seen Fight Club? First you have to know, not fear, know that someday you will die. It's only after we've lost everything that we're free to do anything, and in a virtual world you must be able to lose everything.

We've all been raised on television to believe that one day we'd all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars, but we won't. We're slowly learning that fact. And we're very, very pissed off.
Interestingly enough, these little howls at the moon are also the most direct expressions of my criticism of virtual worlds' failure. Maybe i really shouldn't hold back.

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