So long lives this to show where home has been
(sorry, Billy... but you must admit this is still better than NoFear-ing you)
Escapism is a bit of a misnomer. Yes, we're avoiding the world which for whatever reason has become simply too painful and/or boring to warrant habitation, but most of us also have some pretty good ideas for worlds we'd prefer to this one. We escape to almost as much as from. Of course noone else can ever get our own style quite right so the most memorable alternate worlds tend to be the ones which allow us some leeway in determining our surroundings. This includes indulging our nesting instinct. Little can compare, especially in a persistent multiplayer world, to walking into a little patch of that world which you've designed and decorated. Products like The Sims and Second Life have made quite a show of catering to our interior interior decorator, but they're usually either too painfully mundane or lack any sort of focus and personality. The point is to incorporate this need for den design into coherent game environments.
LotRO is by no means a real MMO. Its player housing like everything else is instanced and it contains no utility aside from a little extra inventory space. It's only marginally customizable in terms of item placement. You have a few fixed spots in which you can fit one fixed type of decoration. Two details have made it palatable for me though. First, you can set theme music for your house, from various in-game tracks. Of course that would mean more if you ever had any reason to visit your house for more than ten seconds at a time. See above-mentioned lack of functionality. Second, taxidermy! This was the first game I've played which allowed me to decorate in dead animal, complete with mammoth tusks as gateposts. Black-walled, underground rat-holes reeking of decomposition make the best hideouts, don't you think?
However, mere sawdust-filled skins are not enough to satisfy my lycanthropic appetites. In Oblivion, since I couldn't get myself a cave or pit for my den, I made do with a bit of luxury. That's my house over there.
Pisha's lair in VtM:Bloodlines.
|I showed my love of the written word by collecting quill pens and inkwells in addition to books.|
|I even hoarded farm implements, just to make sure the villagers would be short on pitchforks and torches when they stormed my door.|
Unfortunately, letting players keep hundreds of individual items scattered on the floor would be too much of a drag on a multiplayer game's resources, so this feature has been understandably absent from even the best MMOs. Ooooh, boy, did I just qualify City of Heroes as one of the "best" MMOs? What the hell am I smoking, right? But though CoH was an aimless, over-simplified,
As a Superhero, I designed the most rational base I could for my three-man supergroup, separating all our loot into color-coded rooms with an industrial / laboratory decor conducive to crafting.
|Of Course, no faux-sciencey lair would be complete without a Van de Graaff generator or some Jacob's ladders.|
|All praise and glory to the dark gods... of Science!|
|I think uncle Fester had one of these|
|Hey, I may be a comic-book inhuman monster... but I do read, you know|
However, even CoH failed in integrating design with utility... largely because there was no utility to be had. And if CoH stayed afloat for eight years, the next game I'll be talking about vaporized in beta. Dawntide was to be the MMO dream come true, a persistent world filled with player interaction of every type, from open PvP and looting to interdependent crafting skills and a system of transporting goods requiring some involvement therefore encouraging a true player economy, to large cooperative projects like buildings. These would be more than cosmetic. Farms would produce food, a forge you built was actually the place where you hammered your steel, your house could be attacked and looted, etc. It was also made very promising by its relatively sedate, well-proportioned character models and world design.
Alas and alack for the world that never was, the archipelago where you and your guild could stake out a plot of land or even a little island of your own. The following pictures are of a little village my guild or five or so players built ourselves before the game shut down. Among other high points, those boats were fully functional and could carry cargo.
|Two cottages and our keep during construction.|
|Wave to the nice guildies on the shore, sea-wolf|
|Our community had grown by this point. We each had our own house. The enclosure on the left was part of some sort of farm.|
Give me Dawntide, and we can add CoH, Elder Scrolls or Middle-Earth to it; chacun a son gout. However, before anything else, we need that reality of virtuality, that tangible place which your character molds. Give me persistence, options and impact and somehow, in some fashion, I will find a way to dig myself a rot-littered dank pit for my den. Function first, then form.