MMORPGs – Acknowledging Our Existence
I like single player games but I don’t play them anywhere near as much as I do MMORPGs. A great single player game, like Mass Effect or Dead Space, might keep me interested for two weeks but even a bad MMO could easily keep me entertained for a month. I used to think it that was just because I enjoyed the classic fantasy RPG style of game so much and it wasn’t until I played Oblivion, regarded as one of the best offline RPGs available, last year that I realised my infatuation with MMORPGs and virtual worlds went a little beyond just liking the style of gameplay.
Whenever I played a single player game, I’m aways consumed by two basic emotions and thoughts. Firstly, they seem lonely and empty and, secondly, they just seem so utterly pointless. The first feeling is obvious enough. After playing with friends in a virtual world inhabited by thousands of people, it’s very hard to load up a game like Oblivion and not feel alone. It’s kinda like having one of those weird dreams where you go to school and you’re the only person there (OK, maybe I’m the only person who dreams of stuff like that…).
The feeling of pointlessness is slightly harder to explain. Single player games are fun, absolutely, and I get a certain measure of enjoyment out of them but the feeling is bittersweet to me because I know that my achievement is only temporary and can only be acknowledged as long as the saved game exists. As soon as the saved game is deleted, my experience is gone along with it and I have no one to share it with. It feels almost hollow and sad in many respects.
There was a fascinating interview with a Korean psychologist (I can’t remember his name) in the documentary about virtual worlds I watched a couple of weeks ago. He hypothesised that one of the reasons MMORPGs have such a hold over their players is because, unlike any other type of game, they acknowledge the existence of the player.
“If I give an item a certain value, it doesn’t mean much. But when others recognize it too, it becomes truly valuable. It doesn’t work if you’re the only person believing in it.”
(Thanks to Sharon for pulling out the quote )
This suddenly makes things so obvious. It’s not just about the cool settings, the classes, the exploration or even the gameplay. It’s about taking part in a parpetual world in which others can acknowledge our existence, our achievements, and give them meaning and value. If I take down a dragon in Final Fantasy, no one cares other than myself (and my wife who I will undoubtedly bug until she pretends to care) but if I take part in a raid in Everquest 2, slay a dragon and win some loot, quite a few – if not a lot of – people care and suddenly my achievement has merit and substance.
To me, that’s the true attraction of MMORPGs.