Nerds playing Football

Ombwah's picture

I miss role playing games.

Furthermore, I miss playing RPG's with gamers, I miss adventures, I miss exploration, I miss problem solving and the joy of unlocking arcane secrets.

With my friends and family, when we were kids; I would DM and we would all play some D&D or one of the million other pen and paper games, but I always hoped that someday we could all play together. I dreamt of versions of my favorite video games where instead of controlling the whole party, each one of us would play one character, like our weekly games, but without one of us knowing everything beforehand (as is necessary in those live, refereed games). I wanted to play together as the dungeon-delving crew we told stories about so often.

Skip ahead only a couple of years and I'm playing Infinity Complex, Tradewars, and Legend of Kyrandia on my favorite multi-line BBS. I've also discovered the internet, not the inviting brightness of the World Wide Web, oh no, I'm older than that. I learned a pidgeon tongue to converse with the VAX and telnet my self to the nethertext realm of the MUDs. Between these 'portal games' and the wonders of the phone line, I was finally able to have some group adventure potential that seemed epic.

In these early worlds, PvP was rampant, a seasoned WoW 60 would soil his rusty chainmail in the face of the tensions of those early multi-user games. Infinity Complex was downright jailyard. Tradewars pretty directly incentivized cutthroat behavior. Believe me, those of you that hate Lineage/L2 or WoW/EQ2 style open PvP would think them utopian in comparison. Nonetheless, those games were the unadulterated shit, they ruled. The same sorts of things happened, really. Gangs/clans/guilds formed, dominated, splintered and fell. People got ganked and people shouted Hax! But I was invested, in it for the long haul and all that was left at that point was pictures. With baited breath I played on.

A step down the timeline finds me and a roommate installing what was likely the fastest 'net line in the ghetto so that we could get in on the online gaming thing that was apparently picking up steam. I played Ultima Online and thought for a while that I had found a real example of that multi-user world ideal. For the time, it was pretty freakin' great. Stands to reason that I would think so, it was built by proponents of the same MUDs I had played those years earlier, this was their evolution. My friends and I created personae as we had in the past and set out to discover the world on our terms. UO had some cool systems that really applied to our play style. We wrote journals of our adventures and they propagated across the world as they did in that game, very cool. By the time we quit that game, I admit, the shine had worn a bit. I had resorted to macro'ing abilities to build them to useful levels, as it was the only way. There was more and more analysis of the environments systems by the players, folks were selling things on Ebay, MMO's were beginning to get some attention. I didn't play EQ 1, though it too has a strong base in MUD's and was notorious for both strong RP situations and macro/grind inducing levelling trends. The contemporaries here followed suit for the most part. I played some others, some niche sci-fi MMO games as well, but the real shift in paradigm came next...

Enter WoW and it's contemporaries CoH/CoV and EQ2. These titles represent the wave that broke the genre to the mainstream in the biggest way to date. I've played all of these, and continue to play the one I liked the best. Which one that is is truly irrelevant to this story, and that truth brings near to my point.

My original gaming crew and I all play the same game on the same server. As noted, we are all veterans of other MMOs and we all have our expectations and hopes for our gaming experience. I want to see everything, I don't have to destroy the biggest bosses, but I do want to wipe in their chambers/halls/warehouses. I don't need uber lewtz, nor am I really interested in being the top ranking crew on X server, that's not why I play. I'm in this for the same reason I have always been. I wanted to play together as the dungeon-delving/badguy bashing/alien squashing/booty takin' crew we told stories about so often.

Unfortunately for me, MMOs aren't about that stuff these days. If I even want a chance at wiping in the presence of an epic foe, I need to sign up ahead of time with a professionalized team with what has become an established protocol. I need to participate in a political out-of-game jerk-off session where I pander to some fool whose greatest merit is that they've spent more time or has more friends on this server. I need to participate in a 'raid points' system designed and implemented outside of the game and more importantly with no in-game context, and watch my rankings against the power-gaming world lest I become an undesireable player and not make the draft for this or that raid. Further I need to watch my reputation as a player of my proscribed position!

Let me explain my use of 'proscribed position' for those uninitiated. One character type I have played is characterized as a 'glass cannon' or, even more generically as a 'DPS' (Damage Per Second). These appellations come from the skill set that that character class exemplifies. Other common 'positions' are 'Tank' and 'Mezzer' (or Crowd Control) and always the perennial 'Healer'. Only in the CoH/CoV game is your position and your class name really closely related, and then only in a few cases (most notably 'Controller' what do you think she does?).

Nothing about the name 'DPS' tells you who or what that character I had was. It has become irrelevant whether he was a Warlock or a Blaster or an Assassin as what was a character has in fact become less than that. His role has gone from Role (ie. Personae Dramatis or player in a story) as it was in the past; To role as interpreted by a sports team (ie. the role of forward, quarterback or goalie).

Vet players of these dubiously characterized RPG's now converse in language concerning the minutae of mathmatical equations that appear to govern their game world. People that wouldn't spend ten minutes contemplating the equations of physics that dictate their real live world will pour hours into figuring out what equation is used to determine whether or not their virtual weapon has struck their foe, and how to make sure the randomizer always chooses the good lewt array. Where we once had conversations about the cleric that saved the day with a chance strike from their mace or a tense pouring out of magical energy in an attempt to shield their friends, we now have strict admonitions from perfect strangers like "You'd better not melee with your Healer, or I'm not wasting my time with you." and adages like "Bind and Nuke my friend, Bind and Nuke." Where tight groups of friends once huddled and figured out what strategy they might try next; Structured, bureaucratic corporations of worker/players now clock their hours of support, banking them against a potential shot at getting to partake of the results of the roll on the loot table known to exist at the end of this choreographed math problem, that, by the way, was structured by our play-book writer for our team of 2 Tanks, one Healer and 2 DPS (Sorry hybrid guy, your class is useless, you don't get to play today). Oh, and incidentally, if you don't run this Hail Mary when I say go, and we wipe? Well then newb, you're never gonna get a chance to run this play again.

Then comes the pep talk about time invested, hours of planning and special grinding just to be honed for the big playoff, the chat starts to degrade into baseball card style statistical breakdowns and as the crowd noise raises, I smell popcorn and hot dogs and forget what game I'm even playing.

There are no more unlikely heroes, their combat effectiveness is calculated and clear. Class diversity is even frowned upon by the communities, "Too hard to track and balance!" they say.

The mainstream MMO fantasy/Hero game has developed into a sort of team sport in thin LARPer guise. Some new game genre where proscribed team behaviors, productivity policies, and playbook routines make the milieu and theme irrelevant and pale. We have made of our Champions and our Scourges mere tight-ends, short-stops, goalies and infielders. It no longer matters if you wear a skull on your pate or tights on your ass, as long as you make that interception. Our Barbarians and Supermen may as well be schlepping pigskin.

We are truly nerds playing football.


Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.




i for one, tend to avoid the overly number crunchy side of mmorpgs, i go with what i like or whats cool.
while i still think a healer running around with a giant hammer trying to play whack-a-mole with kobolds when the healer isnt proficent with the darn thing, is a liability.
but i certinaly dont go so far as to say that a player without a set item at a set level is useless because that item is "the best" like i have seen in Final fantasy 11 for instance..

ive been present in situations of utter irony, for instence, i made a robotics/dark miasma mastermind, but had a full RP bio as to why he was like that in CoV.
i even tried to add a german "flavor" to my speach when talking in chat.
the situation was myself and seven stalkers in a group, and i got accused of being a "sheep" for playing a mastermind of that caliber, when every single stalker in the group was either ninja sword primary or ninjitsu secondary, and they ALL looked like ninjas..
the screenshot was pure gold untill i lost it with a reformat.

i do sometimes slip into the faster terms of tank, nuker and the famous "INC!!" when the crap hits the fan, but for the most part i try to immerse myself in a game.
take one of your previous projects for example, in Auto Assault, when in game, i would often pepper my speach with "canner" and "buckethead" in regards to biomek, or "heretic" "moleman" or "pinky" when reffering to the humans.

a very well written observation, one i am allmost ashamed to admit that is the case for a great deal of players.

Snipehunter's picture

Unlikely heroes are what we all want to be...

...and yet, you're totally right - there are no longer unlikely heroes. I was just recently involved in a conversation about PVP in EQ2 that highlights this. We were discussing the way PVP has devolved into packs. The lone killer is only really seen hunting in areas way lower level than he is, so that he can crank out a few easy kills, otherwise it's all packs of 4 or more.

The reason for this, I mused, is the role level plays in the game. The only way to take out a higher level player ("hunt big game") is with a crew at your back, but the more I thought about it, the more I came suspect that it's exactly what you're talking about, here. I think there's this protocol, a tacit framework, that makes folks group up to fill these roles, just as you posit.

"I'm a Healer, I need a Tank" or "I'm a Tank, I need a DPS" are ingrained now, much like the 4th down punt - they're "that's just how it's done" material.

The few that don't perform as expected, or don't want to fill these roles, have to go it alone, for the most part. remember, if you're alone, the only sure way to get PVP kills in EQ2 is to hunt lower level players. Just like those guys you see running solo in the lower zones, killing noobs.

That's why I want to make a classless MMO. Those were dope back in the day; players defined their own roles by their actions and so it made a rudimentary sort of role playing happen with no conscious effort on the players' parts. That's why UO appealed to me, in truth - and why that world felt more alive and vibrant than WoW or EQ2 ever will.

On a side note, I want to check out DDO; I think we might get the band back together for that one and capture the exact feel your looking for. BUT, I can't really say or sure, I've only seen it, not played it....

- Snipehunter

Snipehunter's picture

I noticed people are reading this

I've come across links to this blog of yours out on other sites a few times, now. Thankfully it looks like people are listening. It was interesting though, in a forum where the link was posted one of the people who replied didn't understand why you compared modern MMOs to football.

I thought I'd take the opportunity here to explain:

Football is a team sport in which each position defines the capabilities of the person playing that position. When you see the quarterback take his position you know what he's going to do (more accurately: you know what he's capable of). Any sort of "unpredicability" comes not from the QB's freedom to anything he wants, but rather in which tried and true tactic he takes. Is he going for the hail Mary pass? Play action? etc. He's not going to stuff the ball in his jersey and then turn to beat the crap of an oncoming player in the middle of blitz because he can't - it's outside of the scope of what his role (his class) is allowed to do in the rules. similarly you know what each and every player on the team is likely to do just by what position they're playing - by what class they are.

In short Ombwah is saying that instead of role-playing, modern MMO players play "positions." There is a massive difference between what older-school players call role-playing (acting, as in a play or movie - existentially experiencing the virtual world) and what modern players call role-playing (playing a set position, as a player does in a team sport - playing within expectations to "win").

Thus, there is no difference - at an abstract level - between the way people play WoW or CoH and the way people play football or soccer (you know, "real" football). In fact, this is so true that those that play positions deride those that role-play in modern games, much like jocks in high school might give a nerd a hard time for playing D&D with his friends in the quad at lunch.

Get it now?

Now, to mix the metaphor up a bit: WoW and CoH literally would not exist if those D&D playing nerds hadn't built the spaces you all play football in. Yet you still make fun of all the nerds. What are you gonna do when they all become football players like you, and there's no one left to build the spaces to play in?

- Snipehunter