Working As Intended: Busting up the MMORPG nostalgia party

Last week, a clever Massively OP commenter, SC_Deadline, neatly summed up the ongoing Nostalrius emulator shutdown as Blizzard “bust[ing] up someone’s nostalgia party,” which stuck with me all weekend as I mulled over how to approach this piece. I sympathize with emulator players, of course; I’ve been tooling around on emulators since the earliest days of Ultima Online’s, and the Star Wars Galaxies emulation community kept me sane after my favorite MMORPG of all time was ripped from the internet and replaced with a themepark. I’ll forever champion emulation communities from the angle of historical preservation even as I know that much of what they do falls within the dark shadow of the law.

And you know what? I sleep fine at night. I can accept that part of myself that gives zero fucks whether SWGEmu, for example, infringes on copyrights, as long as I can still have my droid shop on Tatooine.

I can also accept that my fun will come to a halt the day the copyright holder puts its foot down, and while I’m sure it will hurt like hell, I won’t proclaim I’m entitled to intellectual property that was never mine to begin with.

What’s impossible for me to accept is this ugly and pervasive idea that people who play emulators are hopelessly mired in some irrepressible, unflattering “nostalgia.”

Wikipedia defines nostalgia as “a sentimentality for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations.” It’s a pang, an ache for a time or a home that’s been left behind somehow, something that can’t be recaptured. It’s no wonder many MMORPG players feel nostalgia for games that have passed on or changed over the years, but far too many gamers invoke the term as a slur against anyone who discusses older MMO worlds.

SC_Deadline didn’t mean the term as an attack on players himself, but many of our commenters did and do any time we talk about sunsetted games. During the recent threads on Nostalrius, players pining for vanilla servers were told they are suffering from, as one person put it, “Rose-coloured glasses folks. Rose coloured glasses.” Another literally called nostalgia a “virus.” City of Heroes players celebrating their upcoming anniversary in a thread last week were cruelly told to “let it go” and “get over it” in obnoxious memes by fellow community members who really ought to know better, as it’s surely the rare person who’s drifted through 20 years of MMORPG history and never experienced the painful loss of a game, character, community, or friend.

coh135

The callous implication, of course, is that there’s no legitimate reason for anyone to care about or play something old, like an emulator for a long-dead game or a vanilla server for a game with a dozen years of content under its belt. The assumption is that new is better and nothing old is worth playing on its own merit — that anyone doing so must therefore be suffering from some psychological disturbance or burdened by the Golden Age fallacy.

That insult is absurd on its face if you’ve ever given a single thought to the influence of old things on our lives. Sure, you probably snicker at old technology like cassette tapes and flip phones, but the art of the music and the desire for communication — those things never die. Go ahead and snub video game graphics from the last millennium, but don’t pretend their best innovations and ideas aren’t just as relevant in 2016 as they were back when they were born. If you believe old things have nothing to offer, you aren’t paying attention.

Now, I don’t mean in any way to excuse old school games or servers their many problems. I am the first person to stand up and opine that an exceptional amount of old-school design was complete garbage, from forced grouping to designed downtime.

But even still, so what? Some people still enjoy even the tedious mechanics of yesteryear, and more power to them: One gamer’s meat is another gamer’s poison. And others are willing to put up with any amount of irritating cruft if it means they can keep on playing the parts they do love. I’ll stand at a starport counting down the minutes again as long as that shuttle takes me to my harvesters on Naboo!

uo99

Accusing retro gamers of being blinded by rose-colored glasses is a cheap way of dismissing an “old’s” opinion about a game. It’s rooted, I think, partly in the misguided fear that classic gamers’ preferences or pocketbooks help hold back the march of time when it comes to graphics or mechanics. Or maybe it’s grounded in resentment: People who missed out on a supposed “golden age” would rather believe that love for old games is misplaced rather than accept an amazing MMO period or game passed them by with no chance to revisit it. Other people simply hold no regard for history, or they mistake novelty for progress.

But ultimately, it doesn’t matter why anyone hurls the word around: The reality is that no one is playing on a vanilla server or emulator out of nostalgia, not for long. No one accidentally continues acting on nostalgia. It is not subliminal in an ongoing way. If you’re continuing to devote large amounts of time to an old game, it’s highly unlikely you’re doing it merely out of some wistful fondness for a distant memory.

Nostalgia might provoke you to go back to an old game. It’s true it might trick you into taking a peek for old times’ sake. And that desire might fade for you; you might decide it wasn’t as you remembered and that you were happy having moved on. That might just be the case for Nostalrius’ 650,000 inactive accounts.

But if you’re one of the 150,000 people who actively played WoW’s vanilla emu, decided they liked it, and stayed… nostalgia sure as heck wasn’t why.

The MMORPG genre might be “working as intended,” but it can be so much more. Join Massively Overpowered Editor-in-Chief Bree Royce in her Working As Intended column for editorials about and meanderings through MMO design, ancient history, and wishful thinking. Armchair not included.
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hults2
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hults2

Ahmen to that. So many of us pine for the old ways and the old days because they were, in quantifiable ways, better. For some it’s the freeform sweatshops of Star Wars Galaxies, for others, its the solid and stalwart community of City of Heroes, and for some it’s just that we don’t feel like being treated as a cash mule for a game studio and forced to pay to win. In any measure, its nostalgia that brings us back at first, but its what’s missing from other games that keeps us coming back.

phobossion
Guest
phobossion

LunastariaSpiritDiva I am not even sure it was “designed” in true sense of the word. I feel like the old RPGs were just modelled after PnP where playing as a group and having to recover after a fight was considered to be perfectly normal. I don’t think anyone was “designing” MMO games from the standpoint of “what can a player do alone when he doesn’t want to interact with others?” The answer would likely be “go play Baldur’s Gate” back in the day hehe :)

LunastariaSpiritDiva
Guest
LunastariaSpiritDiva

phobossion I think designed downtime and forced grouping really made a community, time to actually talk instead of doing those hotbar rotationals and the active combat nonsense… running around like chickens with your heads cut off , means no one is talking or typing…

LunastariaSpiritDiva
Guest
LunastariaSpiritDiva

bossrprouse Yeah, most of us want challenge and harder content, and are bored soloing all the time. Nostalgia? What is this? No, we accept the negatives just to get challenge back!

greywolfe_joystiq
Guest
greywolfe_joystiq

well said.
thank you for writing this.

Bonnenuit
Guest
Bonnenuit

rottenrotny Cramit Bonnenuit Again, I’m not one who would ever go back and play on vanilla servers, or an emu of any old game, really (I did try on the Warhammer emu, and just couldn’t stomach it for various reasons.

That said, I completely understand where you both are coming from. I, too, met people in vanilla WoW that I gamed with for years, and it was because standing outside dungeon entrances, we kept seeing each other while trying to put a group together.

So… added to each others’ friends list, and that was that.

I jumped back into WoW for Cata briefly, and again for WoD; running dungeons was no longer a fun, shared experience, but a grindy chore.

For me, though, I’m glad to see some devs trying to recreate that with a more modern style, because too many things have changed that I *do* like for me to go back to the old ways.  :)

For those that do enjoy it, though… more power to ya! 

Also, don’t do it illegally.

bossrprouse
Guest
bossrprouse

Fully agree. Nostalgia is an argument to belittle or dismiss why these old games the way they were are so loved. You probably hit it right with that people don’t like the idea of something good passing them by and they won’t have a chance to experience it, so they have to dismiss it. I wish they wouldn’t because they should love what they experience now and not let a few spoiling apples try to play off that if you didn’t experience that golden age, your experience is invalidated, and it’s not. We all have our moments we like to go back to, and we all have those games that are just right for us that we continue to play even if it means we don’t get all the luxuries of new games.

c71clark
Guest
c71clark

Great article. And easy enough to prove. I’m willing to bet that if Daybreak were to launch a pre-NGE Galaxies server, they would attract tens of thousands of players. And I’m also betting those players would be willing to pay $5 to $15 a month to play.

Tithian
Guest
Tithian

You saidwhat I’m thinking about this whole thing,  in a much more eloquent way than I ever could. Thanks!

karmamule
Guest
karmamule

Nordavind karmamule enamelizer On a side note, Calvin & Hobbes is my fave comic strip of all time.  Very funny, and you’re right that he works so much more in there w/o losing the humor. I love it.

Apollymi
Guest
Apollymi

I really enjoyed this article.  It hits all the points that I’ve been thinking about concerning EMUs and how some folks in our MMO community act towards one another.  Great read, thanks!

Veldan
Guest
Veldan

Jalek When the people are gone, it’ll be nothing you remember regardless of whether the mechanics were horrible or good. Even in games that still encourage grouping, communities can degrade over time. Perhaps they can also improve over time, but I’ve yet to see that happen :S

StClair
Guest
StClair

karmamule People seek confirmation that their opinions, beliefs, and preferences are wise, well-founded, and “right.”  This necessarily requires that all others be wrong; otherwise you’d do/think/be that instead, yes?
Some seek to win others over to their side by presenting clear evidence that their choice is superior; since any reasonable and intelligent person would be convinced by such facts (as they themselves have), those who are not are clearly ignorant, stupid, or outright lying just to be contrary.
Thus do disagreements over the most trivial of matters become battlegrounds of identity, with each tribe – down to the individual member – striving to prove that they have not made the mistake of liking/choosing/believing the wrong thing.

Nordavind
Guest
Nordavind

karmamule enamelizer I have yet do discover this in a game, but I have discovered that with age comes other views

Calvin and Hobbes – I was introduced to this when I was at an age where comics was read for fun. After growing up and rereading all my books, I see all the strips in a new perspective. There is still fun there, but Mr. Watterson did talk about so much more.

Starship Troopers – At the time “WOOHOO! Action packed sci-fi! Die bugs!”. Now: Let’s just say I understand what the author of the original book wanted to tell.

So yes, I do think that what you propose is possible.

Nordavind
Guest
Nordavind

mysecretid It was just a tangent from my part, not trying to bring that into this discussion. Their post just reminded me that I have the game ready to play, and I’m not sure if I should. I lvoed UFO back then and the new XCOM gave me the same feel. I’m not tjust sure is UFO can give me that same feel now.

Anyway, I agree :)

Nordavind
Guest
Nordavind

Vaeris But it’s ok for older gamers to tell how good the old games were and how crap the new are? Yeah, yeah, probably not what you meant, and it’s a very loaded question from me, but the axe swing both ways. The thing I mentioned do happen, and both sides seems to only notice the thorn in their brothers eye.
I live happily in the middle.

Jalek
Guest
Jalek

Hounddog74 I’ve found when I go back, the people are gone, so it’s really nothing like I remember.  In many old MMO’s it was clear that the human interaction was what made many horrible mechanics tolerable, since everyone could complain about them.  The newer games that don’t encourage grouping until end game (if at all) will never have that to keep people around until they fix those sorts of things.

mysecretid
Guest
mysecretid

Estranged 
I have no problems with games which encourage groupiing,, but forced grouping is a separate thing.
Games with forced grouping are set up so that you can’t progress (and sometimes, you can’t even play) unless you group.

It’s a different beast.
Cheers,

ManastuUtakata
Guest
ManastuUtakata

schlag sweetleaf ManastuUtakata breetoplay 
Nope! But I’ll take the pink sticker though! <3

Hounddog74
Guest
Hounddog74

What an excellent write up. The part that resonated with me the most was when you mentioned people go back and check out old games out of nostalgia, but it doesn’t keep them playing. Just about every year or so (last week actually) I’ll install a half dozen MMOs I used to play strictly because of that itch to have those feelings again, and an hour later I’ll promptly uninstall them…that’s nostalgia.
People playing a WoW emu or choosing to play EQ over FFXIV isn’t nostalgia it’s a preference. Those people actually feel those games are better and are playing them because of that reason.

schlag sweetleaf
Guest
schlag sweetleaf

ManastuUtakata schlag sweetleaf breetoplay Pony up ‘Uta…or should that be ponytail up ‘Uta…

Karl_Hungus
Guest
Karl_Hungus

ManastuUtakata SallyBowls1 BKone Karl_Hungus 
Blinkered. That’s cute! <3

Sally’s comments about wine fit this conversation because my argument is that things don’t necessarily age as well as we’d like them to. For example, vanilla WoW’s raiding content was not hard; it was just bad. Bad bugs that took forever to fix, bad mechanics, etc. C’Thun, the last boss in AQ40, hadn’t been defeated for months not because of difficulty but because of a bug. The fight was literally impossible to beat. Of course, when the bug was fixed, people criticized them for “nerfing” the fight when most of them had never even seen the fight. Fast forward to today and here people are saying WoW is too easy now and yet they haven’t cleared any Mythic content. Today’s WoW is as hard as you want it to be.

paragonlostinspace
Guest
paragonlostinspace

ManastuUtakata paragonlostinspace It made sense. :)

ManastuUtakata
Guest
ManastuUtakata

SallyBowls1 BKone Karl_Hungus 
We’re talking about Karl’s rather blinkered idea of older games, not the technical aspects whine entropy. Just saying.

ManastuUtakata
Guest
ManastuUtakata

paragonlostinspace 
I did add something…I am not sure it made any sense. :(

ManastuUtakata
Guest
ManastuUtakata

schlag sweetleaf breetoplay 
Come on…she said “fucks”. That’s not really a word…other than it rhymes with “ducks”. >.>

ManastuUtakata
Guest
ManastuUtakata

” City of Heroes players celebrating their upcoming anniversary in a thread last week were cruelly told to “let it go” and “get over it” in obnoxious memes by fellow community members who really ought to know better, as it’s surely the rare person who’s drifted through 20 years of MMORPG history and never experienced the painful loss of a game, character, community, or friend.”
I remember during one of the articles from Massively-that-was covering the aftermath of the shut down of CoH, when one commenter suggested to a number of us we should play somewhere else in our hero Underoos…
…you know there this saying: People shouldn’t be telling others what to do with their lives. And thus frankly, mind their own bees wax. Sure Vanilla Wow of City-of-Heroes-that-was, may not be their thing. But it’s other players’ things. So butt out folks, and leave others to do their own thing. It’s really that simple.

paragonlostinspace
Guest
paragonlostinspace

Nice, well written Bree. Nothing more to add really. Just wanted to give “a like”. U0001f60a

phobossion
Guest
phobossion

Estranged That’s why I’ve used “forced” not forced. Although I know that there were areas in SoA where you just couldn’t progress on your own, so it was kinda forced. The best design decision ever if you ask me, but perhaps too niche for today’s market…

Estranged
Guest
Estranged

Ya’ll need to use another word than forced. Forced corners people. How about encouraged to group?

phobossion
Guest
phobossion

“I am the first person to stand up and opine that http://skycandy.org/2013/03/uphill-both-ways/, from forced grouping to designed downtime.”

Meh, I am still waiting for a true successor to Shadows of Angmar where most quests were group quests. “Forced” grouping for the win – arguably, Nostalrius and similar projects are so attractive because they force you to work with others, forming lasting relationships with actual people, instead of being part of a nameless silent crowd.

breetoplay
Guest
breetoplay

Syppi bryanjturner Hey if it gets really crazy or Blizzard does something in response (servers crashing, Blizzard banning people), I’d totally write that up. :D Will definitely keep an eye on the protests though.

Qarran
Guest
Qarran

breetoplay Qarran  Lol.  Fair enough.  Thanks for the clarification.  

One more point.  Some of these emus foster factionalism as well.  “If you aren’ with us  you are against us”.  I know you ran into this just recently.  I bring this up only to highlight the idea that some players who love their old emus seem to be playing for more than just the “fun” factor.  It is a personal matter.  That can be polarizing and bring hate to an Emu community too.  Not necessarily deserved but certainly as a reaction to a few who are still fighting the good fight for the old game they love.

Estranged
Guest
Estranged

I take ever write off the law allows. Avoid grey areas. I feel I have an ethical obligation to pay for the roads, schools, police force, etc. Sickens me that some pay nothing to live here, have no investment. Paying someone to live here is worse.

thatchefdude
Guest
thatchefdude

Just wanted to say thanks to MOP gang for this column in particular, Working As Intended has become one of my fave gaming op-eds I read regularly on any site….

You guys always do a great job with these articles.

mysecretid
Guest
mysecretid

It’s disheartening to see the proportion of posts on this article which effectively say, “I agree! But those new/old gamers really are a problem, and I wish they’d get over themselves!”
People see what they want to see, I guess — especially if they’ve tied their gamer self-identity into whether they’re a “modern” or an “old-school” gamer.

breetoplay
Guest
breetoplay

SallyBowls1 Nostalgists don’t expect special treatment. That just happens to be the topic I wanted to tackle. Tackling a topic is not to say no other topic is deserving. If someone else wants to write a detailed opinion on the logical fallacies inherent in bashing players of a game, more power to him.
We’ve streamed SWG and talked at length about the SWG emu. Smed has praised it, for goodness’ sake. I don’t think my opinion on emus for dead games is a secret to be tiptoed around, and I can’t see why I should care more about Disney’s copyright than it does when it comes to MMOs. This is not to disrespect copyrights in general at all.

breetoplay
Guest
breetoplay

Vaeris Welcome back! ;)

breetoplay
Guest
breetoplay

Qarran To be clear, I don’t really feel bad about any emulators for sunsetted games regardless of whether I liked the games. Warhammer was terrible, and I didn’t think much of Vanguard either, but I’m quite glad they have emulators for the people who did like them. I don’t see how there’s any bias there.
Emulators for live games, when they are not welcomed by the copyright holder, do bother me more than for dead games because there’s much more potential for actual harm, but Blizzard is perfectly capable of fighting its own battles. We’re not talking about an indie company being driven out of business.
And of course, we’re talking here about whether I can personally sleep at night, not about whether something is legal or moral or ethical. :D

schmidtcapela
Guest
schmidtcapela

yukonsam01 schmidtcapela 
That, plus studios not seeing much commercial value in old movies, plus movies not being widely recognized as an art form until later.

Video games suffer nowadays from similar issues. They are still not properly recognized as art, and the rights owners tend to not see much value in old games (while often seeing value in the underlying IP, which makes things worse as they will block external attempts to preserve and/or restore the games).

mysecretid
Guest
mysecretid

Karl_Hungus 
I’ve often thought, “When they made Karl, they broke the mold …” ;-)

mysecretid
Guest
mysecretid

Nordavind ProfessionalNoob 
XCOM is probably a very appropriate game to invoke for this discussion, don’t you think.
I’ve seen gamers online absolutely embarrass themselves arguing over the original X-COM games versus the modern XCOM remakes.
I mean, people have preferences. What a shocker, you know? :-) But watching these man-children argue on both sides of the debate that their version of the game is objectively “better” in some sort of self-evident, God-sanctioned way, it’s appallingly dumb.
To quote the character of Kalliyo Djannis in Star Wars the Old Republic, “I feel my IQ dropping just listening to [them]”. :-D
Cheers,

dragonherderx
Guest
dragonherderx

Husvik The problem with that is sometimes it isn’t so much nostalgia… For me WoW is literally a completely different game today than it was in vanilla. They didn’t advance in game systems further and instead dumbed them down further.

Qarran
Guest
Qarran

alexjwillis  Very well put.  Thank you.

dragonherderx
Guest
dragonherderx

bakkahentai2600 To an extent the people that did join later don’t get how the game used to be at times. To an extent these newer players are “spoiled” to the extent that they don’t want to actually look at the way the game used to be. The problem stems not from them disagreeing it’s more stemming from the new players pretty much often going “la la la la la la la i can’t hear you” sort of scenario. They don’t want to hear it and they act butt hurt over the fact that you are saying something negative about the way a game is currently going and start to get sort of “toxic” about it.

If these people could sit down and have a real conversation instead of writing off the older players to begin with maybe just maybe we wouldn’t view them as negatively as we do. Many of the times we view them as spoiled because the most we get out of them about some of the older systems that were better than what exist now is “that sucks” they may disagree with it, but offer really nothing constructive to it. They simply do want the easy way out. Some people that started later can appreciate the older game, but there are people that really just can’t look past their own nose and don’t realize just how horribly the genre has gone due to World Of Warcraft.

I’ve tried to have a constructive discussion with someone that started playing mmorpgs in the WoW generation and not in Vanilla and started when it started to get easier. This discussion was about past mmorpgs and where even vanilla WoW had started to “dumb down” the genre in favor of mass appeal/accessibility and while vanilla was a vastly superior game in regards to mechanics to what WoW is currently WoW was still a step back for the genre in many ways. I explained how and I explained parts of the genre that used to exist prior to WoW and things that just make their eyes gloss over and I hear things like “that doesn’t sound fun” because you have this generation that was brought up on purely combat oriented mmorpgs…

Qarran
Guest
Qarran

SallyBowls1 Estranged sray155  Oh crap!  That reminds me… I need to get my taxes done!

Syppi
Guest
Syppi

bryanjturner What would the story be there? What would that add to our coverage? “People still upset” makes for a lousy headline. Stories have to develop to continue to be newsworthy, and I doubt we’ll see anything new about this.

mysecretid
Guest
mysecretid

ProfessionalNoob 
“Oh, how the ghost of you clings …”
It’s a pity that the same maverick qualities which made Alan Moore such an audacious writer also pushed him to turn his back on mainstream publishing.
While I admire his sticking to his principles, parting ways with major publishers has made his work not only more insular, but also harder to find, in a purely practical sense.
But I digress, as usual … :-)
Cheers,

Qarran
Guest
Qarran

Well Bree, this is why I come here.  I like this type of op ed and the resulting opinions given.  And so, I will give mine.  I’ll try and be brief.

First, I agree with most of what you have said.  There is no underclass in gaming.  If you like a game you shouldn’t have to excuse it for feel guilty about it.  And yet there is shaming.  Yes, shaming is the word.  You like SWG? You are a blinded revisionist.  You like AA?  You are a whale and an idiot.  You like SWTOR? You have no idea what an MMORPG is. Lol. I could go on and on.  So you see, it is not just emu lovers or the like.  You aren’t singled out.  There are factions, warring factions at times, all over the place.

Second, I completely understand your zero fucks sentiment.  I have that sentiment on occasion and it applies to many things.  But here is the deal, Bree.  You don’t care if it infringes because you love that game, SWG for example.  And yet, would feel the same way if you didn’t care for the game?  What if it was one of those themeparks you don’t particular like?  Your bias plays a role there Bree.  And I don’t think is a bad thing really, but certainly when a game infringes on the rights of others it is a lot easier to see if you have nothing invested in it.

And now for the hard part.  And I know I may get some flack for this.  But this site has its fave games.  There are certain games that get more coverage.  Some of those games aren’t the most popular.  Some of those games are niche markets.  And it is perfectly understandable.  We don’t need you to pretend to be fair and balanced.  This isn’t Fox News. Lol.  But as a site devoted to these games we love, I would caution simply that there are many who like different types of MMOs, newer games in fact.  There are many who prefer new mechanics because they don’t have the context you have regarding old games.  There is nothing wrong with that because like it or not, there isn’t one “good” type of MMORPG anymore.  There are many good MMOs that vary in what that means.

Finally, I still, to this day, have a Doom icon on my desktop.  You remember Doom, right?  It freaking started it all as far as multiplayer combat games are concerned, IMO.  And it was the amalgam of MUDs and Doom that made this industry.  I love it, I play it still.  A quick session here and there for nostalgia’s sake AND because it is fun.  You play what you like no matter how old.  That is what we do.

mysecretid
Guest
mysecretid

schmidtcapela breetoplay schlag sweetleaf 
Or Popeye the Sailor Man, in the Max Fleischer classics — he just mutters this unintelligible stuff under his breath that you just know is profane. :-)

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