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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157 Comments on "Working As Intended: Busting up the MMORPG nostalgia party"

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Schlag Sweetleaf

bingo!

let it go.gif
hults2
Guest
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
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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
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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!