I have been playing MMOs with varying degrees of intensity for the past 12 years. That is really weird to me. It also means that I’ve had time to develop a robust set of memories, and not everyone has the exact same memories. But I’ve also found that we all have the same general categories of memories despite that, even if you weren’t first playing Final Fantasy XI when I was.
So let’s be a little bit universal. Not everyone has the memories I do of running through Qufim or dealing with goblins in every leveling spot ever, but whatever your first game was, I’m pretty sure you have these same memories. The details just change.
1. Your first character
The first character you create does not need to set a precedent for the remainder of your online gaming experience, but more often than not it says something about the sort of character you like to play. Sometimes it becomes nearly hard-wired into you, that you always make a specific sort of character with a certain style; otherwise it might just indicate that you’re probably going to play a lot of characters vaguely related to such-and-such. It’s variable.
But we all have that first character. Sure, maybe you don’t make a whole lot of choices when rolling that first character that you can’t reverse later, but the point is that there’s a reason you made that. Even if it’s just by clicking “random” a few times.
2. Your first goal
MMOs are games of long-term projects. The first time you have one is significant. You see someone ride by in a city in World of Warcraft and think, “I want that guy’s armor,” or you get a really awesome weapon in The Secret World and you think, “I want to learn how to use this.” Or it could be as straightforward as starting a story in Star Wars: The Old Republic and thinking, “I want to see where this goes.”
My first goal? I wanted pants instead of the hot pants that my character started with. Sure, it’s a little goal, but it was enough to motivate me to get some gil, which led directly to…
3. Your first interaction with another player
I begged someone for money when I was a little bit short on funds and bought my pants. I was polite, it was a loan, and I paid it back, so it’s not quite as bad as it might sound. But it was still the first moment that really brought into focus the idea that this wasn’t just a game you played around other people; this was a game you played with other people.
On some level, sure, that’s is in the whole genre description. But I think it has a bigger impact than we like to think when you first see another character played by someone you don’t know and you strike up a conversation. You get to know people. They become a person on the other side of the screen, not just a name and combat stats.
4. Your first major setback
Back in the long long ago, we would play games where you could easily lose a level after you got killed, or you could have all of your items torn from your corpse once you died. I will not say “and we liked it like that” because the fact of the matter is that we most definitely didn’t like it like that, which is why most games quickly eschewed those options and then we forgot how bad they were amidst a fog of “oh, back when there was real danger in the world.” But you could lose quite a bit when you died.
Even if you never played in that particular kick-in-the-pants era, you have suffered setbacks. You spend a bunch of time on a dungeon and you don’t clear it. You mess up crafting with rare items and lose everything. You buy something you didn’t mean to and your in-game savings are wiped out. Bouncing back from that loss provides more than just a story; it provides a context.
5. The things you would never do now
I think it goes almost without saying that I would never ask another player for money now in any game. I would go out and get it myself. But that’s hardly the only thing I did back then that I wouldn’t do now; my entire approach to quests, character building, and roleplaying is different now than it was then. We all look back on our early days in MMOs, and I think we all recognize them as having a bit of the wild west to them, when we would do things that we would never do now.
6. Your first difficult victory
Just as you remember your first big setback, you also remember the first time you cleared something and felt great. A difficult quest, a complicated weapon, a hard journey from one point to another, something you had tried and struggled to reach for some time. We thrive on these memories, but the first one – the first time you were really pushed to your limit and triumphed – is that one hit you keep trying to get back, despite the impossibility.
7. Your first guild
In some ways, this is an extension of the first time that you find another player and really interact with him, but the guild thing is a bit larger and more important. There are people who are still basically running with the same guild they joined in the beginning, which is at once awesome and sometimes a bit limiting in making new connections. Similarly, there are people who join a guild and immediately think that they’ve found a swarm of suckers to exploit in a move so charmingly cynical that P. T. Barnum sheds a tear in spirit.
Your attitude toward a guild, your first taste of organization, your idea about what a guild should be – all of these things, again, are formed by your first memory of one. Sometimes that means that your first guild gets lionized or made eternal, sometimes it’s a cautionary tale, but it always has a lasting impact.
8. The first hangout
There’s always a place where players congregate. Maybe it’s at a major hub, maybe it’s just a good place for traveling, or maybe in an older game it’s a leveling spot. The point is that it exists, and at least in my case I remember just sitting around in Selbina with other players for the first time waiting and looking for a group that came far less often than any of us would have liked.
For some players, this isn’t always a great memory. Sometimes those first hangouts are places of supreme boredom where you get stuck instead of playing the game. But you still remember them, even if they lead directly into the next point.
9. When you left for the first time
I have never left a game without feeling sad about it, but for a long time I never even consciously left a game. You just realize at one point that you haven’t logged in, and you don’t want to log in, and given the choice you won’t log in again. And that’s it, and it’s goodbye, and it feels like an anticlimax. And the first time it happens, when a new game has supplanted the old favorite to the point that the old game is just a vestigal memory… you remember.
Even if you go back in a couple of months.
10. Being the experienced one
We don’t tend to notice how we change over time because we aren’t comparing ourselves to hypothetical “past selves” from months ago; we’re comparing ourselves to what we were a week or so ago at best. So even after you’ve played a game for a while – maybe your first game, maybe one that you’ve found as your new home – you tend to think of yourself in much the same way.
Then you meet someone who is genuinely new to the game, asking the same questions and making the same mistakes that you did at the start, and you offer a bit of help and maybe some money and equipment before waving goodbye. And you realize that somewhere along the line you stopped being the new player and started being the expert, the veteran, one of the people who others look at with a feeling of “one day, I want to look like that guy.”
And that’s pretty great.