It’s the holiday once again, and somehow I’ve wound up on Thanksgiving Day here in the US. You may not be reading this on the day, instead enjoying a feast of turkey and bread that had been stuffed in that turkey. Food is weird when you think about it too much.
Last year, I took a look at the MMOs we should be thankful for by type. Sure, I could just reprint that here; I’m proud of it. But the fact of the matter is that there are lots of different ways to be thankful for MMOs, many different things that we have as shared experiences.
So today, I’m looking at those experiences because we all have moments in our online history that we kind of feel a momentary rush of thanks for, but not necessarily ones we think about a whole lot at the time. Today, we’re thinking about them.
1. Getting lucky
Earning your subjob in Final Fantasy XI is a task and a half. You have to rely entirely on getting three random drops from rather difficult enemies. So it’s pretty great when you head out and find the items you need on the first kill.
But getting lucky isn’t just about getting a random drop far more easily than you expect to; it’s also about when the stars align just right. When you get exactly the crit you need, when you find something selling for just the right price, when you just happen to miss all of the stealth-dropping enemies in World of Warcraft‘s Suramar. Luck is a terrible gating mechanism, but it’s worth being thankful at the luck you’ve had – either for the things that you got easily or the things that you got at all.
2. Finishing a project
MMOs generally reward a certain amount of long-term planning. It’s the nature of the game. So it’s nice to be able to say that after several weeks of play and planning and melds and the like, you wound up with the best gear you could have in Final Fantasy XIV. Or you’ve finished decorating your house. Or you won a Triple Triad tournament. Lots of things are worth being thankful for, in other words.
While luck can certainly help with a project, at the end of the day, finishing projects is what these games are all about. You make a long-term plan, you follow through on it, and when all is said and done you look back and nod with satisfaction. Or you make plans and never really carry them out, but that’s… less worthy of thanks.
3. Finding someone cool
Human beings can be inarguable cesspits, but every so often one of them will surprise you by being awesome. Sometimes it’s as simple as meeting a random tank in WildStar who makes you laugh and plays well. Other times you meet people who turn into lifelong friends you talk with on a regular basis.
Yes, this means wading through a whole lot of people you probably don’t like, but that’s all the more reason to be thankful. When the odds seem against it happening at all, it’s worth being thankful for when the stars align.
4. Succeeding despite the odds
The odds are not ever in your favor. Sometimes your ship warps into an endgame mission in Star Trek Online and you immediately find yourself positioned just right to get immediately eviscerated by enemies. Or you’re crafting something in FFXIV with the intent of an HQ item, but you’re sitting at 40% quality and can’t afford to not finish the craft.
And then you succeed anyway. You don’t die when certain death is on the table. That low chance translates to success. And you stand there, having achieved something that doesn’t feel impossible, but feels like it shouldn’t have happened.
Savor that. You beat the odds when you didn’t expect to do so, and that’s something to feel gratitude over.
5. Understanding something new
MMOs wind up with a certain level of complexity over time; that’s natural. Some games handle it better than others; STO has always started out as being blindingly opaque, while City of Heroes was an excellent example of a complex game under the hood that didn’t bludgeon you with details right away. But no matter what game you play, you’ll have to understand the mechanics, and some of them will be a challenge for you.
When that understanding clicks, that’s something to be thankful for. These systems were designed by thinking people with plans for the future, and there’s stuff there to understand. Being able to look and say “yes, this makes sense to me now” is a good feeling.
6. Returning to an old favorite
There’s an old expression that applies to MMOs: Never fall in love with a bar. The point is that it’s not just the building you liked but the crowd around that bar, the people and the culture and the place in your life. Those things will change, and going back to recapture them never quite works.
MMOs are the same way; what you fall in love with is partly a product of time and space. There are people whom made a huge impression on me in games who no longer play, parts of games that I can no longer experience. But it’s still worth being thankful for the option to return to an old favorite. It may never be the same, but it’s still fun to go back and say hello.
Hey, winning is fun. There’s plenty of reason to be thankful for winning. Selling stuff, making money, clearing dungeons, beating bosses? All fun, and all worth being thankful for. It might seem a bit pedestrian, but it’s still a good feeling.
8. Getting excited for an update
We’ve all had expansions and patches that we look forward to. We’ve had games we looked forward to. Heck, I remember being excited about future roleplaying developments in The Secret World, and that’s not even really to the game’s credit. (The setting is, so some credit. Partial credit.)
I like being able to look forward and get psyched about something. Sure, eventually it’s going to stop being new and exciting, and eventually entropy claims everything. That’s inevitable. That’s part of why the sense of excitement is worth being thankful for. Sure, the final product may not match your dreams, but it gave you some dreams in the first place, and that’s not nothing.
9. Being powerful
Power alone is a bad reason to play an MMO, but let’s be real and accept that it is a reason. I’m not just talking about combat, either. One of the things that gives me a little rush in FFXIV is knowing that I can log in and buy pretty much anything on the market boards without having to save up; I don’t buy a lot of it, but I do have that ability thanks to saving and working at making money.
MMOs are also somewhat unique insofar as they allow you to go further with power than most single-player games. Sure, you’ll get other challenges on your level, but you can actually reach an apex of power and still have more to do. It’s no an end in and of itself. And sometimes, that means being able to rush back through older areas and unleash hell on enemies that used to challenge you but now can’t even touch you.
10. Having fun
Why should you be thankful for this? Isn’t this the whole point of games? Yes. But it’s kind of amazing, when you think about it, that you can have a game devoted to giving you fun experiences basically forever. That shouldn’t work as often as it does, and it’s worth being thankful for the times when you log in to your familiar game and find yourself enjoying it.
It’s a minor thing, sure, but it’s why we keep playing. And the fact that it seems to be a consistent fountain of fun long after it has any right to be is pretty great.