I don’t mean optimistic in terms of their existential nature, as to whether they have a future, that sort of thing. I mean in terms of their literal structures and plots. I started thinking about this following a Waypoint piece that argues games are too optimistic in general.
“[T]he reason for existing in many videos games is to make your mark on the world,” author Cameron Kunzelman writes. “There’s a universe out there just waiting for you to discover it; there’s a billion enemies that need to be killed; there are science fiction tombs on the moon that need to be raided. The sheer optimism and projection of will that emits out from the player into these finely honed worlds is like a laser beam. Or maybe it is more like that ray that cracks out from the Death Star—whatever passes through the player’s sight does not emerge unchanged.” That’s if they don’t turn us into the villains outright.
The piece mentions only one MMO, World of Warcraft, and really only in passing, and I wonder whether that’s an important oversight. To me, there’s always been something about the MMORPG that’s fundamentally pessimistic. Think of the changelessness of most MMOs. How little you can really make an imprint on the gameworld, even when the games promise otherwise. How very little of most games’ history is recalled even a decade later. How little devs appear to learn from each other in building these worlds. How the games start you with nothing and reward you incrementally for violence, often through RNG, which you cannot control whatsoever, no matter how hard you “work.” Heck, the fact that I just used the word “work”! How online gangs take over sandboxes in short order. How economic inflation breaks the secondary game. How storylines become tired over all the years and each character must go through all the same slogs. How all your hard work is for nothing come the next expansion.
Even in-game death is no escape from an MMO. Nor is logging out, most of the time.
Maybe this is too morose for a Friday, but let’s discuss it anyway. Are MMOs too optimistic? Or are they just pessimistic enough?