The Daily Grind: Are MMOs too optimistic?

    
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I'm supposed to what?

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?

Every morning, the Massively Overpowered writers team up with mascot Mo to ask MMORPG players pointed questions about the massively multiplayer online roleplaying genre. Grab a mug of your preferred beverage and take a stab at answering the question posed in today’s Daily Grind!
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rafael12104

What da… I feel like I just walked into a University philosophy class. Nice work everyone. Seriously. Well thought out arguments here.

And now for my take. A bit less credible and maybe a bit more longwinded. You have been warned.

I think the premise is flawed, to begin with. Are MMO/MMORPG/Games too optimistic, pessimistic or both or maybe neither? Niet. Wrong question. You see, I believe that optimism as well as pessimism travel with you, the player. And the question is really one of interpretation, and how do players interpret a game given real-life circumstances?

So, times are weird. Very pessimistic for some, but is it really all that different from yesteryear? Remember the Cold War? Heh. That was a nice ride, wasn’t it?

And when you arrive at an MMO, you may be looking to escape the pessimism or maybe validate your fear. You may be searching for some totally beyond anything real to whisk you away or maybe you just want commentary which is less jaded or politically charged. Whatever it is you are looking for, your current state in large part determines what you find, optimism or pessimism.

Can devs influence you either way? Sure. But it is still a “glass half full or half empty” situation.

I’ve played games that have gone dark story wise. Very dark. And that coupled with other in-game mechanics really did make for rough times in the MMO, third world rough I suppose. But I found that people enjoyed it for diametrically opposed reasons. Some loved the dark gritty “life is a bitch” world. And for others, it fosters a sense of heroism. The old Waterboy “you can do it!”

So, I say. Meh, let’s not read too much into it. Let players bring what they must. Great games will accommodate them either way.

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Ken from Chicago

So you’re saying the answer is Mu.

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rafael12104

Mute? Yes. To a great extent. We, the players, determine how we interpret things.

I hate to get even more egg head about it, but it is a postmodern way of looking at things.

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Hirku

I’m glad I started gaming in a simpler time. Weeping over my Atari at the futility of River Raid would’ve been a real bummer, man.

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rafael12104

Come to think of it… I never realized it was always a losing proposition. Lol

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imayb1

I think people will pick the entertainment media that speaks to them. I choose fantasy for mine, which tends to be more uplifting than, say, Cormac McCarthy (as noted below). ;)

No, I don’t think all MMOs are optimistic by nature, I think there’s a mix. If someone likes a more pessimistic game, there are several options. Even the games you could classify as optimistic overall where the hero is slated to win doesn’t mean that the hero didn’t fail several times before overcoming the obstacles– or even that the one playing the hero could overcome the obstacles at all! In my experience, even ‘chosen one’ hero stories generally include some failures to learn from, stories where the BBEG gets away in spite of the hero’s efforts or kills a key NPC, etc.

As others have pointed out, we’re here to talk about games. IMO, games are a form of escapism. Again, though, the choice of game is personal. Some like to play paintball with military tactics and that’s their idea of fun– but you could call that optimistic since no one is going to die playing it. It’s a game.

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Bývörðæįr mòr Vas´Ðrakken

the issue is how do you build a quest that is not a single player game that lets you impact the world without either wasting all the work done per player, or have everyone do the same quests over and over again?

So far the only way I have ever come up with is to create duplicate zones, where the player is going through the zone interacting with npc that have set heuristic behaviors that match the npc characters in other zones. Each npc is view of a primary set of behaviors. when the view is created some are set behaviors and some of the behaviors are random off tables based on seed or hash of where they are.

So I created a table in excel 1000 x 1000, thinking each unit would represent one domain. Initially all the domains are controlled by AI using the database above. it is really limited sql server, but the terrains is selected at random from the grid and what is there is pooled against what is around it. I ended having to grid out the domains to nine units in a square to get the code to work with a ring of frontier territory around it. 500 across is the equator. any units in 500 N to 470 N are 90 to 110, which limits the tile sets to pick from a table of jungle, mountain jungle, Savannah, desert, high mountain desert, plaque, vale (high alt mountain valleys that have warm but sheltered climates), and ocean and inland sea tiles. The computer places one unit at random than it generates a second one but if it is with in forty of the first, that random seed is discarded and generates a new second domain. It places ten initial zones this way. Then it places one secondary unit to border based on a radius from each initial placed zone. then the data base places ten more initial units until the density of map of zones feels populated by not urban. At which point any domain or set of nine units that is within a hundred tiles of another impacts each other.

Then I started writing code to automated what initial npc went where but instead ended up assigning the different races I had listed to different domains. So when a player would start the game they would have to fill out surveys, which is likely what killed the game, that generated a back story for the characters and would tell the player where in the multi user dungeon they were starting. Each user got to impact the world and the world was seperated into two parts the factional area and the adventure area. The factional area was poltical and adventures that were one off but could be reused in other areas and if a player walked from one zone to the ones around they could trigger simalar advtures based on what was there. most would not trigger if the adventure had triggered within ten units as joke about a ten foot pole, and in the adventure zone, the players would enter areas with no npc that were friendly and if you cleared out the dungeon, the next monday a lone monster would adventure there and if got away safely would bring back a larger group to set up a base, if a player setup a base the adventure zone would mirror to suitable faction area and the player’s fortress would be replaced with monsters always on a monday since I would check it the sunday night before after getting back from my d&d group game and bring the server down.

On a mmo that has ten million people you would have to have most of the players living in player’s houses not the dominia in charge of the zone. grin well any more than that you have to wait for the 31st.

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rafael12104

Heh. This is what EQN was going to deliver…

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Ken from Chicago

CITY OF HEROES simply increased the challenged for instanced door mission for everyone on the team and added to the loot so no one could “steal” from another and in fact increased the reward to encourage teaming up without forcing you to.

I think GUILD WARS 2 expanded to open world combat so if you’re battling in a zone and more players helped out, they didn’t “steal” from you, the reward was increased to give to them a share of the reward.

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Stormwaltz

Real life is presently too terrible for me to want to spend my free time in existential despair, feeling powerless, or ruining the lives of imaginary people / fellow players.

I’ve always found the Fallout games, with their post-apocalyptic premise, pessimistic and depressing. That’s why I’ve given them all a hard pass.

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Ken from Chicago

I think part of the appeal of post-apoc worlds in general is 1) surviving and 2) starting over, blank check, clean slate, tabula rasa. You don’t have to follow the old rules and instead get back to “basics”, a “simpler” way of life. (Even if you’re dodging a few zombies / robots / aliens / mutants / dinos / Feline Overlords.)

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Ashfyn Ninegold

Harooom. What’s an IP anyway? Intellectual Property, yeah. But it’s a story, right? When strong “IPs” become MMOs, people flock to them. Because of the story.

So, what’s a story? We have Joseph Campbell to thank for defining the Hero’s Journey, but stories are as old as humanity. There are myths to explain the world to us; fairy tales to provide cautionary tales about big bad wolves and eating other people’s houses, and epics to record great events and heroic efforts to survive against overwhelming evil.

Current-age stories tend to reflect the world as experienced now, but epics and myths are about hard-won glories and victories from the past for all. How it was possible to be better than we are, to rise above our failings and petty grievances, to reach our inner resources and through an extraordinary effort overcome that which would destroy us.

This is why fantasy MMOs succeed more often than sci-fi MMOs. It’s the mythic content. With the exception of Star Wars and Star Trek, there are no myths about space because it isn’t in the past, it is in the present and the future. And Star Wars, arguably, is a pastiche of great stories from the past. Star Trek is a Gene Roddenberry original, encapsulating the hopes and governing ideals of a specific time and a specific place, America in the 1960s. The longer these IPs exist the more they evolve, through movies and television and games, the more they reflect the times we have gone through and live in.

But the myths of fantasy are part of our biology, our collective, innate knowledge. If we were part of a destruction myth, none of us would exist. We are part of a survival myth, a myth of overcoming, of succeeding. Of right (and therefore good), eventually and through great travail, finally, finally vanquishing wrong (and therefore evil).

And that’s about as optimistic, especially in these times, as you can get. A reminder that we all have better angels.

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rafael12104

Wow. Nicely done. I think I just got “learned.”

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Roger Edwards

Cameron Kunzelman needs to go play Spec Ops: The Line and reflect upon that.

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Sally Bowls

Too optimistic? no
Unrealistically optimistic? Absolutely!

Isn’t a point of the games to provide some distraction from your RL doom and your lack of Player Agency over it?

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kjempff

It is. My problem with the state of mmos is that they don’t give me Player Agency anymore, and without that the escapism doesn’t work well. I feel like the mmos are playing me; I mean on some level game experiences are always designed, but the lack of Player Agency in current mmos is so obvious and in your face, that I have a hard time finding that escapism.
Whatever level of Optimistic is just a small detail.

Ernost
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Ernost

For me their optimism is a big part of their appeal. They allow me to pretend for a few hours a day, that I am the chosen one or a hero who makes a difference. Basically someone who matters. They allow me to forget for just a little while each day, that my shitty depressing life is utterly pointless and I should just off myself and be done with it.

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TomTurtle

I don’t know that writer’s experience with playing MMOs but it’s funny to see someone who’s intimately familiar with them come out with a different conclusion.

The story of many an MMO plays into a power fantasy so I can see why it might be considered optimistic. Though there’s also a lot of world ending threats so I kind of also see it as pessimistic in a way. And really I don’t want an MMO story to feel too morose. It requires a fair balance.

The players that make up an MMO that you experience on the regular, well that’s a mixed bag. Often chaotic in the grand scheme of things. Easy to observe and find pessimism there, but that’s human nature for what our minds focus on.