Perfect Ten: It’s time to end all dragons in MMORPGs

    
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If a genie ever appeared to grant me three wishes, I would not hesitate. I would not be selfish by asking for more wishes or focus on my own well-being. No, I would think of you all when I said, “Mr. Genie, I want you to eliminate all Elves from MMOs, preferably via boiling acid. I want you to make all online giant spiders obey the cube law. And I want all developers to be stricken with a specific form of amnesia that will make them forget, now and forever, that dragons are a thing.”

You’re welcome in advance, online gamers. Yes, I will gladly take up the mantle of your king and protector.

Dragons are not cool. Dragons have never been cool. And yet, for some reason unknown to me, MMO developers lose their collective minds over the fire-breathing lizards. They’re not just a trope that infests MMOs to the detriment of original storytelling and world building; they’re cheesy villainous centerpieces that devs prop up while deluding themselves that the other couple of thousand MMOs aren’t doing the same thing.

MMOs need to give up their dragon addiction, and I am not short on reasons why. I am also so dead serious that dragons need to go that I’m contemplating getting a chest tattoo of one just so that I can laser removal it right off the next day.

Dragons were old by the mid-1980s

What’s old can become new again, sure, but only if someone attempts to portray it with a well-crafted twist or a fresh angle. This is not the case for dragons, which reached their zenith of popularity in the 1980s as kids carried around their neon likeness on Trapper Keepers. I love the ’80s as much as any member of Gen X, but I was already bored with dragons, unicorns, and moon-howling wolves as corporate shortcuts to kid cred back when I was young. In an era of Cyndi Lauper and transforming robots, dragons seemed as hip as grandpa’s backyard shuffleboard.

I got told to go play shuffleboard a lot when I visited his house, which is why I bring that up.

We already have two D&D MMOs, and they have dibs on dragons by virtue of the title

If we’re going to admit dragons to the halls of MMOs, maybe we need to honor the dibs that Dungeons & Dragons has on them. Sure, Lord of the Rings predates that and all, but it’s not in the title, so Frodo doesn’t get an in-game Smaug. And any subsequent MMO with the word “dragon” in the title should be sued for copyright infringement by Wizards of the Coast, mostly to entertain me and because R.I.P. Dragon’s Prophet. I say that if you’re a D&D MMO, you are allowed to have scaly dragons so that you’re delivering on the inherent promise of your name, and the rest of these games should butt out.

Dragons have become our friends in pop culture

Movies and television have done a wonderful job defanging what threat dragons once had by turning them into cuddly protectors. After being bombarded by Puff the Magic Dragon, Dragonheart, The Neverending Story, Game of Thrones, and How to Train Your Dragon, the public consciousness has changed to see dragons as “giant scaly dogs.” As fascinating as it would be to see an MMO put a plus-sized Lassie as a raid boss, it’s not going to happen because she’s our best friend. Now that dragons are, too, why do devs want to make us kill them?

lizurr?

There are now more flavors of MMO dragons than Crayola colors

While developers might be willfully ignorant of dragons in their competitors’ games, they aren’t completely stupid. They know that there’s a dragon arms race going on, and the only way their game can stand out is by creating some new type of dragon that is made out of ice! Or popsicle sticks! Or scary dreams! Or senior citizens! So now we’ve arrived at the point that there are thousands of dragons all over our MMOs, each trying to be a unique flower by virtue of its composition. But at the end of the day, they’re all angry lizards with wings, even if their DNA is 79% flubber.

Dragons simply aren’t scary

I’ve hinted at this point, but now I’ll shout it out loud. Dragons aren’t helpful to your MMO because there’s nothing intimidating, scary, or awe-inspiring about them. When you’ve seen the psycho killer in the movie dozens of times over, he goes from being Freddy in Nightmare on Elm Street 1 to Freddy in Nightmare on Elm Street 5. “Dragon” is a lazy trope that devs use because they know that players know they’re expected to feel scared or intimidated when one arrives. But are we? Are we really?

I used to play an MMO that shall not be named that is lousy with dragons to the point where all but the most hardcore lore junkie couldn’t give two farts about them, and yet the studio has launched us into another storyline where (gasp) another dragon is about to return! Another one! Woe is (yawn) us! Diminishing returns are in play here is all I’m saying.

Dragons are one-note villains instead of nuanced foes

The best bad guys and gals in MMOs are established as deeply flawed yet intelligent (or ruthless) characters with backstories and tragic twists and reprises. But dragons are none of these things. Dragons live in caves or swoop down from the sky to protect treasure and start rumbles, and that’s pretty much the end of their complexity. Even when devs try to do something special with their dragons, we end up with Deathwing ruining the world and making a horrible World of Warcraft expansion. Bulls in china shops don’t need a top hat and a monocle to look sophisticated; they need to be removed entirely.

Having dragons in your MMO doesn’t make you special; at best you’re maintaining the status quo

Just because your game is in the fantasy genre doesn’t mean that you’re beholden to any tradition or bound by any law to put dragons (or Elves and giant spiders, for that matter) in it. And you’d probably stand out more if you didn’t include them. Dragon bosses, dragon pets, dragon characters — the world has seen it all. It’s time to move on in the mythological zoo and look at the other exhibits.

Attacking a dragon as a melee character is an exercise in myopia

Let’s conduct a little exercise right now. I want you to get up and stand four inches from a wall. Any wall will do, although if you have one covered in scales, so much the better. Now I want you to punch the wall for a half-hour while someone occasionally sets fire to your hair. There, you’ve gotten the full dragon-fighting experience as a melee warrior. So fun. So fun.

Dragons prove the folly of the developer mindset that “anything superbad must be Godzilla-sized”

This right here is why I think dragons continue to be a popular fall-back choice as an MMO boss staple. The more evil something is, developers reason, the bigger it must be. It’s a good visual cue that lines up nicely with the fact that most dragons are not demure models but hulking meat tanks. Maybe it felt good downing one or two dragons early on so that the little guy could feel as if he overcame mighty odds, but now I’ve started feeling sorry for the dragons being bullied and ganged up on like that just for being big-boned.

At the end of the day, dragons are just plus-sized lizards, and who wants more reptiles in video games?

I’m sure there are some of you weirdos who like to show guests your pet iguana or “Huggy” the snake, but let me assure you that everyone else is silently freaked out by your choice of companion. Oh, it’s time to feed it a live mouse? You go right ahead while I start casing your home for exit points.

MMO devs keep thrusting dragons in our face with the cries of, “Isn’t it adorably awesome? Have you seen anything this cool?” while players edge away and try to look as non-mouselike as possible.

If no one else will say it, devs, I will. They are not cool. You need to get a new pet and quietly fling this one off the nearest cliff.

Everyone likes a good list, and we are no different! Perfect Ten takes an MMO topic and divvies it up into 10 delicious, entertaining, and often informative segments for your snacking pleasure. Got a good idea for a list? Email us at justin@massivelyop.com or eliot@massivelyop.com with the subject line “Perfect Ten.”
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Fenrir Wolf

It’s not that dragons aren’t cool, but rather toxic masculine depictions of dragons aren’t cool. Sadly, that’s all you’ll find in MMOs.

One of the reasons (beyond putting a spotlight on concepts like psychological torture, plurality, victim-blaming, and the just-world fallacy) I was so into Jormag was because for a moment it seemed like an online game might have a dragon that wasn’t the usual MMO fare. That didn’t play out.

The problem isn’t with dragons, the problem is with how much toxic masculinity there is in online games. Indeed, it’s with how much young men with very bad ideas about their own identity are often the target of online games. Very few online games actually go out of their way to include women, which might explain why so many of the studios making them are now airing reports of harassment.

If you were to say that dragons are the problem, that they aren’t cool? There’d be so many young children just shaking their heads in dismay, Wings of Fire has reintroduced an old paradigm for what a dragon could be. I hold that in the majority of media dragons haven’t weathered as much of a problematic showing as they have in online games.

Unless we’re going to say that Draco isn’t cool.

Flight of Dragons is another great piece of media that does much to capture the wonder of dragons, having fun with them as something other than mindless war machines.

Where toxic masculinity comes into it is that dragons are often mindless war machines in online games, they’re even usually wyverns lacking forelimbs. I mean, the presence of forelimbs could allow for gesticulation and that might suggest a level of intellect frightening to the kind of mindset that would want to have them as creatures to slay for the purpose of proving their ephemeral machismo in ever-increasingly large numbers.

To wit, it’s that dragons are monsters that serves as the primary drive behind their lack of intrigue. Yes, certainly, as monsters they’re very boring. In fact, whenever the value proposition of verisimilitude comes into play to decide whether something is or is not a monster, that’s going to be uninspired and creatively bankrupt as it’s relying on problematic perspectives—such as toxic masculinity—to create motivation. Slay the dragon, save the damsel, get the loot. Beauty and wealth. Toxic perversions of worth.

Young men are taught that if they’re successful, then wealth and beauty will come to them. This will be a measure of the perfection they’ve achieved. Failing to meet this lofty, airy goal in life results in the disenfranchised turning to fantasy instead. If they can’t be the perfect person with the billion dollar paycheque in reality, then perhaps they can be the successful hero with the billion-number gear in an online game. All too many online games are crafted around this notion of offering worth through artificially fashioned hierarchies.

There are plenty of instances of dragons being very cool in other sources of media. I’m sure that when the Netflix Wings of Fire series airs, that’ll be brought to the fore again. Yet in online games, dragons were never cool. I agree. I think the better question is why dragons can’t be cool in this particular medium, and what underlying problems result in that state.

Basically, it’s not the fault of dragons. It’s the fault of how these games focus far too much on proving the size of on’s… worth. If there were more women involved, I imagine that wouldn’t be quite so much the Universal truth of online games, but you don’t need me to tell you why there aren’t more women involved in the development of these games… Do you? I’d hope not.

If you take away the toxic masculinity, then dragons can be cool aagain. It’s toxic masculinity that isn’t cool, not dragons. Dragons are fine.

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Bryan Correll

Next week Justin can give us ten reasons why K-pop sucks.

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Schmidt.Capela

Is a reason even needed? ;-)

(Only half-joking; I can’t really stand K-pop. Which is kinda ironic in that I love J-pop, which many people outside Asia can’t even differentiate from K-pop.)

Corey Evans
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Corey Evans

Many of your points are good and all, but apply to far more than just dragons.

No mobs are that scary in an MMO, dragons and spiders and wolves and bears and most of everything included. Like in XCOM, when you name a favorite unit after your neighbor and then that unit dies, imagine an MMO with permanent unit death (many other considerations like only a few hours to get to soft cap, etc. required, don’t hang on this because of pre-conceived notions, just think about it for the purpose of the example). In this way, a giant-ass, actually giant and dangerous spider is scary. If a dragon decides to go on a town-burning raid, that shit would be REAL scary.

Just like elves, too: there are a million elf and dwarf and halfling derivatives just as there are dragon derivatives. The problem isn’t the original thing itself, it’s how it’s implemented. What if the races truly were different? What if hanging around your hometown was actually fun and an elf had local homeland powers only in their neck of the woods like summoning the water chargers to wipe out the wraiths in The Fellowship of the Ring?

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Jim Bergevin Jr

I am sure you will be pleased to know that I am currently developing a Dragonology MMO.

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Ardra Diva

This is why VR is so important. The sense of true scale and that dragon being truly 50 feet tall is so visceral. Being big really does matter in VR.

Also, this is why EverQuest is such an important title. There’s what, 20 playable races if not more by now? You can find your flavor.

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Ben Stone

Dungeons and Dragons are both super light on Dragon content surprisingly. I think Everquest / Everquest 2 took the prize for most dragon bosses. Well outside Dragon’s Prophet where basically everything was a dragon.

I actually like dragons, but 100% with you on elves. They are just humans with pointy ears, I prefer more creative races.

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Utakata

/Fear the Pink Dragon

<3

Mark
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Mark

Can we keep Dragioch, possibly the most fun raid of all time (at least to a burg).

Dragioch.jpg
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Bullwraith

Justin, there is an easy fix. Just don’t play games that have elves and/ or dragons in them. Many of us DO enjoy them in our games.

You know, you have been beating this drum so often that you have turned yourself into a trope.

Turing fail
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Turing fail

I’ve yet to meet a genuine Genie, but can I interest you in this monkey’s paw, Sir…?