Vague Patch Notes: Have a seat for your MMO

Pretty sure seeing this attack coming for you means nothing but good things.

I could play Final Fantasy XIV on my PlayStation 5, but I don’t want to. And as weird as it might sound, the reason mostly comes down to my seat.

This is not going to be an article in which I talk about how you should make sure that you’re sitting properly and keeping yourself hydrated. You should be keeping yourself hydrated, but as someone whose sitting posture could generously be described as “unorthodox,” I have very little interest in policing how you sit. But the point also remains that I am sitting differently at both stations, and that is actually intentional.

If that sounds like a weird place to go, well, it is! But I am going somewhere with this. So for the moment I want you to take a moment to think about where you’re sitting and why, whether you’re reading this on your phone or your desktop or your laptop at work or whatever. I promise, it’s going to be relevant.

Throughout my life, I have always used my computer at a desk of some kind. Frequently, these “desks” have been some ramshackle assortment of pieces that sort of make a desk if you squint, ranging from a folding table with some plastic drawers on the top to a set of cardboard boxes that mostly worked if you stuck your legs in one of them. (I was in college and was not flush with resources.) This just makes sense. I need somewhere to rest my forearms in order to type. My mouse and keyboard need to be sitting on something so that I can comfortably operate them. This is the fundamental element of operating on a computer.

For that matter, I’m not even sitting very far away from my monitor, about 70cm away. It’s all right there. This is a pretty normal setup, and while yours might not include quite so much cat hair, I imagine it’s not appreciably different from my own. And I sit on a rolling chair with an upright back that allows me to do all of this in relative comfort because that’s just how it works.

This is not a magic formula I have derived. Computer chairs are marketed as that for specifically this reason! It’s a pretty standard setup. If your job involves you having a desk and a computer, the setup is probably pretty normal! As cool as it is to imagine working on a machine covered in whooshing hand gestures like Minority Report, the reality is that this is not the way we tend to use actual computers.

That's not to say it's free of issues, of course.

By contrast, my television is on the other side of the room from my seat. I’m sitting back and may have a controller in my hands, but it is not intended to be placed against a hard surface to operate. There’s distance and space. There is a sense that I am more free and less immediately forced to engage with what is happening.

Now, to be clear, my argument is not that if you consider the difference of environment more engaging, games must perforce be played on the computer; that would be absurd, and there are a number of games that I have played either on both consoles and desktops (Mega Man 7, for example) or are available on both and people enjoy on either option. I don’t think that there’s necessarily a hard dividing line for the vast, vast majority of video games, just as I don’t think that watching a movie on my desktop is the “wrong” way to view it compared to my more distant-and-comfort viewing on my television.

However, MMOs are a bit different from a lot of other video games, starting with the fact that MMOs are more like work than any other kind of video game, and I mean that in an entirely laudatory fashion. MMOs expect you to have an engagement with what you are doing and a longer-term outlook for your overall progress. They’re kind of a job that you do for fun.

Some people get either really offended at the idea that a video game would be kind of a job or really defensive over the mere implication, often responding vociferously that this isn’t a job, it’s a video game, it’s fun, you just don’t understand why it’s fun! And dude. Chill. I promise you I spend hours playing these games too, as evidenced by the fact it is literally part of my job. It’s work in the same way that spending hours painting miniatures or preparing tabletop games or reading technical manuals about tabletop games (also known as “rulebooks”) or building cabinets are work. It’s fine.

But the result is that the way in which you’re sitting and the way that you’re engaging with the material does, in fact, start to make a big difference. I’m not sitting back on a couch to play an MMO. I’m sitting upright, alert, and engaged. I can tab over elsewhere to check things or take notes. This is part of the process of what I am doing. It is a part of playing the game. I am not a Serious Professional Doing Hard Work (I am pretending to be an elf), but I am in the most work-based video game mode.

Yes, more than this.

So what does all this mean? Man, why does everything have to mean something to you guys? Well, it sort of does mean something. The first is that I think it’s worth considering how the increased proliferation of MMOs to consoles has also coincided with a lot of MMOs that have inherited more habits from single-player games. I don’t really want to go in-depth in terms of a value assessment there (there’s a lot of complexity one can unpack and this column is not going to run short, so maybe another day), but it does mean that there is a difference in design ethos beyond just the improvements to hardware.

But the other main thing is a drum that I’ve hit before. Sometimes, it’s worth considering how things other than the MMO itself influence your experience of the MMO. One of the things that gets talked about a lot when we critique media is that the text should stand alone and be untainted and uninfluenced by any other considerations, that everything should be self-contained. But that is… well, untrue. Paratext is real, and we have to be aware of it and consider its consequences.

The environment around MMOs have shifted, the way we interact with games and the world has shifted, and that’s true whether you’re talking about a game you played when it launched in 2003 or one that’s launching this year (hey there, Tarisland). And the environment you are playing with bears some consideration. It is possible that some of what makes games hit different potentially has to do with the sheer disconnect of something you used to play in a dorm room with your roommate compared to sitting across the country. Some things change, some things stay the same, and some things that seem the same are more different when you look at your surrounding environment.

Also, you should make sure that you’re hydrated. Really, get some water. Or seltzer, if you prefer. Dehydration isn’t good for you.

Sometimes you know exactly what’s going on with the MMO genre, and sometimes all you have are Vague Patch Notes informing you that something, somewhere, has probably been changed. Senior Reporter Eliot Lefebvre enjoys analyzing these sorts of notes and also vague elements of the genre as a whole. The potency of this analysis may be adjusted under certain circumstances.
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