Age of Innocence
In thinking about some of my recent interactions with both the blog, the game, and my friends, I began to wonder at what point do players lose their innocence in an MMO? It struck me that along with the Part-core play style, a lot of my writings have been on that topic, if not directly about it.
The point was driven home over the weekend. Despite all my work (and, in fact, perhaps specifically to spite all my work), my buddy decided that of all the F2P games I’d previewed, he wanted to play DC Universe Online. It just went free to play, in the middle of the week that I’d been previewing games, so I hadn’t bothered with it. I knew it’d be a madhouse since it was just opened to more players and was available and heavily advertised on Steam. I wasn’t against DCUO for any reason; I just had my sights elsewhere.
He, though, picked it up and decided after a half hour of playing that it was what he wanted to play, so I begrudgingly tagged along. The servers are a mess since they’re severely overloaded (I had a queue of 5000 last night), I don’t understand how tagging works in the game since it seems like it’s based on kill shot, which means that with 120,000 new players all the low level quests are super-difficult to complete, and it basically plays just like WoW with a few changes, but it’s what he wanted, so fine.
We leveled to level 10 in a few hours, having done two of the “dungeons” in the game (something with Scarecrow and something with Bane). As we were sort of summing up the experience, he said, “I really like the dungeons in this game a lot more than WoW. They feel a lot more genuine and story based, not just a bunch of trash to get a blue item.”
I scoffed and said, “You say that now, but only because we’re new players. You still see the fiction of the game, not the mechanics (quoting Koster again); if you played this for a year you’d see the dungeons exactly the same way you see them in WoW.”
“Well,” he said, “they’re still more story based.”
“No they’re not,” I countered. “WoW’s dungeons are story-based, too. Shadowfang Keep always related to the threat of the Worgen. Deadmines was a direct follow-up to Westfall quests. You just stopped seeing the story because you played so long.”
He didn’t agree, but that’s fine. We rarely do on things like this. It struck me then that this conversation, like the one I had with my wife about “starting to ruin WoW” for our friends all centered around this idea, about the innocence of enjoying a game.
I’m not sure when it switches, but clearly there’s a moment when numbers suddenly become more important than story, than enjoying your play time. I don’t think that moment is the same for everyone, and I don’t think it’s a permanent change at first, but I do think it signals the slow decent into eventual burnout. I’ve tried here to compile a list of things that I believe contribute to the “efficiency disease,” whose symptoms are a general malaise, an overabundance of should be’s, a feeling of falling from the top end of a see saw, and a sense of being surrounded by foul air.
1. The first time you are angry that you lost a roll for a piece of gear that was clearly more useful to you.
2. The first time you realize that you’re carrying everyone else in your PuG.
3. The first time you go to Elitist Jerks and there’s no new information for you to learn.
4. The first time you feel disappointment about not being top DPS or feel shame for being the bottom one.
5. The first time you’re passed over for a raid and are upset about it.
6. The first time you realize you’re committing an atrocity as part of a quest and don’t really care.
7. The first time you worry about you spec choices.
8. The first time you realize your guild doesn’t fit.
9. The first time you vote to kick someone.
10. The first time you know exactly why you lost a BG that your team should have won and write it into /bg chat.
I think my first experience like this was put off for a long time because I was essentially leveling alone. I’d leveled a priest with my wife to level 50 or so on a PvP server with a friend, but he’d stopped playing, so we moved over to another server with some new friends. They were already raiding in Kara at the time, so I was left to my own very misinformed devices.
I don’t think I worried or was upset about anything while leveling. It was an RP server, so I wasn’t getting ganked (though I still had the paranoid tendencies learned from my previous PvP server… “Uh oh. A dead mob! Be on the lookout for who’s around”). I wasn’t beholden to anyone else because I was leveling alone. I was dps, but this was before Recount, so my dungeons experiences were blissfully unscored.
Then I hit BC content, decided I wanted to be a tank, and started playing one. I was carried through a fair number of things to get me ready to go into Kara. However, once I hit Kara, things started getting ugly. I didn’t know a lot of basic things, like about hotkeys or macros. I was taught quickly, furiously even, and I think right there was when I lost my MMO innocence. I was being pretty harshly (though rightly) criticized by friends and being told how to play differently. I learned; I improved, and we played and nailed Kara, being one of the first guilds on our server to have a really legitimate 4 hours clear time (not that same night, but over all).
I didn’t mind then; I was anxious to improve and learn. However, I think that’s the moment where my eyes were opened to the type of game that WoW really was… and has become more so since. I’m not saying that losing one’s innocence in a MMO is inherently bad, but I do think that it leads to eventual burnout, which a lot of us veterans are (or already have) experiencing. I know that what I learned in those early Karas has benefited me hugely over the past 5 or so years, but still, I think that was the moment I started to think of the game in terms of math instead of as a game.
I invite all of you, dear readers, to share your experiences here, perhaps with a little reflection. When did you lose your MMO innocence? Looking back, how do you feel about it now? Any “first times” to add to the list?
Stubborn (and reflective, today at least)