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Age of Innocence

November 7, 2011

Dear Reader,

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)

17 Comments leave one →
  1. November 7, 2011 12:59 pm

    I fully agree that all games eventually boil down to number-play. At least for me, that’s how it works. I’m not sure if younger, more innocent people keep their innocence longer – it seems I’ve gotten worse with age.

    Back in the olden days (sorry.. imagine me in a chair before the fire now) I used to play games for a relatively long time for the story. I would have, even in Ultima Online, if it had had any. I did play a character with the skills I liked, though, for quite a while, before changing to the optimal choices.

    The “innocent explorer” phase lastet longest in Star Wars Galaxies, I think. I remember running around Tatooine for ages, just being plain happy at finding a burnt out sandcrawler next to Mos Eisley, finding the old house of Ben Kenobi and running into Jabbas palace.

    Eventually that failed as well.

    I think nowadays my innocence is tilted. I “get” the principle of fighting before I run out of “wow, this looks really neat” and “wow, I wonder where this story leads”.

    What’s disconcerting, though, is that I didn’t even read all the quests in the Rift starter area. I mean… I was prepared to skip the miniscule attempt at lore already after .. what.. an hour of playtime?

    It’s bad … I’m wondering if one of these days I’ll skip over the story in single player games.

    • November 7, 2011 5:01 pm

      I can’t stick with single player games when I don’t care about the story. When I see how it’s going to end or simply lose interest in the story line, I just stop. That’s my biggest problem with Elder Scrolls games; they’re so large that I just get lost in the side quests and the main story disappears, to the detriment of the game.

      I think MMOs are so similar now that the familiar patterns between them cause that kind of number-transference between them. I still read the beginning of Rift’s stories, but I didn’t in any of the F2P stuff I tried recently. It’s going to take a major paradigm shift to get veteran players back interested in stories instead of just seeing the means to the end. Star Wars is claiming that their game is all about that, but we’ll see. A good judge of success will be whether I’m still reading the stories past level 10 or so.

  2. November 7, 2011 1:54 pm

    I agree with your general premise, although for me anyway your list of symptoms is wrong. I didn’t “lose my MMO innocence” when I started trying to optimize my performance or felt sad if I missed a raid. Optimizing is something I do in every game, MMO or not, and raids are fun!

    The downturn, in my mind, is when you keep doing those things even after you stopped enjoying them because you feel obligated. I only log on WoW now when I’m in the mood to play it, whether it’s once every two weeks or every day. I know what I need to do to optimize my performance, and I work on those things when I log on because it’s fun. Then I log off and don’t think about it again.

    The burnout happens when you let things gnaw at you. It’s not knowing the numbers, per se, it’s knowing them and letting them drive you to do things you otherwise wouldn’t. In my experience, anyway. 🙂

    • November 7, 2011 5:05 pm

      Actually, I agree wholeheartedly with what you’re saying. I’m not claiming that the first loss directly leads to the disenchantment. It happens over a long period of time. However, I do think that those events, which seem so innocuous, set the stage for the forthcoming burnout. I loved learning Kara, then raid leading it, then Naxx, then ICC (I didn’t really play during Ulduar or ToC). However, the burnouts I felt between, during, and after came from the exact habits that you describe. Now I play a lot more like you do. I sign up when I’m up for it. I play when and how I want.

      Still, those first losses signal to me the beginning of the end of that innocent phase. It’s not immediate; it’s not catastrophic, but it does start there.
      Thanks for the comment!

    • November 7, 2011 11:04 pm

      I don’t think those are the same things, Liore. To take the analogy too far, losing your innocence starts near the beginning of a relationship, perhaps after the initial courtship phase. You’re still in love (well, hopefully) after the loss of innocence.

      Jadedness and divorce only kicks in at the end.

  3. November 8, 2011 12:41 pm

    I think honestly I lost my innocence in the wonderment of WoW ooohh when I first started seeing the BOA gear. I saw it as a quick means to get higher numbers and not have to worry about those equipped slots till I hit the Cata zones. Mind you I have been playing MMO’s since about 2002…so close to 10 years. It at that point became a grind between the needs of my post cata main and my army of alts that I wanted to level with minimal hassle. That became a job, especially when I needed to grind points from instances and battlegrounds to equip properly.

    I still enjoy the game and occasionally find new and interesting ways to twist my immersion. It also depends on what toon I’m on. If I’m on my hunter main Grimrhok, it’s all about numbers and research..he is my pvp main and therefore I devote alot of the jaded stuff on him. But I also have toons that I play just for the hell of it. I don’t try to max them, I do spend alot of time wandering and choosing my quests for them based on what I think they would honestly do.

    Some thoughts on this, almost all mmo’s are gear based and it’s the gear which is your “win” in the game. This becomes the true driving force behind playing the game, always pushing for the next cool guy piece of equipment. The storyline, especially when done once or twice becomes nominal…merely a prop.

    Also, especially with WoW, the factions are completely polarized, there is no jumping back and forth,either Horde or Allaince. This puts a choke on the creativity of the individual to truely immerse into the world. The WoW lore proves this with both good and evil humans and orcs especially, whose to say they couldnt change factions? Dunno but it puts a shadow on personal creativity. It also makes motivation go back to getting gear from above point to defeat or out do other faction, end of statement.

    Now, one of my favorite games of the past which allowed constant faction change and made for very interesting dynamics was Star Wars Galaxies (DONT LAUGH DANGIT!!!!) prior to it’s WoW clonism in NGE. I had toons which were not concerned at all with dps meters, equipment (well fashin yes, but equipment no) could hybrid their skill sets to suit my needs for entertainment and still have a wicked time doing world pvp. I was more concerned with buying up realestate for cool houses and decorations. I enjoyed being part time smuggler and part time entertainer. Of course Sony butchered it with a different dev team and I quit. Point was though, I could quest if I wanted faction to one side or another and switch over time and never ever ever felt like I was pigeonholed. We actually had crafting that was meaningful to the game and made a difference, but not TOO MUCH of a difference. These are things I miss about that now defunct game.

    Back to WoW, I still have fun. I play it dead serious or casual as I feel necessary. My toons are set for my different play moods. So, while innocence is gone, I still can have fun. Nuff of my wall of text, your thoughts?

    • November 9, 2011 8:46 am

      I agree that the gearing game is usually the “winning” game. A while back, I had a commentator suggest alternative goals for WoW beyond gear which included actual, meaningful achievement rewards (on par with raid gear for top-end achievers), a tracking system for helping people with rewards for that (like a karma mechanic), and a system for rewarding well-run guilds or the like, so that the whole game wouldn’t revolve just around gearing/Cp/Vp. Any time you make the end goal of something a material reward, you’re going to create a culture of shallow materialism, as is shown my “ilevel” requirements and the like.

      I’m surprised that it was so recently that you lost your innocence (not due to anything about you, but more to do with the length of time you’ve been playing). I think I lost mine before you, though I’ve only played since 2005 or 6 (who remembers. Just before BC launched).

      I, too, am working on that push to keep the game fresh. The 10×85 challenge was working really well since I was learning all the class mechanics, strategies, and so forth, but the more classes I play and the more homogenized they make the game, the worse that ends up. I tend to agree about the lack movement in WoW, too. You mention factions, but servers are also an issue. Newer MMOs are allowing free movement every few days, but WoW still charges 25 / 30 bucks for server / faction transfers. I finally vowed NEVER AGAIN after this most recent move, which is turning out a bit disappointing (again). More on that in today’s post.

      I never played SWG in any of its forms. When it first came out, I was far to into WoW to really take notice, and by the time my attention was straying, it already had a pretty bad rap. DDO won out, instead (if I have my time lines correct).

      Back to WoW myself, I still have fun, too. I mostly play when I want how I want, whether it’s grouping on lowbies with friends, pvping on our middlings with my wife, or raiding (or not…) on my “main.” I’m happy – enough – for now, but we’ll see with Star Wars, D3, and eventually Secret World coming what happens with my WoW attendance.
      Thanks for the comment!

    • November 9, 2011 1:10 pm

      On a couple of points,

      The money involved is rough, my wife did that and so did I ONCE, never again. I don’t mind buying the occasional pet or mount for kicks, but no more transfers. We debated on whether or not to pay to get one of our bank guilds moved over, but decided against it based upon the price. I don’t think that Blizz failed in this, I just think you would have to be dead serious about paying for it.

      As to the server quality, you got me there. Last night after a successful foray with my guild into Silver Moon City, we decided to go on a recruiting run on a different server (Moongaurd to be exact). On the Alliance side we actually picked up a couple of new recruits when they saw an ALL DWARF guild running around and then explaining stuff to them. They loved the idea. Then we decided to experiment with the horde on that server. Everyone made a lv 1 forsaken hunter (imagine 30 some odd undead hunters with all the pets named Battlehammer running around the different cities…interesting no?). the problem that came up was, in Ogrimmar of ALL PLACES was dead. Like I think 7 horde players…thats it. We were shocked….horrified in all of our undead glory at such a barren wasteland. Clearly Moongaurd was completely Alliance dominated. So there is the faction issue. I know I would be in tears if I started a serious Horde toon there in the hopes of finding Horde raid teams etc.

      One other game that I did love for the longest time was NeverWinter Nights. It was the ability if you would spend the time to create your own worlds. You could change that world as time past as well by reprogramming it. Unfortunately its graphics were antiquated and the servers died. But it was the ability to customize your worlds or experience new worlds that fledgliong designers could change at will. Even though graphics were kinda old, the ability to dye clothing and armor, change looks was really ground breaking for the time.

      Finally, as to how long it took to loose innocense. I play fairly casually, never completely going hardcore or Elitist in nature. This game is my escape from my regualr stressful life so I dont make the game my life…too much. I have fun with it and try new silly stuff or different styles of play. In a BG if I think things are too crazy against me, I sit back, build a campfire and dance if there are too many players that wont listen to strats. I dont do too many instances anymore, just not my interest I guess. I do occasionally roleplay, if the chemistry is there. My wife and I have an army of alts that we just take our time leveling and have fun together.

      Ok my wall o text be done. I do so enjoy our..conversations, have a great one Stubborn!

    • November 9, 2011 5:39 pm

      I don’t want to admit how many servers my main’s been on, or how many faction changes, or the same for some of my other toons. Suffice it to say I’ve spent a stupid amount of money; the operative word there being stupid.

      I loved NWN, too. It was probably my first “real” online game, in fact, as I made a character after finishing the main story line on a persistent world server with a lot of alternate rules about dying, resting, eating, and so forth. It was a TON of fun, and I’ve never enjoyed rogues so much (stealth solves a LOT of permadeath problems; I ran rogue in my DDO permadeath guild, in fact). I’ve written on user-generated content, around the time Star Trek introduced that option for its subscribers, and I think it’s something that WoW’s really failed on, but understandably so. There’s a balance there, like a see saw, between user content and quality, and WoW’s always gone for quality (even if they’ve failed from time to time).

      I’ve never been hardcore or elitist (well… at least not hardcore. As an English teacher I’m a bit elitist by nature, unfortunately). My schedule, that is, being an adult, doesn’t really allow for it. Still, there are things I admire about the dedication and success of those players (I wouldn’t wipe 500 times on one boss, though; screw that. That IS bad design).

  4. November 8, 2011 7:22 pm

    Wait for it…

  5. Imakulata permalink
    November 10, 2011 8:25 am

    I would say that you’re missing the most important point – possibly the only one:
    The first time you do something you really don’t want to just to be able to do something you really want to.

    The other points are different for different people, as an example I was worried about my stat/skill spec before I even started playing – although I haven’t started with WoW but with Ragnarok Online which didn’t have an option to respec. On the other hand, I guess most of the people took a while to fully realize they didn’t have fun anymore…

    • November 10, 2011 6:26 pm

      Yeah, I think that’s a good summary of all the little individual actions that may come from that premise.

      It may be that you’d lost your MMO innocence before you even started WoW, so that worrying about your talents was already part of that, and I think you’re right; I don’t think that the initial trade off between doing what you don’t want to do what you want is where the fun stops, I think it takes a lot of that over a long period of time before you eventually realize – wait. It’s not worth it any more. Thanks for the comment!

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