I live in fantasy--Not genre-esque Tolkien inspired narratives involving elves, but fantasy as in that ninety percent of the time, my mind is occupied by things not of this world. This is true more so now than ever since I've been blessed with having nothing to do for school other than to work on the novella that I am writing for my creative writing thesis. I make breakfast in the mornings, and then write until about three in the afternoon. After pretending to get some sort of physical exercise, I'll spend a good portion of the rest of the day reading science fiction or playing a variety of video games.
For a few years one of these varieties have been the MMORPG. My gateway drug was Star Wars Galaxies. I was in high school at the time and Charles, a friend in my English class had introduced me to the game. While the class discussed books like Jane Eyre
and The Scarlet Letter
I sat in the back of the class and listened to luring stories about my classmate's new Tie Fighter and how he was on the path to becoming a Dark Jedi. So what do you do in game?
I would ask him. How many levels are there? Is it a shooter or an action game?
He laughed at my questions,but after an initial bout of frustration in trying to explain the concept of the game to me, he said, You can do anything you want. You can be a Jedi or a Bounty Hunter. Hell, you can be a doctor or play in a Cantina band if you want to.
My curiosity outweighed the fifteen dollars a month, even on my busboy salary.
I became addicted. Not since I discovered Counter Strike in the ninth grade had I regularly pulled all nighters to play a video game. I would stop at the gas station on the way home from work and double up on Full Throttles to make it through the night. I had been a fan of Star Wars since watching the original trilogy at end of my fifth grade year, and the ability to not just witness, but interact with the world that I had been enamored with was intoxicating. I started on Tatooine. After showing me the ropes a little bit, and giving me tips on how to go about questing, Charles gave me a speederbike and a fistful of credits to get me started.
I ran rampant on the desert planet, gradually becoming a master fencer and doing odd jobs for the Imperial outposts. I gave up public transport in favor of my own Tie Fighter, and my in my questing for the Imperials, I even met Vader himself. Gradually I became more integrated with the guild that Charles had introduced me to, and after one of the game's updates, we founded a city and shopping center that we called the Mos Eisley Mall. My house was littered with Jedi Crystals with old suits of armor hanging on the walls. We had doctors and a band on autopilot, as well as a few thriving businesses that we shared profits from.
The legendary combat upgrade came out igniting rage in the player base, and members of the guild began to drop like flies. Eventually the Mos Eisley Mall became a ghost town, and I left the game after the guild fell apart. According to emails from SOE in my inbox, the Empire has most likely destroyed our mall and city, grinding the buildings back into the sands from which they sprouted.
Since I left Star Wars Galaxies, I've weaseled my way into every MMO beta and tried handfuls of trials looking for that same spark of magic I first felt when I revved up my speeder bike on Tatooine. As I played through games like Guild Wars, and World of Warcraft in short bursts, little by little I began to understand the genre, and the mechanics upon which these games relied upon. Guild Wars was a good fix for awhile, but I felt constricted; the game was fun, but the lack of freedom killed its long term appeal for me. In WoW, I felt a bit of the old spark, but gradually stopped reading quest texts, and used in game add ons to streamline my leveling before joining in the gear race of raiding, burning out and repeating the process. Through my adventures in Age of Conan and Warhammer Online, I found myself constantly thinking of things like how the endgame would work and if the classes were balanced correctly. Everything boiled down to technical game play elements like hit points, gear stats, and skill trees. I was never quite immersed or invested in these worlds like I had been in Star Wars Galaxies.
My experiences had jaded me. With every MMO I try, my concerns for the artificial constructs that govern them grow, taking me farther away from what I am looking for in the genre. To this day, I still try beta's and trials, occasionally buying a title to give it an extended test drive, hoping one day that when I sit down to try a new title, that I will forget about how much mana I have or what the next piece of gear should be, and just enjoy the damn game.