Friday, 3 August 2007

Hollow

Many of the saints, sinners and supplicants have named it 'burnout', 'slump' and other such terms, for me MMO life at the moment is fractured. There is no one game that dominates my time over all other games, and indeed MMO games are not dominating my leisure time at the moment either. I could probably go into seriously deranged depth about the psychological 'hows', 'whys' and 'do you mind if I don'ts' for this, but for me it's quite simple: I've given three or four MMOs my undivided attention over the past years, and every time I crack open a new MMO, it's like I'm playing some bastard hybrid child of one or more of the previous games.

No, this isn't a post about innovation.

It's simply a statement of fact. The reason that Lord of the Rings Online held my attention until the character's mid-twenties and was then shelved is because I'm lazy. I'm lazy in the fact that, after I've burnt through the initial content (about twelve times as I roll new alts and soak up all the new classes, races and starter areas) I hit the Charon factor. The Charon factor is that feeling that you're just repeating the same journey, in a slightly different way, and that you're merely ferrying your current PC across the wide abyss, not because it's enjoyable or an adventure, but because it's plainly what has to be done. And so you ferry your character along, you don't feel for the character, you don't form any kind of bond with it, you don't care for it, you can't empathise with it, in fact you begin to hate it. You hate your character for making you sit down and trudge through the same old landscapes, killing the same old monsters the same number of times (that being far too many times) because that's what it wants you to do.

No really, it's not about innovation.

Disappearing, it would seem, are the days where many people would commit large parts of their lives to shepherding around a virtual character, because their sense of adventure has gone. Even people who have only played WoW will have begun to see the language of the matrix, will have begun to see behind the stage curtain and notice the rigging and crew used to convey the world they were believing in, and that it is in fact a carefully engineered façade. And once you begin to see the sets, costumes and props of your world you then become familiar with them, and very quickly do you notice them in the next MMO that you play, and the next one after that. And the more MMOs that are released the easier it is for Alice to see that in this looking glass world, she's simply a pawn. You no longer see the lever as a means to obtain a pellet, you see it as a plain and simple lever, one that you've pulled a thousand times and which you know will provide the same result the next time you pull it, and the next, and that that result is no longer satisfying.

It's about catharsis.

I find myself these days playing MMOs a lot less than I used to, and I don't focus on one MMO but tend to flit between them, paying for a month here and a month there. I also find that I am less excited about upcoming MMOs than I used to be, I know the names of the ones that are coming, and I know what Amazing Unique Revolutionary Features [TM] that they employ (most of which revolve around you killing ten rats in New! and Exciting! ways), but I just can't believe the hype any more. Because I know how they will actually turn out. We all do. For me it means that I'll probably try them, get past the initial ten or twenty levels where classes and locations are fresh and the rats die in new and interesting ways, and then I'll catch a glimpse of the stage in a certain light, and I'll recognise the set and crew from the last MMO production I was watching, it's just that the set has had a fresh lick of paint and the crew are wearing different overalls.

And you know, I've been through this before.

FPS games were my absolute joy back in the day. From Wolfenstein 3D I was hooked, and I devoted many hours to playing various FPS incarnations, getting all psyched-up about the upcoming releases of Quake, Half-Life and Unreal and its tournament brethren. But at some point in time the genre really took off, before that point you'd only had a few games and they were executed well and brought something genuinely unique to the table, Quake was perhaps the king of the land at the time, and suddenly developers were churning out thousands of FPS games, all very much alike even though each one touted New! and Exciting! features. There were still the big releases, games which my friends and I spent plenty of time enjoying, but eventually the FPS genre seemed to lose its way, to strangle itself in its own desire to entangle every idea and theme and wrap it in the latest and greatest FPS imagery. I'm still amazed that we never saw a My Little Pony FPS.

So here we are in the tree of MMO life, where Everquest saw the graphical MMO genre explode out from its roots, and World of Warcraft brought it into the branches of mainstream popular culture as perhaps Half-Life did for FPS games. And now we begin to see the influx of MMOs released in the wake of this success, and the weight of all this extra growth that isn't needed begins to damage the tree, it weighs it down and forces it to spend resources in keeping these branches alive which would be better spent in growing a few stronger and healthier branches. And if nobody comes along to prune it, eventually it will wither and fail, until it is a gnarled trunk unrecognisable from its former glory.


Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow

Between the conception
And the creation
Between the emotion
And the response
Falls the Shadow

Between the desire
And the spasm
Between the potency
And the existence
Between the essence
And the descent
Falls the Shadow

This is the way the genre ends
This is the way the genre ends
This is the way the genre ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

-- Bastardised from The Hollow Men by T.S. Eliot

6 comments:

Bildo said...

Excellent post, sir. That's all I can say.

Truth be told, I think a lot of the more serious gamers think exactly the same thing. Sadly, for my part, there's no other game I enjoy more than a good MMO. Problem is, most of them are exactly what you've described. I maintain hope for PotBS.

I really do.

Keen said...

Fantastic analogy Melmoth. I have been trying for some time to turn my feelings on the MMO genre as a whole into something anyone can understand (specifically those not feeling the same thing we are) and you have done so beautifully. I love your blog and I hope you continue writing.

Melmoth said...

I felt I was probably going out on a limb with this one, as it's a bit of a dramatic (read emo) change from the usual posting style, but I suppose sometimes you've just got to vent the frustration. Normal (and I use that in the loosest sense of the word) service was resumed, I'm happy to say.

Thanks to you both for the vote of confidence, it's nice to know that the more straight-laced writing is also appreciated.

Chris Brind said...

Completely valid points and I totally started to get that Neo feeling with WoW once I levelled out my NELF Druid, but for some reason I just didn't care.

So that's the problem well defined, but what is the solution?

Melmoth said...

To quote Morpheus:

"Remember: all I am offering is the truth, nothing more."

However, if the solution is anything like the plot of the second two Matrix films, I'm not sure I want to know anyway.

Slybri said...

Been there, done that, got the T-shirt.

Or as Bilbo would say, "There and back again."