If you didn’t read the first part of my MMO series, you should. In it I talk about a few of the resons that moderm MMO’s suck and what can be done to improve them. I also allude to an idea I had for a new MMO, to be revealed in part 3, which if I ever make it will blow every existing MMO out of the water. In this part I’m going to talk about the reasons people play MMOs and how MMOs reflect western society.
Why do people play MMO games? The answer is simple; they try a free trial, get addicted and start shelling out the cash. Why are they addicted? This is a harder question, but I think I know the answer. Back in the day we had MUDs. I used to play muds, but I realize now they are even worse than the MMOs of today. All we did was, literaly, walk around and kill monsters to make numbers go up to kill different monsters. The role playing was basically nil, especially in smaller MUDs. But we kept doing it. Why? I mean, at least in a Final Fantasy game or something I can understand the desire to progress plot. But people actually have a desire to level up with no actual goal. You might at first say that it’s fun. But that’s not enough, if you ask why is it fun it become very difficult to think of a reason someone would want to perform monotonous tasks repeatedly with no real benefit.
There are a few reasons I can come up with that this is fun for people. First, there is an imagined benefit. People feel that when they reach the max level or some incredibly high level that some new world of awesome opens to them. In MUDs there were areas you simply couldn’t get to unless you were powerful enough. Sometimes you could go to the areas, but the monsters there would attack you and kill you, and you would have no chance of recovering your stuff. Getting more levels allowed you to go to these places. The real trick was that these new places were no more exciting or different than the areas you could already go. It did however provide this meager and false sense of superiority. As long as there are lower level players about it somehow makes people feel special to have abilities that others do not have, even if these abilities hold no real meaning.
The second reason is world modification. Low level players can’t do much. They walk around and hit things. High level players can teleport, destroy things, steal things, etc. They are like superheros. They have the ability to do things that regular people do not. Of course, these are all fake things, as they only exist in an imaginary world. You could acquire the same effect by playing with some action figures and using your imagination. Since it really isn’t you with the enhanced abilities, it’s an avatar, an action figure works just as well. But the real reason these abilities make people feel good is because other people have to suffer their effects. In a world of supermen the computer guy is the superhero. All the strength and speed doesn’t make technology work. You’re only super when you have abilities beyond that of others. And because the players in an MMO are all real people these false powers to manipulate the imaginary world gain new glory, because other real people have to suffer their effects. A plain digital world in which you were god is no fun. But as soon as it is a dynamic world that changes all the time in which other people have to play, changing it is fun because whatever you change has positive or negative effects on other people. So in order to gain these world changing abilities people will spend lots of time and money making numbers go up.
The third reason people level up is because it works. Everyone who knows how to play the game knows how to get levels. You kill things, you make things, whatever the case may be. But basically you repeat some monotonous task that amounts to clicking buttons or typing commands to make numbers go up. And as long as you push the right buttons and enter the right commands the numbers will always go up. There is no chance of them going down. There is no skill determinant. It’s not like you might lose or you might win, you always win as long as you know how to play. And the longer you play the more you win. It’s not like Tetris or Puzzle Pirates where you can know all the rules of the game but still lose. In an MMO if you know the rules of the game you win. And how much you win is determined by how much you play. The first MUDs were the very definition of this concept. As time went on MMOs and MUDs try their best to cover this up. And this is how MMOs beat each other. At their heart they all are based on this one concept, but as time goes on each one covers it up more and more in order to look better than the other MMOs. They add crafting, exploring, flying, puzzles, customization, etc. But these are all cover-ups of the underlying fundamental game mechanic. And the MMOs that cover it up more are the ones that are more succesfull. But the ones that leave it out are not addicting, they are just good games which happen to have many players connected at once, and thus they do not do as well.
But why is this game mechanic addicting and fun? Because it is escapist. The same reason that people read fiction is the same reason people are addicted to MMOs. It helps them escape the reality of an imperfect world. Most people do not feel perfectly happy, I’m an exception rather than the rule in that I am unhappy very rarely. But living in an MMO is an escape from reality. In the real world if you do work, you don’t always make numbers go up. Sometimes you do work poorly and things go sour. Sometimes you do work that results in nothing. You try really hard to win the sporting event, but the other team is better, even though you practiced more. In an MMO whoever plays more wins, skill matters little. This is the ideal of people who have lots of effort and little skill, and thus MMOs make them very happy. It is also escapist for people with no social skills. People who think they are ugly, or are shy, or have no friends. These people can go onto an MMO where they are anonymous and actually talk to people without fear. If people don’t like them they can make a new character. These people who have no social interaction in the real world can be the most popular and powerful player in the fake world. All they have to do is spend more time playing the game, which works well for them since they aren’t spending time hanging out with friends.
But in the end, no matter how high level you are, the rulers of the MMO world are dictators who made or run the game. And some NPCs are more powerful than players ever can be. The job of the player is to work to get useless levels and useless money so that they can do the same thing again in a different context. It’s just like the world we live in. Everyone is supposed to get a job to get money to get stuff which they have to support with more stuff they have to work for. MMOs as a whole are a simplified and magnified image of our western society. The only difference is that everybody wins. There are no homeless people in MMOs unless you want to pretend to be homeless for fun or something. And sometimes you have to be rich to do that. At one point in Puzzle Pirates you had to spend a lot of money if you wanted rag clothing, as it was only available to greenies(newbies). And this is why people play MMOs. They can replace their shitty real lives with an imaginary one. They pretend to live in a world in which they work and win on a day to day basis. They make imaginary friends and lead imaginary lives. And not only are their real lives protected from any bad happenings in the imaginary world, but their imaginary selves are pretty much protected from bad happenings. The worst that can happen is you die. And I don’t know of any MMOs which send you back to level 0 when you die. People just wouldn’t play it. And why wouldn’t they play it? Because guaranteed winning is the reason those games are addicting.