In Defense of MMOs

After impressing the GeekParty higher-ups with my amazing first appearance at CONvergence (which was as wonderful as God Himself making sweet, sweet love to your ear canal), they talked to  me about becoming a contributor.

And if you haven’t seen it, here’s a glimpse of my grand debut:

Well, I’m an opinionated sort of guy, and when I’m bouncing ideas off my good friends Reverend Jack Daniels and Captain Morgan, I can come up with some interesting thoughts. So I said sure.

I then began to sweat pure grain alcohol about what the hell to talk about.

Well, everyone loved my “MMOs are treadmills that make you fatter” line, so MMORPGs it is. I’ll start this by clearing something up. I don’t hate MMOs. What I hate is MMO style gameplay, and I hate feeling limited in games that call themselves RPGs. As far as gaming goes, I cut my teeth on Final Fantasy VI, Earthbound, and other SNES classics, and then got wrapped up in pen and paper type games like Champions, Vampire: The Masquerade, etc.

It was around my introduction to TTRPGs that I started lobbying for calling console RPGs something different, like Interactive Story Games. I still loved the things, but you weren’t really playing a role. You were seeing the story as it had been laid out for you. And that was fine, because it was a different enough experience that I still had fun. That’s an important point, so keep that in mind for later.

Then came MMORPGs. They promised big, open worlds where you could pretend to be any kind of character, where you could really create an entire person and interact with the environments and storylines! So I plunked down my hard earned money for EverQuest (shut up, it was all that was available at the time) and then found myself pissed off that I had to keep paying money to them every month. I soldiered on, though, because I knew this rich, fantastic experience was awaiting me.

Needless to say, I wasn’t impressed.

Does this chick look like Chelsea Handler to anyone else?

Fast forward to many years later, when World of Warcraft became a big thing. What I noticed was that all my role playing buddies kept disappearing for days at a time because they were playing WoW. Can’t say it made me happy. And given that I disliked the gameplay, I pretty much wrote those people off. Turns out, I was wrong to do so.

I still don’t like WoW, mind you. But when a friend got me to play Star Trek Online, I found myself really enjoying it (to the point that I’ve spent almost as much on odds and ends as it would have cost to just buy a lifetime subscription). A lot of it is the simple joy of roundhouse kicking  Borg in the head. Some of it is that flying the Defiant in to attack a Borg Cube is the penultimate production of mankind’s creativity, and I will fight any person who claims otherwise. The rest, however, is based completely on the fact that there’s some good role playing to be had.

It’s not the same kind of role playing, to be sure. It’s limited in large part by the constraints of the chat program, and it’s harder to run straight up storylines. On the other hand, it helps a storyteller (or game master, or whatever your preferred label is) think in ways they may not be used to. It’s a great location for the sort of interpersonal, dialogue-heavy, dramatic role playing that I tend to enjoy. And the min-maxers and power-gamers can often find quite a bit of joy in equipment hunting and stat-boosting.

I’m not saying MMOs are a replacement for pen and paper RPGs. They’re not, and should never be so. Much like ISGs (formerly console RPGs), they are their own kind of entertainment and storytelling venue, and should be seen as such. What I am saying is that it’s a fun experience in and of itself, with a lot to offer people who’s primary entertainment is TTRPGs as long as they’re willing to look for it.

Besides, doesn’t geek culture have enough tribalism already? Instead of tearing down one form of geek entertainment because it’s not another, I think we can all accept that cupcakes are not muffins, but still have something enjoyable for anyone who appreciates a sweet, bread-like product.