Flock of Gamers

Wednesday afternoon I started feeling a little sick. By the time I got home from work I was feeling a lot sick. I went to bed and stayed there essentially until this morning. So I was off the social networks for about 36 hours.

When I got back online, everyone I know (not literally) was playing Rift again, or getting ready to play Rift again.

I have to tell you, that was freakin’ surreal. Made me feel like I’d been offline for 36 days, not 36 hours!!

As best I can figure it there were two factors leading to this sudden (and I expect, brief) resurgence of interest in Trion’s flagship MMO:

First, an expansion was announced and second, Raptr was giving away copies of the game to certain users.

Oddly everyone who went to PAX East got a copy of Rift but that didn’t seem to lead to anything, so I’m guessing it was the expansion news more than anything that has re-kindled player interest.

Being one of the flock, now I’m interested too. One of the reasons I grew tired of Rift was that the player population left me in the dust and so the mid-levels found me wandering the world with no one to take on rifts with. I’d be in zones with literally 3-4 people. The new expansion is supposed to add a huge amount of content; I sure hope it can also pull in player population to fill that content.

I have to wonder what MMO marketing people think about the viral-ness of an MMO’s waxing and waning. If a marketing person could figure out how to motivate the flock to come back to a game…well it seems to me they could write their own paycheck.

Habitual gaming and the psychology of disruption

Fancy title huh? I used a thesaurus.

I spent most of October playing Glitch like a fiend. I logged in before work and during lunch (the beauty of browser-based gaming) and I’d spend altogether too much time in the evenings exploring and enjoying that weird, wacky world. I never wrote about Glitch because I was spending every free minute playing.

Then a freak snowstorm hit the Northeast and we lost power for about 40 hours. I’ve hardly played Glitch since.

Why? I’m writing this post to try to figure this out.

First of all, this isn’t a post about Glitch; Glitch is just the latest victim of game interruption syndrome. If you look at my long history of MMOs and even some single player games, I’ve stopped playing virtually every one (every one that was decent anyway) when something happened to interrupt my habit of play.

This time it was the power going out. Another time it could be a weekend of travel. It could be crunch time at work that doesn’t allow time for gaming, or a bad illness that keeps me bedridden for a few days. It could even be another game.

But my pattern is this:

I get a new game and get immersed in it. It becomes an Important Activity to me. I imagine what I’ll be doing in that game in 6 months. What life will be like at cap. This is My Game now! So happy!

Then I can’t play for a few days. Other things demand my attention and the game kind of recedes into the back of my mind. When I finally can play again, it no longer seems all that important to do so. It isn’t that I hate the game all of a sudden. Quite the contrary. I’ll have every intention of playing every night, but somehow never get around to actually logging in.

Why? I still don’t know. Is this just my ADD firing off? Or are games somehow a little like a drug I get addicted to, and after a few days of ‘withdrawal’ from not playing, I lose the craving?

I’m not talking about interruptions so long I forget how to play, or anything like that. I don’t think it is game mechanic related, or having to do with forgetting what I was working on. These interruptions are much briefer than that.

I don’t feel totally crazy because Chris from LevelCapped was without power for a lot longer than I was and I remember him saying (on Google+, presumably from his office where they had power!) that he didn’t really miss playing. That sounded similar, at least, to what goes on with me.

Or maybe I’m wrong and I really am totally crazy. 🙂

Going it alone

Once again I’m riffing off other blogger’s titles. This time Moxie’s.

So I’ve kind of organically slid into a break from MMOs. I’m down to logging into Rift about once every two weeks at this point, generally with Angela who is still dabbling. Otherwise I’ve been playing single-player games.

I wasn’t sure why I’ve stopped being excited by MMOs, really, which lead to some introspection. What is it I’m looking for from my games? I think the answer to that question changes constantly, but here’s what I came up with right now.

Progress. There’re two levels of progress that I enjoy. The first is in-game. Advancing to a new zone, reaching a new level, learning a new skill. Basically ticking off a checkbox from a list. I think that’s a basic ‘itch’ in a lot of people; I’ve known folks who’ll go back and add ‘interrupt-driven tasks’ to their To-Do list after they’ve been completed, just so that they could then check them off.

I’ve had this itch since I was a kid, really. Before there were video games or personal computers, I’d undergo weird projects like re-typing a dictionary or a volume of an encyclopedia. Why? Well, clearly I was a crazy child, and loved the satisfaction of finishing a letter or whatever (in theory…I never got very far on these projects). Plus any excuse to use such a cool gadget as a typewriter…

The bigger Progress is finishing stuff. I love the feeling of satisfaction I get from finishing a game (or a book). I don’t (in the case of games) do this very often. I’m very ADD when it comes to games; my interests are extremely broad and my time is fairly limited. I literally don’t have time to play even a fraction of the games I’m interested in. But in a single player game, the possibility, at least, exists. You can certainly be ‘done with’ an MMO but you’re never going to see those closing credits, right?

The second thing I’m looking for is Narrative, or story. As has been pointed out by many people, a mediocre single player storyline is generally better than the best MMO stories, just because the world can morph and change to support the story and that one character who the story revolves around. MMOs have lore, but not a lot of story. This, at least, is true until you get to higher levels; I’ve heard about some pretty interesting storylines that happen in dungeons in some MMOs.

But I never get to dungeons since I play solo, so all the content in the dungeons of MMOs, which is often the best content (from what I read, anyway), may as well not exist as far as I’m concerned.

And that’s another issue. I’m a single-player gamer. I always have been. Again, going back to the days before video games, I used paper & cardboard chit wargames as a place to escape to in the way a lot of unhappy kids escape into books (I did some of that, too). I always preferred tactical games because I’d have stories in my head about the various units. Essentially I translated the make-believe games little kids perform with plastic army men into more elaborate make-believes stories about soldiers involved in house-to-house fighting in WWII, or the captains of tall ships sailing under Nelson’s flag. I was role-playing before there were role-playing games, I guess.

Here at the other end of my life, I’m reverting to the same kind of thing, in a more adult manner. After a long day of work and chores and work, I’m really enjoying slipping into someone else’s skin via playing a single player game. I *can* do that, to a certain extent, in an MMO, but it isn’t as peaceful. I always have people jarring me out of my reverie via just being people, y’know? (This is also one of the great strengths of MMOs; it’s all about context and what you need.) For the same reason, I have zero interest in playing non-MMO multiplayer games, even though when I hear twitter friends talking about their gaming sessions I feel a bit envious because it does sound like they’re having fun.

I generally get around to gaming time about 10 pm, though, and by then I’m feeling pressed for time so don’t want to have to fiddle about, and I’m sick and tired of dealing with people, even people who I love, so really need that alone time to recharge.

I’m also, honestly, tired of the MMO community as a community. There are a lot of MMO players out there who I am very legitimately fond of, but the ‘chorus’ of the community is starting to grate on me a bit. We just seem to recycle the same old arguments and debates and, when playing, I can’t help but be drawn in, almost against my will. Now that I’m not playing MMOs, a lot of the discussions (Is SW:TOR just WoW reskinned!!?!) just wash over me. I hear them, but I don’t really care about them enough to get into it.

Like Scopique, I’m just kind of tired of the bitching. Single player gamers bitch too, but I don’t know many of them so I don’t hear it very often. 🙂

Of course, the downside to all of this is that I no longer have a lot to say to my friends, which makes me worry that I’ll lose them as friends.

I also know that my gaming habits are like a huge pendulum, and eventually what I want from a game is going to be a vibrant, living world to explore, and those can only be found in MMOs, so eventually I know I’ll go back and I’ll be posting here about how lifeless and dull single player games are!

The MMO as religion

So as I mentioned, I’m taking advantage of the 2-week freebie period in Age of Conan. I was so lost when I logged back in that I left Global Chat on, something I rarely do.

And for the most part, it was pretty civil. Enough so that I left it on and learned some things. The vets seemed willing to help with the flood of “Hi, I haven’t played in a year, can someone remind me how to…” questions with very little snark. I’d shifted servers to Wicanna in hopes of hooking up with Stargrace or Krys and I was liking the vibe there.

And then, the inevitable happened. Someone mentioned World of Warcraft. And the vitriol started spilling out, the chat pane scrolling like a waterfall. A few brave souls make the foolish choice of admitting that they *gasp* enjoyed WoW, and were verbally crucified for their heretical beliefs.

I should have, normally would have, just turned off Global Chat, chalking it up to the generally abhorrent hive-mind that dwells in every MMO. But I’d been lulled into this sense that the community of Wicanna was somehow different, and the sudden change in tone put me off to the point where I logged out, needing to get away from MMOs for a while.

Now in fairness, it takes a very, very small percentage of a server’s population to turn a chat channel into a cesspool, and once I settle down I’ll realize that these few verbal gankers are insignificant compared to the decent folk who’d been helping out the returnees. I don’t want to take away from the good deeds those individuals had been doing and in general I’m liking the population of Wicanna.

But it did get me to wondering why a significant number of people seem to treat MMOs like a religion. What is it about a person playing both Age of Conan and World of Warcraft (or any other 2 games, though if one of the 2 is WoW it seems to heighten the effect) that upsets a certain segment of the population? This isn’t limited to in-game chat; you see it on forums and blogs (more on forums) too. It’s like we’re all expected to pick ONE MMO to completely devote ourselves too, and enjoying more than one is blasphemous, like trying to be both Catholic and Jewish at the same time.

Why do people *care* what we play, or what we like? I understand wanting people to enjoy the game you love, since you want ‘your’ game to have lots of subscribers and do well. But beyond that, it just baffles me. Tearing into a person because they admit to liking another game as well is just going to drive people away from ‘your’ game, and it taints the entire MMO experience.

Think I’ll go back to my policy of turning off Global/General Chat for a while.