Why I Don’t Play MMORPGs – A Personal Assessment

As games consoles have become more sophisticated in hardware and graphical standards and more and more developers of AAA titles reduce their focus on the PC, the MMORPG has maintained a decisive audience for PC gaming. Blizzard’s World of Warcraft dominates the genre, influencing the progress of competing titles, and every new MMORPG has to be developed with the knowledge of a monolithic player base all playing the same game.

As a committed PC gamer, I’ve dabbled with MMORPGs from time to time, but none of them have really compelled me. While I am a fan of single-player role-playing games, I have rarely been enticed by a multiplayer role-playing game outside of the tabletop sphere. The limitations of the game universe don’t compete well with the freedom that a tabletop role-playing game with a good set of players can offer. My reasons for my disinterest in the genre are more well-defined than simply dealing with the technical limitations, though.

The games are time sinks. It may seem odd that a fan of single-player role-playing and sandbox games, which can offer dozens or even hundreds of hours of entertainment would complain about a genre where some players rack up totals in the regions of thousands of hours of gameplay. However, when I’m playing a single-player game, I’m competing against a predetermined game environment on my own terms. When I’m playing a multiplayer game, I’m often competing against other human players, and frequently on their terms rather than mine. When I exit a single-player game, I know that the enemies aren’t suddenly going to jump in power from what they were last time.

There is, of course, an option to play player-versus-environment rather than player-versus-player, although many MMORPGs seem to treat this as a less developed option, expecting player interactions to spark all of the threads of gameplay. Even with the PvE options that do exist, one is regularly expected to deal with them in conjunction with other players, leaving you ultimately on other players’ terms once again. In a single-player game, I don’t have to base my gameplay against the availability of other players to have any fun.

This leads on to my point with this heading. If I want to compete with other players, particularly the most obsessive ones, on a level pegging, I would feel that I would have to put a lot of time into the game, quite a bit of it unentertaining for me. If I was to play PvE gameplay with other players, I’d have to base my game times around these other players. This is not a genre where I could have that much fun simply jumping in when I felt like it, and it’s not just single-player games where I can have that sort of fun. I’ve enjoyed first-person shooters which I wasn’t particularly good at even when I was jumping into them in the middle of a game.

Grinding to hit the level cap doesn’t interest me any more. Some players of RPGs, be them single-player or multiplayer, feel that they must reach the level cap to feel that they’ve completed the game. I’m not that sort of player. As far as I’m concerned, as long as I’m able to compete without too much difficulty, I’m happy with my level balance in a computerised RPG. I’m not particularly fond of having to grind, competing against the same set of enemies interminably in order to progress throughout a game. I like to have new challenges and new skills to meet those challenges.

One game which I enjoy playing in which reaching the level cap is not a necessity, and yet the game consistently brings up new challenges is NetHack. I’m not particularly good at the game, making silly mistakes that an experienced player would avoid. Sometimes, I just choose a hack-and-slash character and try getting as far as possible without having to fight the more powerful or difficult enemies. Sometimes, I try the multi-skilled wizard and try to use spells and tactics to outfight my opponents. It rarely goes well, but I enjoy it because I’m constantly in danger. Every level up feels like an achievement, rather than an arbitrary reward for repetition. This is part of what compels me about well-designed tabletop RPGs with a good games master and good players, as character progression feels to me like it’s been earned.

I prefer my RPGs to have some sort of story progression. Perhaps I’m showing my gaming roots here as a player of games with linear, or at least semi-linear progressions where there’s a clear path to the end, but part of what has traditionally attracted me to RPGs are the story elements, the strands of plot tied together leading towards the end. MMORPGs don’t really seem to offer this. If there’s a story, it’s that of the players, but their achievements seem mundane versus some of the fantastic worlds of many single-player RPGs.

Games ranging from Fallout to the Final Fantasy series have drawn me in with developed worlds and compelling progression. The plots of these games don’t have to be literary masterpieces; indeed, most of the time, they aren’t. All they need to be is more than a token effort, and all the lore in World of Warcraft isn’t going to change the fact that there isn’t an end to achieve for. If I wanted that sort of experience, I’d play a single-player sandbox game where I could define an end to achieve.

The social element doesn’t interest me. All of the other points have been somewhat nebulous, given that some people enjoy casually playing MMO games, grinding isn’t always required and the stories of many older RPGs aren’t exactly perfectly designed. However, there is one damning complaint I have against MMORPGs which defines why I’m not interested. I prefer to feel like a solitary hero, or at least part of a small elite, rather than just a cog in a machine. MMO games provide precious little opportunity for that, and when they do, progression is difficult. They demand player interaction, and I have little time for that.

I don’t play many multiplayer games by default; I dabble in first-person shooters but don’t do much more. My playing other multiplayer games would depend on the people I was playing it with. I have played fighting games, racing games, FPS and TPS games with friends on local multiplayer and enjoyed them a lot. I don’t see myself getting quite the same enjoyment out of playing most of these genres on internet multiplayer. It just isn’t the same when you don’t have somebody to taunt or praise.

Most perplexingly to me, MMORPGs seem to expect you to make friends on the games themselves. This is a fairly difficult concept for me to grasp, given that I have occasionally had a difficult enough time with social interactions in reality, let alone being separated by miles of silicon, copper and fibre optic cables. Indeed, I’d go as far as to say that I would find it impossible to make a proper friend using only the internet. I need that face-to-face conversation, and I can’t really understand how you’re supposed to make a friend when limited to text, voice and video conversations. It’s just not the same.

A Tribute to Two Luminaries of the Computing World

Since my last post, it has transpired that two luminaries in the world of computing have passed away. The first, Steve Jobs, had his death at the age of 56 covered heavily in the world’s media. With a charismatic presentation style which made him the face of Apple, Steve Jobs was at the forefront of many of the revolutions of personal computing. Under his leadership, Apple created the first computers which were desirable for ordinary people, developed computers which were as much fashion statements as viable technological gadgets and made the portable digital music player a household device, and NeXT’s computers helped usher in the age of the World Wide Web.

Most of the things which could be said about Steve Jobs have already been said by the media. His strong, almost dictatorial leadership style may have sometimes yielded results that I was not entirely pleased with, yet Apple’s devices seem to have captured the zeitgeist, where technological simplicity and fashionability are more desirable to many people than sheer power and functionality.

The iPod and iPhone have become, at one stage or another, almost synonymous with portable music players and smartphones. Even in the more recent smartphone market, where the Android platform has become the most popular operating system, taking over the place from Symbian, only a few phones are instantly recognisable – and one of these is the iPhone.

While Steve Jobs’ death was covered heavily in the media, the death of the second luminary went almost unnoticed. Dennis Ritchie, who died at the age of 70, was one of the single most revolutionary and important individuals in computing history, with his developments underpinning much of modern computer software design.

Dennis Ritchie worked for the Bell Labs division of AT&T, working on the Multics project which the laboratories were presently engaged with. When Bell Labs left the project, Ritchie ended up working with Ken Thompson and others on a new operating system for a PDP-7 minicomputer, designed to allow for a port of a game called Space Travel. The operating system, named Unix as a pun on Multics, was designed with efficiency in mind, especially on the memory-poor environment of the PDP-7.

While Unix was being developed, Ritchie was involved in another project – developing a programming language which was based ultimately on BCPL. When the Bell Labs staff wished to port Unix onto a different computer, the C programming language became one of the first high-level language to support the development of system software. From these inauspicious beginnings, Unix and C both spread as AT&T gifted Unix to several universities, influencing computer science students, leading to a further spread of Unix and the development of other programming languages based on C, such as C++.

Today, the C programming language has fundamentally influenced nearly all system software development and much of application development, and Unix’s innovations have spread to the entire computing spectrum. Many of the operating systems of today can either directly or indirectly trace their lineage back to the original Unix of 1969, with Ritchie’s development of C fundamental to this development.

In 1978, Ritchie, along with Brian Kernighan, another Bell Labs researcher, published what would later become known as one of the most elegant and condensed volumes ever to be written on the subject of programming. The C Programming Language, in 228 pages in its first edition, and 272 in the second edition based on the ANSI C standard, covers the entire language with a conciseness that puts many other manuals to shame. The “hello, world” program which opened the book has become particularly influential.

Between both of them, Steve Jobs and Dennis Ritchie have ultimately influenced much of modern computing. Jobs’ work with Apple has helped lead to the popularisation of computing among ordinary end-users, while Ritchie’s development of C has immeasurably determined the path of computer software design. Their work shall not be forgotten.