Thursday, February 3, 2011

Metropolitan players

A comment on yesterday's post spurred this train of thought. In short, the MMOs and their populations are so big that the social coherence and unity is already broken by the fact that players are more like citizens of huge metropolitan cities rather than the nice little rural village I dreamed of. The characters running across my screen when I play are just as anonymous and meaningless as the passerby in any modern city only because there are so many of them.

The dark side of this thought is the fact that the more there are heroes in the MMOs we play, the less anyone is really a hero. The social connections we make in the game are far and few, and if they click, then we have a foundation to the group adventures I and many others crave for.

However, the clubs, associations, jobs and social gatherings which make us connect with people in the real life are missing in MMOs, WoW in particular. The only possibility to meet other players in a meaningful in game endeavor is the random instance provided by the Dungeon Finder, and that has been watered down by the fact that it selects other players to the group across the battlegroup of several servers. It doesn't make any difference to meet other people with whom you will never have the opportunity to go any deeper in the relationship than hello-thanks-bye.

The tight social groups which go through the group content in the game are more like modern day villages or tightly knit social clubs which have strict rules to keep the riff-raff out. What comes to mind is to have miniature countries composed of only one block of flats or one skyscraper, each side by side but separated by different government, laws and taxes. (I think Ian McDonald had a novel about London like that or something... I may be wrong, though.) The guilds are more or less such, and there is no way for a stray on the street to say whether this one suits you or the other.

If we dig deeper into this, it becomes apparent that because every character in WoW (for example) is supposed to be the master of their class and skills, there is no place for the 'normal people' within the players. Whereas in real medieval times (or in literature, for example) the heroes have a huge supporting cast to provide them with gear, sustenance and information. In concurrent MMOs there is no place for a armorsmith, weaponsmith, provisioner nor sage, for they all have to be the hero of the day.

For some to be the specialist in crafting would be more than enough. I can say that I would be more than happy to be one such character, sitting in the city, crafting superior gear and be recognized as one being capable of doing that. The game mechanics do not approve that in any way, and as there is no way of giving any credit to other players for their performance, anyone crafting more than plunging through dungeons is dismissed as failure in the game. Add to this the fact that the crafted gear has no real meaning in the game as whole and you can see how the most important infrastructural piece of society is simply wiped out of the game.

We players are the citizens of huge metropolitan areas of MMOs. We treat our fellow players - more precisely, their characters - with same courtesy as we do any other person in real life we encounter on the buzzing streets of our home town.

We simply ignore them and go about our own business.