Clink! .. Clank! .. Parry, sidestep, dodge! … Do much for you? Yea, me neither. For some reason reading about a sword fight isn’t that exciting. Well, at least not as exciting as sword fights are can be. There’s something about hand to hand combat with someone else, something about a duel to the death with swords. And I feel that that something is lost as it’s described in writing. Sword fighting should cause an adrenaline rush; it should get your blood up, because you might just lose some if you’re not careful. The sword fights in Snow Crash are lackluster though, as far as sword fights go. Maybe it’s because you have to read about each action taken by the character. At each moment Stephenson describes each action taken by each combatant. This narration, while necessary to describe the progression of the combat, loses the intensity that a sword fight should have. So I don’t blame Neal Stephenson at all; he writes a very enjoyable and action-packed story. The characters are pretty unique and Stephenson develops a connection between them and the reader very well, which causes engagement in the fights, not the action of the sword fight. The suspense of whether Hiro will come out on top invokes reader interest, but only because you want him to survive. He could be playing a to-the-death game of backgammon and I would still care for the outcome.
Another strike the sword fights in the book have against them is the, I guess, “contrived” nature of them. The book has a set outcome, no matter what. There is no room for any variance in the story, no matter how many times you read it. Hiro will always win the sword fights Stephenson has written that he wins. There is no relation to the readers skills or abilities. The whole excitement of a duel comes from testing your own ability. In the novel, there’s only the testing of Hiro’s ability. And when you think about it, it’s not really a test, due to the fact that it’s all contrived anyway.
LOTRO does do better, but only marginally so. LOTRO does add some multimedia elements like visuals and sounds. Being able to see the opponent and your character are wonderful additions. And I’ve unexpectedly added another improvement in that last sentence: it’s your character. The level of personal involvement is much higher than that of the novel. This character represents you and through its triumphs, you triumph. But the combat in LOTRO can also get boring and repetitive. Killing Non-Player Characters (NPCs) over and over again, who always act the same way, over and over again, starts to lose its appeal after the first few levels. Sure, you can try killing them in new and creative ways, like taking off all your armor or making the fight twelve to one, but all in all NPCs get pretty boring pretty quick. This is probably because they don’t represent anyone. At the end of the day you’re just killing lines of code. Luckily, games came up with a way to deal with this. They invented PVP, or Player Versus Player for all you n00bs. This aspect really adds to the competition in games. You know you’re playing against someone and through combat you can prove yourself. I haven’t tried the PVP in LOTRO, so I have no idea how well it performs, but the major part of the game I’ve experienced so far, the Player Versus Environment side, brings only a moderately greater amount of excitement than reading about combat in the book.