Nerd Cred and the Gateway MMO

One year, when I was still in elementary school, my mother found that she needed advice. Dad’s birthday was coming up, and she simply did not know what to get him. So, being the kind and thoughtful person she is, she phoned Uncle Pat, one of Dad’s best friends, for some help. “Try Everquest,” he said. “I’ve got it and it’s a lot of fun. I think he’d like it.”

After that, our lives were never the same.

Mom unknowingly went down to the store and picked up what I like to call the gateway drug of MMOs, and much to her dismay, both of her daughters and her husband have been hooked ever since. Though I never played Everquest myself, I enjoyed watching my dad play. To my eight-year-old mind it looked like a movie, but you were the main character! It was YOU who got to slay monsters and explore a new world and outfit yourself with armor befitting a great hero. When I got a little older, I stepped into the online worlds of Guild Wars, SWG, and others, and never looked back.

I think, because I grew up with games, I have learned how to not let them affect me too much. I have an ‘rl’ life much larger than the one I have online, and never let a game release get in the way of homework. I’m also pretty picky about which games I like, so I’ve never had to watch my spending either. It’s the way I present my gaming to the world at large that has always required delicacy. Mostly it’s a matter of who I’m talking to. When asked what writing seminar I was taking by a fellow first-year, I would say, “The one where we get to play video games for class.” Though this is somewhat inaccurate, it allowed me to not only avoid the social stigma of the ‘online gamer’ but to arouse jealousy in the questioner, who usually had a seminar in the wonderful and captivating field of British War Writing. With my friends, however, I could brag all I wanted about the fact that not only was my homework to watch The Fellowship of the Ring, I got to play LotRO for college credit. It’s all about the audience. Not everyone responds to the same things.

That’s not to say that I am not proud to be a nerd, a geek, or a sci-fi aficionado. I just know how to balance them so that those on the outside (you know, the normal people. There’s one! Did you see him?) can still be friends with me–whether or not they speak Klingon (just for the record, I HAVE NEVER STUDIED KLINGON–seriously). Though gaming is one of my favorite things to do, it’s not all I do, nor is it ever all anyone does. If anything, gaming this semester has merely given me extra nerd cred with my high school friends, and made some classmates green with envy. So why is there even a stigma associated with gaming? I could go on all day on that, but, it’s another post.

May the Force be with you!


No “Best Remediation of Bad Ass Real Life Combat” Oscar for Snow Crash or LOTRO This Year

Tyler Gilcrest

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.

Nightmare Chess and the Hall of Heroes

Though I think of myself as a ‘gamer,’ I have never played very many arcade games. My experience is limited to the Space Invaders machine at the Dave & Busters back home, and one highly unsuccessful attempt to save my cities while playing Missile Command. On the other hand, I have lots of experience with board games. From Monopoly to Nightmare Chess to backgammon to the War of the Ring, board games have been a part of my life since I was very young. And equally present there is another, very different type of game: the online games, those notorious MMOs that so many love to play to the exclusion of all else.

While both are enjoyable, they present very different experiences to their players. The first, obviously, is the real life interaction present in any board game. When you play a game of chess, or Monopoly, or any other traditional board game, you sit across the table from your opponent (s) and interact with them directly–you speak to them, watch them roll dice, and unnerve them when you study the cards you’re holding.  In addition, the vast majority of board games pit players head to head–they are competing directly against one another to win the game. In gamer vocabulary, board games are purely PvP–player versus player.

In contrast, an online game presents no inherent direct interaction. You can’t physically see anyone else who’s playing, or talk to them (with the advent of applications like TeamSpeak and Ventrilo this has changed, though). Players instead interact through their avatars–the characters they create to play in the game. Though the character represents the player in the game’s world and can interact with other avatars and the game’s environment, the avatar is not real and does not compare equally to the face-to-face interaction present in board games. Lastly, online games in general do not force players to play against each other. Even in World of Warcraft, where the conflict between the Horde and Alliance is central to both the world and storyline, players can opt not to fight other players. Most MMOs present head-to-head competition as an option through PvP servers and arenas; however players can instead choose to fight the challenges presented by the game designers in the game (and indeed must if they wish to truly experience the full game, eg. leveling up and completing endgame content). Players are also encouraged to work together through the forming of groups, guilds, and friendships to beat the game. Thus, online games are not primarily PvP focused; instead they present both PvE (player versus environment) and PvP as options for their players, with most of their content being PvE.

Furthermore, board games are almost always rules-based emergence games, where no ‘heavy’ fiction is presented to the player . Board games sometimes provide a ‘light’ fiction along with their rules, like the tycoon fantasy of Monopoly or the battle for Middle Earth presented in War of the Ring, but these are thin veneers and nowhere is the player of a board game subject to the same ‘heavy’ fiction found in online games. Board games focus instead on simple rules that nevertheless provide variations in every game played. Thus, they are emergence games. There is nothing fixed about a board game except the rules–any twists and turns, and especially the outcome of the game, are determined by the players themselves.

Online games are almost the opposite. They rely heavily on fiction, though rules are important as well, and are generally progression based. The fiction of an online game is almost certainly its most important component. The player must suspend at least some disbelief, and enter the world created by the game designers. In this world, there are quests to do, villages to save, mythical swords to forge, and worlds to conquer. But, in any online game you’ll find that there’s a certain order to these many tasks. Before you can conquer the world, you have to forge the sword, but to do that you’ll have to save the village, but before you can save the village you’ll have to do some errands for the townspeople to gain their trust. Online games present a story, a predetermined path for you to walk, and are therefore strongly fiction and progression based. You can only do the quests they allow you to do, and deviating from the storyline isn’t really possible–should the hero die halfway through, he’ll be resurrected.  If he fails the final boss fight and doesn’t destroy the evil wizard, he can always try again.  There is no emergence aspect to the PvE side of the game. The final outcome doesn’t depend on your actions or the actions of your opponent, like it does in a board game. In an online game, the story always ends the same way.

But, like a board game, an online game could not function without rules. Not only are there rules governing how a player moves about, interacts with objects, and communicates, online games restrict a player’s actions in-game. For example, in Star Wars Galaxies you cannot kill Darth Vader, and in LOTRO Gandalf is equally immortal. Killing either character would drastically change the story each game tells–and so, you cannot attack them. In both types of game, rules play an important part–for indeed, what is a game without rules?

The only real emergence aspect of an online game is its PvP side. In an arena, players learn a set of rules (eg. Movement, special attacks, etc) and play against each other. There’s no story, and though the fiction is heavier than any board game’s, it’s still lighter than the PvE aspect of the game. This is where board games and online games ‘intersect’–in the PvP arena. Here, players of both games have a similar experience in many ways, as some of the trademark characteristics of board games described above display themselves in the virtual world of the online game.

While both the board game and the online game are very different in many ways, they are both fun and enjoyable for the many players who take up their challenges. Their differences merely help to make the world of gaming the dynamic and multifaceted place it is.

So, anyone up for a game of Nightmare Chess? If not, we can always head out to the Hall of Heroes.


PS: I totally forgot to post this on time with the math test and everything today….forgive me!! >.< I had it ready yesterday and everything. Oh well, that’s life…