Monday, August 19, 2013

Intellectual Revolt

It is  no surprise that the state of gaming has changed.  Up until very recently, the state of gaming was defined by World of Warcraft.  They didn't do everything right but the main challenge was to find a reason to play something other than WoW.  WoW got it right when Ultima Online and EverQuest couldn't do it.  And for a long time, read 4-5 years, WoW was the standard. Sure, you could design other games that did the same things slightly differently, but still the question was, Why?

Why did I want to play Rift or D&D online or LOTRO, or StarTrek Online?  Why should I play them instead of WoW?  What different did they offer?  Other than the intellectual property, the answer often was, not very much.  Unless you specifically wanted to adventure in a particular universe, the generic fantasy setting of Azeroth often fit the MMO template better than any other game.

And with every passing patch and expansion, that became more and more the case.  As players explored more and more of the world, they made it more their own.  As they experienced more dungeons and bosses, more holiday events and more Shatterings and boss kills, as they racked up more memories, they became more invested in the game.  The choice was between continuing to play within the long tradition of a mature game environment, or to try something new, but untested, with no history, no social ties, no cool loot or lore or memories on which to build.

Then along came SWTOR.  Star Wars: The Old Republic was groundbreaking precisely because it wasn't the epic WoW killer that some were hoping it would be.  Instead, it was a pretty good game with a lot of depth and development, innovating in several areas including the role of companions, voice acting, and fully modularized equipment.  Nevertheless, it couldn't compete with the mature depth of WoW.  Within 6 months, it looked to be on life support.

At the same time, an intellectual revolt was happening within the gaming community.  Many players, bloggers, and community lightening rods were moving on.  They didn't have a particular destination but they knew that they were tired of WoW and were ready for a change.  They wanted SWTOR to be that destination and were disappointed when it didn't feel that way. What they realized was that no game was ever going to be the Valhalla they sought.

That experience taught them to temper their expectations.  Maybe a new MMO doesn't have to be a fantastic and life-changing experience.  Maybe it doesn't have to elevate your game playing to a new level of existence.  Instead, maybe it can tell a new story in an interesting way that will keep you entertained and cause you to think about the world slightly differently.  Maybe a different voice, offering a different narrative, can be valuable enough to enrich your life on its own merit.

My paradigm has shifted of late.  Before, WoW was a second life (no pun intended) that was designed to be my all.  Something to occupy my every moment of free time.  But then I came to the realization that one single game wasn't going to be able to fulfill that for me.  It's like a book that becomes totally engrossing and speaks directly to something in your soul.  But like all books it comes to an end.  Eventually it will be reborn in a sequel, but until then you can't keep re-reading the final chapter of the book and pretend that it is offering the same experience.

Instead, you now have the freedom to read other books.  And maybe they aren't as well written, or speak as directly to your soul.  But when released from the constraint of a single game, you find that there are many other stories to experience.  Though each one by itself may not be the best, you are better off for having experienced all of them.

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