Monday, February 18, 2008

MMORPGs, the new religion

I was working on an article about some issues I have with my warrior, and the first thing that sprang to mind was: "I better preface that with some positive remarks". Because every time I criticize some minor feature in WoW, I get two types of response: The WoW fanbois coming after me with torches and pitchforks because of my blasphemy, and the WoW haters telling me that "I agree, WoW sucks, you should stop playing". When have people lost the ability to see a game as a sum of many features, some of which you like more, and some of which you like less? When has WoW become a religion, which you can only accept or reject as a whole?

I must be somewhere around 4,000 hours of /played time in World of Warcraft. I'm playing the game since the beta in September 2004, except for a 7-month break I took last year. Assuming I could possibly "hate" WoW is idiotic. But I'm not putting World of Warcraft on a pedestal either. I have tried every possible mode of gameplay, including raiding and PvP, and I have played every class and race, some more, some less. Of course there are features which are less good than others. And of course there are features that just happen to hit my personal preferences perfectly, while others are less suited for me, on a totally subjective basis. And where else than my personal blog to discuss the things I like or dislike about a game?

But some people apparently have become unable to discuss details of MMORPGs, be it WoW or WAR or another game. Reminds me a bit of a discussion I once had with a Catholic on whether Mary was a "virgin", or whether that was just a translation error from Aramaic. For me that was just a minor detail, but to him questioning that detail was equivalent to questioning the whole of Christian religion. The history of Europe is full of centuries of war and strife where Christians killed each other over such minor differences of interpretation of what is fundamentally the same faith. We aren't quite there yet with MMORPGs, but the MMOPRG-religious nutters are already all over the internet.

What suffers is rational discussion. When I read some of the blog posts hailing Warhammer Online as the next messiah, full with religious fervor, I can only feel sorry for those who believe it. It is simply impossible for any game to live up to that level of hype. I sure hope that WAR will be a very good game, with fun PvP *and* PvE. But my expectations are limited to a reasonable evolutionary improvement over Dark Age of Camelot, not a revolutionary innovation that breaks through the inherent conflict of having character development and PvP in the same game. Hearing about how WAR is going to make PvP "meaningful" makes me wince, if you want to do something meaningful with your life I'd recommend doing it in the real world. Expecting a video game to give meaning to your life is bound to end in disappointment.

And that is something I observe as well: Not only are MMORPGs treated religiously, but there is also a eternal cycle of hailing a new game as the next big thing, being disappointed by reality, and condemning it as a false god, before moving on to hailing the next game. It's all a bit scary, the level of fervor that a simple game can evoke. Because in the end that is what they are: games. Supposed to entertain, not to become a major purpose of your life. We should go back to rationally discussing MMORPG features, not worshiping them.

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