Sunday, September 12, 2010

Comforting Larísa

Larísa is somewhat worried about the generation gap between veteran players and people who started playing MMORPGs somewhat later. She sees many veteran players full of nostalgia for the old days saying that the games are now much worse, and feels like an outsider in that company. She says, "What good does it make me, a fairly new player, to hear that the game I love is complete rubbish and that it was much better a few years ago?" and compares it to having missed a party. Well, Larísa, I have good news for you: There never was anything to miss. You are currently living the party the veterans had years ago, and objectively spoken it is you who got the better deal.

The fundamental problem here is that those complaining veterans suffer from one of the oldest fallacies ever: Externalization. People change, but they don't realize they have changed, and attribute their changed experience with the world to the world around them having changed. One relatively well-known example is very old people, whose taste buds have deteriorated over the decades, swearing that "sugar was sweeter when I was young". No, it wasn't, it just tasted sweeter to that person when his taste buds were still in better shape.

The same is true for MMORPGs. When you first enter into the world of MMORPGs, you experience a world of wonder, of surprise, of excitement. Some years later the wonder has gone, our heads instead having been filled with theorycrafting and optimization strategies. That is universal, and does not depend when you started playing these games.

The very complaints of the veterans give you an insight that it is them who changed for the worse, not the games around them. If we would believe them, we would have to assume that EVERY game company, and EVERY developer working on MMORPGs has been busy for the last decade with nothing but making all games WORSE. How could that possibly be true? Even if you'd believe this or that company making deliberately bad games for a quick buck, it is impossible that ALL game companies entered into a huge conspiracy to make games worse. There are always people, who either because they identified making good games as a source of reliable income, or because they just love good games, will strive to make games better, not worse.

That the whiney veteran's brigade isn't completely honest is also evident by the fact that while they will always tell you that the old games are much better than the new games, you will always find them playing the new games, not the old ones. Wolfhead's latest rant? He is upset that he didn't get a Cataclysm beta invite. For somebody who will assure you that World of Warcraft is utter shit, and every single expansion made it worse, he sure is eager to get into the next one.

The truth is that games like Ultima Online or Everquest were rather horrible games measured by the standards of today. What happened in the last decade was a continuous improvement of MMORPGs, and anyone who started later is fortunate to have missed the horrors those games inflicted regularly on their players. But the improvement of MMORPGs is a slow process, and many flaws of lets say Everquest, like static spawns, are still present in games of 2010. So players burn out faster from MMORPGs than the games improve.

It is likely that in a few years you yourself will look back in nostalgia on whatever your first experiences with World of Warcraft were, and feel that the WoW you are playing then doesn't live up to the sense of adventure you had in the early days. But just like with a medieval castle that people look at today with a sense of romance and adventure, but which was in fact a drafty, cold, and pretty lousy place to live in, there is no truth in nostalgia. Games today ARE better than they were before, because of developers who just love games, and companies investing many millions of dollars into making games better. It is us who are getting older, and more cynic with experience, who lost our sense of wonder, and blame the games for that.

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