Computer Games

From the time I first got an Atari 2600 I was addicted to computer games. Adventure and Yar's Revenge gave way to Zelda and Various Mario titles with the coming of Nintendo. Pools of Radiance and other DnD like games dominated my Commodore 64 and Amiga 2000. When Doom came out on the PC I pretty much cut off contact with the rest of the world. It was all about taking out every demon on Phobos. Doom however was the realization of something I had been wishing for, networked multiplayer. This is something I had always wanted from my computer games, the ability to play them with other people. There had always been the ability to play a game with another player, but you did so on the same box with the same screen. You were very limited and had to stay in the same area of the game as the other player. But Doom changed that. Now computers could be connected and you could fight it out with your friends. I learned a lot about basic networking setting the game up, and spent way more time than was healthy having deathmatches with my friends. Other games followed. Duke Nukem 3D, Quake. I loved them all, but I wanted games with more depth than simply killing everything that moved. Games like the Realm and Ultima Online filled that role for a time. They had more expansive worlds, the ability to cooperate with other players and even had features made for socializing instead of fighting. I quickly became and addict of these Online RPGs. When Everquest came out I abandoned UO for the shinier game. EQ was 3D, it looked better and seemed more exciting. I played for a long time, but after awhile it just got boring. Several expansions kept my interest peaked, but they all got stale before long. It was the same thing over and over, kill stuff, get stuff, level. Nothing new or exciting, just same thing over and over. I left EQ for City of Heroes, a comic book superhero game that was a nice change of pace from all the fantasy based games, and had streamlined much of the gameplay. Even so it still quickly devolved into the level grind.

Recently World of Warcraft and Everquest2 came out. I tried both. While in the longrun I think WOW may have been the better game, I ended up playing EQ2 because of my long experience with EQ and because it looked so good. It wasn't long until EQ2 had lost its charm as well. The gameplay, while visually satisfying, was much the same as all the others. There were other problems as well, there was nothing to do but kill stuff or spend hour upon hour crafting. The crafting felt like work, I had to spend half my time in the game doing stuff I didn't even enjoy. This seemed to miss the point of the game. Sony's attempt to milk every bit of cash they could from their audience also alienated me, so I gave it up fairly quickly.

Now I still play COH a little now and then, but this is more because of my unhealthy addiction to MMORPGs rather than because I really enjoy it.

All of these games seem to be missing one big thing, the ability to live your character's life. The existence is so shallow, you fight enemies, get stuff, and try to reach the next level so you can be rewarded like a rat in a maze. There is nothing else to do, nothing to help you develop a connection with your character or the world around you. The strength of MMORPGs is that you get to play in a world populated, at least in part, by other people. But you don't really interact with these other people in any meaningful way. You just kind of hang out with them while you kill stuff.

UO and the Realm, for all their limitations, at least made some attempt to make their world more immersive. Both had player housing, little corners of the game that you could call your own, decorate, share with others, etc. They also had taverns where you could sit and talk, buy drinks, and UO even had mini games like chess and checkers you could play with others. Why is all this conspicuously absent from the newer crops of MMORPGs?

All the work goes into making stuff to kill, rather than making a world people can live in. There have been a few attempts to create these kinds of worlds in other games and venues. Things like the Sims Online, and Second life. But I think they suffer from the opposite problem. There is really nothing to do but hang out and socialize, there is nothing exciting or fun to do. I don't play games to mimic my real life, I play them to escape.

I hope that before long someone will make a solid attempt to combine these elements into one whole. A game where I can go adventure and kill stuff and increase the power of my characters, but hang out in a tavern dicing with friends when I'm tired of adventuring or share a quiet evening at home with that special virtual someone. Game makers need to start making worlds and communities, not just pretty backdrops to the slaughter.

In a discussion with my friend Mike we came up with an idea (can't remember whose it really was) that a game like COH could use. In COH there are many computer controlled civilians wandering around, their purpose is to make the city seem alive, and give the villains someone to mug. Why not give people free accounts to play as these civilians? People could basically use it at a social system, moving around the city to hook up with friends. Their could be apartments and night clubs and other things for them to do. The civilians could earn status or money by making it to their jobs or visiting certain places, thus exposing them to the risk of being assaulted by criminals. This might add something to the game, the heroes could save real people. The civilians would become more than a backdrop and the whole dynamic of the game might shift in an interesting direction.

I doubt that we will see any such things in the near future, games always seem to be aimed at the power gamer who is only concerned with leveling. But hopefully eventually someone will get this right.