Montana Jones

Montana n: A state of the northwest United States bordering on Canada. Admitted as the 41st state in 1889. The fourth largest state in the union, it includes vast prairies and numerous majestic mountain ranges.
Syn: Treasure State, Big Sky Country, Last Best Place.

Jones n: slang. An addiction or very deep craving.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Online games annoy me

The giant rock creature lumbered up the hill at me and swung its massive fists in powerful arcs to collide with my head. My reaction was boredom. I parried and attacked with my sword of course, struck the "auto attack" key on my keyboard and wandered away from the action to piss and fetch another beer. By the time I returned the rock creature had lost half of its hit points and my avatar had only lost a fourth of his. I sipped my beer and watched the battle slowly conclude with the same enthusiasm I have for any boring chore. Computer games have changed since I was a kid. Perhaps I am getting old and don't understand what counts as fun these days but this is just boring.

Most of my friends back at previous address play online mmorpg games. These guys are too old school for World of Warcraft, they started out when classic Everquest was in its infancy and they have stuck with it. So I figured a good way to stay in touch would be to play along. A year ago I signed up for Everquest.

Have I mentioned that mmorpg games annoy me? I had to quit. I am giving up on Everquest, no WoW for me. As much as I enjoy the company of my friends I can't stand the game. It is a big time and money investment for very little fun. I have spent a year listening to my friends tell me over and over "as soon as you get up in level you will enjoy it." Sorry guys, I'm not enjoying it.

I hate the way that the games force you to pay attention to the mundane aspects of running from place to place. Dodge the tree, wind through twisty turny passages, don't fall in the water. Then when you get to the action and the combat it requires so little attention that the exciting part is the best time to leave the computer to fetch a beer. This is supposed to be fun?

Too many of these games come with a figure it out for yourself aspect. It's not a figure out how to solve problems or even figure out how to beat your opponent like the games I enjoy; it's more of a figure out how the game works at all. The game universe comes equipped with vast economies and social structures but the game designers offer very little guidance on how to take advantage of them. There are even quests that take you to places where there are no maps and no help on finding what you need. Apparently the fun is supposed to be in figuring out how to do simple tasks. Once you have learned the task it is pathetically simple or boringly repetitive and you have to do a lot of it to score the points you need. Mmorpg games don't require skill they require time. Games used to be fun because they challenged me. The only challenge I found in Everquest was figuring out how to do something without instructions.

I guess the point is that you are supposed to interact with others. Form groups and pool your wisdom, teach each other what you know. Socializing is supposed to be fun. Somehow socializing in these games lacks entertainment for me. There are lots of people and ways to chat with them but you are still tied to the game universe where you are rewarded by "leveling up" and gaining rank. With each gained rank you can acquire skills and items previously forbidden to you. With higher rank you gain access to places you could not go previously. So when you socialize you can't socialize with just anyone, you can only spend time with people of similar or lower rank to yourself. A caste system that is entirely dependant on how much time has been spent playing the game. Forgive me for not having fun being ignored or put down by the uber characters. Forgive me if I don't enjoy being shunned because I am not the correct rank. Forgive me if I don't find shunning lower ranked members of society to be entertaining.

The games are designed to reward those who form larger groups of higher ranked players. Again, forgive me if I don't find this fun. I don't want to solve in game problems by throwing larger and larger groups of people at them. I want to solve in game problems through my skills. I want to use my brain, my understanding of the game and the interface. I want to use timing and direction of attack and problem solving. Throwing more people of higher rank at a problem is not a skill. Finding the best tactics to solve a problem is a skill and much more entertaining.

After leaving Everquest I have sampled other games and the trend is pervasive. Most online games, particularly mmorpg games, are designed to reward those who spend the most time and money on them. There is no reward for being smarter or learning faster.

I worry that this is a sign I am getting older and I don't understand kids anymore or how they have fun. I worry that I am out of touch with a new generation. So it goes. Amusingly, the kids are getting trained to expect meager rewards for performing mindless and repetitive tasks over great lengths of time. Very similar to a game I play called "work". They are also being trained to interact with a complex interface to a multifaceted, undocumented and richly detailed world. Very similar to a game called "real life." Maybe one day the online game players will learn about "work" and "real life" and realize like I did that the meager rewards gained here are far more satisfying than the largest of treasures the online games offer. They may even discover some great chat rooms I know in "real life" called "bars" and "clubs" where if you are lucky you can find the "get laid" power up.

I'd like to think I still know more about having fun than these online gamers and kids do. Perhaps I am still one up on them. Besides, I can still kick their butts at Street Fighter.

So what are the games you enjoy? I've never tried an online game, mainly because I'm afraid I would play too much... But I also prefer games like CivIII, where you get to take over a planet, bwhahahaha!
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