Monday, July 12, 2010

Have MMOGs changed the single-player gamer in me?

I've been playing a lot of Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion as of late and I'm coming to realize something: playing MMOs has damaged my ability to enjoy single player RPGs to a degree.  I find myself playing Oblivion with the console up and entering cheats to get items or to reset my status with the in-game law enforcement.

I find it annoying that Oblivion asks me to run from shrine A to town B just to pick up a head of lettuce, some yarn, and a soul gem.  I can cut that trip out and just dump the items into my bag with the console commands.  And I don't feel the least bit sad about doing it.  It doesn't hurt my enjoyment of the game one bit.  I really don't want to run to town and hope I find a vendor with the goods I need.  I just want to get on with the story, not waste time grocery shopping!

After playing Ultima Online for a couple years, I could still go and play a game like Baldur's Gate II and enjoy haplessly doing side quests and any number of annoying single-plater things.  However, I started to notice I wasn't enjoying exploring every inch of single-player RPGs as I previously had in my glory days of Super Nintendo greats Chrono Trigger and Playstation wonder Final Fantasy 7.  I was starting to need single-player RPGs-on-rails.  Games had to lead me from A to B and cut out a lot of the normal bullshit associated with RPGs.  I realized that I was only fooling myself.  No one would care (I know I wouldn't) if I cheated a little to get through the parts of single-player games I didn't enjoy or just ignored things that distracted from beating the game.

A decade and thousands of hours of MMOG gaming later, I guess online gaming has damaged my single-player appetite for good.   Playing through the handful of single-player RPGs I snagged during the Steam holiday sales over the past year, I have no patience left for anything that doesn't get me closer to finishing the game.  Especially when we are talking about games like Oblivion where powerful command line tools are available to make the experience better.  I can pretty much cut what I don't care about from the game and get to the best part: finishing the damn game. 

This is all quite ironic considering that MMOGs rarely have an end of which to reach.  Sure, there is a max level and end game goals, but they aren't really win conditions.  The next time I walk into town, I could be meeting a player that I will spend the next year playing with.  I could be one group invite away from a new guild.  There are a lot of possibilities with MMOGs and the most important factor is the presence of other players.  Playing Oblivion right now would be immensely boring if another player entered my world and played the way I did: we'd both be gods.

I think the point with MMOGs that resonates most with me is that there are dozens of other players slowly slogging through the same hell that I am.  If I have to kill X and then run to town Z to get A and then trek it back to town F, I can feel secure in knowing there are tons of other players that have or are doing the same.  I may even have an underrated victory if I find myself being more efficient than other players and fitting in quest Q on the way to town F.

There is an underlying sense of  competition in any multiplayer game.  Knowing that I am doing something legitimately better than another live human being is wonderfully powerful.  Knowing that I am doing worse than someone can be provocatively motivating (or just as easily soul crushing).  Without that competition, I lack the drive to care about the details and will do whatever is necessary to enjoy my single-player experience.  Though, some days while playing an MMOG, I sincerely wish that Basterd Sword of Slaying was only a tilde away from my grasp.

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