Entertainment is Ennui.

Spinks wrote a piece lamenting the gradual erosion of the stealth role in MMOs. My comment arrived late and somewhat out of sorts, like a drunk arguing a point with a stranger – the original duellist in the debate having long since left the scene. And as my comment staggered its way drunkenly towards a point it bumped into a different topic entirely, spilling that topic’s pint, and thus the two of them ended-up rolling ineffectually on the floor of the bar struggling to hump a submission out of one another over a subject the substance of which had long been forgotten, while the stranger, in all probability, looked on in quiet befuddlement.

My comment was thus:

Wardens get to stealth a little bit too, but shhh, otherwise the You Know Who will come and get us.

I think I’ve used that stealth ability once or twice so far in my levelling career, and primarily it’s been to avoid fights that I’m really not in the mood for, for example when I’m needing to find a safe spot and log off quickly.

I think the Resolve All Problems Through Combat nature of MMOs definitely is one reason why stealth has been deprecated over the years.

I think the primary reason, however, is simply impatience on the part of the modern player. There are plenty of opportunities in DDO, for example, where a stealthed character could sneak ahead, scout the area, take out a few enemies and disarm any traps before returning to the group, but you’ll find that most groups outside of the role-playing crowd will just barrel through regardless and simply tank the traps and extra mobs and heal through it. Nobody wants to stop playing while one person carries on playing ‘solo in a group’.

It’ll be interesting to see how SW:TOR manages to deal with this, not just in combat, but also in the quest conversation system, because making players wait for other players has generally devolved into being a no-no among MMO developers.

Personally I think it’s a sad thing, because it’s another pillar of play that has been removed to streamline the experience, but at the expense of weakening the foundation of The Group as an entity in MMOs, reducing it yet further towards the rudimentary collection of players trying to get through unsoloable content as quickly as possible for the greater loot rewards.

Stealth no longer fits into MMOs because role-playing no longer fits in to MMOs; I think we’re also witnessing the gradual extinction of danger in MMOs, at which point there comes a time when you have to ask ‘what reason is there to hide from an enemy that I have no cause to fear?’

Back in the days of Everquest players would wait around for hours with other players, camping a mob in the hope that they could all work together to achieve a small but potentially significant goal. These days you’re lucky if you can get a group to wait while the healer drinks to regain their mana.

MMOs develop as a reflection of our modern society.

Bigger, Faster, Better.

Rude, Impersonal, Soulless.

We’re becoming spiritually poor in our MMOs as we are in real life. The rat race mentality is fully entrenched: you must be superior to the next person, richer, better equipped, more achievements, otherwise you are one of life’s losers. You must constantly be proving your worth in some way, chasing the carrot, running faster on the wheel that takes you nowhere, otherwise you are, by definition, worthless. It is a grating horrible attitude that pervades real life, but to translate that into entertainment? That’s just sad.

MMOs are quickly becoming un-games. They are already big business, not just for the developers, but for the gold farmers, the information database websites, the levelling guide sites, the merchandisers. They are less and less about having fun, and more and more about status, wealth and achievement. Players of PvP MMOs generally sneer down at the Carebear players of their PvE counterparts, and yet there’s easily as much competition in PvE MMOs as there is in PvP MMOs, but in PvE MMOs the rules are changeable and ambiguous, and the competition is bitter and more personal; in PvE it’s about destroying the person behind the screen, not the persona within it. PvP MMOs are harmless, generally giving the vindictively frustrated an outlet without their having to interact with the real world, a bit like the role blow-up sex dolls serve for the sexually frustrated. It is PvE MMOs which hide the truly psychotic and malicious.

I wonder if we need a cleansing of the MMO temple, but how would we set about doing this as a society when MMOs always reflect our world in their worlds, and thus we will always see our societies reflected in their society. Our society is geared for survival, for survival of the individual and survival of the human race, but if you’re one of life’s pessimists, as I am, you see very little chance in that society for the survival of the soul. The fact that even our community-based entertainment cannot exist without, as a general rule, devolving into competition, a survival of the ruthless and the fanatical, where he who runs the treadmill fastest wins, removes another layer of doubt for me about the future we face as a people.

“There will be no curiosity, no enjoyment of the process of life. All competing pleasures will be destroyed. But always–do not forget this, Winston–always there will be the intoxication of power, constantly increasing and constantly growing subtler. Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face–for ever.”
            — George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four

9 thoughts on “Entertainment is Ennui.

  1. Spinks

    “Nobody wants to stop playing while one person carries on playing ‘solo in a group’.”

    I know, you’re right. And this is the same reason that CC gets so deprecated. No one wants to wait while the CC character does his/her thang if they can just play the way they normally do.

    And I also think there’d be a decent market for a dungeon crawling type game that worked more like a puzzler where players could pick their way carefully through dungeons using stealth and/ or CC and/ or utility type spells. And I’m not entirely sure how many existing games fit that sort of mould — I’m guessing some shooters might (but I hate FPS so I wouldn’t know).

    But sadly, I wonder if we’ve proved that players in general are not able to play nicely together.

    That, and how amazingly difficult it can be to find groups of people who want to play decently but not hardcore, despite the fact I’m sure they must be the majority. (So many assumptions that the casual player must be the rubbish player.)

    It’s as if the only tools players have to detect other decent players are all tilted towards the hardcore.

  2. Bronte

    “These days you’re lucky if you can get a group to wait while the healer drinks to regain their mana.”

    I know precisely what you mean here. I feel that part of the problem is the constant race for better gear without paying any heed to how that will affect the lesser content. Today, I can heal any 5-man instance in WoW (except for Halls of Reflection, that place is still a brutal, and *gasp* fun challenge), without ever dipping below 92/93% mana. Hell 80% of the time I am DPS’ing because my role as a healer has been excessively limited by a tank with 60K health who can dodge, parry or block just about anything 4,000 mobs can throw at him, and yet he never, ever loses aggro.

    When we as players outgrow the older instances with increasingly better gear every few months, it starts setting a precedent. WoW.com wrote about a few weeks back when a group finished the Drak’Tharon Keep instance in under six MINUTES. Why? Because they were bored and had nothing better to do. So they chain pulled several packs at once, there was no CC used, the healer had no major issues, everyone AoE’ed and burned down everything and moved on, triumphant in how their e-peen was significantly larger than the NPC’s. We, the players as a collective, want to instances faster and faster, because that means we can invest that same time in other pursuits on the perpetual wheel that takes us nowhere. We don’t care for CC, because the tank can hold aggro on any number of mobs. We don’t believe in strategy, every boss can be pew-pew’ed 100%-0%. And we certainly don’t want to wait for boring, trivial nonsense such as “getting mana” because if you pause to get mana, obviously you are under geared and/or you suck at your class.

    I was shocked the other day when I asked a player to move away from exploding ghouls in the final fight in ToC 5-man. He reason: “If you are a worthy healer, you should be able to heal me through it.” Not only was this player only willing to AoE and use no other strategy whatsoever, he ALSO WASN’T willing to move.

    I wonder if this level of lethargy is just part of the MMO evolution, or just something we concocted because we have been forced into the practice of faster faster faster instances.

    I remember one time in The Burning Crusade when we decided to finish Karazhan in one single night. It took us 7 hours of careful strategy and brutal struggle. We were exhausted by the end of it. It was the most fun i had in WoW. Sure part of the reason was the incredible crew I play with, but mostly it was because unlike the contemporary WoW, you had to actually work for your leet phats.

    I’ll stop, I feel like I am rambling now!

  3. Klepsacovic

    Maybe it’s time for rogues to stop being ‘part of the group’. It really seems odd that a rogue, a variant of the thief and assassin, would run with a group. He might be hired or obligated to help, but to fight side by side makes little sense. Instead rogues could have the purpose of running ahead of the group, applying long-duration debuffs which allow the group to function smoothly as it advances. Maybe one poison will permanently silence, another is a powerful attack snare, another causes a huge damage taken increase. None could be applied in combat, meaning that the rogue must go ahead.

  4. Tesh

    From Spinks: “But sadly, I wonder if we’ve proved that players in general are not able to play nicely together.”

    That’s something that doesn’t take much proving, especially when anonymity is such a huge factor of online gaming. One more reason why I’m all for private splinter servers and LAN gaming, m’self.

    That said, I’ll reiterate that gaming is what you make of it. I have not had much trouble with idiots in my WoW experience (admittedly just a couple of months). Sure, there was the bickering pair who seemed to be in a competition to prove who was the bigger idiot, but the vast majority of players I’ve run into were pretty decent folk, or at least, their behavior suggested so.

    Perhaps things are different in the leveling content than the raiding scene? Maybe when the game is more about exploration and tinkering with a significant margin for error, rather than perfecting a treadmill run on a razor’s edge of performance, the natural stresses provide for a kinder sort of populace?

    That’s sort of obvious, though; highly competitive people always tend to cause contention. It’s the nature of pride:

    “Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man.” C. S. Lewis

    When a game is designed around pride, institutionalized in the gear and Achievements, it cannot help but corrupt the players, or attract those who are already corrupt.

  5. darkeye

    It would have to be a tactical game, without aggro management and throwing out the trinity too, only then could a class that specialised in being invisible to the enemies have some sort of fun role. I like the idea of a class that remains in the shadows and make hit and run attacks, other classes could have flashier attacks to distract, allowing the stealther time to get in their (debuffing) strikes before disappearing back into the shadows just as the mob wildly swings about with their weapons to find nothing.

    I’d like to see a stealth that is a bit more malleable too, like when you stand still behind or in the periphery or in shadows you are perfectly undetectable; but then if the mob thinks he’s seen something he goes to where he thought he saw it and not to target the player directly.

    Balance-wise if a class is going to spend so much time in the shadows, it’s going to have to be important when he does get his attacks in and people will complain if the class gets high damage for obvious reasons, so it has to be utility. Like disarming a boss then running off and keeping the weapon hidden while the boss rampages about looking for it, nothing wrong with including a bit of hide and seek. Not sure about defences though, but I guess avoidance rather than damage reduction is the way to go.

  6. Chris

    I know New Eden is no promised land and I know eve isn’t for everyone but…

    If you’ve been in a large fleet of internet spaceships, hunting and being hunter across 0.0 space, you’ve been part of a larger team effert than someone waiting for a rogue to do his business will ever be.

    The fleets can be upwards of 100 people and everyone listens and follows the fleet commander “warp to the gate. hold, don’t jump. now jump, jump, jump. primary target is joe in the mega, secondary is bob in the apoc. I need bubbles. Get tackles, spread tackles – hold them down.” etc etc. If you can’t maintain fleet discipline, you do tend to die horribly.

    Sometimes your FC is planning his attack with other FCs (that also have over 100 players following their orders), inorder to trap the enemy FC with his 150 players. Your fleet of 100 players sits there patiently, not knowing what the overall battle plan is, waiting for your general to order you forward.

    As I said, I know full well it’s not for everyone and lots try and hate the game but… if you truely want to experience the multiplayer part of MMO, I’m not sure if I’ll ever play a game that delivers it better.

    And the covert ops scouts (in cloaky/stealth mode), that never fire a gun, but find the enemy and warn of incoming reinforcements, win or lose you the battles that can kick whole alliances out of their space.

    tl;dr – if you want massive multiplayer try eve.

  7. Vykromond

    MMOs don’t develop as a reflection of our modern society. They develop as a reflection of the prejudices of their creators. To the extent that those creators are uncreative replicators of unsavory portions of our society, and can’t think differently, so too the games they create contain only “truth” but no beauty.

  8. Fortuente

    > “Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man.” C. S. Lewis

    > When a game is designed around pride, institutionalized in the gear and Achievements, it cannot help but corrupt the players, or attract those who are already corrupt.

    I came to this same conclusion about World of Warcraft a few years ago, mostly from trying to figure out why there were so many ass-hats in the game. That was about the time I quit.

    I’m also not sure that MMOs will ever have, for instance, the patience factor that would allow your typical D&D-style rogue scouting ahead while the party waits and prepares. Who wants to sit and stare dully at the monitor while Random Party Member X is doing who-knows-what?

    This phenomenon is worth exploring, however, because I have rarely, if ever, found the aforementioned style of play boring in solo CRPGs. Even crouched in a bush waiting until nightfall in Oblivion, which should be terribly boring, isn’t really boring at all. Obviously, in a game like Icewind Dale, scouting is not boring because you alone control all the party members.

    LOL, it is easy to just blame WoW for all the ills of cyberspace. But I am sure there is an element of group psychology at play there.

    Also, I have to mention, the archetype for the D&D Thief, which in turn became the various “rogue” stealth classes in MMORPGs and CRPGs was actually the “Expert Treasure Hunter,” *not* the Assassin. And the source of that archetype was, of course, Mr. Bilbo Baggins. So it makes perfect sense for the “thief” (burglar, if you will) to be a member of a group of adventurers.

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