Monday 12 April 2010

There is no end of craving. Hence contentment alone is the best way to happiness.

I’m disturbingly content with my MMO gaming life at the moment. It’s disturbing because my writing engine is powered by discontent and frustration, pumped together at high pressure into my mind it is a volatile mixture that lends itself easily to explosive outpourings given only the slightest of sparks to set it off. I’m just not sure that I’m wired for reporting on my daily happenings in my MMO of choice, or describing those things which make me happy in the game; I try to take the form of those things, transparent and illusive as they are, and wrap words around them in such a way as to give them shape and make their presence felt by others, but I get stuck. I try to describe them, I try to pack the words tightly around them and create a mould that others can pour their mind’s eye into and see the object that I have in my own imaginings, but all I can come up with is ‘nice’. Describing things as nice is like making a mould of the Venus de Milo out of ice cream, it may well form something vaguely like the famous statue of antiquity, but even the greatest supporter of interpretive works would have trouble identifying the object of its mimicry let alone making a case for its artistic merit.

Nevertheless here I am wanting to write, and here you are presumably wanting to read, so I shall try to form some image of what I’m doing at the moment that isn’t entirely beige.

Lord of the Rings Online is… nice. Oh dear.

I’ve been somewhat rejuvenated with regards to LotRO recently, where the static Monday group continues to move ever forward in levels and content, and seems to have found a steady rhythm of play which keeps things interesting. It’s important, I think, this rhythm in MMOs. What we do in these games is generally a repetitive task on some scale or other, be it the repetitive killing of mobs, or further up the scale the repetitive nature of questing, or further still the repetitive nature of end-game content. But, like a ritornello-form in composition, there is a dependence on a constant repetitive rhythm beneath the flourishes of excitement, the rhythm itself can change, of course, but it does so in less marked ways, and so it provides a context and a constant to the variations in the rest of the piece. So it is in MMOs: there is importance in finding a comfortable composition of play, such that you mix the familiar and easily accomplished achievements with those that are perhaps outside the bounds of your comfort zone. It is a balancing act of offsetting those things that may have become mundane through familiarity and confidence of accomplishment, with those that offer fresh experiences that will also bring with them challenges that may, at first, frustrate and de-motivate; strike the right balance and you will find that symphony of game-play which resonates within you so completely that it makes your soul hum. As with music, however, the right balance of play will often differ wildly from individual to individual, and here, I think, is where the greatest barrier to a healthy guild life is to be found. We seem to have found a strong balance in our band of six, but even then it is not always entirely harmonious, sometimes one of us will try to pull the carriage of progression in a different direction, while others continue to forge ahead on the well trod path, but always the reigns of compromise work to steady us and guide us along a suitable middle road. Imagine a carriage that is pulled by twenty or more people, how can one person be expected to hold reign over such a team when they can barely see those out at the front?

As well as the happy harmony of play in our static group I have also found a new class that matches my style of play more suitably. Having originally picked a dwarf Champion because it matched my favourite fantasy genre character – the hearty dwarf swinging a big axe with wild abandon from within a pressing crowd of angry greenskins – I gradually came to realise that the class didn’t match my favourite role in an MMO group, that being a supporter of others. Yes, I’m one of those miserable social types who gets most satisfaction in boosting the strengths of others such that they can overcome challenges which they might have otherwise thought impossible. Healer, buffer, debuffer, crowd control, any of those roles will suit me fine and keep me content. It doesn’t help that I am fully aware of how poor I am at tanking and how lacklustre my DPS usually is. Hence I saw an opportunity to switch roles, with our group having a Runekeeper, Hunter and Champion already, the DPS was safely covered and then some, and a second Champion, whilst not a burden, was not adding as much to the group as another more supportive class might bring. So I quietly levelled a Captain in the background and, having got them to level sixty three, the same as my Champion, I made the switch. I think the response in the group has been – outside of the obligatory “You’ve got an alt to this level already? Good grief!” which m’colleague has been heard to utter in more than one MMO during our adventures together – quite positive overall. I’m happy because I’m playing a role that I find enjoyable and that I’m not terrible at, and the group is happy because, well, with +50 to all stats and insane amounts of Power regeneration from a couple of buffs, I could probably stick myself on follow and read a book and be doing more for the group than I was before with my lacklustre attempt at being a damage dealer, and those are just two of the many tools that a Captain brings to the utility table.

Outside of the static group there’s much to do on my Captain should I want, with all of us fast approaching the game’s current level cap of sixty five, anything that would normally offer XP – the forbidden fruit of a static group – is now perfectly acceptable, and there are plenty of quests that I haven’t completed in Moria as well as Mirkwood. There are also all the completionist tasks to undertake such as getting virtues to their maximum level, which generally involves slogging through low level mobs and quests; I have volume one of the game’s story line still to complete, which, what with the recent modifications that Turbine have made, is now entirely soloable and thus I have no excuse to avoid the joys of jogging back and forth repeatedly across the wide expanse of Middle Earth like some sort of heavily armoured Forest Gump; there are also new skirmishes to play and new rewards to pick up there, both cosmetic and practical; I could grind out more legendary items and attempt to play the legendary lotto in the hope of getting that perfect weapon; I have both my gathering crafting professions at the highest level, but tailoring, my third and final profession, has been woefully neglected; and there are many other things that I can do to flesh out my character.

So what will I do first? I’ll level another alt, of course. I’ll pootle around and pick off some of the bits and pieces my main character needs, but my heart is in the creation of characters and the experience of watching them grow. End-game content in MMOs is so often about incremental steps, little improvements that, while impressive when taken as a whole, can never give that real sense of satisfaction that a new character does. It’s like polishing an existing silver service to a shine, or creating a new one from scratch which will be tarnished. There is pride and pleasure to be had from the polished service, and it will certainly be more likely to impress the Joneses when you invite them around for supper, but for someone like me there’s just so much more pleasure to be had from the act of creation, and with the variety of MMOs that I’m currently playing, the chance of burnout is greatly reduced: I have my characters in various static groups across various games, and need no more, anything I do over and above that will be pure undiluted entertainment, and if it isn’t then I can happily move on and try something else because my investment in my characters and the games that I play is not so high as to cause me great pains if I decide to move on.

It’s a… nice place to be.

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