Friday 25 June 2010

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

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