Online Gaming? Nah.

Sorry for the lack of posts lately, I’ve been working on my novel and also moving house, so time has been short! Still, I’m more or less back now, so let’s take a look at today’s topic- MMO’s and online gaming.

I never really got into MMO’s in a big way. Like everyone out there I’ve played WoW. I’ve also had a few spins on Guildwars, played several browser based MMO’s such as Planetarion, Astronest and Star Sphere. I’ve also got a character in EvE online.

Still, despite all of this I’ve never really enjoyed them. For me, gaming is a personal experience. I enjoy the story and narrative of games, and it’s much easier to appreciate these things when you play alone. There are exceptions however, but even with games like Gears of War or Perfect Dark (which are best played with other people), I prefer to play with a small group of friends- preferably in the same building with a pile of junkfood and beers.

I think I had enough of the anonymity of the internet when I was younger. I used to play online with games like StarCraft and Half life, and I just didn’t enjoy them. I’ve also gone online with most of the Command and Conquer games and while I love these games in single player mode, multiplayer is a totally different animal.

When I play games with other people it’s a social event. We chat, we drink, we pontificate and argue, we insult each other and then add injury by means of a virtual bullet in the back. When playing a game online with someone you don’t know, you don’t get that sort of interaction. We’re taught (quite rightly) from an early age to never give out any personal information over the internet. This means having a chat with someone is pretty much impossible. You can talk about the game, maybe some other games as well, but by and large most discussions are taboo.

The problem isn't just a social one, the gameplay changes hugely when you go online too.

RTS games are some of my favourite titles, and playing those online is pointless. Simply put, the strategy part of these games goes out the window. All RTS games when played human V human revolve around one principle- there is a correct way to win depending on the level you're playing and your starting location. The player who completes that set build queue and gives those orders the fastest wins, assuming neither of them makes a screw up. How is that entertaining? That’s not pitting minds or reflexes- it’s about who has the macro keyboard or the fastest fingers. This rigidity is a problem common to almost every game I’ve played online, even to a degree in FPS games (use this specific gun for this level).

That's a rant for another time though.

Many people claim that MMOs offer a more social aspect to game play, as you often need to work in teams to achieve your goals. In my experience, this has amounted to being forced into a packed elevator with a bunch of strangers. Or taking the London underground during rush hour. There’s a big difference between social interaction, and simply being at the same time and place as another person. Working with people in MMO’s was often a painful experience, due in part to the fact 90% of the people you meet online are pricks, and also because just like in RTS games there was a set method to complete these tasks with very little leeway offered. Everyone just stood there and did what was needed- there was no planning, no interaction or anything like that- the other characters with me may as well have been NPCs.

The best MMO I’ve played for the social aspect, and for gameplay, is EvE online. Working as part of a fleet in that game was very fun, and the fact that players are responsible for everything leads to a feeling that what you are doing really matters. You work with people because there are tangible benefits for all of you. Because there are no fixed ‘arenas’, you can never be sure how combat will go- what will the enemy bring? Can you handle it? Where do you try to engage? There are options- no set, unchanging right way to win. The victors are the group who did the best prep, got the best intel, picked the best target and gave the best fight. This beats reading a strat guide and following it to the letter any day.

This praise aside though, EvE still doesn’t hold lasting appeal to me because as I have said, at the end of the day, gaming is a personal thing for me, or something to enjoy with a few friends. I don’t like the type of interaction you get when playing online with strangers. Even playing online with friends just isn't the same as having them in the same room as you. Obviously I’m in a minority here, but hey, it offers something to think about.

I remember getting involved in a Mechwarrior clan back in the days of Mechwarrior 3. I’d impressed one of their recruiters by using the shutdown on my mech to hide myself and (try to) ambush them. We had a few goods games and some good laughs, but I drifted away from them after a couple of months. Even though I was enjoying it, for some reason it fell into the trap I always have playing games online- I just got bored with it.

I’m rambling a lot now, so I'll close by summarizing the points I’m trying to make about why I don’t like MMOs, or playing online in general:

1. The social aspect is no substitute for an ‘IRL’ social gaming event.
2. A lot of the people you meet online are dicks.
3. Games change a lot when online, usually becoming far more rigid.

Anyway, those are just my thoughts on the matter, make of them what you will. Just don't expect me to be gaming on live anytime soon.

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