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Monday, 20 February 2017

The power of memories: a quest for the essence of MMOs


 Last week, I was chatting to my friend Rakuno. He was reminiscing why he was going through this "long, weird streak of burning out on MMOs": "after playing MMOs for a while it kind of feels like the road is the same no matter the game", he said. And he has a point. Other than artistic, visual differences and varying lore settings, all MMOs boil down to the same formula: gather experience (level up), gather gear, gather currency... maybe fight some challenging bosses, craft stuff, dress up or decorate your house. There is no definite end goal, no satisfying "You WIN!" button at the end; in fact, there is no end, there are seemingly always more things to do. Indeed, MMOs would be shitty, grindy RPGs, if not for that single defining element: the other people with whom you share this virtual world.

I had the feeling that my friend might feel the way he does about MMOs because he is mostly playing on his own these days, while it is other players that make your experience in MMOs unpredictable, and thus interesting. I'm not saying it's all sunshine and rainbows: I'm sure we can all recall encounters with trolls, guild drama and misunderstandings (read: The day on which virtual people made me cry). But there are also good times, and I would argue that these have the potential to transform into powerful positive memories, which in their turn make us want to login and expect us to have fun.

To investigate this hypothesis I've delved deep into the blogosphere to look for such powerful memories. I've had a lot of help from people tweeting me their stories - thank you! Here are five memories that in my opinion touch upon the essence of what it means to play MMOs.

Family bonding

In Finding value out of gaming, Redbeard tells how he grew up with gaming and how his children in their turn are now growing up gaming as well. For him, gaming is a way to form cross-generational bonds. "The mini-Reds have been indoctrinated into gamer culture from a young age, and they've grown to become gamers themselves. Whereas other families might discuss sports, we discuss games." He continues: "I've no doubt that when my oldest goes off to college I'll use MMOs to keep in touch with her. I can imagine her occasionally logging into SWTOR or LOTRO to just putz around and occasionally group up, just before heading out to dinner or hanging out with friends." For Redbeard, some of his favourite memories as a father have come from gaming. I was moved by his story and fully recommend clicking through to read about all his adventures playing MMOs and other games with the 'mini-Reds'.


One of Ethu's drawings (left) and Zenakh's Rock (right) (source: Etholution)

The loss of a fellow player

The tearjerker of this article is provided for by Ethuiliel with High Chieftain Zenakh. She takes us back to Lord of the Rings Online (LOTRO) in 2011, when monster player and PvP raid leader Zenakh passed away. Game masters placed a copy of his character on a rock in the Ettenmoors with 600 players holding a wake in his honour. From then onwards, the rock was known as "Zenakh's rock" and it was neutral ground. Ethuiliel drew two breathtaking character portraits in his honour. I couldn't keep my eyes dry when reading her writings.


Pizzamaid and her friend during the Eternal Bonding ceremony (source: Pizzamaid.moe)

In-game marriage

A more uplifting memory comes from Pizzamaid in A screenshot is worth 1000 words: the day on which she participated in the Eternal Bonding ceremony in Final Fantasy XIV. "Romantically? There’s nothing there, but in our time online? We’ve developed an amazing friendship that we know will go on for years to come. Is it safe to say we were in it for the 2 seater Chocobo mounts? OH YEAH. Plus… what woman doesn’t love a wedding? Plus one that only cost us $20.00? /raises hand" Like a true couple, the pair fussed over all the details extensively beforehand to make sure their perfect day, celebrated with many friends in-game, would transform into the cherished memory it is today.


Rakuno's character in Lineage 2 (source: Shards of Imagination)

Standing up for each other

Rakuno memorizes an event in Lineage 2 that left a lasting impression in It is personal to me. Someone had killed a guildie, which was a big deal in that game. The offender said it was 'just for fun, nothing personal'. "To which my clan leader replied "It is personal to me." then proceeded to challenge the PKer for a one-on-one duel. (...) What stuck to my mind (...) were those words spoken by my clan leader "It is personal to me". There were just a lot implicit things behind those words. That she would stand by us, no matter what. That our problems were her problems. That if we ever attacked that she would always come to our defense. (...) that may not be a big deal, just something natural for a guild leader to do. (...) But at that time, at that particular moment with all the tension going on (...), it really stuck to me. I'd like to say that since then I've tried to live up to those words."


 Fingolwë and Ravanel at the banks of the river Gilrain in the final minutes of their server's life

Server pride

Finally, I wouldn't want to end this article without sharing my own memories, of which the fondest have their origin in LOTRO. Lord of the Rings Online was always a game of strong communities. When my home server, Gilrain, was closed last year after having existed for nine years, it felt like the end of an age to me. In a sense, Gilrain felt like a small town: I didn't know everyone, but there were many familiar faces and names that you felt accustomed to seeing around all these years. Everyone knew the server lunatic and the notorious exploiter, the names of legendary PvMP raid leaders, the local history of big raiding guilds. So many friendships were formed, alliances made and lost... it wasn't all perfect, but it was definitely home. You can read my ten fondest memories in Goodbye, Gilrain.

Wait, I want more!

You're in luck, because there's more. Lina Willowwood (LOTRO) writes about her first time playing a musical instrument in front of a crowd in LOTRO. She was so nervous! Luckily, everybody loved it and it turned out to be one of the best nights she had in the game. Joe (CWA) looks back at his childhood memories in Clone Wars Adventures. "One of the best things about the game was the community feel, everyone worked together to help each other which was a really nice feeling. (...) I can't give this game a score as it's too dear to my heart and brings so many memories to me." Every year, Shintar (SWTOR) sits down to write about her memorable moments in Star Wars: the Old Republic. Doing things with guildies is a constant factor. Meanwhile, Jaedia (FFXIV) felt burnt out on MMOs, but returned to Final Fantasy anyway because of its wonderful community and her friends that want to play with her. And Wolfyeyes (Blade & Soul, Wildstar and others) listens to game soundtracks to relive past memories.

Conclusions

What strikes me in all these memories is the constant presence of other people. These are stories about family, about friends, about the comradery of relative strangers and a feeling of belonging. I could imagine myself revisiting an MMO world completely emptied of players, but it would just be to relive some of those past feelings, to have the sense that it isn't all gone forever. Then again, isn't the constantly developing gameplay and content, and the coming and going of players: in short, the very notion of temporality of MMOs and that makes our memories of playing them so precious? And is the fact that there's only one first time for everything why our fondest memories are usually forged in the first MMO we played?

Think back to a strong positive memory you had in an MMO. Did it involve other players?

PS If you wrote a blog post about an MMO memory, feel free to link to it in the comments below and I'll definitely check it out.

14 comments :

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    1. /pat

      You'll be okay. Just wipe those tears with that big red beard of yours.

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    2. It's not as big as it once was, I trimmed it.

      ....and I had a mustache accident. Luckily, the 1/3 that is missing will grow back. Eventually.

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    3. Oh no! I'm sorry to hear about the accident. May your facial hair flourish again soon.

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  2. I almost always played on Laurelin (LOTRO), which is heavy in role-play, so I never had the chance to be "myself", because the time spent with others was always in-character. I like the freedom to play anonimously, but sometimes I'd also like to have some OCC conversations here and there. Maybe I should try with another server? I mostly play solo now, but I have so many great memories of the early days on Landroval with my friends of Middle-earth News!

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    1. I play on Laurelin, too! We should hangout and OOC chat some time. Although it's probably hard to make work because I have so many alts, and also spend time in SWTOR. I wish the friend list would work for my whole account. That would be so neat. :)

      I totally understand the need for both RP & OOC. For me Laurelin is perfect because my kinship is OOC (same people as in SWTOR), but it's easy to make conversations with random people around you. I used to do that already on Gilrain, sometimes answering or talking to people as if it were my character, just because it's funny or out of curiosity how people will react. Never really realised I was RPing.

      Isn't/wasn't Landroval a US server? Did you play there because of Middle-earth News?

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    2. My Laurelin kinship is a heavy RP one, we RP even in the forums, so I don't share the name of my character on the internet because we're all anonymous there. I love it, but sometimes I miss "being myself" when I interact with other players.

      I started on Landroval, which is basically the main server and it's a US based one, because I had no idea there was a difference among the servers and all my Middle-earth News friends were already there. I decided to come back on Landroval with a new character (I wrote a blog post about it yesterday) few days ago, because I'd like to interact OOC with others, but I also like the idea of some RP here and there. Plus, all the LOTRO people I follow on YouTube are there :)

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  3. To be perfectly honest when you sent that tweet I did think about linking that post of mine. But then I thought "Ah, it is been too long since I posted anything to my blog", "That post is too old, for a game I don't care about anymore" and so on and so forth. I am actually surprised you even remembered it.

    Also just by the quote you chose I can see some typos I did. The screenshot also seems really bad but I think that might be because it is from back on the days where I used Photobucket to host my screenshot and I think it might have downscaled it. I don't have the originals anymore, alas!

    Now for the post itself, those friends I made in Lineage 2 I lost contact with them a long time ago. The ones I was mentioning in my tweets are friends I made in EQ2, those I still try to keep in contact with although it is mostly through our forum which was never all that popular in the first place and nowadays it seems like I am the only one who checks on it everyday while everybody else checks it... at some indefinite amount of time.

    Another thing is, for me having people to play a MMO with is just half the equation. The other half is that the game has to at least interest me enough too. That is why I am pretty much by myself nowadays. From what I gather most of these friends I mentioned are either in Elder Scrolls Online or Rift nowadays, neither game that I have any interest in. Myself, I finally got over my feelings of disappointment of when Final Fantasy XIV Reborn was launched and accepted the game for what it is but it seems my friends aren't interested in it either.

    So, the short of it is, the games they are interested in are games I am not interested in playing. While the games I am interested in are games they are not interested in playing.

    Good post though!

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    1. The story made an impression on me because it felt real, personal and authentic. Whether or not the blog is active is less important to me. It doesn't make the story less true or relevant. I would say these kind of memories are universal - details would be different, but something similar could've happened in any MMO. That's what makes it so good (that and I had figured you'd be too modest to link it).

      I agree that for one to optimally enjoy an MMO you need both great company and gaming content & environment that appeals to you - we've both written posts about this in the past. This time, I was trying to look for a universal element in MMOs. Perhaps my introductory anecdote was ill chosen in that regard; nevertheless, it was what made me come up with this post.

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  4. People are definitely part of the reason that I play MMO's. The other reasons are gameplay, world, and that the world continues to evolve, which for me means that it ends when I say it does not when the story is done.



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    1. I personally never consciously tell myself "this is the end" when playing an MMO, it's more something that kind of happens. At some point I just feel more like playing something else and then all of a sudden months later I realise I haven't logged in for months.

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    2. For me it's a slow process to the definitive I am done but it's one I tend to be aware of. Or sometimes soemthing happens and I have to quit suddenly. Example being too much camera shake (makes me motion sick) and it can't be turned off or some major change that utterly ruins my fun.

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  5. This post evoked such memories of the wonderful shared moment in so many MMOs. Above all, is meeting my wife in Perfect World International at a guild party on Pierced Heart islands. We got married in game at a beautiful oriental ceremony with all our guildies, and almost a year later we got married in RL.. Playing MMOs with her, and making new friends is part of the experience, although sadly when our LOTRO server, Dwarrowelf, closed down, all our friends went to a different server through a misunderstanding - but we talk on FB a little.

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    1. Wow, those sounds like some very appropriately named isles! Was it "guild date night" perhaps (now that would be something, haha)?

      Playing MMOs together as a couple is definitely an amazing thing that I'm lucky to experience as well. It's just great to have something to do together that you're both passionate about. Perhaps I should write a blogpost about that one day - the problem is, it becomes something that feels natural, almost taken for granted, even though I know very well or isn't.

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