Saturday, July 28, 2012

A Better Pair of Pants: GW2, TSW

As I contemplate the upcoming launch of Guild Wars 2 I find myself giving quite a lot of thought to just why I'm looking forward to it so much. Taking the abstracts (entertainment, amusement, excitement, satisfaction) as givens, there's a single cord that binds me to any new MMO more securely than any other. Not all MMOs have it but I believe GW2 does.

It's not a convincing, believable virtual world, compelling, involving gameplay or an intriguing, well-written story, important and welcome though any and all of those may be. No, the one thing that draws me in and holds me more securely and certainly than any other is the feeling that I'm making my own way in a world indifferent to whether I live or die.

No-Pants Cat. Don't be this guy.
At its best it's like being a cross between Robinson Crusoe and Huckleberry Finn. Here I stand, a naif about to set out on a journey from ignorance to understanding, bouyed up by strength of will, filled with indefatigable self-belief and with my pants held up by string. In the end it all comes down to that: walking out of the city gate in a torn shirt and a pair of ragged trousers, a cracked stick in my hand and two coppers in my pocket. Forget the heroics, forget the plot. Just let me find a decent belt.

In the Guild Wars 2 beta how did I spend most of my time? Trying out builds and classes? Exhaustively testing and submitting reports? Making a useful contribution to my own journey of self discovery or to the good of the game? A bit of that, yes, but that wasn't most of what I did. Nothing like.

Yes, I took photos of my Discoveries in Beta. What are you, my therapist?
What then? What did I do while playing a character that I knew had no future, a mayfly born to die? Make a fleeting reputation for myself by filling hearts? Pursue my heroic destiny through the medium of personal story? Nope. I spent hour after hour hunting Skales for leather and Bandits for cloth to make my own armor, that's what. Chopping down trees to make my own bow. Roaming the Ash Plains like a one-Charr barbarian horde, filling anything and everything with arrows until it fell over and I could see if it had anything I could use. And I did it with no purpose other than the sheer pleasure of doing it.

Amazing what a creature with no pockets can carry.
Change the scene. Why am I nailed onto The Secret World, eager to start playing as soon as I come home from work, itching right now to stop typing this and log in? Is it the compulsive storytelling, the finely-drawn characters, the emotionally involving voice acting, the intellectually engaging gameplay? They all figure, but mainly it's so I can kill an inordinate amount of ghouls in the hope that one might drop a thing that's better than a thing I already have.

Drill down into this and it becomes clear that I'm not doing it to get better at anything in particular or to get stronger so I can do anything specific. Nothing, that is beyond getting better and stronger so I can go further, see more and thereby get better and stronger to go further and see more still. That's my motivation. Get better, get stronger, see more.

#1 priority for Headstart. Get this hat.
It's why The Secret World works, why Guild Wars 2 works, why Everquest, EQ2 and Vanguard work. Start off weak in a wide and wonderful world, discover how to become strong enough through your own efforts that you might go out and explore it all. And along the way, try to look less like a hobo and more like a hero.

Ah, there's that word. The one that, in the end, causes all the problems. I do want to look like a hero, or at least an anti-hero. Like Keith Richards, perhaps, or Phaid the Gambler, an ironic grin, a ready quip and a twist of crystal in my watch-pocket. I want to look like a hero, yes, but I don't much want to do anything heroic, certainly not slay dragons or delve dungeons.

Am I too early?
I put in all those hours, weeks, months pulling this look together. Now I just want to sit in the city square, sip absinthe and savor the envy. Which, of course, works fine if the city square in question is the Placa Reial in Barcelona but not so well if it's Execution Plaza in Freeport. And that's where alts come in.

Here's my recipe for happiness in each new MMO: start with nothing, work your tail off (metaphorically speaking, for all the ratongas and charrs out there) til you have everything, then gracefully retire stage right. Re-enter stage left in fresh rags and do it all over again.

A dozen years in and it's beginning to look as though that process is infinitely recursive. My pleasure fails to diminish. The luster does not dim. It's good to find new worlds in which to repeat it because a change of scenery is welcome now and again but if the flow of new worlds ever stopped (it won't) I believe I could step out over and over into Norrath or Telon or Tyria and bootstrap myself up as a fox or a rat or a gnome for the tenth, hundredth, thousandth time with an anticipation almost indistinguishable from the first.

Everything else, the story, the socializing, the adventure, all of them trail along behind, supporting cast to the never-ending search for a better pair of pants.


  1. This is a phenomenal bit of writing and I thank you for the post.

  2. Thanks! That's the kind of feedback I like :P

  3. "indefatigable" :D Excellent post, and you've hit on a crucial point.

    I think each MMO player comes to the table with different expectations and wishes, and yours is most interesting.

    But alas, for me that just doesn't cut it. I've rolled many an alt, and I just can't appreciate the rags-to-riches, rinse and repeat draw. It's there, buried somewhere in my psyche, but I'm in for a different experience altogether.

  4. I pity the poor designers and developers. It's hard to think of another form of entertainment that has to try to cater for such a disparate, even contradictory audience. I think they generally do a pretty good job in what must be almost impossible circumstances.

  5. thanks for reminding me my old EQ days.

    This is exactly why wow after BC doesnt work for me anymore, and why I am constantly looking for new-old memories to make.


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