Sunday, January 17, 2016

Love To Hate

Tobold has a couple of posts up right now that have made me think a little more than I usually like to do on a Sunday morning. For the first he puts on his grumpy hat to explain the reason he's not been blogging as much as usual and not writing much about MMORPGs when he does. It's because of all those depressing "Hate Blogs" he's fed up of reading, apparently.

That generated a very interesting discussion, which is, I'm sure, exactly what he intended. I did find it particularly ironic because, possibly unbeknownst to Tobold, in a certain subsector of the blogosphere we all inhabit together, he's regularly cited as one of a Triumvirate of Negative Bloggers, the other two of whom get called out in his thread. I'm pretty sure this rant will just add to that impression among his detractors.

This does raise the issue of perspective, not to mention self-awareness. A number of bloggers that I read get name-checked in that thread, as do I a couple of times. I wonder how many of them recognize themselves from the comments and characterizations?

Bhelgast, writing recently about his daily blogging routine, laid out a set of self-imposed guidelines he uses, the first of which is "Don’t call people out by name (unless they have called me out first)". It's good advice, although, as Wilhelm observes in the comments "I always wonder about the “calling somebody out” thing. On the one hand, I don’t want to be a complete ass and get into a bloggy slap fight. But then I’ve read a couple of bloggers who are clearly calling somebody out for something regularly, but are being coy about it with words like “some gamers” and the like, which always strikes me as ineffective because that could be just their strawman argument."

No-one likes to be called on their shortcomings but everyone likes to be picked out for their strengths. The problem is that one person's negative is another's positive. A sarcastic turn of phrase or a facility for sardonic wit is very likely to draw a wry smile and a nod of appreciation from me as a reader, while someone else may read the same sentence and feel their mood worsen or their blood pressure rise.

Chris K's comment particularly made me think. It's very true that, unlike, say, SynCaine or Keen, I have little desire to imagineer non-existent MMOs or lay down blueprints for how the genre could be better designed. I do like to examine existing structures and point out where I feel the joints are creaking, if that counts as commenting on MMO game design, though. I have to work pretty hard to resist doing a point-counterpoint rebuttal to every public pronouncement Colin Johanson comes up with, just to give one example.

Chris is bang on the money when he observes that Inventory Full is one of a number of blogs "written by somewhat older people ...  that have seemingly learned to ignore things they dislike about their chosen hobby, and focus on the good". I was 40 when I started playing EverQuest, which would make me an older person by gaming standards right out the gate, but for absolute certain, had I been a blogger back then, I'd have been a harsher critic of the genre than I am now, some seventeen years later.

Design concerns I would have railed against back in the day would have included the introduction of Epic Weapons in EQ, the addition of Darkness Falls and its attendant Token Vendors to DAOC, the interdependence of crafting classes in EQ2, the damage done to PvE gameplay by balance changes for PvP in multiple games and, of course, the perpetual, ongoing removal of complex, interesting systems from the entire genre. All of those and many more could and almost certainly would have resulted in lengthy rants and probably pompous suggestions of how it could all be done better.

Fortunately, by the time I eventually got around to blogging I had begun to make my peace with the hobby. What's more, I had started at last to realize that the person ultimately in control of my pleasure and pain in playing was me (well, and Mrs Bhagpuss but that's a whole different topic). Not the developers or designers, not other players or guild-leaders or guildmates. It was entirely up to me to select the activities I enjoyed and focus on those while ignoring the ones that didn't interest me or that I didn't enjoy.

Above all, it was in my power to rise above being outraged and upset by decisions made about the direction of my MMO of choice, decisions I had no means to influence or change. Over some painful years I learned neither to take such decisions personally, as some kind of slight aimed directly at me or my playstyle, nor to see them as indicative of the Decline Of Western Civilization (or Eastern, depending on the MMO). Honestly, that's a learning curve I'm still climbing.

While attempting this transition to a less emotionally fraught perspective, at the the same time I also reserved the prerogative to enjoy myself, on occasion, precisely by allowing my negative side an outing. The very surprising degree by which Heart of Thorns has exceeded my expectations, for example, has led to a series of optimistic and positive posts about GW2 over the last quarter, but a flip through the back pages of 2015 here should act as a reminder why, for some time, Inventory Full was considered by some gamers (there's Wilhelm's weaselly phrase again) to be a mouthpiece for naysaying when it came to the direction GW2 was thought be taking.

All of which brings me to Tobold's second post, in which he praises difficulty settings. I'm with him all the way on this one, except that, unlike him, I'm not even that bothered about being able to experiment with strategies and tactics. That's more of an added extra these days, a welcome bonus if it happens but hardly required.

No, much though my forty-year old self would raise an incredulous eyebrow at the idea, as I spiral ever-closer to retirement age I find I have come to enjoy some of those things long associated with elderly folk. When I was a pogoing punk back in the 70s, if we ever thought about old people at all we assumed they whiled away the hours waiting for God with things like crosswords and knitting and needlepoint and painting-by-numbers.

Times have changed, of course. Sixty's the new forty and all that claptrap. Now we oldies pass the time outside the cemetery gates doing dailies, running instances, decorating houses and leveling up our twenty-third Hunter. It all comes down to what makes us feel comfortable.

MMOs don't come with overt difficulty settings at log-in. There are no buttons to press marked "Easy", "Normal" or "Hard". Once you step into the world, though, all those choices and more open up, from actual difficulty settings at the dungeon door to selective content out in the open world. I can spend an evening knocking The Claw of Jormag off his cliff or dropping mortar shells on Mordremoth's head in between sorting my bags and ticking off another couple of steps in my "quest" for an Ascended weapon or two while someone else tries to climb the tournament ladder or down a raid boss.

It's why I enjoy tabbing out between each fight in an Advanced Solo dungeon in EQ2 to check the wiki and make sure I know what to do next. This color goes in this box and never paint over the lines. It's not all MMORPGs are and certainly not all they can be but it's enjoyable, relaxing and entertaining and after a tiring day at work it's often enough.

Enough for always? Always enough? No, of course not. It's a difficulty setting. I'm choosing it. Like Tobold, if I start to find it isn't scratching the itch any more I'll just dial it up a notch. There's always an up at my innate skill level.

So, you can call it "optimistic" if you like. You could, if you were one of those Hate Bloggers, call it naive or lazy or just plain dumb. I prefer to call it coming to terms with yourself; what you want, what you need, what you can and can't control. And yes, it is something that can come with age, although it doesn't always and it doesn't have to.

Somewhere out there, in the future, there is a better MMORPG than any I've ever played. I know that. It's inevitable. Until it arrives, though, I'll focus on enjoying the ones I can play rather than yearning for something still out of reach. And I'll play the MMOs we are lucky enough to have the way I want to play them, not the way anyone tells me I should, while praising them or complaining about them as it amuses me.

Hey, that almost sounds like some kind of manifesto! Time I got over myself and did some dailies.


  1. Post of the year (in January, no less!). Great read. But much else to add to the conversation but I enjoyed it so much that I had to write something. Great perspective for Blognation to digest. Although I am glad for the Tobold and Syncaines of the world because it does create good reading! :)

    1. Thanks! I'm with you on that. It has to be someone's job to keep the pot stirring.

  2. Some good musings on the pleasure of mmo's here, and how to find it. If you're missing the varied and demanding gameplay of Everquest, Project: Gorgon is showing real promise, with a Steam release coming in the next few months and full release slated for December this year.

    1. Thanks! You're preaching to the choir about PG though - I laready kicked in for Kickstarters 2 and 3. Pop Project Gorgon into the search box over there!

  3. Tobold's post about "Hate Blogs" got a laugh out of me. As you point out, he is far from sin on that front. Just let him bring up EVE Online and feel the love for a game he doesn't play.

    But better still was an illustration of classic Tobold, where he complains about something in one paragraph, then does the very thing he complained about in another.

    In this case, he was complaining about the nostalgic "good old days" views we all sometimes have about MMOs, but then declaring the pre-WAR era the "good old days" for blogging. (Hint: There were more blogs, but the hate was still there. Heaven forbid you criticized something about WAR back then, because you would feel the full force of the hate available.)

    And what is hate anyway? If you're going to cast a critical eye on gaming, have a genuine discussion about something you are playing, and all you can say is nice things then you're doing it wrong. And, pretty much by definition, if you want to discuss how to make a game better you have to have come to the conclusion that something isn't up to snuff.

    Anyway, we all blog for our own reasons and in our own way. If what I write isn't what you're looking for (which tends to be very small picture and self focused at times), there are plenty of other blogs to choose from. But if all you're seeing out there is hate... well, either you aren't looking far enough afield or you're bring the hate with you, because I'm not seeing it on my feed.

    1. In the first few weeks or months after I began reading Tobold he claimed to be Gevlon, closed all his comments, threatened (or promised) to retire from blogging and generally acted like a prima donna who was worried the audience had started looking somewhere else. Over the years the contrast between his self-described rational, logical approach and the observable chaos of the posts he comes up with has been striking. How much of it is staged and calculated I wouldn't dare to guess but he's very good at getting a discussion going and that, I suppose, is the point.

      As I said in my comment on his "hate" post, I just don't see this hate for MMOs in my blogroll. I see a good deal of ennui, disappointment, disenchantment and boredom with the genre, evidenced by the number of people who used to mainly post about MMOs but now write about other things, but that's not "hate"; not even close. Anyway, for every veteran who drifts away I can find two new-to-me MMO-centric bloggers to replace them. The decline of both forms, MMOs and blogging, is very much exaggerated in my opinion.

    2. The thing is I could buy into the whole idea about getting discussions going (something he says he wants) if his responses to comments that did not agree with his premise were not simple rejections of any dissent while restating what he said in the first place. If you want a discussion, then you have to be able to roll with different points of view. If I want to have a discussion with a brick wall I have better options available.

  4. I used to subscribe via RSS to the triumverate of which you speak of but, one by one, had to unsubscribe from them all. Guess I'm not much for "Hate Blogs" either.

    1. I enjoy reading all three of them. I long ago gave up trying to argue directly with Tobold. I think of him mostly as an agent provacateur. I think Keen lives in the past a lot these days, probably more than is good for him, but it's a past he and I share to a great degree despite the wide differences in our ages and I empathize with his sense of loss. As for SynCaine, he can wind me up when he gets on his anti-SOE hobbyhorse but other than that he can be very sharp and funny when the mood takes him.

      Also Keen sends me more traffic than any site short of Google so we must have a considerable crossover in readership I guess. I wish Graev would post more, though. His reviews make me laugh.

  5. Darkness Falls turned out to be a brilliant addition though both economically and as another outlet for pvp. Sorry couldn't help it lol! I do enjoy reading your blog - you have a style of blogging that is both gaming diary and back handedly critique-y that I enjoy. Also always really good blog titles - "begin as you mean to go on" still resonates with me.

    1. Thanks! I sometimes spend far too long on titles - nice to know someone appreciates the effort!

      I knew when I wrote that part about Darkness Falls that I would need to clarify it a bit. Even all these years later DF gets dragged out regularly as an example of good design and indeed, in its role as "something to fight over" it was.

      My problem with it was that what we were all effectively fighting for was the right to use a shop. I thought then and I think now that the concept of Realm vs Realm warfare mandates a nobler motive than who gets to buy a pair of shoes from a shoe salesman today.

      The Darkness Falls dungeon itself was great. I spent many happy hours there. I refused point blank to use the token vendors on a matter of principle, though, which kind of defeated the object a little. I still dislike token systems for gear even now. I prefer mob drops even at the risk that I might never get anything I want.

  6. I could be more spiteful, but I hate repeating myself more than I already do.


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