Monday, March 20, 2017

Light In The Darkness : LotRO

There's a post I want to write about what makes people go on playing MMORPGs long after they've finished the supposed "content". I started thinking about it after I read Armathyx's Hiatus From GW2 announcement, in which he wonders what there can be about any MMO that would keep someone logging in for "7 hours per day, every single day of the year without exception" for over four years.

It's something I've thought about many times. The problem is that I have rather too much to say about it. Blogging may be considered "long form" for social media these days but I find it increasingly constricting. Most of my posts already run too long and yet many of them barely qualify as introductions to want I want to say.

Sometimes I think I'd be happier working in the five to ten thousand word scale of a dissertation but that would create more problems than it solved. For one thing, there is no real forum or format for writing of that length that I'm aware of and for another I'm not a full time student any more. If I were to write at that kind of length I would have no time to play the MMOs I'd be writing about.

So instead I am, yet again, going to try and do the thing I say I'm going to try every year: write shorter, more focused pieces. Keep to the point. The two posts this weekend were an attempt to do just that.

In that vein, rather than include these screenshots as evidence in an extended analysis of what can make logging into an MMORPG feel more like going to a place than playing a game, I offer them simply as a demonstration of that same principle.

I have been playing more LotRO than I expected. Only an hour or two each day but I want to play more. I took my level 40 Guardian (I always have to think about the class names in LotRO. None of them come naturally to mind) to Forochel, the final zone from the original game and the only one I never explored.

There I took all the tasks on the board and spent a couple of hours on consecutive days killing orange and red cons and handing in the furs, skins and other body parts. At first I was very, very wary. I expected the orange cons to kill my dwarf in short order but they did not. Even though I had no real idea what any of his attacks did and even though he was dressed in gear from five years ago he was able to cull the forest wildlife with fair success.

From that examination I moved on with even greater trepidation to red cons and found they, too, died. As long as I stuck to animals and didn't get adds it was manageable.

It was, however, hard work. For reasons I don't understand LotRO is the only MMO I have ever played which gives me RSI-like symptoms. Actually, I should say, the Guardian does that. My Lorekeeper is fine.

Playing the Guardian, though, I could feel the strain an hour in. I would have had to stop even had I not discovered that the task system is time gated. Also it was dark for the entire time I spent in Forochel.

At first that was wonderful. The recreation of the Northern Lights is truly spectacular. I spent a good while doing nothing more than marveling at the sky and taking screenshots.

After a while, though, the darkness becomes oppressive. Night in Standing Stone's Middle Earth is shockingly dark by modern MMO standards. It's immersive, that's for sure, but you can have too much immersion.

When the snow began to fall I was out in the woods. Visibility dropped to something very close to nothing. With aggressive creatures above my level all around, now invisible in  the darkness, I began to feel much of the old fear from nighttime in early Norrath.

LotRO may not have corpse runs or item loss but I have an adversity to dying just because I can't see my hand in front of my face. I got on my new fast pony and relocated to the previous zone and waited for sunrise.

At this point I would normally move on to what happened next and how it relates to a thesis I am working on about the way Free to Play restrictions enhance and encourage that sense of immersion that once seemed so easy to find in the genre but now often feels so elusive.

That, though, would extend this post beyond what needs to be its natural length. I'll get to that another time. Maybe.

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