Tuesday, May 30, 2017

You Can't Uneat The Apple

It seems that by coincidence, while I was musing over whether MMOs are more fun at launch or later, Syp was thinking along similar lines, when he asked his readers if they thought any MMOs they'd tried and not liked deserved a second chance.

The thing about returning to an MMO, either to see if it's improved or in hope of reliving some fondly-remembered good times you once had, is that you quite literally cannot go back to the same game you loved or loathed before. With the exception of truly time-locked relics like Guild Wars in maintenance mode, the game you knew no longer exists.

Even frozen in stasis as it is, Guild Wars today offers only a snapshot of one specific moment in that game's life. The game I played just after launch back in 2005 is gone forever as are all the other Guild Wars that came after.

The nature of MMOs is that they change, always. Some even come with a caveat at log-in: "Game experience may change during online play". MMOs that last for years become almost unrecognizable to players who drift away.

A conversation I find myself having, often, at work concerns the importance or otherwise of re-reading. Children re-read obsessively. I read some of my comics until they literally fell apart. I would take the same books out of the library over and over again. It was nothing for the ten-year old me to be found reading a book for the sixth or seventh time with power to add.

I was still re-reading in my teens, into my twenties. As an undergraduate studying Eng. Lit. I sometimes had no choice but I re-read for pleasure, too. For many years I would read The Voyage of the Dawn Treader at the beginning of spring each year and often I'd read the entire Narnia sequence over. I should do that. I really should do that.

A theory I developed, which I sometimes retail to dubious reception, is that the third reading is the one that counts. The first is all about the plot; the second you compare and reassess; only at the third call do you come to a story clean.

This theory may not stand up to rigorous critical analysis but it can't be applied at all to MMOs. If the key flaw to the re-reading scenario is the reader, who can never be relied on to be the same reader twice, or the circumstances of the read, which are even less likely to remain the same, at least there's no non-metaphysical argument that the text is other than it always was.

There's no re-reading an MMO. The editing process is ongoing, the text receives constant revision, even the authorship alters. Nothing else that I can call to mind is comparable, not even such seemingly endless, ever-fluctuating propositions as long-lasting television or comic book series; not even soap operas.

Every other narrative-based entertainment (and all MMOs are narrative-based, even when the narrative is written by the players on the page of the game itself) breaks down into a sequence of discrete, permanent, immutable recordings: novels, issues, episodes. Sometimes some fragments are lost to time but these days mostly nothing is: if it happened the data holds, somewhere.

MMOs are not like that. If they resemble anything it might be the long professional life of a singer or a band, the same songs showcased night after year after decade, the players, the arrangements, even the melodies (Hi, Bob!) changing all the while, yet staying always something like the same.

MMOs are both the message and the medium, the signal and the noise. MMOs are alive. Alive with possibilities, alive with personalities, alive in time. Little wonder, once discovered, how other entertainments often fall so flat.

None of which really helps me to decide when to play what. I'm Kickstarting Ashes of Creation. I'll get an invite to Beta 2. I'll play then. Of course I will. How could I stop me? If it's not utterly irredeemable then I'll play on at launch.

Is that a good idea? How can I know? Ashes of Creation at launch will not be Ashes of Creation a year from launch, three years, five years, after the first, the second, the fifth expansion, after server merges, revamps, re-envisionings.

I regret not playing World of Warcraft at release. If I had I might have stayed, as so many did, for years, instead of just the six months and spatter of returns that followed my eventual jump, five years after the fact, to see what the fuss was all about.

Or, I might have hated it. Our one gaming friend, who did play WoW at launch, lasted barely a few weeks before he returned. Two people I worked with who tried it later (but before I did) didn't make the end of the free month. Some of those went back. Then stopped.

It's a lottery. A dice throw. A gamble. It's more than that: each entry point takes you to a different game. Maybe you'll like this one. Maybe you would have liked that one. No way to know but try but trying may ruin everything. You should have waited. It got good later. They fixed it up. You missed it, coming in too early. You missed it, coming in too late.

This has been bothering me for days now, since I realized what I've been doing. Never learn your patterns. I can't change. I'm too old to change. Maybe I'll change. What can I do but change?

Let's go. (He does not move).


  1. Returning is ever the problem for me. EverQuest is a prime example. I cannot get into the current live servers. Too much has changed and too much has been piled on top of what little I remember so that I am either lost and alone or facing a fire hose of information (especially if I use an insta-level character.)

    This is probably why I like the whole retro nostalgia server idea. The usual point, about the new zones being alive and everybody starting together is a strong appeal. But there is also the whole simplification aspect of things as well. Things are easier to approach if you're joining the rest of the world killing snakes in front of Qeynos.

    Returning to an MMORPG and picking up where I have left off is always a challenge. I've struggled to do it with LOTRO, EQII, WoW, and Rift. And even if I start anew, so many things have often changed that the game just doesn't catch me like it did before.

    Still, I persist and occasionally succeed. Coming back to WoW after Cataclysm and the first year or Mists of Pandaria ended up being one of the more enjoyable hauls through the game I have had. But after that things haven't been as fun.

    1. I nearly rolled a character on Agnarr last night. I have today off work too and I may well crack. I know there's no real point, I won't play for long and nothing will go anywhere, but it's always entertaining for a day or two.

      I really wanted to hold off until Luclin and give it a proper run then, though. I've done the "gnome mage/Steamfont/run to Butcherblock/boat to Freeport/run to Qeynos" thing on most of the previous Prog servers and it's feeling a little repetitive, but it must be more than a decade since I leveled up on the moon.

      I do wish Rift would do a Classic Server. I know they don't really have enough expansions for a Prog yet and anyway, who'd want to do any of the Rift expansions twice? Classic, with the original Invasions, though...I'd be all over that.

    2. Fsck yes, Classic Rift as it was in Beta, and I'd be back easily :)

      I've been playing Ryzom recently, I got into a game with an ETLA that ends in L which I can't talk about, and instead I'm playing a French MMO from 2004. *giggles* Oh, and Persona 5.

    3. I've played Ryzom a few times - I always enjoy it a lot but I never really get very far. It's very beautiful and quite weird!

  2. A beckett reference? Liked it.


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