Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Blinded By The Light : GW2

Coming back to gaming after a break is always an odd sensation. All the more so when your game of choice chose to implement a massive expansion while you were away.

Given that Path of Fire had been live for nearly five days by the time we got back from Italy there seemed to be very, very few "First Impressions" posts among the hundreds of unread entries in my Feedly feed. Of the few that did crop up, I was able to read almost none because of their inevitable, spoilerific nature. In fact, the only ones I read all the way through were Kaozz's chatty take at ECTmmo and Jeromai's short overview and photo-essay.

Even when thoughtful bloggers like Aywren cautiously opened with an assurance that there were "No major story spoilers" I found there was far too much detail that I didn't want to know before I discovered it for myself. It made me realize just how very difficult it is to cover this sort of thing effectively and responsibly.

Once I was settled back at home, all caught up on missed news stories and blog posts, patched up and ready to go, it was still a while before I was ready to face Elona. There's an odd phenomenon, which occurs every time I come back from a complete break from playing MMOs, something that only happens when I go away on holiday.

I don't believe I've discussed it here before though I always mean to, every time I experience it. Although I've read many posts by other people on the subject of coming back to MMOs after a complete break I've never heard anyone else mention the specific, peculiar sensory effect it has on me.

The main reason I've not gone into it in any depth before is that it's hard to describe. After a week or so of not playing any video games at all - indeed barely looking at a screen - the first hour or so of playing even the most familiar MMO is a weirdly intense experience.

Not emotionally intense, although there is a huge boost to the illusive sense of immersion. I'm talking about a vastly heightened visually intensity.

Colors appear much brighter, richer. They pop like neon. Perspective becomes almost vertiginous. The screen seems almost to expand to envelop and enclose me, encompassing not just my immediate field of view but most of my peripheral vision. It's like looking out at the horizon not into a screen.

Character animations, which I would normally scarcely notice, strike me like the gestures and body language of movie actors. Spell effects dazzle like a spectacular display of fireworks.

Everything looks real. No, more than that - hyper-real. It's overwhelming.

This happens every single time I return from a complete break of a week or so. It's as though the part of my brain that has learned to discount all this information has been reset to default.

I can very clearly remember the seminal experience I had back in 1999, when my earliest real EverQuest character (a human warrior with no night vision) ventured into East Commonlands for the first time and saw the visual effects of a battle through the darkness in the distance. It was quite literally awe-inspiring.

Coming back after a break gives me a frisson of that. It also makes me wonder just how overwhelming a modern MMO - or any video game that recreates three-dimensional space - must be for a genuine first-timer. If EQ had that effect with last century's graphics, what must it feel like coming fresh and unprepared to today's?

Of course, few people will come fresh or unprepared. We live in a world of screens now in a way few did back then. Still, my anecdotal experience suggests a degree of habituation can be stripped away by time and rest.

When I read or hear the accounts of journalists or even gamers as they experience Virtual Reality for the first time I get the sense that they are feeling what I felt all those years ago - only orders of magnitude more so. It sounds like magic happening.

How long that lasts I'm not so sure. There seem to be very few reports from anyone who carries on to play VR games regularly. I'm not sure I've read any at all.

I'd bet that within a few days - maybe even a few hours - the remarkably adaptable human brain acts as a dampener on all that gosh-wow intensity and the magic goes away. Maybe that, as much as the lack of the killer app, is why VR is taking so much longer than expected to gain traction.

My own re-revelation yesterday lasted about an hour or so, as it usually does. When things seemed back to normal I opened my in-game mail, took the Asura Gate from Citadel to Lion's Arch and spoke to Ellen Kiel.

But that's a story for another day.


  1. Yeah, sorry for anything too spolier-riffic. I stayed away from talking about main story lines, but since story and character are my main focuses, and what I'm judging the much of the game's quality on, it's hard to write something without giving a little away. I tried to give myself wiggle room with "No MAJOR story spoilers" as a warning. XD

    1. It's just about impossible to describe or report anything without spoiling it for someone. I bet there's someone out there who felt calling the expansion "path of Fire" gave away too much of the plot.


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