Saturday, October 28, 2017

The Right Prescription

Every single post on Inventory Full, well over a thousand now, carries the tag "MMO". When I started writing here, back in 2011, almost every blog I read was much the same - all MMOs, all the time.

Over the years that's changed a lot. Glancing at my blogroll, there's almost no-one left who writes only about MMOs. There's Telwyn, whose "Categories" list includes nothing but MMOs (except "Uncategorized" but now we're getting meta). I think Shintar may only write about SW:tOR, which would make hers the only single-MMO blog I follow. And there's Bhelgast, who writes about a lot of non-gaming stuff but only MMOs as far as gaming goes...

A lot of bloggers still write more about MMOs than any other kind of game - Syp, Wilhelm, Isey, UltrViolet... too many to list, really - but mostly these days it's a mixed diet of MMOs, co-ops and single player stuff. Which is fine. My interest lies more in the quality of the writing than the topic anyway - I enjoyed Tipa's blogging on bridges as much as her MMO coverage, for example, but then I'd just be happy to see Tipa back blogging about anything.

If I was going to start blogging about anything other than MMOs I would move away from gaming completely. Most likely to music (which would give me a chance to enthuse openly instead of just dropping allusions no-one will ever get into blog titles) or books (since I get to read a wealth of wonderful stuff six months to a year before it's published) or even movies (although for that I'd have to start going to the cinema again, I guess...).

When it does come to gaming, though, even I stray from the true path sometimes. I bought two single-player games this year: Tanzia and Yonder. They both play like MMORPGs, which is what drew me to them and was how I justified hanging an "MMO" tag on the posts I wrote about them.

I enjoyed them both, for a while. A short while. I don't have buyer's regret because they were cheap and I got my money's worth, but although I enjoyed the gameplay in both I found it utterly impossible to maintain my interest, knowing I was playing alone.

It's hard to explain. Many have tried. In these days of solo MMOs, which is pretty much all of them if that's how you choose to play it, there's little logic to why doing exactly the same things has such a different emotional heft, but it does.

Grinding xp or farming mats in a single player feels...well, let's be quite feels idiotic. Tanzia and Yonder both feature those mechanics, which I enjoy in MMOs, but I had to stop playing because I began to feel that what I was doing had no function, purpose or meaning. After a few sessions I felt I would quite literally be better off spending my time staring out of the window, let alone getting up and going and doing something useful.

To do exactly the same thing in an MMO feels completely different. Even in an MMO where no-one else appears to be playing, one where I know not a single person, where I'm in no guild or group, where the chat channels are silent for hours on end so it feels as though I might be the last person left playing.

Indeed, I sometimes feel it literally would not matter if I was the only person left playing. I know that someone else could be playing and that's all that's needed to make it a social experience not a solitary one.

So, after a couple of noble but failed experiments, I'm trying not to buy any non-MMOs, even if bloggers I read are singing their praises and they do sound like something I'd enjoy. But, what if the game in question happened to be free? And what if it only took twenty minutes to play?

Last night I read a typically entertaining post at The Forbidden Codex of The Pink Beyond. Xyzzysqrl covers such an infinitude of games so amusingly and authoritatively that I mostly feel no need to try them for myself but this one was a little different, because all Gordy was prepared to say about it was this:

"I cannot tell you anything about this game, as it would ruin the experience, and in fact the mere knowledge that I cannot tell you anything about this game is already ruining a small part of the experience for you, for which I apologize profusely"

The game in question is called  "Dr. Langeskov, The Tiger and The Terribly Cursed Emerald: A Whirlwind Heist". It's available as a free download (donations accepted) direct from creators Crows Crows Crows  or you can get it free without guilt from Steam.

I played it last night. It took me more like half an hour than twenty minutes. I played it again this morning and it took me more like forty minutes than half an hour. It is linear but stands repeating at least once - possibly more than once.

More than that I shan't say. I don't think it is particularly the kind of game that would be ruined if you knew in advance what it was about but on the other hand, it takes twenty minutes to play (if you crack on) so if you want to know then you might as well just play it. Like I did.

I think even I could manage a few bite-sized games like this without the scaffolding of an imagined social structure to hold up my interest. I'll keep an eye out for a few more.

If you do play, one tip (not, I think, a spoiler): don't miss the tape-recorder. I didn't even see it first time round.


  1. I feel similarly about the fact that MMOs have caused me to lose interest in most single player gaming, which I try to leverage to my advantage that I'm saving money with a subscription instead of purchasing single player games. :)

    To describe it to others I often use the fact that it's a persistent world that perhaps is one of the major attractions, as well as the continued development and evolution of the world.

    I do miss Tipa and West Karana, I hope everything is okay, I missed whatever event caused her to no longer blog.

    1. Yes, I think persistence has a huge amount to do with it. Just the fact (which we all complain about at times) that the gameworld changes whether you're there to see it or not makes it seem far more "real".

      Tipa was still active on G+ until a couple of months ago but I don't really get on with G+ so I rarely look there. There are quite a few dormant bloggers I'd like to see make a comeback...

  2. I really should write more about MMOs, in fact. I keep thinking I should put down more thoughts about Elder Scrolls Online, but I simply never get around to it.

    Also, there's a TAPE RECORDER? Time to reinstall...

    1. Tape recorder and several cassettes. I think I spotted three. And thanks for putting me onto it in the first place!

  3. "Grinding xp or farming mats in a single player feels...well, let's be quite feels idiotic."

    Funny, I have the opposite view. I'm generally more willing to grind in single-player titles because I know eventually I'll be done. Sooner or later you cap out on levels or get the best gear, and that's that. You get to enjoy being awesome for the rest of the game with no further fuss.

    In MMOs, not only is the top tier usually harder to achieve, but the goalposts are likely to be moved regularly. It takes more work to get the best gear, and most likely that same gear will be irrelevant in a few months when better gear is added. So for me grinding to be the best only makes sense in single-player games, or those very rare MMOs where you can actually reach an endpoint.

    Mind you, I'm still not a big fan of grinds even then. I just dislike them less.

    1. This is clearly both a psychological and a philosophical issue. Some of the reasons you prefer the process in single player are the exact reasons I prefer it in MMOs. The fact that what I'm grinding or farming to acquire is going to become outdated and require further upgrading in the future is a key component of what makes the process feel worthwhile. It's being part of a continuum that elevates it from pointless drudgework to an imagined way of life. In other words, it comes back around to the old Virtual World vs Game debate.

      The lack of that built-in obsolescence that we like to label "progression" is perhaps my biggest problem with GW2. Fortunately ANet have by now blurred that line so comprehensively it's easy to pretend it no longer exists.

      The underlying truth here is that, by and large, I have no interest in the "endgame" of any MMO. In the days when it took a lot longer to level up, it used to be the case that once I hit max level I was done with that character. If I went on playing the MMO in question I'd do so on a new character. Levels don't take that long any more, more's the pity, so I do tend to hang around somewhere near the endgame longer, but I never get close to topping everything off. I've never played an MMO long enough to have nothing left that needed upgrading and the very thought makes me shiver!


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