Monday, December 11, 2017

A Hall Of Mirrors : EQ2, GW2

Pushing on into the Plane of Disease last night, it occured to me how exceptionally reflexive MMORPG gameplay has become. In 1999, as I peered at the dim shapes in the small window at the center of my 15" CRT monitor, shapes that were supposed to be bats but which looked more like kites flapping in a strong wind, I could hardly have been expected to imagine that two decades later I'd still be there, still in that same imaginary world, still killing bats.

The bats look a lot more batlike these days and I can see them much more clearly but they are, nonetheless, bats. Not precisely the same bats, it's true, but one imaginary bat looks much like another, twenty years of technological progress notwithstanding.

Rallius Rattican, protected by bats. Overprotected, I'd say.

The unchanging wildlife, the immortal parade of bears, bats, rats and boars, that's the least of it. More, it's the places and the characters, a litany of familiar names. One of the most striking features of both EQ2's Planes of Prophecy expansion and GW2's Path of Fire is the way every opportunity has been taken to remind us of the past.

There's the nostalgia card being played, of course. As the MMO genre ages, increasingly developers have come to understand just what a strong suit that is. But it's more than that. These worlds have history.

Gryme. He still holds the key.

Tyria may have seen two hundred summers and Norrath half a millennium but time works diferently there and so does death. The dead rise and walk again and the lifespan of a lich or a vampire or a god isn't measured in years but in centuries or millennia or eons.

Even without the supernatural the scant few hundred years across iterations wouldn't be enough to erode all evidence of the old regime. The rise and fall of empires leaves behind a residue of history, statues and cities that even cataclysms cannot entirely obscure. Everywhere you turn you see a face, a shape, a suggestion of the past.

Cubes. Seen one, killed them all.
There's all that and there's so much more. For weeks I've been hearing veterans of the first Guild Wars reminisce not only about the stories they were told but the legends that they made. It's an alienating experience, like hearing tales of a homeland that was never yours.

Well, now I'm getting that feeling all of my own. It's not just that I know the names, nor that I remember the landscapes. I was there. And more than that, I was there not just in one other life but many.

Puslings. Still the same annoying little snots they always were.

MMORPGs, if they last, all become palimpsests, their own iterations overwritten endlessly, but there are layers on layers. From every era memories accrue, lying one atop another.

When Planes of Power was new I spent evening after evening edging along the polluted dunes with five nervous friends, barely able to kill a fly - literally, since Malarian mosquitoes were about all we could handle. As the expansion aged and we grew in confidence we roamed more widely until we opened the doors of the Crypt of Decay. Then we died.

The original Plane of Disease, courtesy of Allakhazam.
 But we came back and eventually we tamed the zone and made it ours. Some of it. A room at a time. 

A couple of years later, on a different server, the Planes became a playground. With levels and the welcome accumulation of power that both blesses and curses MMOs, Crypt of Decay turned into "that zone that drops all the gems", the place Mrs Bhagpuss and I duoed when we needed some quick cash.

The new version, unmistakeably the same place. Only with added horse-goats..

A while later there was only me. Me and my mercenary. Me and my mercenary and my pets, a lone player and a clutch of silent, obedient allies, roaming fearlessly where once a full group cowered and quaked. I had good times alone.

I have such history here. Not just in this plane or this zone but across the world, these worlds. Worlds whose metafictional existence has become so fractionated, so crystalline that every shock splits a shard that reflects the whole.

Crypt of Decay. Now it gets tricky.

The two MMORPGs I play the most right now are each the second generation that's neither a copy nor a continuation. The new exists in tandem with the old, each refelcting the other into infinity. I can see all of those refelctions at once and behind them all the ghosts of what they were and who I was and what we may become.

It's something rich and strange. It's oddly like life.


  1. It's also oddly sad in some ways, like when walking the quiet halls of my now abandoned old high school. I do remember the good times in those hallways with friends, laughing. I got slapped by a girlfriend once for holding another girls hand. MMO zones are like the buildings we visit, and like life, those buildings sometimes change. The people walking the halls of them definitely do.

    I remember, quite fondly, duo-ing in EQ at the Lake Of Ill Omen with my Warrior Braack and my Enchanter friend Dagome. We would pull goblins from the floor of the ocean, kill them, rest up, repeat. It was quiet and slow (no healer) but we just did it for hours and talked and talked. He was Polish and Suicidal. We lost touch eventually after we moved to Dark Ages of Camelot and I am not sure whatever happened to him. Those are the parts that will never be lost in the old MMOs to me.

    1. That's a very familiar story. One of my early forays into socializing in MMOs was a period I spent duoing my ranger with a paladin on the shores of Lake of Ill Omen. I can't remember his name now or his exact nationality - he was French-speaking as I recall but he might have been Canadian. He was one of a tiny handful of players I knew in-game at that early point and we grouped up often until one day he found out that although my character was female I wasn't. He was polite about it but it seemed to bother him and duoing never seemed as comfortable after that. A few more sessions and we went our separate ways and I never saw him again.

      Things like that used to be taken a lot mre seriously than they are today. After that I made it a practise to drop a comment or two very early on when meeting someone that would let them know if I was playing a character of a different gender. I think with my Paladin friend it was having spent a good few sessions duoing without being told that bothered him rather than the plain fact.

      Does anyone care about stuff like that any more? I hope not.


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