Thursday, May 27, 2010

Not For Me.

It's taken me nearly ten years but last night I worked out that MMORPGs (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games) just aren't for me.

Weirdly, it's not the actual games I have a problem with, it's the other people I have to play them with…and it's not for the reasons I've talked about before.

This is me just being a massive, massive geek-nerd (gnerd?), but the part people always seem to forget when they're playing MMORPGs is the 'RP' part…it's all meta-gaming without a touch of actual role playing.

Don't get me wrong, I don't expect people to talk and play entirely in character…but it would be nice if just once someone would acknowledge that they're actually playing a character, not just a collection of numbers and stats picked to make beating the game as easy as possible.

All my life I've loved and been fascinated by stories. I think that on one level or another stories are what make the world work…I'd go into that, but that's a whole other blog post…but suffice to say, I'm not attracted to MMOs for the 'epic lootz', but for the richness of the world and the opportunity to create a character who's going to weave his own personal history into the tapestry of that world.

It's the same reason I've always loved D&D. On the few opportunities I've had to play D&D the actual game has always been secondary to taking part in the story. I think that's what most people misunderstand about D&D. It's not about nerds pretending to be dwarves, it's about that perfect blend of sitting down with a good book, but with the interactivity of a videogame and the total freedom of your imagination.

Anyway, let me try to wrangle this tangent back towards my point.

So, a few days ago I decided to give the free trial of 'City of Heroes' a try. That's a super-hero based RPG where you get to create your own super-hero or villain. To be honest, my favorite part of the game was the character creator, simply because there are a lot of powers and 'origins' to pick from…and best of all, an extremely robust costume creator.

Yeah, I created about five different characters before I ever actually played the game.

Now, this is where MMORPGs and I part company.

You see, if you want to be successful in these games, you pick a 'build' with stats, powers and abilities that are optimal from a gameplay standpoint… You don't create a character, you create a collection of numbers that fill a gameplay niche.

I don't do that. I create characters that I find interesting and make sense from a narrative point of view. I don't care that I've created a fighter that doesn't do enough damage to be 'DPS' or enough armor to be a 'tank', I'm more interested in my character's motivation and back story and giving them powers and abilities that fit into that back story…because for me, most of the time, creating my character's back-story is the most enjoyable part of the game. I don't like min-maxing, because that takes all the story out of the game.

I think that min-maxing (choosing your characters stats to give yourself the biggest advantage rather than what actually makes sense for the character) basically reduces any roleplaying game to just rolling dice. You're not involved in an epic tale of good versus evil, you're just making sure your number is bigger than the other guys number, so you can win that dice roll to make your number even bigger.

For example, I was playing with the character creator and because I already had five very different super heroes (all super-powered from magical 'Doctor Strange' type characters to mutants like Cyclops from the X-men), I decided to make a totally human, non-super like Batman or the Punisher.

Now, from a pure gameplay standpoint, I made a martial artist type character with melee-based primary powers and damage resistance based secondary powers with 'powers' based on technology rather than a genuine 'super power'

However, and this is the big difference between me and most MMORPG players: I was creating a character, a fictional person to have fun playing, rather than a collection of well researched numbers to use as an instrument to make beating the game as easy as possible.

I had created Kitty Slice, an idealistic ex-special forces soldier and expert martial artist who got so badly injured on a mission that the only way to save her life was to inject her with prototype nano-technology, tiny robots that were supposed to repair her injuries on a molecular level. However, the shady Corporation behind the nano technology moved her to a secret location where they used her as a lab-rat and programmed the nanobots to not just heal her but 'improve' her…making her stronger, faster, tougher and more intelligent…but also erasing her memory and making her completely obedient.

After claiming the procedure was a total failure and faking her death, the Coropration continued to experiment on her, completely changing her appearance and putting her to work as an assassin-for-hire in order to gather more data on her new found abilities.

Two years later, while on a mission, Kitty was struck in the head by a body guard's tazer, a million-to-one shot that scrambled the programming of the nanobots in her brain, instantly giving her back her free will…just as she stood over her latest targets, a young family, about to strike. As the nanobots in her brain lost control, they enacted one final failsafe: removing any memories that could lead Kitty back to the Corporation and the people who had turned her into mindless killing machine. Unfortunately, the memory of all her kills while under the nanobots influence remained in place, and thanks to the nanotech boosting her intelligence and memory, she could remember each in vivid detail.

Wracked with guilt over the people she had been forced to murder, and with no memory of her life before the Corporation, Kitty devoted her life to trying to undo the damage she had done while under the Corporation's control… as well as swearing to track down and punish the people responsible. Also, with the return of her free will, she also discovered she had limited control of the nanobots still in her blood stream, such as forcing them to fashion the steel in her gloves into claws at will or toughen her skin like armor when need be. Now she fights injustice wherever she finds it, desperately searching for a way to restore her memory and track down the Corporation

Okay, okay…I know that Kitty Slice's back story is one big comic-book cliché (that definitely borrows heavily from Wolverine's origin story), but I lap that sort of thing up. That's why I play these games. When I'm fighting a bad guy, it's not so I can grind XP to level up to get my next set of powers, it's because Kitty is desperately trying to atone for what she was forced to do. When she levels up and gets new powers, it's not a gameplay reward, it's because she's gained more control over the nanotech inside her and discovered something else she can do…and maybe regained a little of her memory

Then, I log in, someone asks if I want to group…and then spends twenty minutes telling me how my 'build' is all wrong, because if I'm making a DPS fighter, I should have gone for regeneration secondary powers, because damage resistance is for tanks, not DPS and I should 're-spec'.

That's not what these games are about for me. Kitty Slice has the powers she has because it makes sense in terms of her backstory. I don't care about metagaming and making sure my character is absolutely optimal. Where's the fun in that?


Sunny said...

Strangely enough- I actually GET it.

Evan 08 said...

I love the story you created...

As for the MMORPGs... well, I am happy that I never got in to them.

Today's word verification word:
Pikshicu - Pikachu's younger sibling

Scratch the hostile fay said...

"It's not about nerds pretending to be dwarves, it's about that perfect blend of sitting down with a good book, but with the interactivity of a videogame and the total freedom of your imagination."

Sadly, even D&D is subject to the "My character is better than your character because I have such-and-such rated armor", and so on. I believe the term is "munchkin", although I don't know where they got that description.

And it isn't just limited to video games or D&D, either. Dent and I have been out of the SCA scene around here because everyone wants that "pointy hat" and my pavilion is more "period" than your tent. Aggrivates the crap out of me, because I'm sorry, I'm NOT going to even TRY to fit a period pavilion in a Kia Rio, you're crazy. But I'm rambling as usual.

But that's ok, there are plenty of RPG's that only use one player, you won't want for entertainment.


Paulius said...

Evan: I quit World of Warcraft when I realized all I was doing was grinding to get the next McGuffin...whose only purpose was to let me get the NEXT McGuffin.

Oh, and the more I read it, the more I realize that's not *my* story. As I read over it again, I realized I've basically mixed Wolverine and Lady Deathsrike's origin.

Scratch: Yeah, but you end to play D&D with four or five actual FRIENDS who you've chosen to play with because they see the game the same way you do. You're not randomly grouped in with a selection of complete strangers.

Oh, and I think I've played every major single player RPG of the last 15 years.