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Context Sensitive: Playing the MMMMG

Susan Arendt | 20 Aug 2009 16:00
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I love videogames, I really do, but every now and again I feel the need to get completely away from them for a short while. I was really looking forward to a trip to DisneyWorld with my girlfriends not only because it promised to be a weekend full of fun, frivolity, and general silliness, but also because for the first time in perhaps years, I would be nowhere near anything having to do with videogames. Little did I know that I was about to join an MMMMG - a Massively Multiplayer Mickey Mouse Game - complete with quests, NPCs, and loot.

I hadn't been to DisneyWorld in more than a decade, and quite a bit had changed in my absence. There were new rides, new parks, new shows and new characters. There also seemed to be a new souvenir of choice - enamel pins. They were absolutely everywhere; on snack carts, in our hotel lobby, on lanyards around the necks of the cast members, everywhere. There were even entire shops devoted solely to pins. I didn't quite get it - I'm more of a t-shirt or ball cap person, myself - but if people liked pins, hey, whatever. I browsed the racks, saw a few I thought were cute, bought one or two I particularly liked, and didn't think much about it.

Then I saw the book.

We were on our way back to our hotel rooms to change for dinner. We had to cut through the hotel's gift shop to reach the elevators, and as we passed through, I saw the cast member behind the counter pull out an enormous notebook stuffed far past capacity with page after page of pins. A young boy on the other side of the counter peered intently at them, carefully considering a page's contents before delicately moving it aside to look at the next batch. He finally removed a pin from his own lanyard, handed it to the woman behind the counter, and pointed at a pin in the book, which she accordingly removed and handed to him. What the hell was going on here? I had to know.

It turns out that several years ago, the Disney Parks started selling collectible sets of pins, but then took the brilliant step of instituting an official trade system for them. If you see someone wearing a pin you want, you can ask them to trade, at which point the two of you can then haggle over the price -- I'll give you my Donald Duck for a Tigger, a Jack Skellington and a player to be named later. Of course, they don't have to trade with you if they don't want to, which is where the cast members (Disney employees) come in. Cast members must trade with you when asked, a straight one-for-one swap. The one exception is cast members with green lanyards, who can only trade with children.

A smart system from a company that's already a genius when it comes to separating people from their money, but to add just that extra bit of addictiveness, Disney cleverly took a page from the MMO playbook and assigned color-coded rarity levels to the pins. Green is the most common, Lavender the most rare. You can buy pins of every color, though the more rare it is, the more expensive it is. But there are also hidden sets, cast member exclusives, limited editions, and on and on and on. By simply picking up a few souvenirs at the gift shop, I'd unwittingly stumbled into a quest for epic loot. After years of gaming, how could I possibly refuse?

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