Shoot Club

Shoot Club
Hobbitspotting, Part One

Tom Chick | 3 May 2007 18:00
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My friend Trevor is sitting with me on the Great East Road, halfway between Bree and the Forsaken Inn. The Midgewater Marsh stretches off into the distance to our left. It's night. The moon is full. In here, it's always full. We're waiting for Mike to catch up with us. Mike, who sucks at all games, went back to Bree to "sell some stuff real quick and train."

"There's another," Trevor says as a hobbit rides by. "I'm going to takes notes."
"People love hobbits, I guess."
"That one just wasted twelve silver on that horse ride," Trevor says. Trevor hates paying for horses. 'Why rent when you're eventually going to need the money to buy?' he'll say every time someone suggests he visits the stable master. But me, I don't care. I'm happy to spend the money to take a horse from West Bree to East Bree. I'm not going to be playing this stupid game long enough to buy a horse. Level 35? 4200 silver? I don't think so.

At the thirteenth hobbit, Trevor notes there should be a deed for this. "You should have a deed for recording how many hobbits go by. I'm going to write down what time they pass and what level they are. Stupid hobbits."

We get to twenty-three hobbits by the time Mike finishes "[selling] some stuff real quick and [training]."

"Should I just meet you at the Forlorn Inn?" he asks over the mic.
"Yeah, get a horse and we'll meet you there," Trevor says. He doesn't mind if other people waste money on horses.
"Uhh," Mike begins.
"What?"
"I don't have enough money."
"Dude, you said you just had, like, a hundred silver."
"I spent it all on training." Mike got all the way to ninth level before he realized you could buy new skills. Like I said, he sucks at all games. "Plus I bought some sienna dye at the auction house," he adds. "My leggings were too yellow."
"Okay, jeeze, I guess we'll just have to wait."

This is part of what kills me with these games. The waiting. Gathering MMO players is like herding cats. Using a chat interface.

"There's twenty-four," Trevor notes. "That one's only level eleven. He's in for some nasty surprises in the Lone-Lands."

I shouldn't be here. I don't get MMOs. They bounce off me entirely, some more quickly than others. But they all bounce. Static worlds. Characters advancing in drips and drabs. Dumb kids running amok tapping their space bars with their thumbs. Watching icons on task bars cool down. Waiting for Mike to sell his junk and catch up with us. Knowing that it all leads to the personal hell of being a cog in some jerk's organized raid.

"Twenty-nine," Trevor says. "Check out that hobbit's hat. Gay."

Grind is such an appropriate word. Now, whenever I hear it, I think about MMOs. 'Do you grind your teeth?' a radio commercial asks. I visualize myself out on The Barrens, hitting the tab key to cycle though targets, looking for more Your Teeth to kill, my quest log showing 7/30 Your Teeth. When I saw the title of Grindhouse, the first thing that flashed into my mind was "the place where they make MMOs."

Trevor was eager about Lord of the Rings Online early on. He pre-ordered it from Best Buy and tried to talk me into joining him.

"You earn these deed things for various activities," he had said. "It's like Achievements on Xbox Live."
"A massively multiplayer game with Achievements like on Xbox Live? And that's supposed to make me want to play?"

This isn't the time to get into a discussion of Xbox Live's retarded Gamerscore thing. Suffice to say, Trevor and I have very different perspectives on the issue. And he's got the copy of Fuzion Frenzy 2 and Old Spice T-shirt to show for it.

"You can be human," he had said. "You don't have to be an elf or a hobbit."

I tolerate MMOs in the same way I tolerate epic single player RPGs, but I've never been that obsessive about them. So I'll play until I get to level blah blah blah and then something or another happens - maybe I can't figure out where to go for a certain quest or I keep getting killed in a certain dungeon - and it loses me. This usually coincides with the stark realization that I'm just earning tiny incremental bonuses. An additional point of damage per second here, a 2 percent ranged damage reduction there. Maybe a bonus half percent chance to block. There's nothing like bald math to undermine a game. The scales fall from my eyes and I cannot bear to earn another XP.

"It's better than Star Wars Galaxies," he had insisted. "Seriously. Way better."

When I do play, I'm strictly an MMO dilettante. But MMOs don't lend themselves to that kind of non-committal play. Particularly when your friends, or at least the people you play with, run on ahead without you. That's the beginning of the end.

"It's got characters from the books," he had declared. "It's got Tom Bombadil. You can meet Tom Bombadil."

I'm not even sure who that is. I think he's a fat dancing hobbit or something. I've never been into fantasy or sci-fi, which often makes me ill-suited to write about games, but Trevor helps me fake it. I suppose I liked the Lord of the Rings movies okay, but I didn't know what the hell was going on. The two year-long intermissions didn't help.

So how is that I've come to this, /smoking at the side of the road, counting hobbits with Trevor, the two of us waiting for Mike with his newly sienna'ed leggings? Let me show you:

From: myemailaddress@myISP.com
Sent: Wednesday, April 18, 2007 3:56 PM
To: hisemailaddress@hisISP.com
Subject: RE: C&C3 review

Okay, I'll do it.

From: hisemailaddress@hisISP.com
Sent: Wednesday, April 18, 2007 3:55 PM
To: myemailaddress@myISP.com
Subject: RE: C&C3 review

If you do the Lord of the Rings Online review, I'll let you do the Quake Wars review. We're expecting builds in mid-May.

This e-mail message and any attachments to it are for the sole use of the intended recipients and may contain confidential and privileged information. This e-mail message and any attachments are the property of this corporate entity. Any unauthorized review, use, disclosure, or distribution of this e-mail message or its attachments is prohibited. If you are not an intended recipient, please notify the sender by reply e-mail and destroy all copies of the original message and any attachments.

From: myemailaddress@myISP.com
Sent: Wednesday, April 18, 2007 3:01 PM
To: hisemailaddress@hisISP.com
Subject: RE: C&C3 review

No way. I hate MMOs. You know that.

From: hisemailaddress@hisISP.com
Sent: Wednesday, April 18, 2007 2:10 PM
To: myemailaddress@myISP.com
Subject: RE: C&C3 review

He can't do it. He just got a job as a viral marketer for Second Life. I need you to do it.

This e-mail message and any attachments to it are for the sole use of the intended recipients and may contain confidential and privileged information. This e-mail message and any attachments are the property of this corporate entity. Any unauthorized review, use, disclosure, or distribution of this e-mail message or its attachments is prohibited. If you are not an intended recipient, please notify the sender by reply e-mail and destroy all copies of the original message and any attachments.

From: myemailaddress@myISP.com
Sent: Wednesday, April 18, 2007 1:30 PM
To: hisemailaddress@hisISP.com
Subject: RE: C&C3 review

Wait, what about the MMO guy? Why don't you get him to do it?

From: hisemailaddress@hisISP.com
Sent: Wednesday, April 18, 2007 11:17 AM
To: myemailaddress@myISP.com
Subject: RE: C&C3 review

I'm serious. I need you to review it. I just FedExed you the press beta stuff.

This e-mail message and any attachments to it are for the sole use of the intended recipients and may contain confidential and privileged information. This e-mail message and any attachments are the property of this corporate entity. Any unauthorized review, use, disclosure, or distribution of this e-mail message or its attachments is prohibited. If you are not an intended recipient, please notify the sender by reply e-mail and destroy all copies of the original message and any attachments.

From: myemailaddress@myISP.com
Sent: Tuesday, April 17, 2007 3:10 PM
To: hisemailaddress@hisISP.com
Subject: RE: C&C3 review

I can't. I'm busy replaying the Ghost Rider game for fun. Then I'm going to redo my taxes because I enjoyed it so much the first time.

From: hisemailaddress@hisISP.com
Sent: Tuesday, April 17, 2007 9:38 AM
To: myemailaddress@myISP.com
Subject: RE: C&C3 review

No. So? Lord of the Rings MMO? I'm sending you the beta. You want to review it?

This e-mail message and any attachments to it are for the sole use of the intended recipients and may contain confidential and privileged information. This e-mail message and any attachments are the property of this corporate entity. Any unauthorized review, use, disclosure, or distribution of this e-mail message or its attachments is prohibited. If you are not an intended recipient, please notify the sender by reply e-mail and destroy all copies of the original message and any attachments.

From: myemailaddress@myISP.com
Sent: Monday, April 16, 2007 3:17 PM
To: hisemailaddress@hisISP.com
Subject: RE: C&C3 review

Whatever with the edits. Are you at least leaving in the joke about Bertrand Russell?

From: hisemailaddress@hisISP.com
Sent: Monday, April 16, 2007 10:17 AM
To: myemailaddress@myISP.com
Subject: C&C3 review

Here are the edits to the C&C3 review. First of all, I added some stuff about the history of C&C at the beginning. You have to start with that stuff. I keep telling you. Second of all, I cut out all those complaints about the cutscenes. This isn't Stephen Speilburg. It's Command & Conquer. Third of all, mise en scene is French, and like I keep telling you, put French words and phrases in italics. It makes it easier for me to delete them. Fourth, I added a point to the rating. I checked Gamerankings and no way is C&C3 a 7. Hey do you wanna review the Lord of the Rings MMO?

This e-mail message and any attachments to it are for the sole use of the intended recipients and may contain confidential and privileged information. This e-mail message and any attachments are the property of this corporate entity. Any unauthorized review, use, disclosure, or distribution of this e-mail message or its attachments is prohibited. If you are not an intended recipient, please notify the sender by reply e-mail and destroy all copies of the original message and any attachments.

To be continued...

Part Two

***

Tom Chick has been writing about videogames for fifteen years. His work appears in Games for Windows Magazine, Yahoo, Gamespy, Sci-Fi, and Variety. He lives in Los Angeles. Shoot Club will be appearing in this space every Thursday.

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