Heart and Seoul

Heart and Seoul
My Korean Fantasy Life

John Funk | 26 Aug 2008 13:42
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As I became more and more familiar with the way the game worked, I seemed to find my own rhythm. I was even beginning to have fun. Still, I couldn't help but feel like I was missing the point. For every quest I was given to find a lost villager in a dungeon or kill wolves menacing a shepherd boy's flock, I was given a quest to go to school or to help shear wool from the aforementioned sheep. Sure, many of those quests were optional, to help players learn and gain experience in the myriad of non-combat "Life" skills like Weaving or Cooking - but hey, this wasn't WoW, where I was limited to just two professions. If I could learn every single skill in the game, why shouldn't I damn well try?

So, I ran around doing part-time jobs every in-game day (about 38 minutes in real time). I gathered wool from the sheep so that the town healer could make bandages. I delivered food from the grocery. I collected eggs for the town's church. I went to Magic School. I didn't even think about exploring beyond the first starting area for days.

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For all the criticism WoW gets for holding the player's hand, it's remarkably intuitive and easy to pick up. Quests lead the player from zone to zone when appropriate, and a simple color-coding system indicates whether you're capable of taking on a quest, or if you should gain a few more levels beforehand. Mabinogi, too, gave me quests leading to new and unexplored areas, but the entire time I felt vaguely uncertain about whether I should have been progressing so quickly. With no way to see the level of anything or anybody that wasn't me, how was I supposed to know whether or not that Grizzly Bear would be an appropriately challenging encounter, or whether it would maul my face off? (It did.) In the absence of a hand subtly nudging me towards adventure, I had ended up ... well, shearing sheep.

I had found my rhythm - but was this how I wanted to play, or how the game wanted me to play? I'd gone in wanting more "fantasy," but the game seemed to keep nudging me towards more and more "life." Sure, it was surprisingly fun to compose the theme from Super Mario World in game and stand around performing in a town square, but where were my epic adventures? Hadn't I wanted to be a hero and conqueror, not an errand boy?

If this wasn't my Fantasy Life, then whose was it?

For a MMOG with four years of updates under its belt, a single week of play (even "hardcore" play) barely scratches the surface. Coming away from my week of Mabinogi, I was left feeling ... confused. In total, I'd logged over 30 hours of playtime, yet couldn't help but feel like I hadn't yet "gotten" the game. To help fill in the (sizable) gaps in my own experience, I spoke with three Mabinogi devotees, all of whom were active in the game's community: Kitae "KitaeK27" Kang, and two players who preferred to go with their in-game names, Angevon and Khenta. All three had been involved with Mabinogi on the Korean servers before the game launched in North America - Khenta and Kang had even participated in the original beta tests.

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