None of the three were strangers to MMOGs before Mabinogi, so the question foremost on my mind when we spoke was simple - why Mabinogi? With dozens of other MMOGs from both East and West alike at their fingertips, why choose this one? What kept them logging in day after day; what was the "point" of the game as they saw it?
Their playstyles differed, to be sure. Khenta preferred to work on crafting and other professions, Angevon ran dungeons (often as her playable wolf pet), and Kang primarily engaged in PvP or socialized with people in-game; if he adventured, it was almost always accompanying the friends he'd made. Even with these different foci, however, all three shared certain opinions about the game's draw as a whole. "It's all customization," said Kang, and he seemed to have a point. From what I saw, most equipment offered only marginal performance improvements and, lacking class or level restrictions, could be worn by anybody. Without any significant tangible benefit from equipment, players could wear whatever they liked. Khenta agreed, adding "The only limitation you have to making your character is your imagination ... it's very hard to find two people with the exact same avatar/character setup."
This freedom of choice that they unanimously loved about the game ... was it, in fact, the cause of much of my disorientation? Perhaps I'd been conditioned by a diet of Western MMOGs to accomplish as much as possible as soon as I could - and, when faced with a surplus of options right off the bat, I spread myself entirely too thin trying to do everything I could when I was barely even out of the starting gate.
But beyond the customization and the fighting there was another thing that kept them returning day after day: the community and the friends they'd made. Blindingly obvious in hindsight, but it was only then that I realized exactly what I'd been doing wrong the entire time: This was a Massive game, and I'd been trying to go it alone.
I entered the world of Mabinogi with entirely the wrong mindset, but it had nothing to do with East versus West or Adventurer versus Shepherd - I'd gone in with the expectation that I would play this game for a week and never touch it again. Consequently, I'd barely even talked to anyone, let alone tried to meet a travelling companion or someone more experienced who could show me the ropes. Amidst the three veterans' tales of friends they'd known who had gotten them hooked or friends they'd made early on in the game, I couldn't help but feel that I'd been ignoring what made a MMOG - any MMOG - worth that second "M": everybody else in the game who wasn't me. By my calculations, a fairly large percentage of Mabinogi's player base.
My discomfort had nothing to do with my being a Western MMOG player thrust into a game that's as Korean as they come. There's a time and a place for solo adventures, but when that's all a player does - all they ever intend to do - the game becomes something it was never meant to be. After all, it's nice just to have someone to chat with in game.
Even while shearing sheep.
John Funk is the Senior Editor of WarCry and spends entirely too much time inside virtual worlds. He was reportedly chased out of a laundromat for attempting to grind his folding skill with other people's clothing.