A View From the Road: The Legend of Crab Norris

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A few weeks ago, I wrote about why the trend of more casual-friendly MMOGs was something to be embraced, not avoided. While I still believe that wholeheartedly, let’s look at the other side of the coin: Sometimes, people want to feel like they’re in danger, and the presence of threats and challenges in a game makes for a more engaging experience.

Verteron Citadel is the second major questing area for Elyos players in Aion, and the first zone they’ll go to after Ascending, choosing their class, and getting their wings. The sands surrounding the fortified town hold the standard assortment of quest objectives – kill animals, collect shiny things, investigate a bandit camp – as well as almost certain death.

That certain death comes in the form of Paksigue, a level 13 Elite crab. He is fearsome, he is huge, he wanders around the zone randomly, and he will attack anyone unlucky enough to get close to him. His massive claws do heavy damage to player characters and stun them, making it difficult to escape. In short, he is a deathtrap that preys on the unwary. Naturally, thanks to the Internet’s collective fascination with Sir Chuck the Bearded One, Paksigue has been dubbed “Crab Norris” by the Aion community.

“Oh hey, guys. Watch out, it’s Crab Norris.” The voice over our Skype chat sounded cautious, and for good reason: As a level 13 Elite, Crab Norris was designed as an encounter meant for group of players who were that level or above. There were only four of us, and our characters were all levels 10 and 11 – attacking the beast was virtual suicide. We could have easily stood by and let the apex predator of Verteron pass us by, but instead we opted to try our luck.

Our Templar tank held the beast’s attention, withstanding mighty blows. Our Chanter restored the tank’s vitality, while the party’s Sorceress and myself attacked from behind with all our might – one might even say we sought to strike its weak points for massive damage. In the end, the beast fell before our combined power, and we were rewarded with … nothing. Absolutely nothing.

We had gained nothing from putting our virtual lives at such certain risk other than the excitement and adrenaline that comes with facing something you fear. Ironically, in the end Crab Norris hadn’t even been that difficult for us to defeat: He might have been death incarnate for a lone player caught off guard, but for a well-balanced group of players including sturdy tank, capable healer, and lethal damage-dealers he was barely even a challenge.

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Beyond – and perhaps more important than – his mere role as giant enemy crab, Paksigue represents an idea: There is something more powerful than you, and you must be on your guard or else you will be killed without the chance to really put up a fight. This idea of fear and challenge, of “there is something bigger than me,” is why many of us play games in the first place. Who wants to feel like an invincible god all the time?

Crab Norris doesn’t drop anything special; there are no phat lewts to be found. He is content that is meant to be bypassed – if you’re aware of your surroundings and paying attention, you won’t ever have to fight him. In this way, the idea of Crab Norris manages to fit neatly into the seemingly contradictory ideologies of “MMOGs should be easy and accessible for casual players” and “MMOGs need to give the hardcore players a challenge.”

Since there is no positive incentive to fight the guy (nor any negative incentive for avoiding him), there is never any need for a casual player to try their hand at vanquishing a nigh-impossible foe – their progression won’t be impeded in any way by their decision to play it safe. Similarly, the more adventurous players who decide to test their luck don’t get an advantage over their more cautious cohorts. The idea of Crab Norris is like the idea of Mount Everest: You fight it because it’s there.

In Aion, Crab Norris also serves as a bit of a wake-up call. His path is mostly random, and while there are still areas of relative safety where he won’t patrol, he teaches newbie players to get used to checking their minimaps for that one red dot that’s larger and moving more quickly than the others, as a driver might check their rear-view mirror. This is preparation for the later PvP-oriented stages of the game, where a large red dot means an enemy player who is just as deadly as any ferocious crustacean, whose movement is more random and who isn’t bound by a maximum aggro radius.

The vicious beast might not have given us anything (virtually) tangible, but that’s not to say we didn’t come away from the fight the worse for the encounter. Defeating notorious foes that become infamous within a community lends itself neatly to a feeling of pride and satisfaction once all is said and done. We had vanquished Crab Norris, the scourge of Verteron Citadel. None would have to fear his deadly claws again (until he respawned). We were heroes!

That was a pretty damn good feeling, and it lasted quite a while … until I was absentmindedly finishing a quest on my own, heard an ominous clatter of spindly legs, and was killed within a matter of seconds by a merciless foe exacting his revenge.

Damn you, Crab Norris!

John Funk doesn’t sleep. He waits.

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