Allen and I have been gaming together as long as we've been friends, which amounts to about a half-decade now. We've logged dozens of hours in tactical shooters and co-op action games. We've followed each others' progress through epic single-player RPGs like Elder Scrolls: Oblivion. We've lost entire evenings to Guitar Hero and Rock Band.
But Allen won't play MMO games. Not for anything. Never has, and maybe never will.
"I have enough bad habits," he explained when I tried to get him on board with WoW , and later, Age of Conan. "I don't need to get hooked on that kind of crack." This from the guy whose nightly Forza Motorport 2 compulsion brought his personal life to a grinding halt for nearly two months straight. The same guy who finished Bioshock in a 3-day weekend, and who played Final Fantasy XII to completion - twice.
In recent conversations with Allen I've rambled on about my current vice, the recently-released MMOG Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning. He's listened politely, not quite feigning interest, as I've encouraged him to give it a closer look. Last week, he surprised me by telling me he'd done exactly that.
"I watched some videos of that game you keep bugging me about," he said, explaining that he'd spent part of an evening reviewing online gameplay videos of WAR's character creator and a few combat scenarios.
"Well?" I asked.
He frowned. "I dunno, man. It just looks...kinda off."
"What do you mean, off?"
"Well, there were all these guys fighting and they weren't connecting. Like they were running through each other. And they just looked really fake, like their animations looked really simple and clunky. And the graphics...they just weren't very good."
"That's not the kind of response I was hoping for," I replied.
"And there's all this crap all over the screen," Allen continued. "All this stuff. Words and buttons, all over the place. It looked complicated." He shrugged apologetically. "It just didn't look good."
"Look," I said. "MMOs are a different sort of animal. That stuff sort of comes with the territory and you learn to overlook it. It's part of the deal with that kind of game."
"I can't overlook it," countered Allen, "And that's why I don't play those kinds of games."
And so despite my explanations and protests in response, Allen will not be playing WAR, or any MMOG for that matter, in the near future.
To each his own, of course. But I couldn't help but leave the conversation thinking that Allen really doesn't know what he's missing. It's hard to overstate how the constant presence of thousands of fellow players lends purpose and meaning to the huge, persistent worlds MMOGs provide. They may scratch some of the same itches that other games do, but there are some truly incredible experiences you simply can't get outside a good MMOG.
Such were my thoughts as I logged into WAR later that evening. But as my Bright Wizard appeared on screen, ready to conquer the realm in his hard-earned and custom-dyed gear, I couldn't help but see the game through Allen's eyes.