It’s 6:14 p.m. on a Monday. I have a fully stocked freezer, a bag of Doritos and a wide open evening ahead of me. Settling down in front of my computer, I log into Lineage II, a massively multiplayer online game (MMOG).
I play a level 64 Elven Elder, a healing-centric class in Lineage II. My job is to watch the health bars on the right side of my screen. When one drops below 3/4 full, I hit F12 to stand up, F8 to heal and F12 to sit back down. I have no reason to ever look past the user interface to the actual game, with its breathtaking graphics and scenery.
I can’t just play an MMOG anymore. It is imperative that I multitask; watching television or surfing the web. The only challenge left is staying awake through hours and hours of leveling. We call it “The Grind.” It is the signature of MMOGs, the uphill battle against boredom. But why do we suffer through this? Why play an MMOG instead of a single-player game?
It’s all about the people. Players are driven to progress via competition with their peers. Flashy swords and high-level skills are the sports cars and penthouses of the online world. Success is measured in skill and assets, and just like in real life, we are driven to show that we can attain more than our neighbors. These drives for progression make The Grind more tolerable: It becomes a necessary evil on the path to success.
Yet, this still doesn’t explain why MMOGs are fun, only why we play them. After all, many players will continue playing an MMOG for months after they’ve tired of it, only so that they do not fall behind. MMOGs enable players to create and participate in a political layer in their worlds. Single-player games may have commanders and kings, but even in the most open-ended of worlds, the entire environment lacks dynamism. Adding hundreds – if not thousands – more variables, MMOG political systems are vastly complicated, whether or not they are built into the world. Friendships and alliances form, bitter enemies will exchange words, and wars – PvP, verbal, griefing or otherwise – will be declared.
It is entirely impossible to create a competition-free MMOG. Even creating a non-PvP game is difficult – players will find ways to exploit NPCs to kill each other, training monsters with quick run speeds, charm spells and fake death. Even if players are trying to unlock something for the good of the community, there is a race to see who unlocks it first. The recently opened EverQuest progression servers are good examples of this: When a new expansion is unlocked, everyone reaps the benefits, yet players are competing and racing to see who can get there before everyone else. Similarly, A Tale in the Desert‘s technologies are unlocked by donations of players. One would expect the most rewarding behavior to be to wait for other guilds or regions to unlock the technology, to avoid spending your own resources, but there are constant competitions among various regions between people trying to get ahead in the technology fight.
This creates a drive to progress, and a huge sense of pride when you succeed – or righteous fury when you don’t. While only one person can be at the top, nearly everyone is better at something than someone. Even players who aren’t striving for the top spot on the ladder have something they’re working toward, whether it is helping a friend, defeating a certain monster or exploring an untouched area after a new expansion. Why else would they play the game?
Back to my Lineage II character: I recently acquired a new set of armor, which cost three times as much as my old set, but gives me a decent boost to my stats and armor class. Yet, I didn’t buy this armor for the extra armor. I just wanted it; to own it; to wear it and show it off.
I didn’t create my character to sit in dungeons tapping F12 and F8, but doing so is a necessary step for me on a separate path. I have aspirations of participating in Castle Sieges, part of Lineage II‘s built-in political system, and I already do battle with personal and clan enemies.
While no one player can be the hero, every player has an effect on a community, more so than you could ever have on a single-player game. Every person who plays as Tidus or Cloud in the Final Fantasy series will meet the same people, make the same friendships and discover the same shocking secrets. Yet, in an MMOG, these restrictions are lifted: You never know who you will meet, who will be the love interest, the best friend, the traitor. You choose your own enemies and have no trouble hating them. And for each player, the world is enormously different and experienced in a wholly different way.
Laura Genender is a Staff Writer for MMORPG.com, and is also an Editor for Prima Strategy Guides.