Gamers Get Game

MXO: Social Commentary Through Design


There are no black Agents.

It’s no secret the Matrix Trilogy is an elaborate allegory for many issues that reside in our own System. To that end, the franchise branches that have developed since the film incarnations have sprouted their own versions of that same commentary. While the films and video games have their own inherent entertainment value, this secondary aspect is what makes them more than the sum of their parts and worth more than cursory examination. Though the films were a static delivery for this meme, soon came the massively multiplayer vehicle. Wobbly and poorly constructed it may have been, The Matrix Online (MXO) still succeeded – through unique visual design – in one area where all other online games have failed.

It connected massive online gaming to hip hop culture.

I still remember my first time jacking into MXO. Loading into one of the main gathering areas made me think I was entering one of those exclusive clubs where only extremely cool, influential people would ever make it past the velvet rope. The kind of place I would never find myself. Gator skin boots, flowing leather trenches, puffy coats, stylish suits, beanies, fedoras, caps, berets, belts, sleek stilettos and bone breaking combat boots whirled around me, all housing avatars of different shapes, sizes and colors. Very interesting. Having just moved on from another MMOG, I was all too used to slaying demons and ghouls alongside my alabaster Nordic brethren. Oh, and in the online game before that as well. And the one before that…

People will create something that mirrors them. As an artist, when I construct a portrait without a model, features from my face inevitably make their way into the sketch. When a 3-D artist at a game studio builds a model for production, his best source of reference material is a mirror. Racial minorities are infrequently represented in popular video games because most of the people staring into those mirrors don’t represent those minorities. This is why MXO is unique in the gaming industry. Building upon the vision crafted by the Wachowski brothers, Monolith employed an exceptional design team and focused the art style on a hyper-real version of gritty urban d

For awhile I loped about – collecting garments and boots – aimless, but addicted to this outstanding element. Then I met a couple guys in-game. We ran by each other in a sodden alley and paused.

“Hey, Landslide, wanna group?”
“Sure, why not?”

A few days later, I was a member of their guild. Now, I’ve been a member of a number of guilds in the past, in a wide variety of games. Never have I been in a guild like this. I attribute meeting them to the cultural melting pot represented in MXO.

Teamspeak and Ventrilo are old hat to me – there’s just no other way to communicate with fellow players anymore. From past experience, I’m used to the stereotypical straight ‘n narrow vernacular exhibited by the average nerdy, white geek. I neither like nor dislike the nasal-sounding explanations of how to treadmill properly, it’s simply the standard fare. In sharp contrast, these guys, mostly from the New York City area, were interesting.

I’ve never been very hip to the jive, as it were, so comments like, “Yo man, this s**t is tight!” were unusual to me for awhile. As a running joke (to this day), I would enter the Ventrilo server and state in a loud, theatrical voice, “Greetings my brothers, how fare thee on this fine day?”

Funny stuff.

The game appealed to these guys because it represented something extremely familiar to them. They could quickly and easily identify with the setting and style. They played Star Wars Galaxies because Star Wars is ubiquitous. They played MXO because they dug it. It was visually dope, hip, cool, tight and splendidly designed. And although the game itself has faltered on the tightrope of internet criticism, the fact remains that – unlike most MMOGs – The Matrix Online took an important step in connecting with communities who are not usually catered to. My thoughts?

Do it more.

Jonathan Hayter is the Producer of The Escapist. He likes long walks on the beach and encouraging people to design outside the box. Actually. He hates the beach.

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