Monday, May 14, 2007

Together Alone

I was reading through some articles on MMORPGs recently and came across an interesting question. Something to the effect of “why don’t the people that like to solo in MMORPGs play a single-player game instead?” I did some searching around and found a blog entry on playing along in a MMORPG.

One commenter on the article writes:

I believe the reason people (including myself) like to play an MMO even though we spend most of our time ungrouped is simply that an MMO's world seems more "real" and alive. A solo game's world is very predictable and mechanical; a world full of other players, whether you're working with them and talking with them or not, is far more complex and interesting. It has an economy. It has rudimentary politics. It's just more immersive and fun.

I think the quote above sums up my interest in playing a MMORPG even if all I do is solo. It’s the impression that there ARE other people out there doing things. It isn’t just the connections that people can form with each other but the POSSIBILITY of connections.

There are the random encounters with other players that make the game interesting. I don’t have to get a superior axe as a drop in game. As long as someone has gotten one and they are posting it in the Auction House for a price I am willing to pay, I can get it. We could call this an association via a material means. There are also associations via proximity: if I’m questing in the same area as someone else, we may group together to help each other out. I’ve had a blast in some pickup groups and after leaving the group, I never saw those players again. Other associations could be via common goals (like group quests) even though I prefer to only run those with guild mates or not at all. Through the different ways of associating or connecting with people, MMORPGs are more dynamic and feel more alive than walking around in a single-player RPG.While the associations I mention are possible, it is also possible that I not engage in them. Rather than buy from the AH, I can craft the things I need. I can refuse group requests (and typically do if the request was spammed at me) and not get involved with any group quest at all. It’s still nice to know that those things are possible even if I choose not to do them.

The best single-player RPG, in my opinion, is Oblivion. Granted, I have not played all single-player games to know about how well or poorly their npc behaviors work, but Oblivion does an excellent job in simulating characters with lives and schedules and ways of interacting all their own; yet still it falls way, way short of the random and often bazaar behaviors of which actual humans are capable. Some of those behaviors are annoying (like incessant jumping) or stupid (like the infamous Barrens Chat in WoW) or mean-spirited (like stealing mineral nodes for which another player is fighting). MMORPHs also allow for the opposite kinds of behavior as well: sharing, helping one another, making someone else laugh and have a good time after a lousy day at work.

While the bad certainly exists there are many random acts of generosity and “togetherness” possible in a MMORPG that can make even solo play an enjoyable thing to do. I don’t always need to talk to people, but it’s nice to know that the option is there. I enjoy helping new players out. I like the fact that I could run into someone with trade skills different from my own and perhaps we could help each other out. I like knowing that the world around me is in some sense alive even though I’m off by myself.

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