Monday, September 21, 2009

Why World of Warcraft?

Or any MMORPG for that matter?

Yeah, I was considering a follow-up Blood Bowl post to yesterday's devastating Seahawks' loss (is it devastating when a team goes 1-1 to start the season? Only when it sees another 4 starters go down with injury...especially your starting QB).

But forget that...I have a better thing to ask about.

Part of this is simply riffing off of Raggi's rather thoughtful post over at LotFP...fairly good food for thought, I don't mind saying, especially as I start a little module writing action of my own.

But what's really set me off is simply walking around my neighborhood and looking in windows.

Not that I'm in the habit of peeking through my neighbors' windows, please understand. But I do walk my neighborhood quite a bit (Greenwood's considered an "urban village" of Seattle, whatever that means), and when it's night time and the shades are up (and their lights are on), I can't help but notice things simply when walking to the store, polite as I try to be). 

Just WHAT I notice is folks playing on their computers late into the night.

Now my wife and I just moved into this house and this street so we didn't expect to hit it off especially with everyone, but we've had no problem. For one thing, everyone's quite friendly. For another, it seems to be mostly populated by people just like us: young couple's, professionals, all in their 20s-30s. Some have children, some have pets, some have both. 

Of course, maybe they're not playing MMORPGs...maybe they're working on their great American novel or their political blog for change or simply playing Mafia on Facebook. But I've known enough MMORPG players to know that they fit the profile...guys my age, my income level. Oh sure there are plenty o young kids that play WoW...newbs or rubes or whatever. But many of the hard core players are older chaps like myself.

Why the hell are they playing these games and not traditional RPGs?

I mean what's the problem? They don't have a gaming group to join? D&D doesn't have cool enough stuff? They need visual graphics to make their imaginations work? They're afraid of how table-top gamers smell? Your significant other won't let you go out and play?

Personally, I just don't get it. I can almost understand the interest in console shooter games like Halo (some people like to shoot people without really shooting people, ya' know?)...kind of like racing games or playing Rock Band.

But why play World of Warcraft...THE most popular MMORPG by a shit-ton of people...instead of finding real people to game with, they would rather "raid" the same dungeon week after week (or night after night) waiting hopefully for new "content" to be developed. I mean, what the hell? Are people really that anti-social?

I mean, I have a tendency to be anti-social, but gaming is need to game with people right? I mean, that's kind of the saving grace of gaming right? Instead of saving the world or feeding the hungry or something you're at least building community, being creative, using your imagination, story-telling. 

Or maybe you're not. Maybe it IS all about escapism and living out your fantasy of being a "hero" (or an 80th level night elf whatsis). In which case, why give an F about any of this?

You know what...that's a damn rhetorical question. Should people stop attempting to make thoughtful films (or, hell, writing for stage theater) just because plenty o people prefer scripted reality programs with train-wrecks of "real" people? Of course not.

Posting may be light for the near future...I have some Old School writing I need to finish up.
; )


  1. Honestly? I don't understand it either. At least not with games like WoW... or most other Mumorpagers. WoW (and games like it) seem to me to be nothing but continual 'grind'- like having another job. Now, I will admit that I get addicted to some console RPG games (Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic for instance), but that is usually only for a month or so at a time—and even then, it really doesn't compare to sitting around the table with your friends playing whatever game it is you play together. That really IS the 'saving grace' of tabletop games. As to why people prefer sitting in front of their computers? Well, my best guess (from my own experience) is that it requires less effort. I know I like to be a slug a lot of the time, maybe that's a common (but not admirable) trait.

  2. I think the same argument can be made about the interwebs as a whole.

    Why go to a coffee house or book discussion meeting or sport bar or somewhere like that when you can just go into a chat room or a message board?

    Getting beyond the "benefit" of anonymity, I think people are so wired in to their tweets/e-mails/facebook walls/etc that it's easier to sit at home and monitor their online life than to get out and actually interact with people.

    Don’t get me wrong, I love playing video games as much as the next guy, but I keep my video gaming limited to my 360 and still run a monthly table top game, mainly because I want to see my friends and love throwing around dice and, as you said, telling a story and having that human interaction.

    People may disagree with me, and that’s fine, but there is no, and I mean NO online substitute for seeing one of your players crack up so hard they shoot soda out of their nose or be so tense and on edge in the middle of a dungeon crawl that they stop breathing when they go to roll the dice.

    Plus a guy I used to know had his marriage fall apart after a year because he couldn't stop playing WOW, while my wife and I game together and have never been happier.

    So, you know, there’s that.

    Keep up the good work!

  3. I totally feel you on this one.

    Of course, MMOs have done a bit of a service to tabletop gaming by drawing away a lot of the types of players who just wanted to "raid dungeons" anyway.

    But then there are people like my old gaming buddies from high school and college, who aren't hack-and-slashers, yet play MMOs pretty much exclusively now. This despite the fact that they still profess a love of tabletop gaming, and we always have a gamefest whenever we get together (once or twice a year).

    The problem for them seems to be that tabletop RPGs require a lot more prep work on the GMing side, and even the ability to schedule a regular time to show up as a player. With computer games, you can just log in whenever you want. Even if you miss a scheduled raid, it's no big deal, since there are usually about a dozen other people showing up, so your absence isn't missed as much.

  4. It may be more about a change of game. For example, if you've played nothing but D&D all this time and someone tries to get you into a Vampire: Masquerade LARP, you might experience some hesitation.

    Many WoW players might not realize that WoW is a synthesis of previous ideas. This, the source of "Everquest totally ripped that idea off WoW" claims, might extend beyond other computer games and into tabletop games. I'm sure that for many, WoW is their first experience with a game featuring "levels" and "strength statistic" and "magic swords". They may not realize that a tabletop game alternative exists, and if they do, might think the game is derivative.

    That said, video games do things differently from a pencil and dice game. At the gaming table you have infinite possibility (No limitations based on hard/software), instant expansion of options (so you want to play a Goblin Drunken Monk?), perpetual innovation (next week's game will always feature new content), player input (you can change the game setting through your actions), and character development (PC and NPC).

    But video games are eminently fair because the arbiter cannot know you or play favorites. If one choice is better or worse, it's obvious from the beginning. It's predictable.
    And video games have spectacle.
    You can play whenever you want, for as long as you want. You don't have to leave the house. You don't feel the pressure to roleplay.
    And you can compete with other people or against them, while competing against fellow players may be frowned upon in many tabletop games. I personally view player infighting, in particular, as little more than a waste of time and a disruption. I've had only a few instances where the characters had a legitimate beef and solved it in-character without the players becoming acrimonious.
    If you don't like a certain player, you can mute them and refuse to join their party. There are plenty of other groups around.

    Additionally, some players want to stress the boundaries of the game system. They want to achieve things that nobody else can. Doing that with a DM usually results in either the DM getting tired of it and refusing, possibly fixing the loophole and possibly just not letting you take advantage of it. But in a video game the computer referee cannot make such value judgements and the human referee acts slowly if at all. When you encounter a loophole you may be able to have fun with it for days or weeks.

    In a video game you control your adventure. So if you want down-time you can take it, but if you don't you can just get out there and have fun right away. In MMOs this is less important because you often want to adventure with others, and pick-up groups are of low quality.

    All this is said without experience with WoW. I used to play on UO free shards, and helped develop and moderate one. So I understand the style of game, but not specifically with WoW.

  5. Don't diss it til you try it long enough to see why people play it. Usually takes til level 50 or so.

    There are a lot of reasons that it is addicting, the most of which is making friends and doing things with them you couldn't do in real life. You end up talking and meeting people you wouldn't normally associate with and that's pretty cool. The main draw for me is being a part of a guild with really nice people who you want to talk with day after day and continue to be friends with. It's also fun playing with people you actually know because you have a shared interest that you can talk about.

    In my opinion, it's not being antisocial, but social in many, many ways that TV is not, and even more social than games like D&D where you are limited to your group of friends. It's also more challenging/stimulating than just watching TV, and it's certainly better and cheaper than a lot of other things you could be doing with your time (drinking and drugs come to mind).

    Sure, it's not perfect and it's a big time suck, but it's better than many of the alternatives.

  6. Don't diss it til you try it long enough to see why people play it. Usually takes til level 50 or so.

    Bleeurgh. How many hours would that take? I'm guessing at least 50. I can't imagine watching a TV show I didn't like for 100 episodes before deciding whether it was something I liked or not. :)

  7. @ Dave and Stuart:

    I'm not comparing WoW to TV or even to other "drugs" like booze. I'm comparing MMORPGs (specifically WoW) to RPGs (specifically (D&D) ad saying "why would someone choose one over the other." Certainly there are people who prefer television to both MMORPGs AND table-top games (my wife for one!) .

    And I HAVE played about level 50 or so (either a little under or over but I was a warrior with plate armor and double weapons and I had a horse, too). I played for a couple reasons:

    - I was gaming with my brother.
    - I had no other gaming groups going on.

    And that's really it. And it was boring as fuck, pardon my French.

    Now I've taken the time to get off my ass and be more proactive with my table-top gaming, I'm starting to think it's sheer laziness. But maybe there's something more...which is one of the reasons I ask (the other reason being a simple venting of frustration).
    : )

  8. I dont play wow or any other mmorpg. I understand the allure, though. You can play, when I want. If you dont like who you're gaming with, there's no guilt in ditching them. Very little prep, as a player.

    There are still lots of people playing "D&D" writ large, but they're all playing it online.

  9. @Paladin: Here I am. Posting right after you again.

    I don't play any MMORPG, but my teen daughter does and I understand the attraction. She has a blast when she is playing.

    There is certainly a conceptual overlap between computer RPGs and their table top kin, but the experience is very different. Plenty of people happily play both. It is also interesting to me how many older D&D game designers from the TSR days design and/or play computer RPGs.

    I think very few people are deciding to play a computer RPG versus a table top game as a conscious decision. The question is whether or not to play computer games; table tops are probably not part of the picture for them.

    Our gaming group has a 50/50 mix of people who play MMORPG and people who don't. In our group, MMORPG is the gateway drug into the OSR, but it they wouldn't be playing table tops if I had invited them.

  10. @ Rusty: "...the question is whether or not to play computer games; table tops are probably not part of the picture for them..."

    THAT is what I'm interested in. Why not? Are we just not advertising enough (or well enough?)? It's not even on their radar? They didn't grow up playing or (for the younger players) they were never introduced to table top gaming by their folks? Do they just not understand what traditional RPGs can do? Or do they truly not care?

  11. @JB: In our gaming group we have three teens all introduced to table tops by their parental units. They also all play computer RPGs, in part because that is the buzz with their friends (along with Facebook, texting, Twitter, etc). I suppose it is not all that different to playing cards with my parents one Saturday a month back in the 70s and playing D&D with my friends the rest of the time. One was a family thing, the other was something my friends and cousins were doing.

    The other aspect is that many people may think of it as a computer game first, and only secondarily as an RPG. So they might be making a choice between World of Warcraft or Spider Solitaire. I don't know about that, but it just a thought. You have to think that the people who are really worried are the Play-Station and XBox game manufacturers. But that is more speculation on my part (which is the whole point of blogging--speculating or ranting in the absence of real knowledge or information).