Haven’t seen you in a few millennia. Give me some tassel!

I’m back from my mini-vacation / leave of absence from the computer, and I wanted to just kick things back off with a good ole fashioned rambling.  Before I begin I want to first say that I missed blogging.  Occasionally I’ll take a day or two off from posting, but I haven’t gone this long away from the blog both mentally and physically in some time.  There are times when I question whether or not blogs are a medium worth continuing in this niche, but in the end I know that I enjoy spilling the digital ink of my thoughts here for you all to see way too much to ever stop.

I’ve been to Disneyland more in the last few weeks than I have in the last 20+ years. The experience as an adult has been quite different than those I remember from being a child.  Everything is smaller, simpler, and slightly less magical.  As a child the walls of Sleeping Beauty’s Castle towered above me.  Now, I can see the facade.  I can see the green mesh on the walls hiding the chain-link fences.  A boy on his father’s shoulders screamed at the site of one of his favorite characters during the parade pleading for that character to give notice.  I looked and saw a guy in his 20s wearing a costume performing a choreographed and generic wave.  Although one illusion is destroyed, others do remain.

The park as an adult still has an atmosphere.  I appreciate the smells, the visual beauty, and the quality Disney has put in to making the park look and behave a certain way.  Attention to detail is key.  From almost any direction you look while standing in the park, Disney has thought of creating an experience.  That’s why I can go to Disneyland and still enjoy myself.  Sure, the rides are fun and I love the Disney properties, but those aren’t as fun as sitting down at a restaurant in New Orleans Square and taking it all in.  Now whether that’s worth paying $96 a trip (or buying a pass) is sometimes hard to swallow…

See the comparison I’m trying to draw?

I found myself comparing the experiences I’ve had at Disneyland as a kid vs. an adult to those experiences found in MMOs.  There will always be that ‘first’ MMO. There will always be the magic of MMOs from days past, and as much as I reminisce about those days they are most likely going to remain fond memories.  However, unlike Disneyland, MMOs are failing to keep that feeling consistent throughout time.  Disneyland for that little boy I mentioned earlier is just as magical or more so for him today as it was for me 25 years ago.  MMOs aren’t better today, nor do they maintain that level of experience or magical wonder and immersion for first-time players.

There isn’t enough attention being given to the entire experience in modern MMOs.  Developers are pushing hard to make the best rides possible or manipulate the ticket price.  They care more about pushing people through the ‘park’ to get them on the rides now than they do letting the players roam freely and consume the ‘park’ as they choose.  Someone like me can go to Disneyland one day and want to ride Indiana Jones, but tomorrow I might go back and wish to simply partake of good food and see shows.  My experience doing so at Disney is always going to be exceptional.  Those choices don’t exist in most MMOs, and when they do they rarely offer the same level of satisfaction.

I’ve had some good thoughts and experiences lately that I’m eager to put to the test in MMOs that I play.  I hope to drum up some great conversations soon — after I get back to playing some games.

  • Welcome back! It’s a good thing you got back when you did though…. Graev was going wild with freedom, throwing middle fingers all about and whatnot 😛

  • Welcome back.

    …and now for the devil’s advocate to speak.

    “Disneyland for that little boy I mentioned earlier is just as magical or more so for him today as it was for me 25 years ago.”

    That would be pretty cool if this is the case, and I recognize I cannot directly invalidate your expressed feelings, nonetheless this is a contention that I would find hard to believe for the population at large.

    Watching a child’s eyes widen and face go blank as they first see a bigger than life fuzzy real version of a cartoon fantasy character hug them and comparing that literal expression of magical wonder to an adult who has become desensitized to these images and now meta-analyzes the existence of the person beneath the facade, wondering about all of the mundane details such as how much they are getting paid, how hot it must be to wear it, and how the costume likely stinks from repeated usage, just isn’t a comparable experience.

    The analogy for me is that my first venture into the world of MMO’s was walking into Alterac Valley and watching people run around in a virtual world collecting materials, raising wolf riders and giant beasts, and fighting a shifting battle for over 4 hours to finally come out with a team victory (obviously these were the days before honor farming).

    My first time taking a boat into Booty Bay I just walked around and turned circles looking in amazement that such a lush virtual world could be created where my perspective shifted with my position.

    If it is theoretically possible for you to be able to walk into a newly released MMO and have a similar sense of wonder as you experienced with your first MMO you would be uniquely lucky indeed.

    Now I agree that MMO’s no longer cater to the old school early MMO adopter audience, but I am unsure how one can objectively factor out the jaded player meta-analysis influence, and yes, also the “rose-colored glasses” effect that still have bloggers describing their remembrance of the original WoW launch as near flawless. 😛

  • Imagine if you were going to Disneyland and other theme parks almost everyday for 10+ years, I wonder if you would feel the same way.

  • That’s the problem. They’re building MMOs like themeparks.

    Back in the day, they were actually virtual worlds. You did more than level up combat skills and play whack a mob.

    A person could play Ultima Online successfully, and have a very good time, without ever purchasing a single weapon. This playstyle is nearly unavailable anymore. It’s there for games like Eve Online. but that’s really about it for mainstream MMOs today.

  • I hear the argument of the magical “first” MMO a lot and there certainly is something to be said for that…there is an undeniable effect that you perceive after you play around in your first MMO. However, I don’t think it is the end of the story…many of the “old folks” not only have fond memories about their first MMO but also about their 2nd, 3rd, or even 4th. I went the route of Ultima Online, Asheron’s Call, and then to DAOC (having rejected EQ and Anarchy Online on the way)…I played each of these “long term” by today’s standards…and by the time I quit playing DAOC…I probably have been playing MMOs for the previous 6-7 years. Many people probably can add SWG to this list too and even extend this list (I just played it briefly as I was too excited about DAOC i think).

    Nostalgia is real – the first MMO effect is real but it does not explain “everything”…I think starting in 2004, there has been a shift in design philosophy which is mainly responsible for MMOs without staying power (obviously WOW had staying power but the ideas introduced by it and translated into other games seem to cause these games to not have the same staying power)

  • I think the first exposure to something really leaves a mark on people’s expectations.

    My first true MMO experience was World of Warcraft. That left it’s mark on me, in terms of expectations and the ability to enjoy the experiences offered by other MMO’s.

    You’re going to form preferences, but those preferences, much like “style”, come and go.
    At the moment, the digital “Themepark” is all the rage. Eventually, people will tire of them and you’ll see things swing back to a more open, unstructured game world.

    We’re seeing exactly that kind of effect with the rebirth of the Space sim. They were EVERYWHERE in the 80’s – 90’s, then seemingly died off.

    Fast forward to 2014 and we’ve got Star Citizen, Elite Dangerous and No Man’s Sky on their way. I think these things are simply cycles.

    Trying to recapture the ‘magic’ is often a futile endeavor. Better to condition yourself to appreciate the experiences in front of you for what they can offer.

  • I got back yesterday from a week away from the computer. I logged into GW2 and found the experience quite literally overwhelming. I had to stop playing after a few minutes and while I was getting my breath back I wrote a short post about it.

    For me, it’s entirely possible to get the same, intense feelings of wonder and immersion from MMOs that I was getting fifteen years ago when it was all new. It happens not infrequently when I come to a brand new game (happened in the betas of GW2, TSW and FFXIV:ARR) and it always happens when I come back to MMOs after a complete break of more than a few days.

    The difference is that in 1999-2002 or thereabouts, that sense of wonder and involvement was nigh-on constant. Nowadays it lasts for a few hours – a few days at most. It’s not the fault of the games, either. It’s our brains. They are excellent at tuning out irrelevancies. It takes a fair old while for your brain to calibrate what’s important and what’s not and in those early days when it’s all new a lot more information is allowed through, which is why it feels so full-on. Then gradually all the stuff that doesn’t relate directly to what you’re trying to achieve gets filtered out so you can concentrate on whatever it is that you are attempting to do.

    Because MMOs are very formulaic, your brain is able to do this faster and faster even when faced with a supposedly unfamiliar set of information. Brains are good at this stuff. Not sure there’s an awful lot you can do to freshen things up other than playing a lot less.