I've got nobody to bother.
So I'm going to bother all of you...

MMOs, ladies and gentlemen, are, in a sense, the ultimate promise of gaming in general; the transition from merely passive collective activities which shape our social lives to passive-aggressive, or quasi-active. Instead of watching football, and then talking about it when we go out drinking together, we're playing football. Only it's not football, it's a football video game. I'm lucky enough right now to be in the ideal gaming situation, which is that, while I have to burn away my life 2 to 3 hours at a time playing the utterly worthless piece of crap that is World of Warcraft, at least, as a reward, I get to then go and hang out with actual people--people are, in fact, cool. Not morbidly twisted social rejects. They have few, if any tumors. It is, and I have to emphasize this, quite literally valid social interaction, rather than the appearance of it through a chat program. I feel that this is ultimately the future--since human beings hardly ever fill their social lives with anything other than drug consumption, idle chitchat, and sex, the MMO is an excellent group activity. It has a fairly reasonable entrance requirement, in as much as it does not take much effort for friends to get online for a couple hours a night, and the activities forced upon you by cruel, capricious, perhaps even malevolent game designers are a nice way to socialize.

But as we well know, and by we, I mean me, in the sense that Will Smith's character in I, Robot 'knew', the current crop of MMO's are an almost criminal misuse of the customers who play them.

They stay under the radar in a few ways. For one, since those on the outside of gaming do not understand the difference between a video game, and for instance, an anal fixation, or pedophilia, they see any undesireable behavior associated with an MMO as being undesireable behavior associated with gaming. They don't see the difference between 4 people spending 20 hours on a couch to experience the entire Final Fantasy VII saga together, and 4 people in separate rooms, or houses, spending 20 hours to reach level 60. They have no appreciation for the fact that, while the 4 playing Final Fantasy might have spent time trying to put together props for cross-dressing so that they can clear a crucial plot point, the 4 in separate rooms will have collected teeth, hair, hides, paws, claws, bandanas, and so forth, in exchange for generic increments which are like mile markers on a desolate highway in Wyoming, on a cross country trip from n00bville to where the game actually starts, via an utterly pointless trail of digital tears. For another, 15 dollars a month is chickenfeed compared to any other kind of entertainment. Even cable television costs more. Finally, using pavlovian conditioning hooks, most people who play feel like they want to play more, which confuses the issue as to whether they're enjoying themselves or not. If a football game is boring, then people have the ability to tear themselves away. In fact, at any point they can just walk away and come back. Even if you're out playing frisbee with friends in the park, you can sit out for a few minutes. But in these damned games, you do not have this luxury. Even answering the phone or the door can be a disruptive, possibly experience-ruining for anywhere from 4 to 40 other people. It boggles the mind.

Some designers, and I use this term ironically, believe that they're giving players a 'gameplay experience' during the normal course of treadmill gameplay. Rather than boring you with details of several experiences and why they're not games so much as chores forced on you by an hateful sociopath, let's just say that there's been only a couple offerings which are in the realm of actual games. The original MMO (or modern one, anyway) Ultima Online, had a fairly short treadmill, and, in the end game, was a kind of sandbox, where people could (and had to) make their own fun. There were ludicrous economic chores which could occupy your time, and, in general, I think it's fair to say that it was a giant pain in the ass. But I could not deny that the several friends I had who continued to play years after the world was dated, were playing an actual game, and not just performing pointless tasks for the privilege of doing it again. They were doing that too, but not all the time. There was a choice to be made at that early juncture. This choice was tied to technology in some ways, but fundamentally, the choice was whether to make a product which is designed to enslave people in a monthly fee, or to try to provide a piece of entertainment compelling enough that people would play it for its own sake. Since all american industry seems hell-bent on using addiction to further their economic goals, it's hardly a surprise that we ended up with the former. Which isn't an indictment of america so much as me being grumpy.

Anyway. Technology marches forward, and despite the efforts of Sony Online Entertainment to take money in return for no actual service, MMOs are slowly leaning toward actual gameplay. Planetside being sort of an exception, but ultimately being doomed by changes to gameplay which made it more monotonous and random than it had to be. New offering like Tabula Rasa look promising in that their basic mechanisms involve actual gameplay which could conceivably be fun even without the treadmill. Except, alarmingly, they have once again managed to obfuscate the player participation with interceding variables. In this case, when targeting an enemy, you will automatically aim at it's absolute center if you move your cursor to within some number of degrees of its vague realm. The demenses of this being are like that of a blackhole, and your ultimate fate rests at its singularity. You then press a button and weapon fire starts to be emitted automatically into your target, until such time as it dies, you die, the earth is destroyed, or another MMO is released. Provided it dies, your cursor is freed from captivity, and you may then allow it to be sucked into the next horrendous being.

There are modifiers at work which decrease overall damage depending on whether you are running, standing, or crouching. Presumably crouching gives you the most damage, making it advantageous to sit still. Presumably you do less damage while running, and so you would only do that when necessary. Or not. There's no way of knowing how these numbers work until the game is upon us. There are hints that movement will be more important. I can hardly imagine it being all *that* important, since the environment runs on the same rules that you do--which is to say that the enemy's cursor will be sucked into your deepest inner recesses, and thenceforth you will become a target for that being's substantial weaponry until such time as etc... You don't dodge, duck, or roll. The projectiles or beams or whathaveyou do not exist in the world--but instead are merely a flashy representation of an absolute mathematical application of numbers to your abstract node. Somewhere your character lives in a tower of numbers. An array with no meaning or organization save what arbitrary providence provides through the programmer's whims. You aren't a character, you are a set of numbers. You are a stalk of corn in a field, you struggle to gain the most sunshine. You grow your leaves stretching toward the sun. If the developers do not water you sufficiently, you wilt. If you were planted on the corpse of an ex-wife, then you will grow strong. You grow in the hope that someday you will make ears--and those ears will be delicious once husked. Such is the MMO routine. I'm kind of pissed that Garriote can't do better.

Meanwhile, Gamesworkshop, who you might recognize from such products as Warhammer, Inquisitor, and Blizzard Entertainment's career, have finally found a home for their fantasy MMO. Which is great if you like something which is almsot exactly like World of Warcraft, only different. In a spectacular show of idiocy, they have made all their early production shots showcase dwarves and orcs. Which, I'm sure you realize, nobody has ever seen before. This is par for the course with GW, because they've managed to ruin every single fucking video game they've ever put their license on, with the exception of Dawn of War. The warhammer universe itself is filled with dark and compelling imagery--some of the most interesting, nuanced, and developed fantasy and scifi art in the world. But instead of going that direction, they're pushing to look more like blizzard. Well. More like a watered down cross between blizzard and everquest. Which isn't to impugne the artists working on it, because they're doing their best with what they were told. It's just that someone has to find that guy who's giving these instructions, and insert a chainsaw in him.

I'm blissfully unaware of Warhammer's game mechanics, but I imagine they will be like World of Warcraft, only different. I quiver with anticipation.

In other news, Planetside continues to have subscribers. Despite being balanced into oblivion by insane people.

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