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Perfect Ten: Why MMOs need to give up their dragon addiction

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If a genie ever appeared to grant me three wishes, I would not hesitate. I would not be selfish by asking for more wishes or focus on my own well-being. No, I would think of you all when I said, "Mr. Genie, I want you to eliminate all Elves from MMOs, preferably via boiling acid. I want you to make all online giant spiders obey the cube law. And I want all developers to be stricken with a specific form of amnesia that will make them forget, now and forever, that dragons are a thing."

You're welcome in advance, online gamers. Yes, I will gladly take up the mantle of your king and protector.

Dragons are not cool. Dragons have never been cool. And yet, for some reason unknown to me, MMO developers lose their collective minds over the fire-breathing lizards. They're not just a trope that infests MMOs to the detriment of original storytelling and world building; they're cheesy villainous centerpieces that devs prop up while deluding themselves that the other couple of thousand MMOs aren't doing the same thing.

MMOs need to give up their dragon addiction, and I am not short on reasons why. I am also so dead serious that dragons need to go that I'm contemplating getting a chest tattoo of one just so that I can laser removal it right off the next day.

1. Dragons were old by the mid-'80s.

What's old can become new again, sure, but only if someone attempts to portray it with a well-crafted twist or a fresh angle. This is not the case for dragons, which reached their zenith of popularity in the 1980s as kids carried around their neon likeness in the form of Trapper Keepers. I love the '80s as much as any member of Gen X, but I was already bored with dragons, unicorns, and moon-howling wolves as corporate shortcuts to kid cred back when I was young. In an era of Cyndi Lauper and transforming robots, dragons seemed as hip as grampa's backyard shuffleboard.

I got told to go play shuffleboard a lot when I visited his house, which is why I bring that up.

2. We already have two D&D MMOs, and they have dibs on dragons by virtue of title.

If we're going to admit dragons the halls of MMOs, maybe we need to honor the dibs that Dungeons & Dragons has on them. Sure, Lord of the Rings predates that and all, but it's not in the title, so Frodo doesn't get an in-game Smaug. And any subsequent MMO with the word "dragon" in the title should be sued for copyright infringement by Wizards of the Coast, mostly to entertain me and because lol Dragon's Prophet. I say that if you're a D&D MMO, you are allowed to have scaly dragons so that you're delivering on the inherent promise of your name, and the rest of these games should butt out.

3. Dragons have become our friends in pop culture.

Movies and television have done a wonderful job defanging and emasculating what threat dragons once had by turning them into cuddly protectors. After being bombarded by Puff the Magic Dragon, Dragonheart, The Neverending Story, Game of Thrones, and How to Train Your Dragon, the public consciousness has changed to see dragons as "giant dogs." As fascinating as it would be to see an MMO put a plus-sized Lassie as a raid boss, it's not going to happen because she's our best friend. Now that dragons are, too, why do devs want to make us kill them?

4. There are now more flavors of MMO dragons than Crayola colors.

While developers might be willfully ignorant of dragons in their competitors' games, they aren't completely stupid. They know that there's a dragon arms race going on, and the only way their game can stand out is by creating some new type of dragon that is made out of ice! Or popsicle sticks! Or scary dreams! Or senior citizens! So now we've arrived at the point that there are thousands of dragons all over our MMOs, each trying to be a unique flower by virtue of its composition. But at the end of the day, they're all angry lizards with wings, even if their DNA is 79% flubber.

5. Dragons simply aren't scary.

I've hinted at this point, but now I'll shout it out loud. Dragons aren't helpful to your MMO because there's nothing intimidating, scary, or awe-inspiring about them. When you've seen the psycho killer in the movie dozens of times over, he goes from being Freddy in Nightmare on Elm Street 1 to Freddy in Nightmare on Elm Street 5. "Dragon" is a lazy trope that devs use because they know that players know they're expected to feel scared or intimidated when one arrives. But are we? Are we really?

I'm currently playing an MMO that shall not be named that is lousy with dragons to the point where all but the most hardcore lore junkie couldn't give two farts about them, and yet the studio has launched us into another storyline where (gasp) another dragon is about to return! Another one! Woe is (yawn) us! Diminishing returns are in play here is all I'm saying.

6. Dragons are one-note villains instead of nuanced foes.

The best bad guys and gals in MMOs are established as deeply flawed yet intelligent (or ruthless) characters with backstories and tragic twists and reprises. But dragons are none of these things. Dragons live in caves or swoop down from the sky to protect treasure and start rumbles, and that's pretty much the end of their complexity. Even when devs try to do something special with their dragons, we end up with Deathwing ruining the world and making a horrible World of Warcraft expansion. Bulls in china shops don't need a top hat and a monocle to look sophisticated; they need to be removed entirely.

7. Having dragons in your MMO doesn't make you special; at best you're maintaining the status quo.

Just because your game is in the fantasy genre doesn't mean that you're beholden to any tradition or bound by any law to put dragons (or Elves and giant spiders) in it. And you'd probably stand out more if you didn't include them. Dragon bosses, dragon pets, dragon characters -- the world has seen it all. It's time to move on in the mythological zoo and look at the other exhibits.

8. Attacking a dragon as a melee character is an exercise in myopia.

Let's conduct a little exercise right now. I want you to get up and stand four inches from a wall. Any wall will do, although if you have one covered in scales, so much the better. Now I want you to punch the wall for a half-hour while someone occasionally sets fire to your hair. There, you've gotten the full dragon-fighting experience as a melee warrior. So fun. So fun.

9. Dragons prove the folly of the developer mindset that "anything superbad must be Godzilla-sized."

This right here is why I think dragons continue to be a popular fall-back choice as an MMO boss staple. The more evil something is, developers reason, the bigger it must be. It's a good visual cue that lines up nicely with the fact that most dragons are not demure models but hulking meat tanks. Maybe it felt good downing one or two dragons early on so that the little guy could feel as if he overcame mighty odds, but now I've started feeling sorry for the dragons being bullied and ganged up on like that just for being big-boned.

10. At the end of the day, dragons are just plus-sized lizards, and who wants more reptiles in their video games?

I'm sure there are some of you weirdos who like to show guests your pet iguana or "Huggy" the snake, but let me assure you that everyone else is silently freaked out by your choice of companion. Oh, it's time to feed it a mouse? You go right ahead while I start casing your home for exit points.

MMO devs keep thrusting dragons in our face with the cries of, "Isn't it adorably awesome? Have you seen anything this cool?" while players edge away and try to look as non-mouselike as possible. If no one else will say it, devs, I will. They are not cool. You need to get a new pet and quietly fling this one off the nearest cliff.

Justin "Syp" Olivetti enjoys counting up to ten, a feat that he considers the apex of his career. If you'd like to learn how to count as well, check out The Perfect Ten. You can contact him via email at justin@massively.com or through his gaming blog, Bio Break.

This article was originally published on Massively.