Whether it's completing quests, running dungeons, or taking down super villains, any good game has decisive goals for player progression. Most of the time there is a clear and structured path that will get players quickly from one goal to the next. You level up, you unlock new abilities, you get better gear and you take on more challenging and entertaining tasks. It could be as simple as that; a straight and narrow path to completing a game. So why do many of us get in snowball fights outside of the bank in Ironforge? Why do we join others playing music outside of taverns in Lord of the Rings Online? Why do we jump off the highest structure we can find, only to fall to our deaths? Could it simply be because it's ... fun? MMOGs afford us interesting opportunities to goof off with others and "play" a game in ways that developers may never have intended.
Of course, many people don't like playing around, even when playing a video game. They love the challenge of being the first to complete every objective. They consider any diversion from the leveling process to be a waste of time and potential experience gained. While I fully understand and appreciate the desire to have the bragging rights as the first guy to hit the maximum level, or the first guild to take down the latest raid boss, I personally could never do it. I guess I'm somewhat of a slacker when I play MMOGs. Sometimes I like to fish, or climb the highest mountain and stare at a virtual moon. I don't mind that I'm not progressing toward the end of the game because I'm just enjoying having fun doing whatever it is I'm doing at the moment. Sometimes when our gaming experiences become overly competitive I think it's healthy to stop and smell the virtual roses. After all, we're playing a game. Shouldn't our main goal be to have fun, however it's defined?
I remember joining a small, friendly guild in World of Warcraft and one of the very first things our guild master did after I joined was to hold a guild meeting in Northshire Abbey. I was one of the last members to show up and when I arrived, the Abbey was empty. I asked where everyone was. I thought maybe I'd gotten the location wrong. No, our GM said. You have to find us. They were playing a game of hide and seek and since I was the last one there, I was it. I spent the next half hour running around the newbie zone trying to find my guildmates. I ended up having just as much fun doing that as I've had taking down a boss in an instance; maybe more.
Some of my fondest memories in City of Heroes had nothing to do with fighting bad guys, gaining badges, or completing missions. My favorite thing was traveling the immense cities by super jumping. As one of the many entertaining ways to travel in City of Heroes, super jumping was by far my favorite. Super jumping, when maxed out, allows you to vault amazing distances in a single bound. Although you can knock your foes back into walls, blast fire from your arms, and even fly; nothing in that game made me feel more powerful than leaping through the air. I would spend hours trying to jump up to the top of the tallest buildings in the game. Sure I could've taken the easy route and used a flying skill, but where's the challenge in that? There was just something amazing about bounding around enormous cityscapes like a giant flea.
One of the great things about humankind is that we can make fun out of absolutely anything. A game's designers may spend years developing content that will keep us engaged, but we always manage to find our own, oddball, unique new ways to have fun with the tools they provide us. Ways that have nothing to do with making progress in the game. What are some of the goofy things you like to do in your preferred virtual world? Or are you the type that can't stand all the lay-abouts and play the game at face value as the developers intended?
MMOGology [mŏg-ol-uh-jee] – noun – The study of massively multiplayer online games via the slightly warped perspective of Marc Nottke on a weekly recurring basis.
MMOGology: Playing around
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