Wal-Mart vs Theme Park Cagematch!
So there I was, minding my own business and shopping at the local Wal-Mart. Milk, check. Fruity Pebbles, check. Hey, there's Alyson Hannigan! Cool! That was really the highlight of my day, seeing Alyson Hannigan there. However, that's not the point. I get my shopping done and head toward the checkout. As I walk alongside the McDonalds, vision center, pharmacy, candy store, arcade, bank, supermarket, auto mechanic center, electronics, clothing, home goods, garden center and the bakery/deli I get an idea. Alyson looks at me and asks, "Whats up?" She looks rather confused. I shove her head back down in the cart, "Shh, I can't talk to the merchandise before I buy it, they get antsy about that stuff."
This article has something to do with games this time I swear ...The idea that hit me was that Wal-Mart was basically its own little artificial ecosystem. You can really live there if you want, of course nobody would want to. The thought of a redneck family walking by in their cart going "Look Pa, there's that crazy tent man that lives in the electronics section. He smells like our couch" just makes me shudder. Living in a theme park, another favorite miniature artificial ecosystem of mine, that would be sweet. Riding coasters, eating food that's horrible for you and raiding the souvenir shops when you need some new clothes would be the sweet life. So what's the difference? Why do I dart in and out of Wal-Mart as quickly as possible, while I would love to stay at a theme park all day? They're the same thing right? While that seems like a stupid question in this case people are still bewildered when they get a new MMORPG and realize that it sucks.
Yes, I know some people like MMORPGs but that's not the point. I'm here to talk about why MMORPGs suck, not whether or not they can be passable in the right circumstances. I am also rambling, as per the icon. Just imagine the entire article spoken through the mouth of that toothy old man and we're good to go.
MMORPGs are really their own little artificial ecosystem. They try to have their own economy, predators, prey, supply and demand. They have a lot in common with a place like Wal-Mart. The problem is they really don't have much in common with a theme park. There aren't any rides or attractions in MMORPGs. Just get in the game, get your stuff and get out. Level up, get your kill and repeat the level treadmill. I know some recent MMORPGs have things to do other than killing things, like building things for instance. You get in the game, create an item and leave. It's so different and groundbreaking. It's still the same fundamental problem as far as I'm concerned. You are there to do a task, not to be entertained. As griffon put it in a reply to another news story "You are paying to play a game that makes you wait for a bus."
A proper theme park doesn't make you ride the kiddy rides before you can ride the big roller coasters. It lets you choose what you want to do and makes each one fun. Each ride is enjoyable for its intended audience and there are no pre-requisites for riding them, other than being a certain height which I admit is a serious bitch to level up. When you get there they don't expect you to fill out forms or jump up and down 300 times or create a nuclear device out of a paperclip and three rubber bands. You just pay your fee and have fun. The entire park is geared around this, you are there to have fun.
At the core of the game a modern MMORPG is there to get you leveled up. They can be fun if played like a theme park but then again getting drunk and watching baseball can be fun too but we all know how boring that game really is. Yet people put up with Wal-Mart, it's actually made the Waltons the richest family in the US. So why is Wal-Mart crowded all the time? They sell things. I went to get beer, milk and Alyson Hannigan for instance. In an MMORPG you go through all this work to get imaginary numbers that do absolutely nothing for you in real life. Imaginary numbers that nobody cares about but you and your friend with the t-shirt three sizes too small that brags about his Shiny Brass Halbred all day. Actually, strike that, he doesn't care about your numbers, he cares about his numbers.
So why are MMORPGs so popular? They're rather crowded too, if you'll recall. If history has taught me anything it's that people really care about imaginary numbers as long as they're under the impression that everyone else does too (i.e. money). Really, that's fine with me as long as I don't have to play along. The day I can buy Alyson Hannigan with the experience from my EQ character I'll be right there camping the Rubicite armor with you. Until then, you'll pry my copy of KOTOR or Galactic Civilizations out of my cold dead hands.
P.S. Ebay doesn't count.