The plight of the MMORPG junkie chasing the nostalgia dragon

I'm tired of chasing nostalgia, but I just can't stop. Where did the adventure go, I wonder?

MMORPGs hold a special place in the PC gaming space. They're one of the few genres that provide a complete escape from real life, giving the player goals to achieve, exotic landscapes to explore, and social circles to maintain. Some may argue that the genre is unhealthy, but if not for it I would never have met some of the most important people and had some of the most fun of my life.

My very first MMORPG was Ragnarok Online, which a friend recommended to me because of the spritework. I admit I didn't play it for long the first time I started, but I was enamored with the concept of a game where you go on adventures with friends. To a homebody like me, it just seemed too good to be true.

Ragnarok Online was my catalyst; every MMO player has one. Your first game that gave you that taste of freedom and adventure that you just can't get in real life. Real life just isn't as fantastical, nor does it give long term goals that are easy to follow and complete.

That, perhaps, is the biggest draw for the MMORPG genre (and video games in general): They give easy-to-follow metrics to gauge how you're doing. Real life isn't like that. You don't know exactly how close you are to a promotion. You can't gauge how intelligent you are by looking at an easy to read stat sheet. You don't know which is the "right" and "wrong" way to grow up and live as an adult.

MMOs and addiction

I say all of the above with what might seem like a negative connotation, but I thoroughly believe there's something to be said about the type of comfort games provide, particularly MMORPGs. People who would otherwise not have the confidence, courage, or money to go traveling or meet new people can do so in these games. They're a whole new world in the safety of your own home.

The downside to the easy to gauge metrics is just how addictive they are, especially if you're confused about where to go in real life. This is where game addiction comes into play, with the worst cases of addiction lying squarely within the MMORPG genre.

I'll be the first to admit, I'm an MMO junkie. I will also be the first to admit I have some serious anxiety issues in real life and feel a bit helpless when I think about my future. While I can say that MMORPGs give me an outlet to escape from real life, they're not making anything any better. I know they're just giving me an excuse to keep hiding and not progressing on a personal level.

This is where things get muddled for a lot of people, because many play these games excessively for the very same reasons mentioned above. But stopping means admitting all that time spent playing was for naught. It means leaving your friends behind. It means transitioning to a focus on real life, and facing your problems. These are all things I can barely bring myself to do each time I quit an MMO in hopes of "growing up".

This article has been a big downer. What started as (what I wanted to be) a showcase of my MMORPG history and asking you, the readers, to tell me yours has turned into one big wall of preaching about the evils of the genre.
My bad.

Chasing the nostalgia dragon

Over the years I've bounced from one MMO to the next in hopes of capturing the feeling EverQuest and vanilla World of Warcraft gave me when I was younger. The worlds in those games felt massive and the content itself was confusing and difficult. In a word, it was amazing. I want that feeling again.

Several of my friends do the same thing. Always chasing that dragon, in hopes they'll feel the same way they did a decade ago.

I've become enamored with several MMORPGs over the years since my EverQuest and WoW days, but not for the same reasons. Let's do a short list of some of the MMOs I've devoured over the past four years and ultimately what killed them for me:

  • Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn - The world itself was beautiful and crafting was great but ultimately the game was linear and didn't fill me with a sense of wonder.
  • Aion - Its PvP was okay but the community was cancerous and the dungeons a bore.
  • Blade & Soul CN/TW - The PvP, story, and visuals were amazing but the tiny world bogged it down. No sense of wonder whatsoever.
  • TERA - Minimal sense of adventure when leveling the first time and the enchantment system is a real grindfest at endgame, but dungeons were pretty fun.
  • Guild Wars 2 - Interesting in concept, but ultimately not my cup of tea outside of crafting.
  • ArcheAge - Really great farming, housing, and economy workings; but too much work for no payout.

I could go on and on. I've given numerous MMORPGs a try since 2006 (the year I quit WoW for good and went back to Ragnarok Online), but none of them will ever scratch the itch the same way again.

There's something to be said about the hold game experiences have on you, when you spend nearly a decade just trying to reclaim those feelings they gave you the first time around. I'm never going to explore Norrath nor Azeroth for the first time ever again - I can accept that. I'm never going to be all bright and starry-eyed that same way ever again -- that's what I and many other older MMO players have difficulty accepting.

Over the years, I've found the easy gameplay in MMOs to be a real deterrent to my enjoyment. Most games have quest tracking that tells you where to pick up, do, and turn in quests. Mobs in most MMOs aren't very difficult anymore and die fast enough that you don't really learn to master your class over time. There is no sense of adventure for me, just like there is no sense of pride over my in-game feats.

I can understand that normal people don't have the time nor the motivation to put real effort toward killing every mob, nor do they have the patience to read their quest dialogue and figure out what to do themselves. But that doesn't mean I can't be disappointed when I try a new MMORPG when it doesn't scratch that itch. I'm entitled to be a little disappointed when I genre I once loved just isn't the same anymore.

Moving forward with the MMORPG genre

The MMOs coming up in the next year or two are looking to change the genre, but will they be able to? And if they do, will they be able to satisfy the cravings of the MMORPG old guard?

Let's look back at ArcheAge, which was released last year and brought with it a slew of features yet to be fully implemented in an MMO before. The housing and farm plots are one of the biggest features the game totes, backed by trade pack hauling and a huge emphasis on player killing for profit.

ArcheAge has a lot of technical issues, but the biggest problem isn't technical at all. It's how the PvP system works. That along with the heavy emphasis on subscribing is what ultimately struck down its player numbers after a couple of months. People just don't have the time nor willingness to put that much effort toward crafting, only to have to fight for their lives and loot on a trade pack haul.

Like ArcheAge, a lot of MMORPGs coming out over the next few years are going to be trying new things. There's nothing wrong with that since the genre woefully needs a kick in the butt to progress past the WoW clone phase. My hopes are riding on these upcoming new entries to the genre, because it's getting tiring going back to the same old games and hoping something will spark inside me and make me love them again.

In some ways, I feel the MMORPG genre needs to regress, and in others I feel it needs to progress. But I feel like I covered that subtly in all of the rambling paragraphs above. Where there is no challenge, there is no sense of danger. Where there is no innovation, there is no imagination and sense of wonder. Where there is no carrot on a stick, there is no motivation. So why even bother most of the time?

Not everyone

Before I wrap up this -- rant? It's become a rant, I suppose -- I do want to note that not everyone is like me when it comes to MMORPGs. Most people, as stated above, just don't have the time nor energy to deal with the type of difficulty found in the MMOs of yore. Not everyone is an addict, either.

Plenty of people can play an MMO and never have it affect their real lives. Millions of people play them every night when they get home from work or school without letting it deter them in their real life pursuits. Good on them, because I can't. And I crave something I just can't find.

I've hit my dancing Elin quota for this lifetime.

Perhaps it's because of the change in pace from older MMORPGs to newer ones, or maybe it's just the type of person they attract now in comparison to who they attracted a decade (plus) ago. Who knows, that's not something I'm about to spout a bunch of bull about.

Separation and realization of the differences between real life and games is hard. I guess that's the sum of all of the above. I don't know if I will ever be able to stop chasing the experiences I had so long ago. I don't know if I will ever be sated with the lack of readable metrics in real life. But I do know I love MMORPGs and I look forward to what's to come. Take that as you will, with all of the above on the table.

Published Jun. 20th 2015
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