A little while ago, I mentioned that I was keen to start playing Lineage. Well, I did start it, and despite the fact that I’d paid US$15 upfront via PayPal because NCSoft insisted my credit card verification number was invalid, I think I only managed to spend about half an hour on it. It’s an old game, and it hasn’t weathered well. The graphics are lacklustre, and the pixels look huge on my 15” Powerbook. Each sprite seems to have only about two or three frames of animation, the interface isn’t intuitive, and the chat box is small and filled with an ugly font. Despite it being the Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game (MMORPG) with the world’s biggest subscriber base, and an Asian one at that, I wasn’t keen to keep playing. I intend no offense to NCSoft and all the Lineage players out there: I’m sure there’s a great game hidden behind the lacklustre visuals, but I can’t be bothered finding it.
Meanwhile, while I was writing my PhD instead of playing Lineage, I was becoming increasingly certain that I should be playing the only other A-list MMORPG for Mac: World of Warcraft. So I went and bought a copy, despite being hellishly in debt already, and began, last night, to play. Okay, so technically Lineage is my first MMORPG, but I didn’t even take my character there past level one. I also played Legend of the Red Dragon (a.k.a. LORD) on a BBS in the mid-1990s, but though it was online, and multiplayer, it wasn’t massively anything.
World of Warcraft (WoW) looks great, and though I’d had a brief look at the manual, I learned most of the interface just by experimenting, and through the help the game offers to new players. After a bit of solo questing, I was quickly recruited into a guild, and shortly thereafter invited to a party (the RPG kind, not the RL kind) for some co-ordinated levelling up. Battles are real-time, and require a lot of interaction on the part of the player: this makes them more exciting than they would be if it was just a matter of clicking on an enemy once to make your character attack repeatedly. I’ve got a few old RL friends playing WoW at the moment, but they seem to be scattered across different servers. Looks like I could be spending my time between Blackrock (the server where most Australians play), Feathermoon, and Dalarn.
This morning, the power supply on my PC shorted and took out my motherboard with it ($210 to repair it! :-(), so I’m now especially happy that WoW works on my Mac. I wasn’t banking on such disasters, and in fact had decided to play a MMORPG on my Powerbook because I’m planning to go and work in Japan in about six months, and won’t be taking my desktop PC with me (obviously). Thanks very much to Blizzard for bringing the MMORPG of the moment to the Mac platform.
One thing I was less than impressed with: the conversation. Okay, there’s a wide range of people playing out there, and they’re not all novelists and PhD students, but come on! Talk about something other than which class is the best. At the very least, there’s the issue of who one’s character is named after. I saw one Battosai (from RurÃ´ni Kenshin) and a Yuffi who was playing with a friend’s character and didn’t realise that she was probably named after Yuffie from Final Fantasy 7.
I suppose I might as well inject a theoretical point, here, too. It interested me to see that two kinds of experience work side by side in WoW. In his M.A. thesis, Videogames of the Oppressed, Gonzalo Frasca, summarising other people’s theories about the topic, identifies two main kinds of ‘games’: ludus and paidea. Ludus are the goal-oriented games: they offer rules that define clear winning and losing situations. Paidea, on the other hand, is more like “play,” where there are no clear goals and the fun is in experimenting with different situations and configurations. WoW, and no doubt other games as well, particularly other MMORPGs, show that the line between ludus and paidea isn’t clear-cut. WoW gives players goals, in the form of quests, but there’s also fun to be had from experimenting with different kinds of player-characters and play-styles, or from just riffing with other players using the chat system (if you can find someone who either wants to crack jokes or is interested in talking about something else than the game mechanics).
Thanks to Blahxmahn, who demonstrated how to organise a party while levelling up his (or her) new character. Sorry I didn’t get to see your level 37 warlock, because Sahbrinah (thanks also) showed up with her warlock and helped me do the quest I needed to learn to summon an Imp. Oh, wait: I just realised that Sahbrinah, a level 37 warlock, probably is Blahxmahn. Duh. After that, I went to sleep, it being 2am and all.