Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Friends, the Internet, and MMORPGs

Before I moved to Los Angeles, six years ago this August, I lived in Reno, Nevada, a college town that thinks it is a casino resort destination. Not that Reno doesn't have some very nice casinos, it does, it's just that as nice as they are...Reno is no Vegas. Then again, when it comes to quality of education...Vegas is no Reno.

While I was a college student in Reno, I made some very good friends. Two of whom are members of this blog community, Rob (Robert Barker) and Logan 5 (Patrick Ditton), and one who stops by for a visit every now and then (John Ford). These are the friends who I have managed best to keep in touch with, and I largely have the internet to thank for that.

But Fritz's last post regarding the Dungeons and Dragons Online game, I am indeed preparing an article about it but want to get some post-move play time in first, reminded me of one of the ways I had planned on using the internet to keep in contact with friends.

As you may have guessed, I am a gamer, but unlike the l33t masters of a single game I am a gaming renaissance man. If it is a game, chances are I have played it at least once or at least am familiar with it because a friend of mine has played it. I enjoy playing games for the new experiences they offer, but I also like them as cultural artifacts. The mechanics/tone/setting/subject of a particular game can tell us a lot about the game designer's (and our own) thoughts about the subject of a particular game.

Take Chess as an example. Chess is one of the most popular abstract simulation of war played in the world. The construction of its rules tell us that the "inventors" of the game felt that their are two central variables to winning a military conflict. First, you must control territory. Chess is, after all, a territory control game. Second, the elimination of the "highest ranking" piece of your opponent's army grants victory. The capture/trapping of your opponent's king is the only necessary condition for victory. That is a very simple beginning to a conversation of what Chess tells us about warfare, there is much more that can be discussed, but you can see the point. Any time a game deals with real world subject matter, it is by nature of its being a simulation of that subject matter a commentary or description of that subject.

Even when the games deal with entirely fictional subjects and situations games can tell us a great deal about the society that created them. That is why I love games, all kinds of games.

When I moved out of Reno, I had hoped to use a game to keep in contact with some of my friends. It seemed like a natural communication medium. My friends Josh and Rob both were signed up, as was I, to a MMORPG titled Asheron's Call. Like many MMORPGs, Asheron's Call is an open ended game with the ability to type text, alsolike many there were supplemental programs that allowed users to talk via microphones with other players. It was my hope that my friends and I could meet up online and catch up on what was going on in each others lives.

I had failed to take into account two things, among others I am sure. I failed to understand how much my friends', and my own, schedules would change after I moved. With Rob in Philadelphia going to Law School, me attending Graduate School in Claremont and working at a non-profit during the day, and Josh returning to school (as well as preferring odd times to play online), it was all but impossible to keep in touch using Asheron's Call. I guess we could have scheduled a regular weekly meetup, but the game design of AC didn't reward that kind of behavior. The second thing I failed to predict was how much better some of the newer MMORPGs would be. I haven't even looked at the Asheron's Call box in five years, let alone played a game. The monthly subscription cost that each MMORPG has limits the number of MMORPGs that a reasonable player will subscribe to at a given time.

I currently limit my self to two MMORPG subscriptions. Largely because my online game time is about 5 hours a week (max.) and I don't want to spend money on something I am not using. At 10 hours a month per game at $15.00, I am getting more than my movie equivelent value (MEV) of entertainment. MEV's are based on one movie costing approximatly $10 and providing 2 hours of entertainment. All of my entertainment purchases are done in MEVs. (I will do a more complete post on MEVs later). Needless to say $30.00 had better provide a minimum of 6 hours of entertainment value to meet the MEV formula, and the nature of MMORPGs mean that approximately 40% of game time is spent either "crafting," training, or getting to where you want to go.

The internet is a great communication tool, but like any other it requires effort to make it useful. I am still in contact with some friends thanks to the internet, but there are others whom I have lost contact with and that saddens me. I still think of those I have lost contact with as friends, just ones I have to hunt down and reconnect with.

So Sean, Robert June, Josh, and everyone else I am currently out of contact with, if you happen to be browsing through blogger and find this leave a comment in the comments section.

Christian Johnson would love to hear from you.

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