It’s a sad state of affairs when you consider what the genre should be achieving in the modern gaming world. These days, we bang on about immersive game worlds, social gaming and player connectivity all the time, as if they were invented by the Wii and Xbox Live. The truth is though, that MMO gaming was doing all of that stuff long before it became the cool thing to reference at GDC keynotes.
So with this wealth of experience under its belt, where has the MMO gone wrong? Well much like a leather-skinned, sixty-year old, Californian victim of extreme facelift butchery, it has gone so far in a single direction in pursuit of its goal that it has come right out the other side going in exactly the wrong direction. The MMO is all too often an inaccessible slog without any sense of wonder, which actually inhibits the player from bonding with their character. And partly, it’s down to the goblins.
For a start, setting RPGs in Tolkienesque fantasy worlds is less original than setting sandwiches between two slices of bread. Of course, it’s understandable that such game worlds became the staple for the genre. Role-playing games are after all about the escapism of playing a role; being another character in a world different to your own and experiencing another life. And nothing draws the line of distinction between the day-to-day, nine-to-five, meeting-to-meeting drudgery of normal working life and the escape of gaming more definitively than the ability to toast some fools with fireballs from your fingertips.
But through repetition, the fantastic has become the mundane. If familiarity breeds contempt, then dragons breed mind-crushing boredom, and the otherworldly sense of the unknown has become normal-worldly sense of the all-too-well known. It’s not something we should ever have found ourselves saying, but magic has become dull. We’re no longer experiencing something exciting and new that separates us from our normal lives. We’re just partaking in a different kind of routine, tramping through what has become old and predictable in our gaming lives. We’ve played as many wizards and barbarians as we’ve ironed work shirts, and the fantasy RPG has become as mundane as anything else.