Podzilla 1985

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Realization or overreaction?

As I sat motionless and dead at the counter at my local Gamestop (where you can pre-order your copy of Modern Warfare 2!), beaten down by nearly two weeks straight of working while my lord suffered through live infomercials in Vegas, I noticed my game adviser (with an attitude) Theo flipping through the pages of the new Champions Online strategy guide we had gotten in.

Ol' Theo (http://www.myspace.com/nightfirex AKA shameless plug #2) and I had both been playing Champions and were indeed having a good time. But he seemed perplexed, and I inquired as to the complexity of his perplexionary confusedment. He didn't know what kind of powers he wanted to pump into his would be Superman, or as Theo is a young black male, one of the other African American superheroes in popular culture. You know, like Storm, Ultimate Nick Fury, Luke Cage....that one Green Lantern.....or...uh... Steel?

Remember, Shaq played him in one of those movies Shaq did on his whirlwind tour of acting. You might also remember Kazaam from that time period. I could do a rapping genie joke, but that horse ain't gonna get any deader.

Anyway, Theo was trying to figure out how to get the most bang for his buck. He was mixing and matching his powers to become just the most ultimate bad ass since the hero from the new blockbuster Gamers, which will surely do for Gerard Butler what Hulk did for Ang Lee.

I listened to his near 3 hour explanation of what he was going for, and in between naps I realized that this entire genre has just left me in the dust. I felt like Homer Simpson, sifting through the local CD store looking for some classic bands and wondering when he got so lost.

I've been playing MMORPG's for a good 11-12 years now. I started with Ultima Online, back when the concept of graphical online RPG's was still in its trial years. Back then we'd argue about whether or not a katana or a halberd was better for fighting. We didn't call it "pwning" and we ddn't call the people we fought "noobs." Those terms, along with "carebear," themepark," and "sandbox" weren't pop culture yet, and hadn't pissed me off to the point of nearly turning my back on the whole genre altogether.

Over the years the paradigm definitely shifted, and while item based "themepark" (shudder) MMO's certainly became all the rage thanks to games like Everquest and World of Warcraft, I didn't feel too overwhelmed by the mathematical influence stats would have on these games.

I ignored stats through most of the games I played. I spent years in Final Fantasy XI and never made the kind of food I ate a priority like other players. I didn't go insane trying to pick the exact gear/class combos to make the best character to play. I played because I loved Final Fantasy and the thought of being in that world made the kid in me that had stood with Cloud, Squall, Zidane, and to a much lesser extent Tidus excited. As time grew on I came to realize that it wasn't about having fun and being whatever I wanted to be. It was about being what other people needed me to be to squeeze the most XP out of that particular party session. I wasn't having a good time anymore.

I think I've played just about every MMO available. From UO, EQ, Star Wars Galaxies and Anarchy Online through Ragnarok, Perfect World, Rohan, up to City of Heroes, FFXI, and the World of Warcraft. And I'm pretty sure everything in between.

The games have definitely progressed in terms of graphics and volume, but also in becoming mind numbing chores of stat boosting and optimization.

In Ultima you had metal armor, cloth armor, and leather armor. In Champions Online you have so many different combinations that I don't know where to begin tailoring my character. After listening to Theo explain his reasoning to me, suddenly the big chested cute blond girl with the telepathy powers didn't seem so cool. She couldn't solo very well as it was and closer to end game she'd probably be group reliant.

She wasn't a super hero anymore. She was a statistic.

Suddenly I felt like a statistic too. I'm 27 years old and it was the first time I had ever really felt like I was out of the loop. That's not to say age plays a part in it, as Theo is actually a little older than I am.

But I had been designing this character based on the image in my head of a Jean Grey-esque vixen who would use her mental powers to defeat Dr. Destroyer's treachery. Now I'm wondering if I've gimped her. And, if I have, what's the point of playing?

I told my boss during my interview "if you're not trying to be the best, why even try?"

Should I take my own advice? Is it about having fun, or being the best you can be? What if being the best isn't fun?

It might be time to hang up my virtual boots.

And that's a scary thought.
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