I don’t want to call this posting a crisis of faith, per say. A crisis of faith assumes that I’m taking some sort of leap away from something personally deep-rooted. Still, it feels like that a bit by virtue of the fact that I’m wondering why I have the same habit I always have when it comes to playing MMOs.
I had started my MMO’ing “career” with EverQuest, like many others. While I played the game pretty casually, and while it never really hooked me in like it had others, I could see the potential in the genre. So when games like EverQuest Online Adventures and especially Final Fantasy XI came out–games that really got me committed and into the MMO gamer mindset–I was totally in love with the game as just a game.
After about three or four years of playing Final Fantasy XI, and with some occasional dips in to City of Heroes, I felt that something was missing. I’m not sure what it was, but the grind of playing XI was beginning to feel less like play and a whole lot more like work. And no matter what City of Heroes was doing, it just felt like something was wrong.
It wasn’t until I had migrated to the Virtue server in City of Heroes that the final missing piece was found.
I had done some roleplaying in forums for a few years prior, but it never really struck me what it was that I was actually doing. I just thought I was typing a shared story with a bunch of people. I didn’t realize the activity had an actual name. So now that I knew that not only was this activity a named thing, but was done by legions of people in a running MMO game, my mind was absolutely blown.
I dove headlong into the RP scene, making characters specifically for the purposes of finding roleplay and for telling stories with and to people. Builds that would have otherwise been thrown out for lack of effectiveness became viable because I could craft a persona around them. Gender of my character was no longer a compulsion. Costume design took at least another four more hours where it had already taken three.
After I moved on from City of Heroes and in to other games, I saw that roleplay was beginning to have a deeper effect. It was now steering my purchasing habits in MMOs. It was something I actually felt a craving for when I wasn’t experiencing it in a game. It was literally the primary focus of my MMO life. Level cap was not a goal. Endgame completely didn’t matter. The journey from one to end mattered. The character I made mattered. The characters I played with or worked with or worked against mattered.
It’s not a habit I’ve been able to shake easily…but I’m beginning to think I need to.
The reasons why I’m beginning to think I have to shake my RP addiction is that I’m finding fault with nearly everything I do in terms of interaction. A character I make gets scrutinized and looked over multiple times. I speak with people in-character and things come off well but I continually wonder if I’m doing well, or if this is fun for the other person, or if I’m making a believable character. I find it harder and harder to really fill my avatar’s shoes because I think the dynamic around me is different and I’m somehow missing something. And then when I meet other people, I consider whether I’m being judged poorly or whether I’ll really make a connection with folks again. It’s literally dominating thought to the point where writing a character is becoming a source of stress.
It’s beginning to feel less like play and more like work.
It should be clarified here that these thoughts are purely my own, and have not sprung from any basis of reality or any direct instruction given to me. I’m absolutely acting on assumptions and instinct here…and to be perfectly frank, my instincts tend to suck an awful lot.
Still, despite how utterly insane the whole thing might sound while looking at it on paper, it’s a feeling I can’t seem to shake. So I’m caught in this tug of war between my want to make a believable, enjoyable, and engaging character and my want to just play an MMO like how I envision “normal” people do, with focus on mechanics and clears and enjoying the playing of a game.
Roleplay has given me a lot of things. It has enriched my gaming and my social life both in-game and out. It has helped me to be a more creative writer and to think more critically about characterization. It has made me pay closer and deeper attention to how an MMO dev builds a world and to appreciate the details of lore…or to pick out and be horrified by the lack thereof. But for all the pros, the cons feel weightier to me. They dominate my thought more frequently than I want them to. I’m becoming a hyper-pedantic character actor who gets too deep into his “art”.
So, what to do about it? Well, I’m trying to come up with some solutions. Specifically, I’ve been looking in to MMO games that, I feel, are better served as games. Star Citizen will likely feature a vast majority of people who will be flying ships, not people who are going to worry about staying in character while they pump your fuselage full of laser fire. Camelot Unchained is about too much of a persistent battlefield to make one worry about the motivations of a character. Even Pumpkin Online seems more about building a successful farm than it is making a character in a world.
Still, though, my illness is such that even I could see RP potential in these three examples. I could head a mining corporation and actually operate it like some sort of deep-space tycoon, or build an entire persona around my space truckin’ adventures. I could literally be the one person in my Camelot Unchained realm who makes a weapons forger who acts like a salty old, foul-mouthed bastard. I could see in-character farming communities thriving in Pumpkin Online.
I’m hoping that there’s some games that I can enjoy merely for being games…but I’m not sure it can be done. Ultimately because, now that I think on it, I’m looking for a solution to this problem only so that I can make my RP feel more special. Which might not be a bad thing, but at the same time my mind won’t let me stop and freaking play.
I need help.