Over the last few months, I have had vivid dreams about playing games – mmo’s specifically, and even more specifically, some revamped version of EverQuest . The latest one, this morning, I was sitting in a small cubicle room (yet fair size for any actual library), logging into the game – navigating my avatar (oddly, I could never quite see her, much like you rarely see yourself in a dream). This morning’s dream was centered on the music – which I could not turn down for some reason, and I remember commenting to the (elderly male) librarian that although it was great sound surround, I felt bad that it was so loud in a library.
Throughout my play time, I was trying to remember how to send someone a private message. I spent much of the time trying to contact old friends who I knew still played the game often. I remember navigating through what could only have been new zones as I trudged along with a pit of fear in my belly, not knowing where I was going, and what would be on the other side of the inadvertent zone wall I had just crossed. I remember being attacked by a mob, and not being able to remember the sequence of buttons I had to click in order to win; all the while feeling further and further from knowing what I was doing.
I know that alot of this has to do with nostalgia. I can only imagine it is how someone, nearing the end of their lives feels knowing that they used to be good at something, but not quite remembering how or what. When I wake up from these dreams (I have them often, and usually visit the same ‘new’ zones and everything), I have a strong urge to play again. But then I am confronted with so many self-imposed obstacles. I know what makes a good MMO …well, good (personally speaking) – is the community I belong to. For a few years, our guild from EverQuest played other MMO’s together like Dark Age of Camelot, Horizons, Lineage II etc, many guilds do this – but over the years, as people married and had children, their time and money have since been dedicated to other pass times.
I played WoW with some other old EverQuest friends, but never quite got into the more solo nature of the game. Although groups were necessary to complete many of the quests, and the ‘raids’ required a particular amount of people, I never quite got the same ‘community’ feeling I had on my first EQ server; knowing all the major and medium sized guild names; knowing most of the player community if only by name in any of the common areas. I miss the game as well. The graphics, the battles and the often useless skill traces.
Many people will rant about how primitive EQ is/was compared to the current grouping of mmo’s. As I see people moving from WoW to Lord of the Rings Online, and Dungeons & Dragons Online, I get tempted – usually only briefly – to buy the game and make a go of it. But then I wonder how much of the memories of EverQuest, and the other games I mentioned above are really tied to the players I enjoyed them with over the graphics, combat systems and market economies. If what makes an MMO great (or potentially long lasting) is the community (as argued here), then my desire to play another game is not so much a gameplay issue, but a social one. If I accept that, where does that leave me in terms of playing new games let alone my work in Game Studies?