False Creek Geek: He Got (a Little) Game

My latest column in the Yaletown View (they’re having a party tonight) is about massively-multiplayer online role-playing games or MMORPGs. I’ve been playing Star Wars Galaxies for a few months, and have had mixed feelings about it. My column has more to say on this subject. In the meantime, here’s a few screenshots (kicking some ass, lazing around camp, Grace and her pet rancor and hanging with some fambaas). Yes, I play a girl. Yes, I’m aware of the subtext. Yes, I think her hairbun looks fetching. Yes, I’m a titanic nerd (click for much larger versions):

 
 

Succumbing to temptation, I went out and bought my first MMORPG. What, aside from an awkward acronym, is that? MMORPG stands for massively multi-player online role playing game. If you aren’t a level 14 Geeks, that’s probably not much clearer.

An MMORPG is an online game played in a virtual world with thousands of other human players. It’s online Dungeons and Dragons, except with cutting-edge graphics and fewer Moms worrying about cults. Players buy the game at their local computer store and then pay a monthly subscription fee (typically $10 – $15) to participate.

They’re a remarkably new phenomenon for the estimated 1.5 million people who play these games. The granddaddy, Everquest, has been around for 4 years. Other popular games include Ultima Online, The Sims Online and Star Wars Galaxies.

Having owned a toy lightsaber since the time I was four, I couldn’t resist Star Wars Galaxies. In this game, you adopt a character in George Lucas’s universe. You know all those storm troopers and bartenders and musicians in the background of all the Star Wars movies’ That’s me. You can choose from a half-dozen races (yes, you can be a Wookie), and personalize your character down to the tiniest detail. When she watched me buying a new ribbed t-shirt for my character, my wife wondered why I didn’t just buy the Dress Up Barbie game and save myself the monthly fee.

So what do you actually do in an MMORPG like Star Wars Galaxies? Whatever you want. You smuggle blasters or run a junk shop or be a moisture farmer like Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru. Although the game’s developers provide plenty of mission and a vague storyline, the heart of these games is in player-to-player relationships. People tend to join forces and create ‘player associations’ to achieve common goals. More worryingly, a number of people meet and fall in love online. In-game weddings and funerals are not uncommon.

These games are notoriously addictive’Everquest has been nicknamed Evercrack. In fact, there are sites dedicated to weening yourself off MMORPGs, and others (like ‘Everquest Widows’–it’s got 4000 members) that are support groups for shunned significant others.

This compulsion was one reason I was staying away from MMORPGs. I figured, as a lifetime gamer, I was a prime candidate for 24-hours-a-day playing and a jar to pee in.

In truth, I don’t really see the appeal. I chose to be an ‘artisan’ in Star Wars Galaxies. That means I collect resources, make them into something useful and sell them. It feels a little too much like work. Everything, from running overland to selling items, is pretty time-intensive. I heard similar complaints about The Sims Online, where people spent all day helping their online persona go to the bathroom and make lunch.

While creating a MMORPG is a remarkable achievement, the game developers might have spent more time making them more fun.

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