Physical Relationships - The Consequences of Online Gaming


I heard recently that Squaresoft (a big name, I know, just bear with me) was planning on making the eleventh installment of their wildly popular Final Fantasy series an exclusively online "roleplaying" game. Now I've been a loyal fan of Final Fantasy and Square in general since the advent of the Playstation, but the thought of Final Fantasy going exclusively online frightens me. A lot.

I know why there's such a big push for online games right now: money. Not to say online gaming isn't popular. It is, very much so. If it weren't, there wouldn't be any money in it. Game developers have seen the light that they can pump money out of a gaming public. Take your average "offline" game: fifty bucks or so and you're done. That's it, other than having the system. Now for an "online" game you first have the modem or DSL adapter (and Square says they will have their own, proprietary modem) to expand the system, 40 to 50 bucks. Then you have the game itself, another 50 bucks. And here's the kicker, a monthly access fee; anywhere from 15 to 30 dollars isn't out of the question. That's over a hundred dollars of initial investment for a video game. And since I have a life away from my PS2, I would need several months' access fees to finish the story. Assuming there's a story to finish.

And that's what scares me. With many of the online "roleplaying" games such as Everquest, story is one thing that not only suffers, but often dies completely. Most fans of online gaming will tell you that the biggest draw is the opportunity to interact with actual people in a gaming environment. Of course you can "interact" with people in a chat room. I've been in my fair share and I try to avoid them at all costs; what I see there scares me. If chat rooms aren't roleplaying, I don't know what is. People take on different roles when they're online, if for no other reason than they can. An average 40 year old woman in the suburbs can be the wild seductress of her youth in a chat room. After all, there aren't any faces to go with the words on the internet. A chat room is like the floor of a futures market, but instead of trading corn or wheat, the commodity on auction is often cybersex, or pornography. If its online roleplaying you want, just drop by your local AOL chat room and see what I mean. From the half hour of Everquest I tortured myself with; it's the same modem orgy that I get everywhere else on the web, wrapped in a nice "fantasy-roleplaying" package with some ribbons and bows. If "interacting with other human beings in a gaming environment" is nothing more than a sexual outlet for dorm hermits, and the opportunity cost is story and plot, I'll play with myself, thank you. Offline and unconnected, I am a dying breed of gamer that plays games for more than hack n' slash and "human interaction," I play for story, I play for plot, I play for dynamism. I play for a good piece of interactive literature. Of course I also read. What a novel idea.

With everyone so hyped up about interacting with people over the phone lines and 128 bit graphics, I'd like to ask, "What happened to the good old days?" The days of DMs and dice rolling? The days of skill checks and saving throws, of sugar and caffeine for an all night marathon session? I have played many characters and DMed many stories over the years and I still prefer giant bags of dice and a piece of paper with some numbers on it to a 14-button game controller. Some of my best gaming memories have been around a paper and snack strewn table: a vampire and an angel corkscrewing through the air and finally burying themselves 20 feet into the ground fighting over a necklace. Nicknames like "toast" (and he was toast).

And come to think of it, I don't really have any vivid memories of a game on my console or computer.

If it's interacting with people in a gaming environment you want, then I would strongly urge you to go to your local bookstore and pick up a copy of D&D, Trinity, Shadowrun or any other of a host of systems available. And for those of you with the Internet (wait, who is my audience here?) there are many systems available for download free of charge. Even GURPS is around for free. For the adventurous, you could even go my route and get a freeform system like The Window, and make your own universe to play in. More work than footing fifty bucks at your local software store, maybe; but ultimately much more satisfying and more fun.

I hate to break it to all you eggheads that think you're "interacting" with people over the Internet, but you're not. All you're interacting with are maybe their fingers, and some text on the screen. If you're in a "gaming environment," then maybe you're interacting with some graphics on you're computer screen as well, but you are not interacting with people. If its human interaction you want, get physical. Pick up the phone and use the phone lines for what they were originally intended: to call a group of friends and get a game of (insert system here) going. Interact with real people, play real characters with limits, and balances, and depth. Not some self-indulgent fantasy image of the person on the other end of the computer screen. Play a game with some story and some character. If you can't bring yourself to get away from the computer screen, then at least play a game with some story and tell the computer game companies that we want story, not "human interaction." When you get to a certain level of interaction, a game becomes almost too real. And isn't that a point of gaming as well? To escape the real world for a while and go somewhere else, if only in your minds eye. To become a different person, if only for a half hour at a time?

Get off the computer and get physical: go game with some real people for a change.

Amen to that! Don't let technology supplant the human immagination.

damn the eggheads and their networks! damn them to hell!

seriously though, I've been mudding for several years now, and i've had wonderful times. There are going to be some great internet games.

Your views on what is fun and good aren't everybody elses.

ummmm, elf sex.

Great article!

But isn't it the same debate that exists between LARP and table top RPG ? I mean LARP is much more vivid than table top (if somewhat more limited into the range of actions one can try). Mind you I'm a table top guy (don't get any perv. ideas here)

Any how, you sum up every reason why I play online and around a table. Online I like the fast hack and slash, dungeoncrawl, the role play is so limited by the dumb AI's that I usually skip the dialogues altogether. It's just like being in an arcade without the tokens and the cigarette smoke.

Table RPG's are much better suited to actual role playing. You here the sighs, the laughter, you can see facial expressions. One day online gaming might get there, but then we'll be in the Matrix :)

Excelent article, it was an issue I feel needed touching on for some time now... Well done!

I agree with everyone. Tabletop is really a much better roleplay, per se, but online gaming is more akin to computer games than roleplay. Online, the greatest advantage is that you aren't restricted to the artificial inteligence of the game, ie: You're up against or allying with real people who can think at least as well as you can. Theres no loopholes (like, cast stinking cloud and fireball, and all of them will drop to 20 HP and step on the artefact mine and die) that will work twice, and theres also the possibility of working out some nice, challenging and smart combinations in one's gameplay. (Its the thrill of out-strategying or out-smarting the person on the other side of the screen that keeps me online, to be frank...) On the tabletop, the whole point of playing is different: It's not that you have to complete the game, reach a goal, or complete a quest. Its that you want to have fun! If you completely neglect the scenario and steer the whole RP session in a different direction, you'll not have failed. A night of good roleplay might not involve any dicerolls, any combat, or any substancial achievement in the region of scenario in the game, but might be an absolute whale of a time for the players.

I think we can settle at a compromise of each one has its pluses and minuses, and each one fills a separate place in our hearts, but too much of either is equaly as bad as none of either of them.

PS. Check out my article on the 23rd of March!

Excellent article, and appropriately timed with the upcoming release of Final Fantasy XI. It frightens me to think what could happen if a group was fighting a big boss and a couple people were bumped off for some reason or another. Articles I've read have said many bosses will be unbeatable without cooperating with other gamers. I also wonder how a semi-linear storyline will work with several gamers all at different levels and at different parts of the game.


i disagree wholeheartedly... well, i guess since i don't role play, my opinion would be rightfully considered as an outsider's. however, to say that there is no dynamicism is false, online games offer a very different kind of dynamicism: economics and politics. if you ever join a guild in everquest, for example, you'll know there are poltics, and the politics are revolved around game content, which is a lot of economics. though what i mean by game content is not the story created by the authors, but only what really existed in the game mechinism.

for what i have seen in everquest, the role players are require to doing things that are not viable not in the real world, but also in the game world. it requires what in real world we would call fundamentalism. fundamentalism, as we know, are bad economics and bad politcs. also, being a historian in those games would have real meaning since events are real. while in a traditional rpg, a historian would have to use too much imagination that i can only qualify him or her as a fiction writer.

in the end though, i guess what one can say is that role players knows that they are role playing, but most other players in mmporpg play as if they are really those character fighting for real power and real resources and benifits for none other than real utility (vs. character's utility). it is a whole different game altogether.

Once, long ago, there was the one mother goddess Artemis. After this one goddess came, there was another, a dark god Grummush, the corruptor, who sought her power. The two fought, and in the final blow Artemis was smote twice in twain, forever split in four, while Grummush was made blind and lame....

What's my point here? Role-playing games have more history than an MMORPG could EVER have. Read the Forgotten Realms manual, look at the SCORES of books that have been written in/of this ever-evolving world. Mind you, that above example was my own creation, from my own campaign world, but my point still stands. To say that role-playing games (tabletop RPs, that is) don't have history is, perhaps, a touch uninformed.

MMORPGs do have politics and economics, this is true. You are absolutely right there. Often enough though, I make every effort to AVOID politics and economics for their own sake, rather than seek them out. That's not the kind of role-playing I do, nor the kind I try to inspire in my players. Politics finds the players from time to time, and they sure spend enough money at times for economics to matter, but DRAMA, that's the focus of the game. Slaying dragons, questioning your faith, betrayal, honor, friendship, love: THAT is role-playing. It is those things that make role-playing something special, and not just another game of Diablo II (not that I don't like Diablo II, I just don't go to it for role-play, I go to it for carver-slaying action).

I remember once I was playing in a campaign with my brother. He was the paladin Dante Windhammer, and I was the wizard Darian Eramos. We had been playing for about 2 to 3 years at this point, and we were about 9th level (yep, I'm dead serious). He was fighting a... Gelugon, I believe it was. Dante called out to me, and told me to go to the ship we had arrived in, and that he would deal with the fell demon. I left, and Jason rolled, and rolled, and rolled. I swear, I was in a cold sweat. He then told me that, just as I was leaving, at the edge of my sight, I saw the demon strike a death blow, slashing Dante open through his plate mail. I was almost in tears. This wasn't a game where being raised is easy, it was nitty-gritty, low-magic role-playing. A beautiful campaign. I felt, for at least a moment, as Darian did, as though I had just lost a childhood friend. I had friends in high places, though, and Bishop Trandemere, the highest holy man in the church of Lothar, raised him. I was physically relieved. Again, I might suggest that the belief that players in tabletop RPGs don't invest real emotion in their characters and, in a sense BECOME (not in the Dark Dungeons way though, lol) their characters, is a touch uninformed.

Has anyone noticed that no matter the activity...different groups, classes, are always criticizing each other. Why does it always have to be US US US US and THEM THEM THEM THEM?

Army vs. Navy
Giants vs. Jets
Skiers vs. Snowboarders
PS2 vs. X-BOX vs. GameCube
PC vs. Mac
Piss on FORD vs. Piss on CHEVY
Online Gaming vs. Group Gaming


Can we please come up with a better reason to criticize something, besides the fact that we just like something else?

I can't stand people...*sigh* no wonder I'm anti-social.

When are the aliens invading?

We're coming down later this decade, but we are in need of colaborators. Interested in insuring your genetic legacy Mystic Assassin?

Alien invasion jokes asside, I too don't like online gaming (especially now that they have monthly fees), I think there is such a thing a milking too much out of a cow.

But if you're living in an isolated area or a somewhere gaming is frowned upon, then I guess it makes a good substitute.

Live and let live folks, untill we come down with our ships and blast you all to the stoneage.
Bwa ha ha ha ha!


I told you all...but you just laughed at me! You human scum!


I am saved because I am a'm not just a believer anymore...I AM A KNOWER!!!