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.