Continuing on from my post about togetherness, you may be interested to look at my Raptr account and note that there are several Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPGs) included in my collection. On the outset, I sound a bit hypocritical – for a girl who professes the enjoyment of playing games alone, some people may be confused as to why I engage with the MMORPG genre at all, where the most ideal gameplay requires prosocial tendencies. Of course, World of Warcraft is one of these games, and people will notice that, despite playing with one character for over three years, Melysande has remained a stagnant Level 50 dranei hunter for quite a few months.
Part of the reason why I do not play many multiplayer games is that I do not have a strong competitive nature. My upbringing as a videogame enthusiast saw multiplayer games designate winners and disregard the rest. I just got bored with it. Understandably, the MMORPG genre has provided a new type of multiplayer experience – collaboration. But it is obvious that even the concept “collaboration” can be implemented in many different ways.
For example, while Melysande sits on a hill alone kicking dirt with her boot, my Guild Wars 2 character has developed at a faster pace. In a few short weeks of gameplay, I have not only reached level 40 with my main character, I have also started constructing an alternate character to experience the game through a different context. Even more intriguing is how quickly I progressed my main character Sigrunar from level 28 to level 40. This was done as a challenge – my brother left for holiday on Christmas Eve and dared me to level my character to level 40 by New Year’s Eve.
I achieved this with little or no effort in two days.
And I may be good, but I am not that good.
Let’s be clear – World of Warcraft remains the longest-running MMORPG in recent history, with a prominent culture of fans who find new and interesting ways to play the game. It would be remiss of me to consider World of Warcraft as a “lesser game”. There are a plethora of academic, business, and personal accounts that are ready to throw mud in my face and counter my argument. However, I feel it is important to acknowledge how both of these games challenge my own personal style of play. To that end, I believe that World of Warcraft defined collaboration, but Guild Wars 2 has redefined it, accentuating its virtues, and positioned it as an equal goal to competitive play.
Money speaks volumes, but it is definitely harder to play a game like World of Warcraft as a single player. For a format that boasts multiplayer cooperation, World of Warcraft has always felt more competitive than collaborative when achieving this goal. While guilds subscribe players to prosocial behaviour, and Blizzard has endeavoured to create facilities where players can recruit others to achieve game objectives, it is still a hard environment to communicate if you do not feel “initiated” into the culture with other players. As a fan of the original Warcraft games, I was definitely aware of the narrative’s context, but this did not automatically translate into instant camaraderie with others.
Of course it is not IMPOSSIBLE to play alone – Melysande is testament to how much I have achieved without additional support – but it is made harder by mechanics that require a higher level of interpersonal communication. For some people this can be intimidating. Joining a guild with similar ideologies certainly mitigates this issue, but more than enough urban lore dwells on crass and demeaning communication between players. And, quite frankly, I have better things to do with my day than to deal with another player’s bullshit.
Another interesting difference is how players interact with the world. Characters tend to congregate in mission retrieval areas, but you rarely encounter characters in open plains or away from NPC populations where they are collecting quests or rewards. In this sense, World of Warcraft is a game of organisational efficiency to achieve objectives that will advance your character. Once these objectives have been achieved, sometimes there is little reason to return and explore the environment.
In contrast, it is difficult to solo a character in Guild Wars 2 because you never feel alone when playing the game. As I mentioned in my previous post, I find Guild Wars 2 constructs different methodologies that lead to cooperative experiences in the game. The 3-step boomerang mentality (player fetches a quest, player completes the objectives, player returns for a reward) has been replaced by a necessary engagement with the environment and context around them. While Lion’s Arch and racial-specific hometowns will always be heavily populated, I have found many more characters exploring and engaging in the game environment and away from towns and cities.
When the chance of encountering other characters is increased, this motivates further exploration that inevitably leads to collaboration to achieve game goals. I am more likely to “grind” for karmic rewards and experience when I see other players doing the same, and a smart move by ArenaNet was for this effort to go beyond camaraderie and create synergy through shared intentions. You can complete objectives more than once without significant penalties, and levels are capped in areas to still provide challenges for veteran explorers and new initiates. Your contributions are not only meaningful and rewarding for you, but equally as rewarding for other players in the game.
Does this mean that one game is better than another? Possibly. World of Warcraft may be ageing with few options to adapt to new definitions of cooperation. But it still offers plenty of competitive avenues and encourages collaboration in a new way and there is nothing wrong with that – I am simply not a very competitive game enthusiast. Simply put, I have found more opportunities that suit my altruism and cooperative ideologies through playing Guild Wars 2, and a game that supports my play style has led to more worthwhile rewards and a motivation to keep playing.