Massively Multiplayer Online games, games in which thousands or even millions of players participate in an active, persistent world, have become extremely popular over the past decade. Examples of notable MMO games include World of Warcraft, Ragnarok Online, Second Life, and so forth–earlier forms of MMOs include the likes of Neverwinter Nights (1991) and Meridian 59 (1996). In addition to increasing popularity, MMOs serve as a kind of social networking hub–typically, there is far more emphasis on social interaction than there is on the elements that comprise the best attributes of videogames of their respective genres. This is not necessarily a bad thing, however, as can be attributed to the user base of titles such as World of Warcraft. World of Warcraft, to date, has more than 11.5 million subscriptions.
Generally, I have never really liked MMOs. While I do enjoy certain aspects of MMOs, such as avatar customization, (i.e. City of Heroes) I tend to find that MMOs require a lot more investment in time than with any other game. This certainly does not hold true for others, who probably enjoy the social networking component of MMOs, moreso than I would.
However, this also brings up another problem–the immersion in MMOs. This is something I enjoy about videogames in general, outside of MMOs–while they can be quite immersive and occasionally agitating, they aren’t afraid of showcasing themselves as a form of entertainment; nothing more. On the other hand, MMOs require not only a lot of investment, but a general devotion to the game as well.
In short, MMOs ask for the player to take the game seriously.
In a computer RPG, a rare sword can probably be discovered via a difficult quest, or by investing a certain amount of time in killing certain monsters; it holds no monetary value in correlation with real money, whatsoever. Not so with MMOs–if you acquire that same rare sword in a massively multiplayer environment, chances are you probably spent hours upon hours of tedious grinding, until you finally acquired said item. It becomes something extremely valuable–there’s a very good chance you could sell it for in-game currency; or better, real money.
Furthermore, MMOs, unlike regular videogames, can be very unforgiving. Death in a videogame results in a game over screen–you can laugh at it; then either continue the game from a checkpoint, or start over. In an MMO, death can be very punishing. If you die, you may lose rare items you acquired before, or you may be punished in some other way that stunts your progress or even cripples your character in some way. If another player was the culprit, they may even acquire a reward just for having killed you. In many of these cases, you’re effectively screwed.
Why do people enjoy MMOs, then? It’s because of this aforementioned danger. Many people enjoy playing a game where there is risk involved, even if the only thing they’re risking is their egos. On top of that, people enjoy playing a game where there is not only risk, but there are people watching out for them, or working against them. However, when the game is taken far too seriously, stories like these can happen, often with terrible consequences.
I don’t mean to say, however, that MMOs by nature are socially destructive–that is, still, the person’s fault. If anything, the MMO is only responsible for providing an entertaining medium in which social interaction can make or break communities.