Bhagpuss had a lengthy and rather poetic post on the subject of social gaming this week.
I still read alone but playing MMOs broke offline games for me. Maybe forever.
He talks about the social element of gaming at length and this is certainly something I can identify with. Even before I started playing MMORPGs, gaming for me had become a mainly social activity. The big computer RPGs of the late 1990s and early 2000s such as Neverwinter Nights, Baldur’s Gate and Diablo had LAN-multiplayer options – I played them duo or occasionally with friends connected remotely (where dial-up Internet limitations permitted). That deeply affected my approach to the genre, meaning that I barely touched other RPGs that many view as classics: the Elder Scrolls games, Planescape:Torment or the Dragon Age series. I didn’t want to experience these fantastic worlds alone anymore.
I never tried Ultima Online or Everquest; Bhagpuss’ post refers to Everquest a few times and that early MMORPG experience of players wanting and needing to play together often. My early experience of MMORPGs was no doubt different, I started in World of Warcraft in 2007 – there were challenges worthy of a group but there was little forced grouping going on at least during leveling. However I was in a small, close-knit guild for most of my time in the game and when we played, we played together regardless of need or progression. We level characters in two’s and three’s and spent most of our time running dungeons whenever we had a mix of characters that would fit. Playing a MMORPG solo didn’t really occur to me until I branched out and tried other games.
After years of leveling characters solo in such games, I’m coming back full circle as I now play solo less often. The benefits are not just the obvious – we can, of course, chat to discuss tactics or how we might unravel a particular puzzle. But beyond that playing in a small group adds other more subtle nuances to MMO gaming, for instance the multi-player aspect to SWTOR’s conversation system (randomisation of whose conversation choice to follow). I actually miss this now when playing SWTOR solo as it made the conversations seem more dynamic somehow. In The Secret World at the moment in Tokyo we’re making much quicker progress than we would have solo given the sudden ramp up in difficulty of even the lowliest of monsters – having a ‘trinity’ trio is rather valuable now as it allows us to explore the zone with relative freedom, there’s no need for us to try to sneak past monsters in a game where no character can actually use stealth.
So most of my gaming time is for duo or trio play now. That’s spread across multiple MMOs so it makes for somewhat sporadic “progress” from a character level or story perspective but true to my gaming past I’d rather share these experiences with others whenever possible.