So the other day I’m doing a bit of retro gaming reminiscing, and I end up racking by braing trying to think of this console game I read in a magazine where one of the big features was that you could mix up your own potions, but that many of them had nasty side effects — much like the bad drugs of the real world. I can’t recall what that game was, but my mind took a transfer off of that train and onto the post-apocalyptic line, which started at the Wasteland station and went straight through to Fallout 2.
If memory serves me, all of those games had the option to indulge in particular stimulants and other chemically induced buffs that would give you a strong edge in some way, but then cause withdrawal or worse if you stopped using. Because I didn’t want to fuss with the bad part, I never did become a drug addict in those games, but it felt a little risque that the option was even there (along with becoming a prostitute, selling your spouse into slavery, and other wholesome deeds that make me wonder for the mental health of developers).
The Witcher CRPG series also had a strong emphasis on drug use, in that you’d be mixing up cocktails that could both hurt and help — sometimes at the same time.
But what about MMOs? I mean, we are using ALL THE TIME in those games. We call them “potions,” but they’re just drugs that artificially give us more energy, stave off effects of sickness, or repair our health. Sure, they’re seen as the “good” drugs, the aspirin and Nyquil of the online space, but even so, should we be so dependent on them? Should we be chain-quaffing potions without a care as to what it’s doing to our internal organs?
My SWTOR character uses “stims” by constantly injecting her thigh, which is something that I’ve only seen elsewhere in drug addicts or diabetics. Even if it’s intended to help, it has the visual imagry of someone who is so chemically addicted that they can’t get through a mission without shooting up.
Unlike the Fallouts of yore, drug use in MMOs is rarely, if ever, punished. Side effects? There’s not even a “do not operate heavy machinery after taking” warning to be seen. I think that the closest thing I’ve experienced was one of Guild Wars 2’s Christmas candies that gave my character a speed high, but would also cause a debuff afterward that would only be countered by (yup) more of that sweet, sweet addictive candy.
MMOs aren’t going to risk alienating audiences with controversial drug use outside of the safe, accepted blue-and-red potions — and players probably wouldn’t go for buffs that had withdrawal symptoms anyway. But in a roleplaying sense (because that is the R in our genre’s acronym), why aren’t drugs treated as such instead of magic Pac-Man energy pellets? Are we really to believe that a fantasy world has the kind of quality control where there would never be a bad batch of health potions? That an antidote pot might sometimes just not be enough and your character would die anyway?
Are all of our characters drug addicts and we just don’t realize or talk about it?
Is there a pharmaceutical conspiracy in Azeroth, Norrath, Tyria, and Telara?
Will they be coming for me next?