Syl over at MMO Gypsy has asked several of us to write about what community means to us in MMOs (and blogging, I suppose). And the answer to me is that without other people, I wouldn’t play these games at all, even if they were fully functional as a solo pasttime.
Even when I’m “being alone together,” as the phrase goes, I’m quite aware of the presence of others and take comfort in being part of a shared source of entertainment. I talk to guildies, I see the general chat scroll by, I come upon others running to and fro, and I read the thoughts of other gamers online.
Sometimes I very much desire and cherish my quiet time, but I never want to be truly alone. I don’t think many of us do. I recall my pre-MMO and pre-family days, when I would spend two, three days at a time completely alone in my apartment. I would read, game (mostly offline titles), and otherwise indulge in every type of digital entertainment — and yet I would be so mentally messed up by the time I went back to work because I craved human contact.
Even as an introvert, I crave connections with others and suffer from a lack of them. I’m reminded a bit of C.S. Lewis’ description of Hell in The Great Divorce being primarily about separation, self-centeredness, and crushing loneliness. Whatever your faith (or lack thereof), it’s easy to identify with the inner anguish of being cut off from others and denied positive contact.
Ever since I discovered and really got into MMOs, I’ve had an increasingly difficult time playing any other type of game. I still do, but I often find it’s difficult to justify to myself playing them when they’re lacking the social contact that I get with MMOs. Recently, I picked up Dragon Age Inquisition, which has all sorts of deep RPG features that are also in MMOs — crafting, base building, a huge world, and the like. Yet it’s not really an MMO, even with multiplayer, and after a couple of hours of playing it, I couldn’t help but switch over to SWTOR to get both the BioWare AND social experience.
Seamless open world or heavily instanced, it makes no difference to me as long as I’m not alone in a persistent online world. Even as I write for myself as a blogger, such efforts would be somewhat futile if I didn’t have an audience to speak to and engage with on a daily basis.
So we can quibble over feature sets and sandbox vs. themepark and business models and dev drama all the live-long day. As long as we’re playing together and talking together, I’m pretty content and happy no matter what.