Gaming press’ condescension toward MMOs

One of my ongoing pet peeves in regards to MMORPGs is how the wider gaming press tends to demean, ignore, or hypocritically attack these games. Since about 2008 or so, it’s become pretty common to see gaming journalism make snide comments about or act condescending toward MMOs. Some of it is the console bias, some of it is personal burnout, and some of it is simply ignorance and an easy target.

Probably the most aggravating type of article is the one where a writer who has never played an MMO in his or her life reluctantly covers a story on one of our games. Nothing good tends to come from this. As one person wrote, “Why is it nearly impossible for people who don’t play MMOs to write any article without sounding like they’re an anthropologist recording lost tribesmen?”

The thing is that pretty much any criticism or snark levied against MMOs boomerangs right back at the author in regards to other games. MMOs are grindy? So are many console titles out there. MMOs breed devoted communities? So do plenty of single-player franchises. And so on. Broadly speaking, we’re all in the same boat, so why demean something you don’t personally play and understand?

We talked about this on a recent episode of the Massively OP Podcast, but if you’d like a good example of this bias in action, look no further than this November 20th article from Rock Paper Shotgun.

The author of this article took advantage of a paid press junket to attend Final Fantasy XIV’s fan festival in Las Vegas, despite seeming to have no first-hand knowledge or interest in the game itself. That’s fine, press often does cover games that it doesn’t play, but the article just goes off the rails on the gaming culture that he witnesses. From start to finish, the piece drips with sarcasm and head-patting condescension, such as:

  • “This is the kind of unsettling wonder you may witness”
  • “It’s the kind of audience so charged with unbridled fanaticism that it will erupt into cacophonous applause at some nice box art.”
  • “‘Haurchefant!’ she says again, as if I had not heard of Jesus Christ.”
  • “There’s more happening in the world of Eorzea than I could have imagined. The worship of dead NPCs, the housing problems, the strangers cyber-rutting in the corners of fantasy taverns.”

To add insult to injury, the author hijacked a developer Q&A session to try to get the team to address virtual bordellos, a topic that seems to have interested the author greatly but wasn’t any sort of relevant topic or pressing concern.

It’s obviously a piece written by someone who just doesn’t want to be there, who doesn’t understand geek culture, and who is happy to use big words to take pot shots at the game and its community. It didn’t cover much in the way of the big announcements or do anything to paint the community in a good light. It was simply a hit piece disguised as a convention report.

Predictably, the FFXIV was steamed over this article. The author used complaints to continue to needle fans, while players of this MMO felt as if they were unfairly slandered for having a good time at a convention that covered a game that they loved. After having read the article a couple of times, I think they have a right to feel upset.

Over at MOP, we have a term that we are always holding out in front of us: Don’t punch down. That is to say, we have to be mindful of the platform and power that we have to make statements, and so it’s generally not cool to mock or ruthlessly attack a smaller, weaker, or more innocent title or studio. We should always engage in fair criticism, but when we’re bringing out snark, it’s best reserved for bigger boys who can handle it. In this case, I would say that the game and studio itself are big enough for good-natured snark, but the fans aren’t. They’re just people devoted to a game and shouldn’t be teased because of it.

RPS has a much bigger microphone than we do, and it has proved on several occasions — including this one — that it doesn’t mind punching down at what it sees beneath it. And apparently that means MMOs and those who play them.

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Retro Reprise Episode 14: Final Fantasy combat tunes

It’s been a year-and-a-half since Syl and Syp first dove into Final Fantasy music, but now the duo is back to discuss combat themes from four of the game’s 1990s installments! From One-Winged Angel to The Man with a Machine Gun, it’s all the classics you’ve been listening to — and adoring — for years, packaged with exclusive fan commentary!

Show notes (episode downloadepisode page)

  • Intro
  • FFV: “Clash on the Big Bridge”
  • FFVII: “Combat”
  • FFVII: “Jenova”
  • FFVII: “One-Winged Angel”
  • FFVIII: “The Man with a Machine Gun”
  • FFVIII: “The Extreme”
  • FFIX: “Combat”
  • Outro

FFXIV: Massaging an oily Hildibrand

Well, it had to happen sooner or later in Final Fantasy XIV: I met Hildibrand.

I didn’t go into this completely unwary and uninformed; I had heard of the legend of this bizarre character for a couple of years now and had made a mental note to do his quests if I ever came back to the game. Well, I’m back and am giving myself a break from the elves and dragons of Heavensward by running through some of his quest lines.

I wasn’t unwary. But I wasn’t fully prepared, either.

To those who haven’t played FFXIV, Hildibrand might charitably be described as a private detective who serves as comedic relief. More accurately, he might be described as some sort of LSD-injected Scooby Doo dream that will pretty much leave your jaw unhinged and your eyebrows permanently raised during any encounters. I mean, I thought I was inoculated against Japanese weirdness, but that country keeps on surprising me.

I ran through the first four quests (Patch 2.1) last week, meeting up with Hildibrand (or “Hildy,” as my guildies are wont to call him) as he begins the series dead in a grave but not really dead because he’s a zombie but not a normal zombie no he’s a GENTLEMAN zombie who is influencing all of the other zombies to dress and act well. Also, he’s not a zombie, he just thinks he is. He also has an ADD assistant who is, for some reason, obsessed with pumpkins and explosives.

During this introduction, I found myself absolutely flabbergasted and unable to fully process how I should feel about this. I mean, half of me felt like this was the dumbest thing I’ve ever seen in an MMO. The other half was strangely amused and even laughed on occasion. It’s just so… so… cheesy and cartoonish as it breaks the fourth wall of the game and embraces slapstick comedy with wanton abandon. I was kind of impressed at all of the expressions and actions that the devs worked into these cutscenes.

The running joke is that Hildy is a buffoon and a completely ineffectual investigator even as he somehow stumbles into success time and again. It’s not new territory (see: Pink Panther, Inspector Gadget, etc.) but it does give a different approach to this fantasy world. And the player is allowed in on the joke by enjoying the comments of everyone around this character who keeps calling him out on his inanity.

Although I really, really, really could have done without the quest during which I had to keep rubbing oil onto Hildibrand’s semi-naked body so that he could go for a dip in a one-foot-deep pond. Could have done without his comments, too.

Probably the weirdest thing about him is that he keeps striking these two muscle flex poses that are used over and over again (if nothing else, this game does love reusing poses). I asked a friend why he does this, and I was told, “If you got it, flaunt it.” OK then.

The rewards aren’t great, at least not so far, but I’m willing to forgo monetary compensation if I’m given a good story. And so far, at least I’m not bored with this jackanape.

FFXIV: Back and looking fabulous

If nothing else, Final Fantasy sure loves its gigantic beasties of doom (GBOD). They usually get the right-of-way in an airship traffic situation.

So yeah, this weird Final Fantasy kick that I’ve been on this past week or two has led me sauntering back to XIV. It wasn’t that far away; I had eyed it as a possibility for a 2018 experience, although I originally thought it would be later this year. But I’ve found that when there’s interest, there’s no reason to wait with games. Figured it couldn’t hurt to sub up for a month, see if there’s some stickiness there, and if there are still oversized Moogle loveseats.

Oh good. I needn’t have worried.

Even though it’s been, oh, 10 months or so, it probably took me about 15 minutes before I slipped back into XIV’s controls like I never left. The mission I logged in to find myself staring in the face was a combat-escort deal, so I had to get reacquainted with my fighting skills quickly. It helped that there weren’t too, too many of them.

I treated the first night back like a mini-reunion tour, hitting up the buffet of FFXIV’s offerings. I ran a few quests. I quickly healed a hard mode dungeon (without a single casualty, thankyouverymuch). I teleported over to my Free Company’s new guild hall, which was quite cozy and decked out.

Yeah, I think I’ll be hanging out here for the duration of the game’s existence. Lots of books to read, you know. You all have fun putting yourself in mortal peril for a handful of gil.

I even went back to my personal room, which was… not as bad as I remembered, but definitely not up to Syp’s standards of personal housing coziness. I’ll have to work on that.

Probably the most of my time was spent trying to catch up with the updates to the glamour system since last I was in the game. I heard about this new dresser thing that let you make templates of cosmetic sets, and since I had about three vintage Final Fantasy wardrobe sets sent to me as veteran rewards, I wanted to start fresh with a makeover.

But that was much easier to conceptualize than to execute. The thing about Final Fantasy XIV is that while it’s very robust in its feature set, it doesn’t do anything the “normal” way that you might see in most other MMOs. Sometimes that’s fine, it’s just different, and you get used to it. But I’m not going to make that concession with the glamour system. It’s restricting, frustrating, and way too awkward to use.

I spent too much time (during which my anger spiked) as I tried to get this cosmetic set applied. I had to look up where to go for the glamour prisms now (Grand Company) and I bought 20 that I ultimately did not need. But my pieces wouldn’t show up in the dresser options, and Google searches didn’t help in that regard. Eventually, my guildies helped me out by telling me to try adding these pieces to the armoire (!?) and then the dresser would recognize them.

And because that makes no sense whatsoever, of course it worked.

Anyway, since I’m also playing through Final Fantasy IX right now, I went with the Tantalus outfit. I won’t lie — this set pleased me. No cat tail, at least on this character, but it’s spot on. And now I’m ready to dig back into the main storyline and see what dopey elves need help with this year.

Missing Final Fantasy

As I’ve talked about many times before, I have this weird love/hate thing going with the whole Final Fantasy franchise. It wasn’t a defining series for my childhood or anything; I only got into it with Final Fantasy VII back when I was in college and continued on until X. I lost interest in the console versions past that, and the MMOs have been a hit-and-miss affair with me.

Yet I will confess to some affection for the series. I recently fell into a playlist of Final Fantasy restrospective videos that I found fascinating, especially since they contained a detailed look at the earlier games that I never touched. The videos stirred in me a bit of nostalgia as they reminded me of some of the elements that I liked — the music, the atmosphere, the 400-pound swords — in addition to the weirdness and the more frustrating aspects of the series. FF7, in particular, made such an imprint on my gaming history that to this day it’s the title that I associate with the original PlayStation.

There really should be an accessible term for a person who is somewhat less than a “fan” of something but more than a very casual acquaintance. Or a fan in the past tense, maybe? That’s how I’ve been with Star Trek for decades now (although I think that fandom was just about quashed thanks to Discovery) and it’s what links me to Final Fantasy.

You know how it goes. Nostalgia and awareness is raised, and the next thing you know, you’re diving headfirst into games of the past. I finally got around to starting Final Fantasy IX on my iPad (which I purchased a long time ago for a promised second playthrough and never did it), and my SNES Classic keeps reminding me that I have a date with the sixth game, which I’ve never played but probably should just to shut up people whose eyes bug out when I tell them that. And there’s always the lurking through of Final Fantasy XIV, which should totally appeal to me on paper and only partially does in play.

To scratch at this itch, I’ve started to play the two Final Fantasies that I purchased for mobile way back when with the intention to enjoy. There’s FF6, which I’ve never played all of the way through, and FF9, which I adored on PlayStation but only did a single playthrough on that console. I’ll have deeper reports in weeks to come, hopefully, but so far both have been surprisingly enjoyable, hitting the spot.

It’s probably only a passing fad. Something to indulge for a little while, to scratch that itch, and then forget about once more. But it’s harmless fun, so why not? My college self would be giving me a thumbs up in approval, and at the very least, I can enjoy these soundtracks all over again as I listen to them on loop a billion times in a row.

6 MMOs that shaped my gaming in 2017

2017 was an interesting year for my MMO gaming career. It wasn’t really marked by any super-huge new releases; in fact, the year was pretty anemic for new MMOs, period. We’re still seeing lots in development, but only a handful of big budget, big studio projects, and most of those are for the future. Instead, this year was mostly about returning to old favorites and continuing on in my adventures.

I am really glad that I’ve been doing a monthly “gaming goals” article, because it helps me track what I was playing over the course of the year. This was the first year where I fully did that, and it is neat to look back at my aspirations vs. realities while also following the threads of my gaming life. So with that in mind, here are the six MMOs that dominated my gaming time this year:

1. World of Warcraft

This past spring, I felt the need for a break following a nearly two-year run in the game. I was feeling listless and in need of variety and direction, and I am glad I took the time off. But sandwiched around that break were my continuing journeys in Legion, my endless experimentation with alts, my progress as an Undead Warlock (the highest I’ve ever leveled one to date!), and some excitement over Battle for Azeroth and Classic. I’m ending this year mostly focusing on bringing my Gnome Hunter up to speed while giving equal time to other titles.

2. Dungeons and Dragons Online

DDO was really the surprise experience this year for me. When I went back to dabble a little bit in it, little did I know that the DDO bug would bite me hard once more. I should have remembered how much I was in love with this game back in the day, and it’s only grown since then. I’ve had some amazing quests so far with my Gnome Artificer, although I still haven’t really found a guild that’s very active or involved. Hoping to change that in the new year, and also to see the game’s expansions as I start to get up into the double digits.

3. Lord of the Rings Online

This was pretty much a steadfast experience, taking my Lore-master through the remainder of Gondor and then finally into Mordor with the fall’s expansion. While I did try out some alts (Minstrel, Hunter), most all of my time was given to the LM. Mordor proved to be a tough slog with only a handful of interesting and engaging moments, and my enthusiasm for playing started to sap away by the end of the year. Still, I’m excited about Northern Mirkwood for 2018, so there’s hope left!

4. Secret World Legends

I had to say farewell to The Secret World and my character of five years this spring, and while that definitely was a hard blow, at least Legends injected some new life into this faltering title. Taking a new character through the game and getting her back up to where I had left off pretty much consumed my attention for the remainder of 2017, and hopefully by the time the new year clicks over, I’ll be ready for season two.

5. Star Trek Online

I think I had about a two- or three-month run back in STO, doing some of the newer content while dusting off my carrier and fleshing out missions I hadn’t run yet. It was… fine, I guess, but definitely not as memorable as I was hoping nor as long-lasting as trips back to the game in the past.

6. Guild Wars 2

Guild Wars 2 edges out FFXIV on this list by virtue of time, if nothing else. I put in about two months in this game vs. one in FFXIV, but both ultimately conveyed to me that I just wasn’t in the mindset to come back to either. There are so many things that I enjoy about GW2 but also so many things that really drive me nuts about this game that I can’t settle back into what used to be an MMO gaming mainstay for me.

Honorable mention: Elder Scrolls Online

Tossing this into this list because I should mention ESO for a few reasons. I really did want to get more into this game than I did, at one point vowing to make this my main summer title (which worked out as well as my plans usually do). But the allure of housing and the new expansion did get me to put in a few sessions, and it remains very, very high on my list of games to come back to soon.

FFXIV: Housing blues

FFXIV honestly surprised me the other night when I saw a cozy fireplace and thought about taking a picture next to it. I used the /sit command, and instead of my character plopping down in some sort of default sitting animation, she actually took a seat on the couch. This made me blink hard. Not many MMOs yank you into a seat when you go to sit, oddly enough. So good for this game.

I had a slightly unusual weekend, now that I’m into the realm of Heavensward. I didn’t really follow that expansion closely when it first came out, so I don’t think it ever registered that this was a snowy realm that we’d be adventuring through (which is a good thing, at least in my book). All I remembered was “dragons something elves something Catholic church substitute something.

I jumped over to join Aywren’s guild, because they certainly seemed like a lively and engaged group of players. And sure enough, they were quite welcoming and helped buoy my spirits in the game. A quiet or non-existent guild hampers my play experience in ways that are kind of difficult to articulate. Conversely, a great guild can make logging in a joy and add deeper dimension to the game.

I met her! I’m in the presence of internet fame! I think her plumage was happy to see me too.

With a free company established, my thoughts turned to exploring one feature of the game that has yet escaped me, which was player housing. Let me say that first off, I’m glad that FFXIV saw that housing was important enough to include, and it does seem like the community gets into it. I’m always a housing nut in MMOs that allow for it, so it felt like my play experience was incomplete in FFXIV until I got to check this out.

But that was really easier thought than done. Unlike some other MMOs I could name — RIFT, WildStar come quickly to mind — FFXIV puts as many obstacles between you and owning your own slice of space as possible. Again, props that the game has housing, but it doesn’t excuse it for being, quite frankly, a prohibitive and restrictive system.

Buying a real house was far outside of my budget. I had about 650K gil, whereas houses (if you could even find ones available to purchase) were in the millions. The most economical option was a 300K single-room apartment in the free company house, which I felt was fine. I wouldn’t have a yard or outside decorations, but oh well. It was something, it was a one-time fee, and I could afford it.

But I couldn’t access it, not yet, not even with the money in my pocket. Oh no. That would be too EASY. The game informed me that I also, for some reason, had to be second lieutenant in my grand company, which was a game feature that I had stopped paying attention to a long time ago.

Sigh, fine. So I plodded over there, saw that I had a lot of seals for the promotion, but that there were additional hoops through which to jump. Company hunting logs to complete! Two fun dungeon trials to run! It took the better part of an evening to get all of this sorted out and meet the requirements, but eventually I was allowed the privilege of sinking half of my wallet into this system.

People informed me that most furnishings either came from the marketboard or by making them, so I did a little shopping to spend a large chunk of my remaining funds on various fixtures. I would have appreciated a preview picture for these items, but such is life.

The whole “functional but not necessarily user friendly” theme continued as I went to my room for the first time and then felt like a fool trying to figure out how to actually decorate it. Apparently you have to access housing options from one of the little sub-menus to open up that interface, which I can’t recall the game every informing me about. Thank you, internet.

And while I was able to cobble together a room without too much difficulty, in truth, I was pretty underwhelmed. The interface to move items is incredibly clunky (a casualty of console controls?) and I couldn’t figure out how to rotate items and then make them stay rotated without resetting. I’ve seen much, much better systems in other games, but this is only the start of my working on this, so here’s hoping that there’s more going on here.

I did like the guild house and what they did there. It was pretty cute ‘n’ cozy, although we’re reportedly moving to bigger digs in the near future.