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by Doug Hill
It is a well documented fact over the last five years that the average RPGamer, those who enjoy Final Fantasy, Dragon Warrior, Lunar, Xenosaga, etc. do not tend to enjoy the Massively Multiplayer Online RPG experience. How can you call something an RPG when the story is minimal and most of the game is aimed at building up your character with very few other goals? How can you stand not getting to see everything in thirty hours of playing? How can you be so patient, when it takes at least ten times as long to gain a level? How can you stand not having an ending? These are all valid questions, and the answer is even harder to comprehend: that's the point.
If you think about a traditional RPG, everything revolves around the sole player. The storyline is written so that the player's party is the main focus or at least one of the major focuses of the game. You play a major role in the game, and usually end the conflict that is causing the game's overall scenario in the first place. Nothing happens without you.
That brings up another point. The player controls the pace. If the player does not trigger the next event, it does not happen. If the player stops playing, nothing happens at all. The player has nearly full control over the pace of the average RPG. Control is a major part of the traditional RPG experience.
Playing an MMORPG is giving up full control and the limelight. You are no longer automatically the center of attention. You have almost no control over the storyline, and in many cases are not even directly affected by it. You cannot stop the game. You are merely a foot soldier, someone at random. Even an NPC in a traditional RPG has a better chance at playing a role in the storyline.
So why are so many people flocking to these games? Well, first of all, a lot of these people do not want to automatically be the center of attention. There is a sense of fantastic realism to online RPGs. You still get the role of doing things you could not do in real life, such as slay goblins or shoot down enemy starships, but not everyone can be a hero. The characters you play are much more generic, and by having them that way, a player can plug in his or her own personality, whether it is a direct representation of himself or herself, or a facsimile that he or she chooses to play. Sure, these characters may never have a bearing on the overall storyline an online RPG has, if it has one, but the player has something a traditional RPGamer pretty much never has: full control over their own character.
Another part of playing MMORPGs is being able to feel like you actually earned something. Any prestige that you have, or any part that you play, even minor, to the storyline, is not something that was meant to be. It happened because you were in the right place at the right time and you delivered. Things that happen in these games are not scripted. When you do something that has a lasting effect, people know you did it. Sure, it doesn't happen often, but as long as the chance is there, a lot of players are willing to do anything they can to get themselves ready. The promise of MMO fame and prestige is appealing to many gamers.
When you put these two factors in with numerous other little factors, you can understand the experience that an MMO-RPGamer is aiming for. They want to create not just a character, but a living personality whom people know and either like or dislike. They want to work towards making that character powerful so they can accomplish more. They want to be apart of something with other people, and when they accomplish something, they'll know that they did it because they tried, not because it was part of a storyline. They want to know that when they kept on playing and kept on going, that very little was just given to them. They earned it.
Honestly, I'm not aiming to turn anyone on to MMORPGs. One of the biggest problems with them is that they try and attract too many RPGamers by trying to appeal to the traditional side. They try to create a game with the best of both worlds, and I think that by doing that, they ruin the true appeal of an online experience. Too many games lately have made it to where you hardly interact with anyone unless you choose to, and try to deliver a traditional experience by letting each player go through story elements on their own, like each player is going through the story separately despite being in the same world as thousands of others. This isn't going to please anyone.
I do, however, hoped that I've at least shown some of you why there are so many people playing these MMORPGs. There is a completely different appeal with completely different kinds of rewards for their players. They are not glorified graphical chat rooms. They are not stupid because they don't play like Final Fantasy VIII. They are a completely different beast, and if you don't like them, that's fine. Go play something else, and let those who do enjoy them do just that, enjoy them. Now, hopefully, you know why they do.
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