MMORPGS: Geeking Out in Shared Virtual Worlds

It often starts with peer pressure. All your friends are doing it, they talk about it all the time, they do it in front of you, and eventually they drop hints about you joining them. Maybe you’re strong enough to resist, or maybe you’re not – and you sign yourself up for an MMORPG.

For the non-geeks in the crowd, MMORPG stands for Massively Multiplayer Online Role-playing Game. Unlike platform games, where you might be playing by yourself or with a few friends, MMORPGs consist of entire digital worlds where you can play alongside just about anyone. While platform games often have online multiplayer options, MMORPGs cater solely to this idea of parallel realms. But as every geek knows, some are much better than others.

I took my first foray into this facet of geekiness back in 2005 with Star Wars Galaxies (SWG), a Sony Online Entertainment-released realm in which you can outfit your wookie in the best gear, ride around on hovercraft and shoot Imperial scum – or be Imperial scum if you prefer. Never a huge Star Wars fan myself, the friends who’d talked me into the game were quickly growing unhappy with the many so-called “improvements” the developers were trying to implement.

The game had its flaws: too heavy an emphasis on grinding (or killing computer creatures for experience), limited planets to explore and of course the parameters of the Star Wars universe to consider. The game was promising, but instead of fixing the problems, the developers kept introducing “upgrades” that had the fan base grumbling and increasingly taking off in their landspeeders to an MMOverse far, far away. Many people ditched SWG altogether, including myself, but others stayed behind to work on user-created servers in which fans can play older versions of the game.

My appetite for MMORPGs had awakened, and I considered other avenues. A plethora of MMORPGs exist, including EverQuest (known more commonly as EverFail), Lord of the Rings Online and Dungeons & Dragons Online. Guild Wars and Final Fantasy XI Online have huge and devoted groups of players. You can pretend to be a superhero in City of Heroes, or if your taste is on the sugary side, there’s Hello Kitty Online. After I did a short stint in Disney’s hideously flawed Pirates of the Caribbean Online, there was really just one choice left: Go WoW, or go home.

Irvine-based Blizzard Entertainment’s World of Warcraft MMORPG is not just massively multiplayer but massively successful, and with millions of subscribers worldwide, the game truly rules over the MMORPG world.

I wasn’t an instant fan of the game, feeling thrown off by my avatar’s cartoon-like appearance after the realism of Star Wars Galaxies, and the first few levels of the game seemed too easy: click on mob (computer creature), click fight, sit back and relax. I wondered why everyone seemed to like this game so much, but I leveled a few times, and suddenly I was sucked in for good. The game becomes incredibly detailed, the worlds to explore seem endless, and now with my own highest-level toon (character) at level 68, there are still many places I have yet to explore. Blizzard makes an effort to create fun and unique quests, and though there are always those darn grinding quests to work through, there’s usually something amazing just around the corner. In one quest for the Dranei Shaman, you are given golden wings and told to fly to a non-player character (NPC) from atop a cliff. When you reach the NPC, you are turned into a seal and swim through the water until you reach the shore, where you are turned into a ghostly panther in order to run across the island in search of the quest’s end. In another quest for Death Knights, you ride atop a skeletal dragon and shoot lighting at the villagers below, swooping down when your dragon is low on health so that it can snap up one of the villagers, chew him up and spit him out from high in the air.

While the endlessly innovative quests keep players coming back to WoW, there are unique instances to play such as dungeons in which you work with a group, arenas in which you can battle your fellow players, thriving economies and a long list of achievements to accomplish. Weeklong festivals, such as Love is in the Air, provide new quests, fun items and opportunities to run around with friends fixing “broken hearts.”

While not everyone chooses to play player versus player (PvP), PvP is one of the most fun and equally annoying aspects of the game. Players can choose characters that align with either the Horde or the Alliance, which are intensely oppositional factions, and while level 80s often run around ganking (killing characters well below their level), it’s exciting to run into a Horde in the middle of Stranglethorn Vale’s vast jungle and have an epic duel. Often mocked as “Carebears,” players who choose not to play in PvP realms are missing out on a huge level of excitement to the game. That doesn’t mean that it’s any less annoying getting ganked by two 80s, but when you have awesome guild mates who will come to your rescue, it sure is fun watching them pwn your attackers.

While I’ve endured endless teasing about my love for WoW, I’m a geek, and teasing is nothing new. The game’s success speaks not just to its overall quality, but also to the dedication of the Blizzard team in making sure its customers have the best in-game experience possible. If you’re not a geek but are interested, don’t worry about devoting half of your life to this game; while it’s possible to play far too much, it’s also possible to play in moderation, and it’s a fun way to relax for an hour when the stress of finals has overwhelmed you.

Log in and visit me in Stormwind; that is, unless you’re Horde and ready for a fight.