I’m Expressing My Individuality

Posted: June 18, 2007 by Kendricke in Everquest 2, General Game Concepts

I’ve made several posts recently which have danced around the subject of being special.  Several others in the blogoverse have apparently been doing the same.  I’ve even had discussions in guildchat recently which revolved around the same basic idea:

Everyone wants to be special.

We all want to be the hero. We want to have the best gear.  We want to have the best guilds.  We want to have the best mounts.  We want to have the best housing. 

The problem of course, is that we can’t all be the best.  We can’t all be special.  Because once everyone is special no one really is.

And therein lies the rub. 

In worlds filled to the brim with adventurers and sellswords, where adventurers often outnumber the natural virtual inhabitants by 2 to 1 or more, it’s hard to stand out.  Yet, day after day, that’s what most of us are trying to do.  We want to have the unique title, or the matching top-end armor, or the impressive weapon covered in glowing particle effects.

We grew up on books and shows and single player games which gave us the chance to feel what it’s like to be the hero time and again.  We were Muad’dib.  We were Tanan, son of a pig farmer.  We were Arthur. We were Link.  We were Cloud.  We were any number of characters in any number of mediums that showed us what it was like to be “special”.

Is there really any doubt as to why Harry Potter does so well?  Harry spends his life growing up feeling left out and perfectly out of place, only to find that not only is he full of magic – but he’s THE magician’s magician.  He’s not just special, but he’s “the best” – it’s every child’s fantasy lottery come true (and many adults, too).

We play these games for a variety of reasons, but most frequently it’s to be something a bit more than normal.  With movies like Office Space, shows like The Office, and comics like Dilbert, many of us chuckle at the daily inanities of our own reflected lives – wondering how things might have been like in a different life.

MMO’s give us that chance to take on that different life.  We escape to Azeroth or Norrath or Middle Earth.  We defeat monsters and perform quests to help people and we’re rewarded for our actions immediately.  We don’t have to wait all year to find out if we hit 4 of our 10 key goals to discover we’re pulling in a 1.2% bonus at the end of the year.  We don’t have to wait for our annual review to hear that the budget’s tight and maybe we can do something next year.

No, to paraphrase Raph Koster, we play for glory.  We play to advance our character, but without others to admire that advancement, we’re simply preening in front of our bathroom mirrors.  Admiration without admirers is just one step from daydreaming.  We don’t need MMO’s for daydreaming.

No, it’s not enough that we are heroes in our own minds’ eyes.  We need to be heroes to others, and MMO’s is one vehicle we use to take us to that place. 

This is why I believe we’ll keep seeing argument about better gear for different playstyles.  Because those same jobs that we mock outside of work keep us busy for far longer than we’d like.  Those families we love also wear us out from time to time.  Those houses and cars we’re so proud of require so much effort and time to keep up.  MMO’s are the time we pay ourselves for the responsibilities and obligations we hold on a daily basis.

…and none of us want to feel shortchanged. 

Studios like Blizzard, SOE, Turbine, and Mythic aren’t just releasing software for many of us.  No, they’re delivering settings for our daydreams.  And they’d better not muck it up or they’ll hear about it from us.  Because we’ve got some pretty good ideas going on in our noggins about what we want to do with our personal playtime and we don’t want to waste that time with bugs or bad storylines or major changes to our preferred playstyles.

No, our name is Playerbase and our numbers are legion.  We number in the tens of millions today and spent hundreds of millions of hours each month in virtual playgrounds which exist for our benefit. 

…and we all want to be special.

When I was in my early 20’s, I was pretty heavy into the club scene of the early 90’s.  A friend of mine who had a wonderfully ironic sense of humor was working at a silkscreening shop and had decided on a whim to create a good dozen or so T-shirts for our normal crew.  When he starting passing them out and explaining his plan, we smiled and laughed as we realized the inherent humor in his little plot and the reactions we felt we were sure to receive.

So, when the weekend rolled around, we found our way to First Ave in Minneapolis, and entered the club as a group – all dressed identically and wearing t-shirts which proclaimed to the world, “I’m Expressing My Individuality”.  It was a hit with the club staff, and with a handful of regulars.  To the rest of the average weekender crowd, dressed in The Gap, filled to the brim with lite beer and long islands, I don’t think they really got it. 

The same basic principle applies today.  You can’t become special by trying to emulate someone else. 

Jealousy is the tribute mediocrity pays to genius.
-Fulton J. Sheen

Stop playing these games to be special, if by “special” you mean “I want what she has”.  Find your own path to fulfillment, and worry about having fun – not about being “the best”. 

We can all be heroes, but we can’t all be “the best”.  Find ways to enjoy the content built for you, not for the content built for others.  I liken these games to playgrounds or amusement parks, and in many ways that’s absolutely spot on as far as analogies go.  Not everyone likes the merry go round, and not everyone enjoys the midway.  Just because you aren’t going home with a giant plush doll doesn’t mean you didn’t have a great time. 

Everyone wants to be special.  If we stop worrying about whether or not everyone else is, we might just get there ourselves.

  1. Xeavn says:

    My only comment on this topic is a rather fitting quote by Nick Yee at the Deadalus Project, he was talking about video game addiction in an article.

    “To ask why some people get “addicted” to their fantasy personas is a way of not asking how we expect people to derive life satisfaction from working at Wal-Mart.”
    – Nick Yee / The Daedalus Project

  2. Pixie Styx says:

    “Find ways to enjoy the content built for you, not for the content built for others”

    “don’t want to waste that time with bugs or bad storylines or major changes to our preferred playstyles”

    So in essence this whole diatribe, is the rehash of raid or not to raid. Iam elite your not so dont hate me thing …. ?

    However that being said, it is a good read and you are right, however this situation of haves and have nots is not player created but game created. The design of the games themselves is to blame and they are the limiting factor in making you, me and joe blog each feel ‘special’ and the best hero there is …

  3. kendricke says:

    The only way to remove the “haves and have nots” would be to remove the very concept of trade and capitalism from the game completely.

    In essence, you’d have to create a communistic or socialist state, where everyone is the same in order to avoid the “haves and have nots” situation.

    Which is completely anathema to the ideal that we play for glory. Without anything to strive for, why strive? What’s the advantage to playing in an online game when there’s no competition or comparison?

    Perhaps you’d enjoy such a game, but I would not. I don’t play to be elite, but I do play for glory. After all, don’t we all want to be the hero? Are you telling me you don’t?

  4. pixie styx says:

    I see your point Ken but maybe your looking at a level based game, perhaps skill based, ala darkfall might be the answer. Still have capatilisim and trade but the gap between I’m elite and Iam casual is more reliant on skill than equipment.

    I think we have all been led down the one path of mmorpg design by the likes of eq etc but other alternatives are out there or atleast the concepts. Implementation is the key and wether the mmorpg player is ready for a different approach to gaming …

  5. Bildo says:

    Excellent write up, Ken. And for once we’re in total agreement. 🙂

  6. Bhagpuss says:

    Let me tell you, Kendricke, I categorically do NOT want to be the Hero. Neither in my now fairly extensive experience of playing MMOs do many, many others.

    What I want from MMOs, and what I get, too, is a space that gives me back some of those great times I had as 10 year old, going to the recreation ground every sunny summer day and playing pick-up games of cricket (yes, I’m English 😉 ) until it got too dark to see the bal, or those great times at University, going from bar to bar, playing pool for hours, drinking and talking.

    Those golden days relied on everyone being roughly the same; no heroes, no superstars, just a lot of people interested in roughly the same things using games as a loose structure to give some illusion of purpose to the sheer fun of hanging out together. MMOs bring that experience into my living room at the touch of a button.

    I am, of course, aware that there are plenty of players who feel their in-game achievements have some importance or significance over and above the pleasure they got from them; that having certain items or having done certain things in a virtual world somehow makes them “special”, not only in that world but sometimes even in the outside world too. Those are the kind of players I have learned to avoid, because they are unlikely to contribute their share of wit, humour or originality to any gathering.

    The players who can make me crease up laughing or engender a thought-provoking discussion, often at the same time as they carve a path deep into a dungeon as I try to keep them upright are rarely bothered about what gear they wear or where they stand in some notional pecking order. They like to be sufficiently well-equipped to do the job we set out to do, and to play their characters sufficiently well to do it successfully, but be “heroes”? be “special”?

    They wouldn’t be able to play for laughing if they thought anyone was taking that kind of thing seriously.

  7. kendricke says:

    So, instead of wanting to play the hero as self, you prefer the hero as team. In either case, you’re playing online to do something that amounts to putting on some type of armor, wielding a sword or lasgun, and pitting your character’s skills against a monster or villan.

    Because honestly, you don’t need MMO’s to enjoy chat room socializing. You’re playing, whether or not you realize or admit to it, for glory – maybe not personal glory, but the glory of being part of something bigger than yourself.

  8. Myki says:

    Interesting post. I’m not sure I fit into the category you describe though (although many people I know do). Perhaps a few years ago I did but now I play MMO’s to see and immerse myself in a new world.

    Yes of course that means improving levels/gear to see the next zones of that world but the difference is I am not forever clicking ‘inspect’ on other characters of the same class/level and have no desire to raid the same zone for months in order to complete my set of uber armour of doom (+1). If I can quest, explore, have fun and do some roleplay then I’m a happy bunny.

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