“I miss [the original] theme. It represents all I loved in Wow. No, I’m not implying that vanilla wow was better than the expansions, but there was a certain unknown factor back then, being new to the game. All the expansions in the world couldn’t bring back that feeling.”
– Flimadin, p.3, via
“I miss that ‘new game smell’.” – Turikan, p.5
I sympathize with this point–a lot. I think that gamers these days know way too much about how MMOs are constructed. Unless Blizzard comes up with a really obscure way to hide/abstract all their numbers in their promised “next gen” MMO the hardcore gamers are going to theorycraft it to bits while it’s still on the test server. Not knowing what you’re doing, having that sense of mystery and things still to learn, was a large part of the enjoyment factor for me the second time I started playing. (The first time I didn’t realize how BIG the game was; I was just a happy little nelfy.) I still enjoy the game but for vastly different reasons – the Explorer in me knows that there isn’t much left to explore, really, and what there is left involves being on the cutting edge of the WoW news machine (something I hate even in real life; ugh, media). So I have to go to my next-highest Bartle types and achieve/socialize. Not quite as satisfying.
I just don’t think that MMOs will be able to capture this feeling for someone anymore unless they’re a) new to the genre, and b) they don’t have immediate access to player-created information. Denying access later on once you’ve learned the basics is a very bad idea, and leads to gigantic third-party websites, but at first… immersion? is it still possible to do?
I mentioned the idea of “design literacy” to Liz the other night. The basic idea is that someone who is “design literate” about some aspect of their life, whether it be houses, civil planning, TV shows, MMOs– they will know how examples of the genre are constructed. MMOs I think are high on this scale; many of the players know how the game works just by dint of observation and trying to be a better player. The man behind the curtain is pretty obvious once you can see past the sparkles woven into the fabric. TV is also pretty high on this list for a certain type of person; just go look at the TV Tropes wiki. Civil planning is low on this theoretical scale; the sorts of people who know how this work are those who need to know how cities are zoned–developers, builders, people on the city council (but sometimes not even them); many of the more theoretical viewpoints and design philosophies for civil planning are not widely known at all, which means that groups lobbying for something–say, they need to save their church–may effectively need a change in the zoning scheme but not even know it; also, because they lack knowledge of alternatives, they may not know how to advocate for it.
At work reinforcing design literacy in WoW is the peer pressure aspect of social play; you are forced to be design-literate enough to know how to “play your class”; if you don’t, you are effectively denied access to a lot of the group content because few groups will carry your underperforming ass. Also, as evidenced by the official forums, people are quite aware of the alternative design strategies from other games and changes made in the past, and they advocate for changes they want quite… vocally. (QQ nerf warlocks)
I figure that the people at sites like Elitist Jerks aren’t just theorycrafting because they feel they have to; on some level they must enjoy it. At the other extreme are the people who are using WoW to play paper dolls; they’ll dress up in what looks shiny. (Hit rating? What’s that?) In the middle are people like me who download comparison addons and most of the time do the minimum amount of thinking necessary to make sure that items they’re bidding on are actually upgrades in raids (and I for sure don’t get it right 100% of the time)–us mediocre saps who know generally which stats to stack and why it might be important but doing the homework is either too much trouble or makes our heads hurt. Or we don’t know to do it because the wiki/database/forum socialization machine hasn’t gotten to us yet, and just itemize based on instinct or what friendly folks have told us.
The thing is, I feel like what the original quotation was going on about was that sense of “Hey, people are actually telling me in game, casually chatting, about this, but nobody really knows for sure.” And yes, this still happens while you’re leveling, before you’ve met the jaded old hands in the raiding guilds (or just about anybody over level 60). But it’s nowhere near as prevalent and now we do depend on third-party sites for our design literacy. And I feel like this makes the world seem smaller, more analyzed, containable–we know it was designed by human minds, and goddamn it we’re going to be cleverer than them. But so often the process of being clever and figuring it out takes away the wonder. Like when you learned that your uncle was palming the quarter instead of making it appear by magic behind your ear.
It leaves me curious. Could a game ever encourage design literacy without taking away the wonder? Could we design something marvelous enough to act like physics (and all sciences, in some way) does–where the more you know, the more possibilities for wonder there are?
Sure it’s not a reasonable goal for now, but maybe we’ll find some interesting states in-between with it in mind.