Elder Scrolls Online

The Games We Played

I look around myself and I wonder what has happened to fun.

A little melodramatic to be sure but there it is.
I know we all don’t define what is fun or entertaining the same way. I know that what one person thinks was a great night might be merely okay to another. I just wonder though, what happened to fun and that childhood joy?
City of Heroes

Give us our fun and childhood joy back now!


Right now, broadly speaking, MMOs can be broken down into two different categories. Themepark and Sandbox.
What is a themepark? Ostensibly it is a place where the fun is on rails, rather like the name suggests. You go from A to B to C and “have fun”. There are distractions here and there, little systems to tide you over in short bursts. Want to daily? Go right ahead. Have an in game… er… game… go ahead. It is supposed to be a considered whole of an experience. Player enters here, fun occurs on a schedule.
What is a sandbox? Well it’s supposed to again be what the name suggests. A playpen, a featureless field full of promise and potential. Do you want to build sandcastles? Go right ahead. Do you want to run your toy cars over imaginary dunes? Feel free. Do you want to fleece the galaxy and walk off with the keys to the EVE Interstellar Bank? Knock yourself out. The fun is what you make it.
Elder Scrolls Online

War in Cyrodiil.

The problem I am facing is probably down to thinking about The Elder Scrolls a bit much recently. What is it? Well it’s certainly a themepark to start. You can argue that the War in Cyrodiil is a sandbox of players charging about beating the snot out of one another. Maybe there’s more to the world that I haven’t seen and I look forward to that.
What I have seen though is there is XP and I think I’ve come to the conclusion that I rather hate XP.

What has happened to fun? Rewards over time have. Rewards are fun right? Ding, level up. New gear, new powers, new things to do. Rinse and repeat.
How is that fun though? Don’t get me wrong, I’ve done it myself. I’ve taken the slog up the slope. I’ve checked off the levels and “won” the game. I also completely acknowledge we don’t all judge fun the same way. Maybe that new piece of armor is the pinnacle of your gaming career. Maybe there is no greater rush for you than roping a few dozen screaming flailing hairless monkeys into cohesion and killing that raid boss. Maybe all you want to do is hang around and hang out with the other denizens of the online world.
Games have done the opposite of the intended purpose. They haven’t given us new worlds to have fun in. They’ve made us old. They’ve pared down joy into algorithms and calculations. Games are serious business and serious business is the province of adults.

I used to play City of Heroes recklessly. It only mattered if I was outnumbered to an insane degree. It only mattered if I was outmatched to a pointless degree. If there was a chance though, a chance of idiotic flailing and a slim hope of victory…. well I had to take it. What does it matter if I die and get XP debt? It might have been awesome. If we pulled it off it would have been.

city of heroes

City of Heroes, back in the glory days.

XP was secondary to the experience, as odd as that sounds.
Maybe you get your rush in executing well laid plans. I know I do where there are RTS games concerned. Meatgrinders aren’t fun, least of all for the meat. That’s what we face now. A meatgrinder in one way or another.
Themeparks are only as good as the content they contain. Once you’ve taken every ride in Disney World, you’ll go back to your favorites a few more times, but the day is done. Disney is great every so often on a vacation, but you wouldn’t want to live there.
EVE Online

one hectic EVE: Online screenshot

Sandboxes on the other hand are so bloody serious. Everything is up to player action? I have my own license to be? Fantastic! Only I have to get over a number of immediate hurdles first to get my ship or my pick or whatever. Everything ends up with a cost, it took me X amount of time to craft Y…can I afford to risk it? Do I dare? Yes a sandbox will always have the headier heights, the more visceral thrills… but they take time to come to pass. If not, EVE would be in the mainstream news every other week as mad pod jockeys routinely wipe out multiple thousands of dollars. Real money, internet spaceships, job done.

This isn’t to say anyone is wrong in where they find their fun. It isn’t to say XP is necessarily bad or that levelling games are evil and sandbox games turn us all into accountants filling out timesheets and risk/reward statements.

It’s just … we finally have the worlds of our imaginations. Our childhoods were spent playing games and now we have worlds to play games in. We have these virtual realms that can be anything… only the risk that it might not be fun stifles things.
Come the launch of The Elder Scrolls, going back to my seed thought, there will be players discovering treasure maps. How fantastic! A real …well virtual… game of hide and seek. A treasure hunt for buried booty. Only it’ll never be as good as the promise of the fun.
Elder_Scrolls_Online

Gimme my treasure!

Make the loot too valuable? Everyone will line up to buy, beg, borrow or steal the maps and get their “fair share” of the buried magnificence. Make it not quite worth the effort invested, you have cranky customers on your hands.
Either way, within 24 hours there will be fan sites and wikis and shouted in game answers that will tell you down to the micrometer where to stand to turn that map into loot. No waiting, no playing, just the reward.
Maybe that works for you. Maybe like me, it doesn’t. It worries me though. MMOs are in the end of the day supposed to be a shared dream, a social experience. They are worlds we can all take part in and make a mark in. Only nowadays as more ideas on how to have “fun” come out, I find myself shying away from making friends. Maybe they won’t like doing what I want to do. Maybe they’ll complain as I try to scale this random cliff, wander off the rails to investigate something shiny or lead them to their hilarious deaths against something we probably shouldn’t have tried to take on.
It’s gotten strange in that way. MMOs offer such potential, theme park and sandbox. They offer all this potential for play with thousands of other strangers, all that fun to be had. Despite all that potential, I find myself lonely. Standing in the crowd, afraid to make friends. Afraid that my fun might ruin yours or vice versa.
I think I just got old with games.
I miss those days gone by and the games we played.
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About Jonathan Doyle

Once long ago Westwood made a space game. Earth And Beyond was the start of the journey. From there, through Paragon City and to the fields of Altdorf, there were battles. Westwood brought me to MMOs. City of Heroes refined my love for them. Warhammer brought me to writing about them. He loves all things space, sci fi, Warhammer or heroic.