All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king. [source]
There is something strangely unsettling, or comforting depending on your viewpoint, about the nature of human culture(s), tastes and trends. It so happens that throughout the entire course of more civilized history, the same topics have been discussed fervently in certain circles, the way they are today in certain circles. The same things have gone in and out of fashion in regular intervals and even the greatest cultural or societal accomplishments would suffer serious setbacks. Revolutions, invasions, fires, plagues all had that kind of power but on a much subtler intellectual level do our social, moral and everyday values fluctuate – rather than following one perfect, smooth line of progression. We are never quite “there” because we cannot make final calls about where that is. In the end, what do we know about tomorrow anyway?
When it comes to fashion or art in general, we’re used to talking about “waves”; plateau shoes and those horrible flared jeans keep coming back ever so often. History repeats itself. Impressionism, surrealism, photorealism – who can say where we’re going? Mainstream furniture design rejected by our parents becomes classy and hip again.
Of course videogame design and related criticism (professional or amateur doesn’t matter one bit) follow pretty much the same pattern, be it formally or otherwise. Remember how one popular reaction to the big “representation of women in videogames”-debate has been to get more women into the industry, having more women develop, design and write female characters in recent years? All the smart people, the vocal people, the opinion making sites agreed. It’s the answer. It’s the truth.
That argument? So last season! We’re moving past that, as the comment section on one of Gamasutra’s most popular articles of late suggests; why shouldn’t men be able to write interesting female characters? The most acclaimed authors of all time have done? Women write about men all the time? What do you mean, men can’t write good female characters?? You’re not an alien I can’t possibly relate to, are you?
We’ll see more of that soon, I’m sure. Back and forth.
And then there was the MMO community
For a long time now mainstream MMO players, myself included, have driven the genre forward by asking for polish, more accessibility and convenience in game design. When we’re thinking of Ultima Online or Everquest, most of us don’t want to go back. Sometimes we feel like we do, but really….we don’t. At the same time, whenever we’ve gotten used to novelty to the point of saturation, we get nostalgic for some of the old days – yes, even the good old, bad days. Stuff we called broken or annoying suddenly looks appealing. And it’s not just that we want what we don’t have; it’s the realization of a person that has come full circle, that can only fully appreciate in retrospective. Most noticeably this has happened to me the first time I ever played Minecraft (see second paragraph).
When struck by a particularly powerful wave of homesickness or sudden retro longing, our memory often fails to distinguish, too (wait…was it the “good” or the “bad” type of grind I am missing? Umm..). All MMO players have a hopeless romantic inside of them. Okay, maybe not EVE Online players.
Right now, and Guild Wars 2 has a lot to do with it, I keep hearing how the oldschool questing system of FFXIV A Realm Reborn is “refreshing” or doing it for people. No judgement here, I don’t have to follow suit. It is however a noteworthy and remarkable statement insofar as there is absolutely nothing novel or refreshing about kill ten rats; I can play LOTRO or WoW today and get the same. Yet, that’s not what players are comparing ARR to when they’re calling it refreshing (in its conservatism). They’re comparing to the youngest, the most recent, the closest neighbour in the cultural line of progression: Guild Wars 2 (which made a lot of noise about events).
The wave is on the decline. For a little while. All novelty wears off and becomes boredom – yes, even freedom can get boring in MMOs.
What can we learn from this? That before all so-called progress, what we really want is variation. We yearn to learn things, master things, then move on to different things. Not just new; it needs to be new and different.
Just imagine the implications and impact for game design and development here, how crucial timing is for developers when launching a brand new franchise.
The King is dead! Long live the King!
Given there are only so many ways in which you can design a quest mechanic (insert any other topic of interest in MMOs) green is the new green after we’ve had a fair taste of purple. While the episode is in progress, the correct question is therefore not “who is right / what’s better, green or purple?” but much rather “what stage of the process are we at?”. It’s when we don’t share the answer to that last question on an individual level, when discussions usually start.
Long live easy access! – Long live hoops and attunements!
Long live FFA grouping! – Long live the holy trinity!
Long live public events! – Long live fetch & delivery!
Long live free to play! – Long live subscriptions!
Long live the casual! – Long live the hardcore!
Who is right? What’s truth in the long run, to the one that lives in the moment? Between yesterday’s heyday and today’s progress, the only truth is constant change. But of course we’ll keep arguing, disagreeing and searching on our blogs and elsewhere, as we should – because it’s interesting, social, engaging and occasionally useful. Most of all, it’s fun and I hope you’ll keep doing it with me as we chase that fickle child of time forever. – Yours truly, Syl (currently still riding that purple).
Truth is a child of time, not authority.
[Life of Galileo; B. Brecht]