About Life, MMOs and the Good Old, Bad Times

It is one of the never-ending discussions among MMO veterans: the golden days of MMOing. The glory days of our youth when MMOs were green and so were we. When treasure was rare and special and punishment plentiful and quick. Today, we miss the hardship of the unknown, the unexplored mystery, the dependence on other people. Fond memories of our beginnings and the rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia keep the past locked firmly in our mind like a place of legend.


…minus the wardrobe, maybe

If only we could recreate the past. And why can’t we – are we the problem? The games? Our missing fellows? I have once concluded on this blog that the fairest answer to this question is probably “a bit of everything” but also, that there are only so many times that we can fully invest in a new MMO and commit to a new world and community. Witty strips such as “A decade of love and hate” by DLC or Arcade Rage’s “Gamer problems: Then and Now” make painfully obvious that MMOs haven’t objectively gotten worse; they’ve changed in some ways but also really stayed the same and they have certainly become more varied and accessible overall. None of this can explain our personal discontent. No, the answer lies elsewhere.

Chasing that which cannot be preserved

How many times over can you build a virtual life from scratch until it feels like a deja-vu and grind and the fatigue kicks in? How many social bonds can you possibly establish and maintain? I say no more than you could do in real life; there may be one big love for you during your life’s journey, or two or three. For most of us, that is the limit of our capabilities and time too only allows for so many iterations. It is the same with circles of friends or careers – the boldest among us will recreate themselves and their world a few times over during the course of their life but time and energy remain limiting factors.

It is our misconception that MMOs should somehow follow a different rule set. That something as profound and time consuming as virtual life, and WoW was that for many (just to name one possible MMO), should be repeatable over and over and never wane in its glory and impact. But how could that be? The best of things and the most meaningful must all eventually bow to finality.


Looking back, I can say that I’ve had three serious and longterm MMO experiences or “relationships” in my life between age 20 and 35. Maybe five titles altogether have really managed to consume me for a time and make me care about people I met. However every time, it got a bit more difficult; every time I’ve felt my energy resources, my ability to care and my patience for things like ingame appointments and wait times, deplete faster.

“I have done this before – I have been here. Yet it is not the same.”

We cannot recreate our MMO youth any more than we can go back to our teenage years or our twenties. With every decade added to our life, we become more experienced which means we become more critical and picky. The roads become downtrodden and the mysteries familiar. And we have limited resources both internally (energy) as well as externally (time). The games haven’t gotten worse or better, they’ve become different – but we are different, too. And longing for the good old, bad times is merely a product of our bewilderment that life, real and virtual, is constant progress and contradiction: some things change but they also largely stay the same.

That’s why we can love and hate the past all at once, feel relief over progress made but also miss our friends and treasure our memories. (MMO) Life is complex like that.


  1. Hmm. Not sure I agree with the underlying premise here. If you compare playing an MMO to having a real-life relationship then, yes, that’s how it probably plays out for most people. Is that a fair analogy, though?

    To me, becoming immersed in an MMO feels a lot more like discovering a new, favorite band or singer. I’ve been doing that since I was about twelve years old and I don’t see any signs that I’m likely to stop doing it – ever. Sometimes that new band is an obsession that lasts a week or two – sometimes it’s a year or more. The really, really big ones, though, last decades if not a whole lifetime.

    I don’t find the slightest, not even the most marginal drop in intensity in my emotional reaction to a new musical obsession when compared to what I was like as a teenager or a young adult. About the only thing that’s changed is that I stopped going to see live gigs around the same time I started playing MMOs so some of my experience these days is mediated through a screen rather than in a concert hall or the back room of a pub.

    Much the same applies to books, and probably would to movies if i hadn’t fallen out of the habit of going to the cinema. Playing MMOs seems to me to be far more closely related to these kinds of experiences than to romantic entanglements or the forming of new friendships. To me it seems that the primary reason new MMOs don’t have as powerful an effect on me as older ones have done is not because I have become more critical or picky, or because I no longer have the same energy or time. I have just as much energy as I ever did (I was 40 when I started playing MMOs – I’m nearly 60 now – my energy levels are very similar) and I actually have considerably more time to play now than I did then.

    No, I think the reason new MMOs rarely sweep me up the way they have done in the past is that there hasn’t been a really good new MMORPG released for four or five years. Think back to GW2 or FFXIV:ARR. Those were good enough to do it. What opportunity have we had since to repeat those experiences?

    As soon as someone makes another MMO as good as either of those then a whole lot of veteran players will discover they do have the energy and the time to play MMOs after all. So long as all we get are badly translated imports and half-finished indie efforts, though, all bit the real hardcore MMO fans (raises hand) are going to find better things to do and who can blame them?

    1. Basically what Jeromai said further down 🙂
      I’m not surprised your take on this is different but what I describe is profoundly an experience of social MMO play. I am not an MMO soloer – exploration aside, the coop and community aspect of MMOs have always been front and center for me. I would therefore also never compare them to a good book or piece of music, I’ve always expected a lot more from MMORPGs.

      The sentiments I describe here are frequently echoed by MMO players who have been very deeply involved in guild life in the past, running raid guilds for years, being heavily invested and giving a game much of their time and energy. And that is something that will spend you – you dont realize it at first but it’s not something you can keep up for all time. That’s why players like myself look back with really ambiguous feelings of both nostalgia but also relief.

      GW2 and FFXIV are/were great but they still don’t compare to what I personally consider my early glory days. That would have been FFXI and WoW for me.

  2. I think the underlying premise depends very heavily on one’s personal motivations for playing an MMO.

    Syl is heavily a social player, if I’m not mistaken, so it’s only natural to consider changes in MMOs over times in terms of how much they support social relationship building, plus how willing the player is to keep forming and breaking those bonds over time.

    These days I’m personally losing motivation to play most MMOs because they all follow much of the same already-done, already-learned formula. There’s no fun, new, novel innovative systems to explore; secrets are quickly ferreted out by those with time to play seconds after an update drops and the achiever horde promptly expects everyone to read up and follow exactly with little to no personal discovery involved.

    Too many vocal people like playing as a group, and demand greater rewards for dealing with its logistics. (I’d be cool if solo play in a challenging fashion had equivalent rewards as group content, then like could choose like and both parties could enjoy the game.)

    If the endgame isn’t a group-based endgame, then it’s a competitive player killing one, all about faction domination of some kind, or appearing as high up in the rankings as possible. *sigh* That doesn’t appeal to me either.

    It’s probably why I latched onto and obssessed about A Tale in the Desert so strongly, becuase -everything- was new, to learn about and practice mastery, and whose systems allowed for individual players to discover personal secrets to exploit. Ultimately, the lack of personal free time killed any hope to progress beyond a certain plateau, and doing it again after three or so resets meant that the systems weren’t new any longer.

    I’ve decided I’m better off in the good games utilizing procedural sandbox world generation for now, unless and until MMOs get on that boat. It is, though, debatable if that would be an improvement. Having -too- many players isn’t exactly the best selling point these days, if all the actions of those players have consequences that affect your gameplay in a negative way.

    The internet and social media is already everybody’s massively multiplayer social network. An MMO’s function in that respect is no longer necessary and obsolete. Take that away though, and what’s left? Achiever-centered raiding WoW clones based around levels and increasing stats, mostly.

    1. Yes, I am! The social aspect has always defined MMOs for me and set them apart. 🙂

      I feel very much like you, it’s a lot of been there done that these days and games that boil down to achievement hunting send me running and screaming for the hills. But there are other games too, like Wurm online or Project Gorgon or even Trove – and I wont play those either because I am a hopeless snob for aesthetics. I need beautiful environments in my games, I can’t help that.

      I’ve also enjoyed procedural sandboxes lately or mixtures, also in the survival genre. Don’t Starve, 7 Days to Die or Portal Knights have all swallowed a good chunk of my time and right now I’ve a ton of fun with Planet Coaster. 🙂 It won’t last of course but I really don’t see which “proper” MMORPG I could be playing instead at the moment (am still subbed to FFXIV but cant muster the energy).

  3. I haven’t made genuine, meaningful new connections in game in MMOs since Raiding 30+ hours per week in WoW. That was a bit less of a connection from my DAOC guild, which was less still than my nostalgia fueled remembrance of the love of my EQ guild and its members on Test. Even though I am still barely connected to all but a handful (at best) from all three of my MMO “generations”

    1. I think this is the case for so many players. You can do it once, maybe twice, but your first MMO love or two take up most of your social and emotional space, for lack of a better word. You can’t keep replacing bonds and meaningful friendships over and over, it just doesn’t work that way. If social play is very integral to your MMO experience, this means the older you get, the more lacking new games will feel to you.

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