MMOs, and the thrill of live entertainment

It's hard to share the experience of a rock concert via blurry photo ...

Theatre trips or music gigs for me are like busses. You wait for months without going to any at all, and then suddenly three come along at once.

In the last week, I’ve been to a huge stadium gig at Wembley Arena, a small intimate gig at a cool little music venue above a bar in Kilburn, and a Shakespeare play at The Globe in London. Now the point of this is not to say, “Oo, I’m so cultured, me!” It’s just that they all were brilliant, and it made me think about the special thrill of watching live entertainment with a crowd of other people. And how this is also one of the things I really enjoy about playing MMOs.

Being on stage vs being in the audience

Playing a RPG is like being on stage. Admittedly it’s like being on stage in an improvisational experimental drama with heavy side servings of slapstick, out of genre observations, pop culture, and pulp fiction. But in a pen and paper role-playing game, the player is the performer. They are also the audience.

Going to a play (or gig, or comedy show, et al) is more about being part of the audience. And the magic of theatre is that this is a much more exciting and involving experience than it sounds. Even just sitting quietly as one of the 50k crowd in a filled stadium is more exciting than listening to a band on the radio. It’s an event. There’s an energy about being with other people who share your enthusiasm and are there to share the same experience. Actors and musicians will often talk about the energy that they get from a live audience. Live bands often sound quite different from their album tracks.

Playing a single player game is more like watching TV or reading a book. You can interact with the game, but not with the performers or any of the rest of the audience. At least, not unless you reach out to them in some other way. For example, Dragon Age is a single player game, but I’ve had plenty of discussions about that with other players either on blogs, bboards, twitter, or in real life since I have friends who play it. It’s not the same as actually being all there at the same time, but it’s still a deeper way to enjoy a hobby and share it with others.

Other people and the MMO experience

MMOs offer a mixture of these types of experiences.

A raid or instance where you actually play alongside other people, cooperatively is much closer to the role-playing experience than the single player one. You’re still playing against the fixed backdrop of the coded game, but the other players provide much of the entertainment.

A pure PvP game or battleground would be even closer to being on stage. You’re actively providing the gameplay for other people, as well as reacting to anything that they do.

Even soloing isn’t the same as playing a single player game, because you always know that other people are around. You hear them on chat channels. You may see them in the game world. So this is probably closer to theatre than reading a book. Still more fun in many ways than watching the play on TV at home, but you don’t interact hugely with the rest of the audience.

Very large scale events in game can be similar. Everyone turns up (and brings their lag with them) and it’s mostly to see and experience the in game event together rather than to interact. Even just being in the audience can be exciting and life-affirming, like at the theatre.

I’m not sure entirely where I am going with this, except to say that social media can increasingly turn a solo game or event into a shared experience. And shared experiences in games can be far more exciting than playing offline and alone, even when you aren’t actively interacting with other people.

I suspect that for me, this is why offline games have limited appeal these days. Except on portable consoles, which puts them in a similar position to music for me. I think Syp was also thinking along the same lines when he discussed why MMOs had turned him off single player games.

Do you get the audience effect from MMOs? Or from sharing  your gaming experiences via the internet?

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5 thoughts on “MMOs, and the thrill of live entertainment

  1. Oh, I love losing myself in the crowd at a concert. Or in WoW. Frankly it isn’t quite the same. At a concert you can sense everyone else physically. You can feel the warmth of all those bodies pressed tightly together, you can smell their sweat (yak!) and the music makes even your bones tremble. An MMO is always experienced behind a screen and you can turn it off any second.

    But still. I too enjoy when it’s crowded, provided it doesn’t get laggy. Sure, it was annoying at the Sunwell Island when you couldn’t click on the vendors or when the screen froze due to lag. But it was sort of massive, thanks to the plain amount of players. You can’t deny that.

    • Oh, I totally agree that it isn’t the same. It’s really hard to describe the atmosphere at a good gig to someone who has never been to one, and maybe isn’t really a fan of any band enough to want to.

      But trying to explain why I like large raids, and having all those people around at the same time, to non-raiders … it’s a similar type of issue. You are very removed from the action being behind the screen, but you’re chatting to the other players and fighting the same bosses at the same time, and in the same virtual location.

      I think somehow it pings the same sort of chords for me, in a way. Probably going to Blizzcon or waiting in line for a midnight opening (which I totally will not do for Cataclsym, oh well maybe .. :P) would be even more so of a big live event ;)

  2. A lot of players play MMOs as if they were single-player games, but still enjoy the “company”.
    For some it seems to be enough to hear people in zone chat or the guild channel.
    Others prefer to group and switch off zone chat and sometimes even the guild channel when they are in a group.

    I wonder if Guild Wars 2 will have global or zone channels. There was some kind of zone chat in cities, but outside in the explorable areas you only had whispers and guild chat, which is probably the reason some people felt “lonely”.

    • Not sure why but GW had really really annoying chat channels in cities. Maybe it’s because there wasn’t an auction house.

      So for me it had this odd atmosphere where you were really lonely outside of cities (or maybe it was restful, depending on your mood) but the other people inside the cities made them quite annoying.

  3. MMO’s have ruined single player games for me because, even while I’m playing an MMO as though it were a single player game, there’s the unpredictability of what other players will do.

    Playing a single player game, if you happen to get in over your head, there’s *zero* chance that a random hero (read: passing player) will swoop in and rescue you from your plight (as I’ve had happen a few times, in a few different games). In a one player game, you pick your fight, and you’re either going to win it or lose it, and you can tell pretty much from the very outset which way it’s going to go.

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