How MMOs infect single player games, and other syphilitic themes

This was inspired by Tam’s syphilis meme, where he bravely offered to suggest personalised topics to all comers. So with no more ado, my topic is:

  • How do you think playing WoW influences our attitude to and engagement in other games?

Before I start on the lists, one comment. I wrote a few posts about Dragon Age while I was playing it and loving it, even though this blog is usually focussed on MMOs. Why? Because I never doubted that the vast majority of people I knew who played MMOs would also love Dragon Age. Not for a single moment was there a flicker of doubt. (Also Bioware are apparently working on some teeny and totally unhyped MMO that some of you may have heard about …)

Sharing our Games with Other People

gamers benimoto@flickr

There was a time when playing a single player game meant buying a box, taking it home, loading it up and … that was it. Maybe there would be computer magazine articles to read with hints or tips. Perhaps you’d discuss it with other kids at school. I even played Diablo II like this, it never really occurred to me to do any research into useful builds or optimal gear, or to want to talk to other players beyond trying to get my friends to try it. I just experimented on my own and had fun with it that way.

But MMOs aren’t really like that. The whole point is that other people are there, whether or not you choose to interact with them. They are right there in your game and possibly in your face. The game offers a variety of activities to do with them too, whether it be trading, sharing craft skills, running instances, or just ganking their noob arses. And a lot of players do want to interact even beyond this. WoW, as the biggest player on the block, has spawned thousands and thousands of fansites, blogs, bulletin boards, databases, tweets, facebook pages, and other ways for players to get together and discuss the game. They are brilliant, and lively, and smart, and sometimes very wtf. But don’t ever doubt that these games spawn huge amounts of player generated content, it just isn’t inside the game itself.

And now … now it’s hard for me to play a single player game without wanting to talk about it online too. Or to find out what other people are doing with it, to get some hints and tips, and maybe to even try out the multiplayer options.

Much of this is due to the rise of social networking in general. We’re all more likely to talk about everything online,and it’s much easier to find a community of fellow hobbyists who share your interests. But I never used to share my gaming experiences – my solo games were private time. Now I can’t stop talking about how awesome the dog is in Dragon Age and how my dwarf rogue chick managed to wipe out an entire town of elves. And I know that other people are interested too because my post on Dragon Age endings got more hits from search engines than just about anything else I have ever posted.

Even though those other people are not actually in my single player game, I feel that I’m sharing experiences as if they were. It’s subtle, but it is a different approach. This is even more marked for people who want to share their achievements, their speed runs, their cool or crazy tactics, or bizarre things they have managed to do in single player games.

Developers are responding to this with more multi player options, more social networking, more ways to share achievements or to chat to other people while playing solo. And I love it.

Drilling Down into Tactics


Another way in which playing MMOs has changed single player games for a lot of people is the idea that we’d sit down and discuss tactics at all. Or spend time thinking about them in depth.

Single player games are often a smooth flow of experience, you learn one level and then move on to the next. Sometimes you will hit a brick wall and have to rethink your tactics. But otherwise, unless you are very focussed on optimising, playing well enough is going to be good enough. It’s a far cry from writing long posts on guild forums about tactics for a raid boss that we haven’t yet beaten. And despite all the complaints about games being dumbed down, let’s remember that tactics can get very complex when there are 25 players to consider. No single player game approaches that sort of complexity.

I don’t mean by this that everyone needs to optimise their play — games are about having fun — but being exposed to in depth strategy discussions in guilds for MMOs has forever changed the way I play single player games. I will spend more time wondering if there is a way that I could  do things more efficiently or more neatly. Single player games also help with this by offering save points so that levels can easily be replayed.

It has also thrown up some particularly amusing raid leader diagrams – I wish I could find some good links to old strategy guides for WoW raids in vanilla. I know our raid leaders loved producing them, and they always got a good reaction from players.

And because of learning all those raid boss strategies in WoW, I’ll recognise similar puzzles when they come up in a single player game. Dragon Age was a great example of this, with different boss fights that feature adds to be picked up, pressure points to stand on, multiple phases, resistance gear, and so on. Of course the single player examples seem simple, there aren’t 24 other people involved.

Rolling the Play, Playing the Role

Playing a single character or a single game for months and months is a very different experience to most single player games. It’s easy to identify strongly with a main character, and that can affect how people approach subsequent games also. For example, people who always roll healers or support classes, or people who always roll tanks. Not every single player game offers those options, instead you play what you are given. But having developed a gaming ‘identity’ in MMOs, it’s easy to feel more at home with a similar role.

And I think that having played an MMO, I appreciate more the ability to customise my character in single player games. There’s no real excuse for at least not having male or female options, for example.

The Things are Also People

Playing MMOs will give you an appreciation for the vast and varied way in which different people can choose to play the same game. This appreciation may take the form of wishing you could kick them in the nuts through your monitor.

And although single player games are happy retreats from the uglier side of MMOs, safe from players who call you a noob, gank you, or steal your kills, I wonder if seeing other play styles in action does bleed over into how we play. Ever spent more time fussing over your appearance in a single player game, from having played with people in MMOs who did that? Ever considered a speed run in a single player game just from having played with a hardcore raid guild where other players did that?

The Holy Trinity

This is the core of most current MMO gameplay, and once you have learned about it, you will see similar undercurrents in a lot of other games also. And when I say learn about it, what I really mean is once you have lived it.

Because our characters in MMOs are so immersive and so focussed, you only have to play in a few groups before you understand how the different roles are meant to work deep in your bones.

After that, the first approach you will take to any new party based game will be a tank/ support/ dps one. Possibly with some crowd control if you are feeling fancy. This has the amusing side effect of making you feel like an instant expert if the game has a long, patient tutorial mode.

the holy trinity #2, a metaphor for everything

Matt had a post on World of Matticus about how he downed his final exam boss, to which I’m sure every WoW player can relate. And it doesn’t stop with exams – it turns out that the holy trinity, and raid boss fights, are actually an awesome metaphor for absolutely everything.

I know that I’ve had good line managers who ‘tanked’ senior management so that the dev team could get on with finishing their project on time. How does it fit into single player games? Well, the metaphor is so pervasive that it’s easy to feel that you just tanked a level or that some NPC is your personal support class even when there’s no tanking or healing involved at all.

Designers who want to throw out the holy trinity do so at their peril, there’s something in that setup that speaks very deeply to gamers.

And … some more about Dragon Age, the RPG for MMO players

Where does Dragon Age fit into all of this. Certainly it was an experience that could be widely shared online, Bioware had a social network all set up. We chatted about it on bulletin boards and blogs also.

But the actual core of the gameplay was familiar to MMO players from the start. This is where the RPG of the MMORPG came from, it wasn’t from the tabletop world, but from the single player RPGs of which Dragon Age is just a recent iteration. There was the large world with the detailed setting, the gear collecting, the holy trinity based squad combat, the quests, the NPCs, the storylines.

It played like a single player MMO, and that was what dazzled a lot of MMO players who hadn’t dabbled much recently in single player games. And that alone shows how much times have changed, because I remember early MMOs being described as ‘just like multi player RPGs.’

Tam, my challenge to you in return is to write about how playing MMOs has affected you in real life. Anyone else, feel free to join in also.

10 thoughts on “How MMOs infect single player games, and other syphilitic themes

  1. This is actually nothing new. I was introduced to videogames by the arcade scene back in the eighties, and that was as much a social environment as an MMO, if not better. Even our solo games we shared and talked about with each other because we grew bonds simply by frequenting the same arcade and playing co-op games face to face.

    MMOs and the internet to me are much more diffused. That’s really the only difference to me. A MMO party is just a longer, always on version of going to an arcade and playing teenage mutant ninja turtles with 3 other players. They don’t really infect me because I was already infected by social gaming a long time ago.

    • I guess what I should have said was that the big difference is not having to prearrange gaming sessions with your friends. Having massive numbers of players spread across different timezones means that the game is playable 24/7 and I think that was quite a change.

      I was never into arcades but it sounded like a great little community. I’ve heard other people remember it fondly also.

  2. In the old days, we’d talk about movies or what we saw on television the night before. It was watercooler talk, but I doubt Dragon Age or WoW would enter the conversation despite the popularity of videogaming.

    The Internet has allowed us to find a critical mass of like-minded people to talk about our interests, and I have quite enjoyed finding this blog as well as some others. But I accept the fact that our ability to talk about videogames can only happen on the Internet.

    My complaint with the WoW=rpg model is that it cements the Holy Trinity into the minds of gamers who don’t know that it can be different. Coming from a paper and pencil gaming experience, it was not unusual for our group to be composed only of rogues. Such a group would be sub-optimal at best in WoW, but completely viable in an environment where stories can be crafted for the group(40 priests v. Onyxia not withstanding).

    I do not disagree with your analysis about the pre-eminence of the Holy Trinity, I am just sad about it.

    *Note: The Internet (and cable tv) allows us to talk about our niche hobbies, but it also takes us away from a more common culture. In a department of 13 people, I don’t know if there are more than 4 or 5 people who watch one common tv show. It is very different from the pre-Internet days.

    There are two people in the group with whom I can discuss videogames, but they are both console players.

  3. My original RPG gaming was also pen & paper, and the flexibility of the group was amazing.

    My video gaming exerience is primarily console which has yet to make any significant strides into MMO, so that I am used to a wide choice of character customization, and no consideratio of “The Group”.

    WoW was my first exposure to the “Holy Trinity” of player types, and to be honest, if chafes me to no end. The forced roles and the rigidity of them is self reinforcing, which then get re-reinforced with every patch and expansion from Blizzard.

    Granted, a switch to any other game mechanic would never be acceptable for WoW, and that’s fine, but it does bother me, especially those rare occaions when I play my pen & paper games. Granted the all human “players vs DM” interaction and “on the fly creativity” aren’t possible in a programmed game, but I still miss the freedom provided by TSR.

  4. I’m a pen and paper junkie also, and I love the flexibility that having a human GM gives to roleplaying games. As a GM I loved tailoring scenarios to the player characters and their backgrounds also. And much as I love Dragon Age, I think there’s a limit for how well current tech can mimic that.

    But still, computer games can do some things better than RPGs. Combat will feel more immediate and probably more exciting. You get to see the gameworld for yourself through your own eyes (big bonus if your GM wasn’t all that good at descriptions). It’s not the same and maybe it never can be, but that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy them for what they are.

  5. Thank you for the wonderful post – I mean obviously people are introduced to games in a variety of games but before WoW it was always, err, a solitary vice for me, so to speak. WoW in that regard has been a revelation – and I think one of the things I really love about WoWblogging is suddenly there’s all this discussion, not just about tactics and strategies but everything about the game.

    Chas is a bit more of a hardcore geek than me – he’s a pen and paper fanatic but I came to all that stuff very late, and it’s still a bit alien to me.

    And thanks for your topic – I’m giving it some thought and I’ll have something after Boxing Day.

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