Even just 7 to 10 years ago, most gaming took place on consoles, on games that took place on discs or cartridges. Once you played all the way through the game, found all the hidden stuff (and plugged in all the cheat codes), you were done. Oh, and if you wanted to play with more than four players, the extra people had to wait their turn.
But gaming has changed. Wow, has it ever changed! Most modern games now include a Massive Multiplayer Online (MMO) experience, where you can play with tons of people across all different regions (and countries)!
But why was there this major shift in game development? Well, it seems that modern gamers naturally gravitate toward MMOs, and I believe there are several social and gaming reasons for that.
MMOs Make More Individual, Innovative Game Experiences
Because of the online component of MMO gaming, there are a lot less “scripted” dialogues/events, and more off-the-cuff, genuinely new experiences. Basically, when you start the game, you’re never sure what new challenges await you.
I think of my experiences playing City of Heroes–you’re never sure whether there will be a Rikti Invasion special event while you’re playing, or which of your online buddies are going to be there to play with. It’s always a little unexpected, which is part of the fun. Unlike a cartridge or disc game, which is played thoroughly and then often set aside, MMOs give a player a truer, more responsive and “human” gameplay experiences, which continually rouses mental curiosity.
MMOs Provide Social Interaction
Instead of being cloistered away in a bedroom or basement utterly away from other humans, modern gamers have the option of real social interaction with other players through the MMO system. Now, sure, some of this interaction is made up of insult exchanges, random outbursts of rage, and the like, but some of it is actually worthwhile. You can actually find yourself talking about stuff other than the game, with people who are just as thoughtful as you. You just have to be willing to start a conversation–and MMO gaming gives you the chance to do exactly that.
For instance, I’ve met several good gaming friends through my City of Heroes experiences, and we have since become friends outside the game as well. We don’t just have to talk about “the game” or what characters we’re building next–we can actually talk about what we do when we’re not on the computer, any work-life stuff, all the kinds of things that friends talk about. This makes the “game” almost more than a game–it’s nearly a social network of its own.
MMOs Give Players Endless Replay Value
Because of the individualized, responsive gameplay I spoke of earlier, MMOs can be continuously replayed. Playing the game does not get rid of storylines, to be replayed the same way when you “finish” the game and start over; in fact, MMO gaming constantly builds on old storylines and introduces new plot threads in a fairly seamless experience. In essence, it’s never the same game twice, to paraphrase Disney’s Pocahontas.
This differs greatly from console games, which are generally locked into one major story that is only successfully played through one way. Even though returning to an old favorite game to replay it can give you warm fuzzies of nostalgia, it can also be a little boring to hack through the game the same way all the time. MMO gaming most certainly does not have that problem.
MMOs Always Have More Stuff to Do and Find
Because of developers and content creators working consistently behind the scenes, there are always new expansions, new story threads, new Easter eggs to find, and new graphic creations. Unlike console games, which don’t have much capability for innovation beyond what was programmed into the disc or cartridge, MMO games can always be updated, changed, patched (and repatched), etc.
City of Heroes, for example, has various timely expansions called “issues,” in which new costume pieces, new storylines, and other game developments are introduced. This ensures that the game is always fresh and has more challenges (which we gamers love!).
MMOs Can (Usually) Be Played by Anyone with a Computer
Lastly, unlike most console games, which are inextricably tied to a particular console to play, MMOs can generally be played by any computer. This makes MMOs more accessible to a wider swath of people–most humans these days have a computer for work or home use, but not everyone has a particular gaming console. When the computer becomes your gaming console, it’s a lot easier to game overall!
Having more potential players means that more people can meet and play together, increasing the strength of the game’s social network and boosting the innovation of the game experience. Plus, you no longer have the console wars to get in the way of good communication (i.e., you don’t have a bunch of Xbox players ragging on the Wii players, etc.).
Because of the massive multiplayer online genre, we are seeing more interactive, responsive, and social games than ever. This has changed gaming, and I believe it’s for the better.
Now, do I still like console games? Sure, because they are simpler and better suited for one-player experiences. (They are also a nice change, and a little hit of nostalgia never hurt any gamer.) But if I really want an involving game experience, I’m much more likely now to turn toward an MMO myself. MMOs provide something no other digital game experience provides–a sense of real, human community.