The terrors of the Massively Multiplayer Online RPG

For many years, I’ve hated the idea of playing a video game that has no ending. They have scared me because of how easily addicted I am to games. When I was twelve, a classmate passingly commented on this “sick game” he was playing called RuneScape. Now RuneScape is by no means a good game. In fact, by today’s standards, it’s pretty shit (or at least, it was back when I played it). But it didn’t stop little twelve-year-old me from becoming obsessive about it. I would literally argue over seconds of computer time with my brother, and we split the day so that from 3am-3pm the computer was mine. Idiotically, this meant I couldn’t play it after school, but I was so excited about the prospect of having uninterrupted play-time that I ignored this. I started getting up at 5, 4, even 3am to play. I could never get enough, not even when I stayed home from school, not even when I spent all weekend playing it. They were ugly times.

Since those dark days, I have steered the hell away from MMORPG’s, preferring single-player games with a definitive start-to-finish approach. But when I heard news that Bioware was turning one of my favourite games of all time (Knights of the Old Republic 1 – read my scathing opinion of KOTOR 2 here) into an MMORPG, I was so excited that I decided to make an exception. When the game was first released, I was eager to buy it. But to my chagrin, Bioware had opted not to let the Australians play it on launch date- there just wasn’t enough server power, and apparently we weren’t good enough to make the cut. I was so royally pissed off that I lost all interest in the game, even when it came out a little while later, and even when my friends started playing it.

But then, The Old Republic went free-to-play. No longer was there a $15 a month subscription fee, anyone could download and play it. And so I caved. I thought I’d download it, ready to play it some other day when I was ready. And then yesterday, I thought I’d load it up and just see if it worked. And then when I discovered it did, I thought there was no harm in making a character. And then maybe just figuring out the controls… Doing the first few basic tutorial missions… Just one more mission… Just slightly better gear… And so it went, until four hours passed.

When I stopped playing at 11pm last night, I decided that it was a good game, but I’d probably never play it again. It took me a very long time to fall asleep, despite how tired I was. My brain was so wired, so active that I lay in bed for maybe fifteen minutes before sleep took me. (I normally fall asleep within a minute, so this was at least fifteen times longer, which is a big deal for me.) But that wasn’t the end of my troubles. I woke up every few hours in a confused state of “I have to do something related to TOR but I don’t know what”. It got worse as the light brightened, until at 6:15am, after not being able to sleep or make any sense of my half-dreamed Republic world, I staggered out of bed and booted up the computer to keep playing. Just to wake up a bit, and to satisfy my nonsensical craving, you understand. I promised myself that I’d get off at 7:30am no matter what happened, so that I could eat, go outside for tai chi, write lines, clean my room… You know. Living stuff.

I did manage to get off just after 7:30, but it was a close call. Since last night, I’ve comprehended the basic mechanics of how the game works, and I understand how to use my various skills more-or-less to their fullest extent to give me the edge in combat. So I was strolling along, killing enemies and doing my thing while chatting to the general server. There are some really nice and intelligent people on TOR at 7am (or 5am, or whatever respective time zone they came from). One of them said “Jinsan, I can see you!” and ran up to me. He was a few levels weaker than me but he seemed like a nice enough guy, so we joined a group (or party). This was a totally foreign concept to me. I don’t play with other people online, and only rarely in person. I love the idea of being able to do everything by myself, but despite my usual modus operandi, I decided to share the joy of the experience. Since he was a few levels weaker than me, I ran ahead and took out all the tough enemies while he hung back and provided support from a distance. This was my first exposure to the playing styles of “tanking” and “damage per second” (that is to say, one player with high health and good armour runs in first so that all the enemies attack him, and the other player/s kill off the enemies while they’re distracted by the tank). It all sounded terribly complex when I listened to people describing character classes in WoW, but in TOR, it was just thrilling to be able to protect my weaker comrade from the aggression of the powerful enemies. We did some missions, killed some droids and then just ran around together. It troubles me that I really enjoyed it.

When I started playing TOR, I decided just to solo the whole thing, make no attachments or relationships, just get the storyline over and done with. But now, now that I have a friend (of sorts), I want to go out of my way to clear higher level enemies for him. I want to help him find ph@t l00t, and finish missions. And I want to fight boss-level characters that normally overpower me as an individual, but yield to my sabre as part of a team. Every character type, every item can allow you to configure to a specific type of play that is most helpful to your teammates. As I am discovering, “tanks” draw enemy fire and take the brunt of the damage so other players can focus on killing without impediment. And that’s a pretty cool way of clearing out a room of tough enemies. Damnit Bioware, why did you have to make a game where the characters all complement each other so well? What a single player can accomplish pales in comparison to what a group of four can achieve.

I mean yes, I do have the time to play right now without it really affecting any social commitments, but… I’m truly terrified that this will be another RuneScape, and it will become the most important thing in my life. I know it’s a different time, different situation, different person (how I’ve changed since then), but I’m still scared of what I might become if I give in to this temptation.

As a test of will, I hereby swear not to play The Old Republic again until after my holiday. Unless I’m desperate (as in can’t sleep, like this morning) or there’s a very good reason. I’ll keep you posted.

EDIT: Just reading up about preferred playing styles… It seems that the world of MMO’s are scary and inscrutable. What the hell is this guy on about?
“Tanks – We do have to keep eye on the surrounding, pats, vortexes, keeping aggro… while multi tanking the dps rarely starts on the skull so we need to try and make quick aggro on all mobs and then start aoe rotation.. and believe me, its just not TC and SW, their both always on cd when you most need them..”