The Shift in Massive Multi-player Online Role-Playing Games

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Sylys Knackstedt
The Evergreen State College

Despite leaps and bounds in visual/graphic appeal and connectivity, massive multiplayer online role-playing games (MMPORPG) often resort to the unimaginative zero-sum or partial-sum structure. Most reinforce the "kill-or-be-killed" (reptilian) mindset, and require a player commit simulated acts of violence in order to advance in the game and improve their characters.


Game designers play a pivotal role in sculpting the outlook of future generations. Nowadays, many affluent adolescent and teenage males spend more time and energy adapting to virtual gaming environments than to real social environments like school, neighborhood and community. This pattern applies to anyone considering investment in a MMPORG (for themselves or their children) or to anyone designing such a game.


Computer games are enjoyed by millions around the world. Consumers spend billions annually on games, and many a costly computer upgrade and internet connection upgrade was made to meet minimum operating specs for the newest, flashiest game on the market. Most MMPORGs require users pay a monthly fee from $9.99 to $19.99 to participate in the online universe, this is in addition to the standard retail cost of buying the software to begin with. After creating a character, the player begins as a weakling with limited resources and skills, and must run around killing creatures or non-playing characters (NPCs) and ammassing wealth by looting their corpses.
A player can talk to other players in a chat window and by cooperating can gang up on larger, more powerful creatures. Performing "missions" involves talking to an NPC or going to a mission terminal and getting the coordinates of some particularly tough creature to go kill for a set monetary reward. Usually at some point, the player becomes strong enough (after days and days of play and after killing thousands of creatures) to fight other players.
Players die frequently in MMPORGs, only to be instantly resurrected back at a temple or a cloning station (depending on the genre of the game) with a minor penalty to their wealth.
Most MMPORGs have some sort of game economy, that works as players buy and sell weapons or resources. Some have merchant or healer classes-- characters able to create items from raw resources, or heal wounded characters. Though these professions offer a break from the monotony of mass-murder, these roles are still peripheral to the main thrust of the game, that is, "the more you kill, the more powerful you become." The are relegated to support roles to the fighters.
The psychological effect of immersion in these violent fantasies is still difficult to gauge, though many players become self-described "addicts" of the game, investing a good percentage of their waking hours. Interactions with other players give a sense of online community, and regular players become familiar friends when they see each other day after day, cooperating or competing on missions. The focus on solving problems by killing opponants is certainly disturbing, if not monstrous.


Consider new types of games with objectives other than killing. Why start out weak and gradually get stronger by killing? What if a player began strong, and became weaker the more he killed?

Also, dont immediately assume the dominant economic model when designing a game. why not experiment with a gift-giving or communal economy instead of always simulating capitalism?

Finally, why not experiment with the premise of the game? too often we see the standard fantasy kingdom vs evil army, or futuristic corporate(or machine) empire vs the rebellion yarns that have been used over and over and over again. The premise of a game can be something other than a stark, banal power struggle. Imaginatively used, MMPORGs could become virtual testing grounds for radical alternative egalitarian and even utopian political systems. Why not?

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