Monday, November 21, 2011

General: Online Gaming

Instead of talking about a specific game in this post, I'm going to talk about why I got into online gaming. I was intending to cover this in my post on DDO, but it got kind of long and I forgot. So you get it in a separate post. Yay!

When I was in middle and high school, online gaming was something other people did. These other people were, in my youthful imagination, all overweight, pasty, pimply young males who lived on cold pizza and beer and only ventured out of their mothers' basements and into the harsh, unforgiving light of day when absolutely necessary, like when their snack supply ran low or their mothers had "forgotten" to pay the internet bill again. I had heard of WoW only because everyone had heard of WoW. I had no concept of any other games or of the people who actually played them. The closest I got to online gaming was those little flash games on iGoogle pages. While I enjoyed them, there were plenty of things I liked doing more, so I didn't think much of them.

As with almost everything related to geekdom, this really only changed once I got to college. The first real friend I made, A, played DDO with her long-distance boyfriend (now fiance), D. Neither of them were basement-dwelling weirdos and they both seemed to have fun with gaming.

One day, A offered me the opportunity to run a quest on her secondary character one day. I accepted out of curiosity and spent an enjoyable twenty minutes destroying every monster and breakable crate that crossed my path. A and D were surprised that I did so well without any experience with gaming and told me so, which was very flattering, considering their experience levels.

I liked the graphics and had had fun messing around on A's secondary character, so A suggested I download DDO myself. Since the game was free, I thought why not? I could always delete it later if I didn't like it, and since A had downloaded and played it without any problems, it probably wouldn't come attached to a virus that would eat my hard drive. So I spent half a day waiting for the thing to download and headed over to A's dorm room to get started.

It took a lot longer than anticipated to build my first character. This had nothing to do with the game itself being slow or anything- I just wanted to know all the mechanics of character building, what skills and feats would be most important to my character's race and class, where this came from, why, and a million other questions. A patiently answered all of my questions, getting D's opinion when she wasn't sure about something. Finally, after over an hour of stat building and messing around with my appearance and picking a name, my first character came into being and I started playing.

Within an hour, I was hooked. There was just something so satisfying about controlling a super-athletic, completely customized avatar that could run around and beat the snot out of various nasty beasties without breaking a sweat. Even today, that's one of my favorite things about online gaming: being able to take out your anger and aggravation on a bunch of completely virtual beasties in a satisfyingly flashy and risk-free manner. It makes for some excellent stress relief without risking the health or well-being of any person, animal, plant, object, or whatever in the real world. I didn't really care about plot or stories when I first started gaming, and while they're a bit more important to me now as far as giving structure and purpose to the quests my character does, I still love just being able to take out my frustration on a bunch of randomly generated monsters.

At first, I just did quests to kill stuff and level up. I wasn't too fussed with doing things the "right way" or obtaining extra-special equipment. If I happened across something cool, then great. If I didn't, I didn't. I spent a couple happy months messing around on this character before finally deleting in favor of experimenting with several different races and classes. This lasted a long while before I settled on a Halfling Rogue as my primary character and an Elf Wizard/Rogue as my secondary, with a wide variety of far-less-often-played characters on different servers.

I spent the majority of my time gaming playing alone, which was fine with me- I gamed at all hours of the night and day working around schoolwork, and I couldn't exactly expect A to drop everything and get online because I had been suddenly struck by a mad urge to game. When quests started getting too hard for me to complete without help, I would get a Hireling, usually a Cleric, or in extreme cases ask A if we could pencil in some time to get through a particularly sticky quest. Fortunately, she was always happy to help.

Eventually, I decided that I wanted to try to earn a Drow character on my primary character. A encouraged me and helped me figure out how I could do it. After a few months, I earned enough favor to unlock the Drow race on that particular server and deleted my Elf Wizard/Rogue in favor of a Drow Rogue. Around this time, D had gotten into Guild Wars and was encouraging A to join him in that game. Eventually, he got it for her, and it quickly became the game they spent the most time playing. I was content with DDO, and didn't pay much attention to this new game of A's.

By that winter, A suggested that I get Guild Wars too. I wasn't particularly interested, considering that it cost money I didn't want to spend and wasn't the game I was used to. A was rather persistent, and eventually gave me a gift copy of all three Guild Wars campaigns. I was surprised and grateful and promptly downloaded the game. As she had with DDO, A helped me build my first characters and helped me make sense of the strange new game. The mechanics of Guild Wars were quite different from DDO's, however, and I didn't deal well with change. I wasn't initially impressed, and quietly retreated back into the familiar world of DDO.

Eventually, though, after running a few quests with A, another period of wild experimentation with professions (aided by the rather larger number of available character slots in Guild Wars), and some time on my own to become accustomed to the game, I quickly warmed to Guild Wars. While I missed being able to sneak up on people and disable traps, it was nice to be able to play with other professions and not have to worry about not having the special abilities necessary to maximize XP and treasure in quests and be able to play around with different styles of virtual combat.

I started visiting DDO less and less often in favor of Guild Wars, and when I created the characters that would become my primaries, I stopped playing DDO at all. I went so long without even thinking of the game that the client I had been running it on expired, and I couldn't play it at all. I was a little disappointed when I discovered this, but by that time a few months had elapsed, and I was firmly and enjoyably involved in Guild Wars, so it didn't bother me much. I really only decided to re-download DDO when I started up this blog.

While it's been fun revisiting my old characters and creating new ones, I still prefer Guild Wars over DDO for serious gaming. DDO is fun to mess around on, but because of the free-mium nature of the game and my lack of interest in paying a subscription fee I can't really afford for a game I play only sporadically, I prefer Guild Wars for gaming that gets my characters somewhere in 'verse. I love being able to access all the content of Guild Wars, and the special events are just as fun as DDO's. While some features like the ability to jump and a death penalty that goes away by itself are more fun in DDO, being able to switch skills around in any town, being able to have a full and complete party without spending any money or partnering up with strangers, map travel, and being able to share all items between characters for only a small fee are all features I find make Guild Wars a bit more fun to play than DDO. If I'm in the mood to randomly kill stuff, I am content with either, but if I'm interested in advancing the overall story of a game, I stick with Guild Wars.

Gaming these days is mostly a way for me to relax and de-stress, despite the sometimes difficult challenges presented in quests. I like being able to check out from my boring, hum-drum life every once in a while and become a brave and skilled adventuress with a bunch of shiny weapons and an extremely enviable physique. It can be fun to be someone else for a while, no matter how unrealistic that life actually is. Gaming isn't for dorks and losers- so-called "normal" people can enjoy gaming too. Everyone needs an escape from their own life sometimes, and gaming can be a satisfying and fun way to do that for some people. I've certainly enjoyed my own experiences with online games, and as long as I have internet, I will continue to do so.

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