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Skill and MMORPGs - An Unhappy Marriage
What can be considered the primary reasons why people play MMORPGs? Some will say socialization, although, you could, more or less, achieve the same level of socialization by just trolling a specific forum community for a certain period of time. Then, there is the aspect of uber loot - trying to get that epic sword that very few other people have, and why?
While there are never any general rules here, it often boils down to human vanity. Many play video games because they want to feel special, and rise above the rest of the crop. In many cases, games give you that false sense of accomplishment that people lack more of in real life. This leads to a rather contradictory situation in MMORPGs though - in really popular MMORPGs, it becomes very hard for the casual player to "stand out." Although this is not impossible, being special and having the best gear almost certainly implies that you have to play the game to such an extent that it would be a crime to call yourself a casual gamer. Often, in MMORPGs, the most vocal and vibrant online personalities (for all we know, they could be quiet loners in real life) will garner most of the attention, and hence myths will be created around their supposed skills. There is, of course, the other side of this coin too, where certain people will be labeled skill-less, and often this general impression of them will be based around even more myths.
In fact, while MMORPGs promote socialization, they promote it, to a degree, in a wrong way. They impose new values on this closed online society where people without a life are rewarded the game's highest accolades, and their skills are praised where no true skills are to be found.
I couldn't tell you the exact definition of skill, but the way I see it, possessing skill means that you've taken your natural abilities and perfected them with so much hard work that you've become better at something than a great majority of other people. For instance, a great ball player has skill - he has talent backed up by hard work. So if for instance, you were to play a 1-on-1 game against one such person, there is a *very* good chance you would lose 10 out of 10 times. You simply don't have the skill that he does. Your natural abilities backed up by whatever amount of hard work you put into them do not surmount to the same level of skill that he has.
Conversely, there are gamers that possess true skill. Naturally, their skills are only apparent in video games that actually promote skill. At this year's E3, I had the privilege of watching the reigning UT 2004 champion, Johnathan "Fatal1ty" Wendel, play a number of promo matches with random people from the crowd. Now you may think you have a chance against this guy, but seeing how fairly good players from the audience fared, and the level at which Johnathan plays the game, it becomes apparent that you'd lose... badly... 10 out of 10 times. (Seriously, I never once saw Fatal1ty get killed. - Smap)
This takes me back to the problem of MMORPGs. It is in the competitive nature of our race to glorify people with skills and humble the people without them. The way this happens in MMORPGs is horribly wrong, however. Again, this has somewhat to do with human vanity and that desire to stand out at all costs. In MMORPGs, this gets to the point where people start justifying the blatantly obvious deficiencies of MMORPGs in terms of skill-based playing just so that they could artificially categorize players by skill (because it's in their human nature to categorize other humans by skill). So myths are created about good players and bad players.
In reality, the very nature of RPGs goes against the idea that the most skillful players are the ones receiving the most accolades. For one, there is no level playing field. One guy may be decked out with epic armor because he plays the game all day long, and the other may have very ordinary equipment, as he has a job, a family, etc. If we suppose that both of these players have the same amount of knowledge about their class and the class they are facing, and sufficient level of motor skills (nothing out of the ordinary mind you), then there is a strong chance that the guy with the better stats will win. His advantage is based on calculations by the game of the inputted stats, rather than his skills. And even if the other guy wins, it just could be that the random factor in these calculations (a number of critical hits, or resists per match), may tip in his favor, giving him an edge. All the while, however, an unordinary level of skill is not a factor in this Player vs. Player conflict. And even if it is *a* factor, it's far from being *the* factor.
In simpler terms, being an ordinary MMORPG player, I could certainly win at least a number of matches against the supposedly best player in all the land, and that is certainly not something I could hope to do against Fatal1ty, being an ordinary player.
MMORPG PvP conflicts are missing the crucial element that helps Johnathan "Fatal1ty" Wendel win 10 out of 10 matches against you - they are missing true skill. Tactics may play a certain part in MMORPG battles, yes, and you could even call that a skill - quick thinking - but skill in its quintessential form won't be the deciding factor. The very thing that helps "Fat" beat you in all ten of the matches.
So what is the problem here? Why write this article at all?
The answer is simple, I consider myself a competitive person, and I like the idea of the sporting spirit. I like to see players with skill (in sports or competitive games) being given the recognition they deserve for being really skilful at what they do. What I don't like to see is myths being created around players that compete in an environment that doesn't promote genuine skill. There is something fundamentally wrong about this. It's like glorifying a crappy painter just because ten people who are supposedly authorities on the matter say he's good.
Companies will promote PvP gameplay in their MMO games to simply ensure that there is enough content for players to keep paying the monthly fee. What this promotes, however, is not true values that define our competitive nature, but myths and vanity, just perpetuating the rather unhealthy attitude that is already abundant in MMO games.
Would the introduction of skill-based gameplay solve this problem? Possibly, yes, but then people who spend the most time on the game, wouldn't be rewarded as the naturally gifted people who might play less, but achieve far better results than them. That would sort of break the system of MMORPGs, which is based around people with no life (or genuine skills) getting a false sense of accomplishment and recognition in an online world.
You must've wondered at least a couple of times why FPS/MMORPG hybrids haven't worked yet, or why "true" MMORPG gamers steer clear from such games. What I have just written could possibly give you an answer to that question - they like make-believe competition instead of the real one.
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