Explain Like I’m Cool: MMOs

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This week I wanted to go over what&rsquo;s probably the most addictive and least accessible of all gaming genres: the MMO. An abbreviation of &ldquo;massive multiplayer online game&rdquo; (which is probably too broad of a term nowadays, but I&rsquo;ll get that to that in a minute), you might be familiar with MMOs because on television you&rsquo;ll see the shut-in nerd who won&rsquo;t leave his computer playing them compulsively.</p>

MMOs are online games frequented by thousands of players, many who play daily and make it a significant part of their lives. Still, that’s probably a definition that carried a lot more meaning 10 or 15 years ago — the definition I just gave could be describing games like Call of Duty or League of Legends, but most gamers would not consider those to be MMOs. There’s another key aspect to MMOs that separates them from other games, and that’s the significant role-playing element involved in them. In my opinion the role-playing is probably both the main draw — and the biggest problem involved — with massively multiplayer online games.

See, by necessity MMOs have massive, well-developed worlds that all players are thrust into, and as they go through the game players are exposed to so much lore and mythology that it’s hard not to think about where your character might fit into this. The world of an MMO offers a break from reality (and usually offers a new reality that’s way cooler than our primary one), as well as a place that every player can belong. On top of all that, social interaction is a big part of any MMO, meaning that an immersive MMO can offer a legitimate alternative to one’s regular social environment.

All of that makes MMOs a really cool experience — imaginative and creative people can use MMOs as an outlet to come up with interesting or entertaining characters, and the occasional break from reality really isn’t so bad, especially when you need to relieve stress. The problem comes when people give preference to an MMO’s reality instead of real life.

Now obviously, this isn’t the case for every MMO player, and it’s not even close to being the majority of them. Still, there are elements of MMOs that can suck people in if they’re not careful.
First and foremost, MMOs demand that you put a lot of time into them if you want to become good. As a role-playing game, you start at a fairly low level and in order to reach the top tier and become a bona fide badass, you’re going to need to play a lot. The top players in the biggest MMOs have probably put in hundreds (if not thousands) of hours, but ultimately how much you’re willing to commit to a game is up to you. 

Another key factor is the substitute reality that MMOs offer. The ridiculous amount of content and story that MMOs offer, as well as the amount of social interaction you can get just from playing online, is apparently enough to make some people pick virtual reality over the real deal. Much as I wish I could say that the characters you’ve probably seen who don’t leave their room and only interact with people virtually are just characters, it really does happen.

Is this a serious concern? Probably not. While I’ll be the first to admit that MMOs are really addictive, none should be so encompassing that you can’t turn them off with a little bit of self-control. I’ve tried my hand at a handful of MMOs, and while I’ve definitely put A LOT (think 200-300) of hours into them over a three-year period, it’s never gotten to the point where I couldn’t control how much I played it or felt like I had an actual addiction. Basically, as long as you have self-control and aren’t using them as a method of coping with reality, MMOs shouldn’t seem scary.

But does that mean that you should play them? It depends on your interests. Most MMOs usually have fantasy or sci-fi settings, so if you’re not into that kind of nerdy stuff you may want to steer clear. There are also MMO adaptations for some nerdy media icons, including Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Marvel and DC superheroes, and soon Firefly too.

You’ll want to be careful with MMOs, but they can be a lot of fun, too. If you decide to get into MMOs (or you play them now), just do me a favour and don’t be the kind who mixes up your games with reality. I already get a bad enough rep as a nerd as it is.