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Thoughts on Elitism and Speed Runs, or, My Dinner with Thrall

Posted by on November 24, 2010

Last week, Spinks mused a bit over on her blog about the tendency of WoW players to distill every activity down to its most efficient execution, even if some of the players would like things to go more casually. She suggested using some social engineering to gather like-minded players together:

Maybe some kind of social scoring scheme based on (useful and grammatically correct) forum posts and votes from previous groupees, and some extra cosmetic rewards and titles …

I think she might be on to something. But what’s missing from the discussion is the important note that dungeon runs are, by themselves, not much fun after the first couple of times you do them. You’re there to get some loot, some experience, some gold, some emblems, some badges, some faction — and you want to make the best use of your time, so naturally the one thing everyone probably wants the most is a fast and successful dungeon run, ASAP, so they can queue up for it again.

When your action bar is filled up with ways to hurt, wound and kill things, you want to get to pressing and watch things dying. Almost every MMO is written expressly to turn animated enemies into loot.

No, if you want to change the game-PLAY, you have to change the GAME.

Imagine a group of adventurers, sitting down to a table in a restaurant. Abby is the sommelier, Barret the fishmonger, Carey the pâtissier and, leading the group, Darlene the raconteur.

Abby and Barret discuss their buffs and strategies, while Carey arranges his pastries for quick action. Darlene doesn’t have much to prepare, though she has the hardest job of them all.

The maître d’ seats the first encounter of the evening. Fred the Bloody is a puppy mill owner from the Enchanted Forest, come into the city to sell his wares to the local eateries.

Fred attacks first. “I HATE THIS TABLE!”

Darlene ripostes smoothly with “As much as you’re able!”, and they’re off. The raconteur’s job is to keep the conversation going by making rhymes with the enemy. Anyone in the group can help, if they aren’t doing other things, but only raconteurs have the tools to detect when the enemy is getting bored and would welcome a change of topic.

While Darlene talks about fables and cloaks of sable, Barret serves stuffed trout that Abby follows up with a sweet pinot blanc. (She’s also doused the trout with a plum brandy, for the bonus). Soon, Fred the Bloody is too busy eating to keep conversation going, so Darlene talks with Carey as Carey keeps a saucer full of finger foods within Fred’s grasp.

When it looks like Fred is about to turn and flee, Carey hits him with a rich chocolate cream cake, dripping with fudge, with a strawberry on top. Fred takes a forkful, and collapses.

Fred dropped a Mystic Corkscrew of Sharpness for Abbey, a book of trollish rhymes for Darlene, and some evening clothes that got randomed off to the group.

The maître d’ brings them their next dinner guest: Madame O, the mistress of the orphanage. “We’re going to need more fish,” hisses Barry.

The problem with MMOs is that, by and large, your only option when faced with a problem is to kill it. If you want your MMO to support conversation and (as above) crafting, it needs to be built into the game.

Heck, combine the two. I’d thought that Vanguard’s diplomacy sphere would turn out to be an alternate way through dungeons and so on instead of killing — or perhaps as a way to change the nature of certain encounters. Sadly, that didn’t happen. But, wouldn’t it be nice to occasionally settle into a pun game with a dragon instead of trying to stick it with sharp things?

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