I have an addictive personality. I freely admit this. I prefer to think of it as “obsessive,” but I’m not certain my behavior is outwardly different from an addict. In the time after I left StrangeMUD I started hearing about EverQuest, and later World of Warcraft – I had friends and significant others who were former players and the tales were legendary – and I vowed to stay away. I had spent so much time playing a text-based, free game that I knew I would be dangerous if allowed to tie a credit card to a shiny graphical game. I became more resolute after I watched someone leave the birthday party of his best friend because he had to do Molten Core. What kind of game, I wondered, would charge you monthly for the privilege of not spending time with your best friend because you “have” to raid?
Then Guild Wars came along. A few of my friends were playing this and encouraged me to try it because it didn’t have a monthly fee. I had seen it in action and fallen in love with the graphics, so I used a trial key, rolled my familiar healer/fighter hybrid and suddenly I was running around a virtual world with friends again! Wait a minute… I was running around with friends again… so why did I feel so lonely?
Instances, as executed in Guild Wars, took some getting used to, and I can appreciate (though ultimately disagree with) the points of those who argue that the instancing removes Guild Wars from the pool of massively multiplayer RPGs. While I appreciated the ability of the game to tell a tailor-made story by using instances, initially I felt claustrophobic knowing that the only living souls in any given explorable area were myself and whatever friends had accompanied me. For the first half of the game, I could not bring myself to do missions alone, even with NPC henchmen; it is this same unease that prevents me from playing and enjoying single-player RPGs. I crave and thrive on the ambiance created by the bustle of other players, the chatter on the channels, the knowledge that somewhere, at that moment, someone is playing a character in the same game doing the exact same thing that I am.
Still, the story was engrossing and the gameplay was incredibly fun and versatile, and I had a nearly-static group and guild to game with whenever I liked. My complaints about the insularity of missions gave way to the expansive storyline and additional chapters and characters that I played, and the fact that there were virtually no tasks in the game that required more than an hour of my time to complete. There certainly were times when my guild went on story-completing frenzies that ran upwards of seven hours, but each mission completion provided an opportunity to drop out with no harm done, and that was more important to me than almost anything. I rounded up around 500 hours of gameplay with Guild Wars over the next two and a half years. It was my sole obsession, even though I played it casually; I spent many waking and dreaming hours making up builds in my head, contemplating trying different professions and combinations of professions, and designing character appearances to try out later.
Somewhere, between the lush graphics and casual story-based gameplay of Guild Wars, and the whimsical, social world of StrangeMUD, I felt lay my ideal game.
Later: Crafting, the Other Missing Link?