Tenfold Hate

Commerce and Creativity Clash on Ye Olde Virtual Battleground
November 14, 2007, 12:22 am
Filed under: Fantasy, Gaming, MMORPGs

Game designers are creative folk. They are our Dungeon Masters of the technological age, weaving vast exciting worlds for us to game in, socialize in, and explore. Pen-and-paper role-playing games are very grassroots by today’s standards. A group of friends, a bag of potato chips, and a handful of dice around the kitchen table. I don’t know about you, but when my friends and I played Dungeons and Dragons, there was no talk of the bottom line or spikes in subscription rates.

MMORPGs brought a hobby spawned in the basements of the marginalized, the imaginative, and the misunderstood to our desktops. A passion that in our gawky youth provided respite from schoolyard scuffles or the dates we weren’t going on. Put simply, a creative escape from the typical monotony of being a kid.

Though perhaps not as crucial a lifeline as they once were, RPGs still have that magic ability to give us shelter from the storm, providing some adventure and socialization between those chunks of our lives spent sitting in a cubicle, or changing the kitty litter, or paying the gas and electric bills, or counting the weeks to our next vacation. In short, MMORPGs provide an entertaining, interactive distraction from the sometimes monotonous tasks of being all grown up at the dawn of the twenty-first century. But even with jobs, mortgages, and significant others, we’re still some of the most passionate hobbyists you’ll find.

As we’ve grown and evolved, so have the games. Just as we’re accountable to our bosses, or kids, or pets, or spouses, the game designers–our modern day game masters–are beholden to a third party that wasn’t present around the kitchen tables of our youths. The companies with the cash flow to produce the games. Folks who don’t deal in gamers’ passions, but spreadsheets and flowcharts and the dreaded bottom line. Aw geez, looks like the prom king who slammed your head into a locker eighteen years ago just got the keys to the basement. Hide the twenty-sided dice.

Accessibility and polish are not bad things, depending on how one defines them. However, as the MMORPG industry continues to grow, it seems like the gap widens between our vocabulary and that of the bigger game production studios. Countless seminal blues musicians remained penniless while their songs were repackaged and polished by safe, soulless teen idols. On one hand, what MMORPGs are going through now are normal growing pains (and markedly less severe than those of the real world), but that doesn’t make ’em fair or any prettier.

Certainly as seasoned, passionate gamers we can learn to change with the times without selling our souls or becoming crusty old relics sitting in our rockers talking about “when we had to walk uphill both ways in the snow for corpse retrievals.” Any successful entertainment endeavor must master that delicate balancing act between creative integrity and dollars-and-cents, even if we’re not talking “high art” here. But at the same time, what might the works of a Van Gogh or Emily Dickinson be like if someone had been standing over their shoulders barking about the ‘bottom line?’ Pretty uninspired.

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