In a recent post over at Kill Ten Rats, Ravious presented the following line of thinking:

Secondly, even though [Vindictus] was really fun there was not going to be any persistence to my actions. There is a big reason that I just cannot play single-player games anymore. I want desperately to finish Mass Effect, a really fun game, but I feel whatever small time I spend on my real-life friend’s Minecraft server is magnitudes more meaningful than going through some personal single-player game.

It is a very human reaction to want to make a noticeable effect on the world and to ultimately leave some form of personal legacy behind.  Many MMOs play into this primal ego-centrism in a big way, allowing you to build up characters and sometimes territories over the course of days, weeks, and months.

The problem is that as soon as you quit playing an MMO, you may as well never have been there.  Your characters, for all intents and purposes, cease to exist – just like Shepard when you finish with the Mass Effect storyline and set the game aside.  And while it’s true that you always have the option to come back to the game world and resuscitate an abandoned avatar, the same holds for a traditional game.   If I want to pop into Diablo 2 again after all these years then all I need to do is load up my old save files and I’ll be able to recommence my Sorceress’ career; likewise, if I decide to go back to World of Warcraft my druid is waiting patiently.

On the surface it’s tempting to say, like Ravious does,  that this online gaming is more meaningful than single player gaming, but it isn’t.  The persistence in an MMO is exactly as ethereal as that found in more traditional single player or online games:  your contribution only lasts so long as your interest in the title holds.

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10 Responses to “Illusionary persistence”

  1. Longasc says:

    You are right there.

    But many people fall into this “meaningful” trap. But why? Because … in online games there are other gamers, is it all about progressing in a social environment, even if one is a solo player and nobody can really see your progress besides you?

    I wonder… I don’t have an answer on that, but you hear this “meaningfulness” of MMOs over single player games a lot. Heck, I even somehow feel the same, despite so much arguments against it!

    There are sometimes events in MMOs you must finish while they last, or to prepare for upcoming events. Everyone who wants to participate in the “War in Kryta” campaign must have finished either Prophecies or Eye of the North in Guild Wars for instance.

    There is of course also some interaction going on in MMOs. Sins of a Solar Empire does not care if I don’t log on erm play for 1 year or so, my guild in a MMO and other players do.

    • Andrew says:

      I think you’re hitting on “shared experiences”, which are one big draw of MMOs, but don’t really relate to persistence in the way that Ravious seemed to be keying on.

      I had some awesome shared experiences in WoW – none better than defeating Lady Vashj with my guild; I still get a rush thinking about those nights of learning the fight, and finally the sweet rush of victory.

      That was a great experience, but when it’s all said and done it’s nothing but a memory of a time playing with friends. That Karthis the Druid was a pretty awesome add-tank and helped down Lady Vashj amounts to nothing in the scheme of the WoW game world. No mark was ever left.

  2. Tesh says:

    It’s the intersection with other players’ spheres that matters in online games. The in-game achievements are irrelevant and nonpermanent, but the friends you make might just leave an imprint. This weekend’s bash in WoW that BBB is organizing is something I’m jumping into because I want to be a friend. I don’t care about whether it’s a permanent thing in-game. (Though I’ll certainly take screenshots to remember things.)

    That said, I play games to relax and have fun, or research. I’m not in it to achieve anything.

    • Andrew says:

      Yes… and I’d argue that PVE MMOs just do on a large scale what co-op titles like Diablo have done for a long time, and PVP MMOs are an extension of games like Quake and Starcraft.

      Gaming for a good cause has a long tradition in both online & offline formats, which is sort of unique in the entertainment industry. Nobody that I know of watches movies or television for charity, but gaming marathons seem to be a popular way to support a cause.

      • Tesh says:

        Yeah, BBB just hosted a “Raid from the Heart” event to drive awareness and contributions for heart disease. He initially introduced the idea by making a call to the community, though, not to a sense of persistence in-game. Maybe gamers really do itch for that “real life” achievement thing, rather than a list of chores after all. ;)

  3. Andrew says:

    To raise a point before someone else does:

    The closest an MMO comes to achieving some form of persistence is EVE Online. Every so often an individual in that game can do something that has a lasting permanence that transcends the length of their subscription.

    Because unique individuals can achieve unique things in EVE, it mimics the persistence of reality far more than any other game on the market, online or offline.

  4. Void says:

    Wow, great post Andrew. Everyone’s comments are insightful too. I can see the allure of single, multiplayer, and MMOs. I agree with you that as soon as your interest in a game wanes your participation matters just as much whether the title is single player or an MMO.

    When I game I like to have good stories about what I did. Whether it’s a raid in WoW, a fortress in Minecraft, an awesome win in StarCraft 2, or the epic storyline of Mass Effect. As long as I get a good story out of it, created by me or the developer, then I’m happy with my gaming experience.

  5. Derrick says:

    Ravious’ post kind of confuses me. The issue with persistence in video games, single player as compared to multiplayer, is a matter of scope.

    A single player game is not meant to continue after you’ve completed it. It’s just done. If it’s a game you can continue playing, then any changes you’ve made, things you’ve accomplished – they’re still there.

    A multiplayer game on the other hand exists on a much longer timeline, and the impact of player actions should be expected to last on that longer timeline.

    So, given that, I can see where Ravious starts, but that’s right where things fall apart.

    At least in the single player game, the world can react entirely to your actions within it. There are (well, can be) real consequences for the choices you make. A single action can completely change the world! In some cases, I can buy a sequel to the game (lets call it an expansion pack with standalone options!) and continue the story, with every last change my character made still there. Dead characters and foes are still dead. Rivalries still exist.

    In an MMO, your actions have no affect whatsoever. None. There’s nothing to show players where my hunter first slew Ragnaros – hell, if you go there today, he’s still hanging around (despite the fact that my extremely frustrated hunter killed him and his lackies over, and over, and over again). My Druid? Years of play, been all over the world, done all sorts of things. Zero persistence. She may as well have never been there. There’s not even the illusion of persistence.

    • Tesh says:

      Seconded. I’ve argued this about the game design of these MMO things in one way or anther several times over the last two years. It’s why I actually play single player games more often; I think the storytelling is stronger, and if I itch to be a force on the game world, it’s far more likely.

  6. [...] couple weeks ago, Andrew, a blogger compatriot at Systemic Babble, responded to a problem I was having with single-player games. Namely, I was not playing them because of their lack of [...]

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