Tobold's Blog
Tuesday, January 31, 2012

I have always been interested in writing. So as a teenager in the early 80's I owned a piece of state of the art word processing technology: An electric typewriter. And I even went to a typing course, where I learned to type 50 words per minute, error-free, using all 10 fingers without even watching them. At the time that was unusual for boys, it was usually girls who became typists. In a typical company every middle manager or creative type who had to write a document instead dictated it onto a tape recorder, and then a typist would type that on paper.

Well, computers came and changed all that. Now everybody in a company needs to write his own stuff, many people spend a lot of time in front of a keyboard both at work and at home. For me that meant that the typing course was one of the most useful courses I ever took, as I'm typing twice as fast as the average computer user because of it.

But as I spent this weekend using my typing skills to write a self-made D&D adventure, it struck me how very different the process is from playing a MMORPG. Pen & paper role-playing games are very creative, I write adventures, I play roles, I interact with my players in a back and forth where we all have to invent stuff all the time. In comparison MMORPGs feel a lot more like typing, especially when it comes to the dungeon and raiding part: You want to hit a lot of keys fast and in the correct order. And if you do it wrong, your tear up the page and start over, hitting the same keys faster and with less errors the next time. In a MMORPG I am downgraded to the role of a typist, and my success is based not on the creativity of my ideas or the entertainment value of my expression, but on how fast I can hit those keys without errors.

So right now occupying myself with Dungeons & Dragons feels like a huge liberation of my creative energies, a big step upwards from being a typist in WoW or SWTOR. Needless to say I ended up playing very little of SWTOR this weekend. I'm starting to wonder if I'm actually going to make it to level 50 or will give up before that.
“In a MMORPG I am downgraded to the role of a typist, and my success is based not on the creativity of my ideas or the entertainment value of my expression”

Some PnP rule sets rely heavily on dice rolls, others allow ‘creative ideas’ for success.

Some video games invite imaginative play, in others you simply press buttons to kill things before they kill you.

I’d like to see popular adoption of MS Kinect/touchscreens/treadmills to control MMORPGs.
Unfortunately, these interfaces don't lend themselves to sustained periods of play.
And PC gamers love their keyboards :)
Indeed! And this is even before you start counting all the actual typing you have to do in a typical MMO.

(Related rant: when will the elite learn to type using anything even resembling normal written language?)
> I'm starting to wonder if I'm
> actually going to make it to
> level 50 or will give up
> before that

What? Aren't you going to pay a full-year subscription ?!?!?!!?

I always find my break in MMO's down to other activities. While I am playing I become all consumed by the MMO and structure my days around them. Then I hit a holiday or other hobby activity which pulls me away for a week. On return I login and look at my character and see rows and rows of abilities in a zone I don't quite remember and log off and return to the hobby.
Just flashed on college in the early 80's avoiding studying with yet another trip to the game store to buy yet another AD&D module to pore over. I spent easily triple the time I actually played the game just reading and creating scenarios. And playing was sometimes a letdown when the players circumvented my detailed plans. I was pretty good on the fly, but it was exhausting.

I have been dragging that stuff with me for 30 years, along with a positive reply from a query letter I sent to Dungeon Magazine with a scenario idea. I often wonder how poor I'd be today if I'd pursued that instead of science/medicine.

I also took typing lessons with a selectric in high school (also with lasting benefits), but I don't feel like I'm typing in an MMO. I use a keypad and a gaming mouse, with my hands on either side, so it feels like I'm operating a high-tech vehicle.

Give us a thumbnail of the scenario your planning?
Give us a thumbnail of the scenario your planning?

I don't think I'll ever post my actual game material here. My players could find it. That would not be a good idea, neither before the game session nor afterwards.

As an added difficulty the stuff I'm currently producing is half in English (for me), and half in French (for my players, e.g. handouts). Unless you are Québécois you probably can't use it.
The comparison of raiding to typing (and didactic typing games, where you pretend to drive a car or whatever with flawless typing) is amusing, but I'm with Bristal on this one - you overlook the spatial relationship of keys pressed to what's happening in the world. I have to say, at no point during a WoW raid had the notion of the perfect character string crossed my mind. It's just too dynamic for that, not least due to the actions of other people.

Also, one element missing from your comparison between MMOs and D&D is the existence of roleplaying servers, endorsed as such by the game company and occasionally policed to ensure a more immersive environment. Several (most?) of the major MMOs have them, and in ones where there is no explicit support, the community frequently designates one as the unofficial RP hub. It's a very niche way to play, but people do run events, long-standing campaign-like plotlines, and do other very creative stuff on those servers.
The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog.
Hm, have you considered that maybe you don't enjoy MMOs anymore? At least in their current form?

Most games (indeed, almost all hobbies) start to sound fairly ridiculous when you break them down to their bare mechanisms. Stopping and thinking about those bare mechanisms tends to be a sign that the magic is wearing off.

Not that I'm defending MMO raiding gameplay; I can't stand it and never do it. Just saying that if the man behind the curtain is poking out, it might be time to find a new spectacle to watch. (Which I guess you seem to be doing with D&D)
I'm just happy I still attain massive amounts of enjoyment from something so simple as typing perfectly, and pointing at things really fast and clicking my mouse. I don't need anything more than that really.

What can I say? I am a simple man with simple needs.
In terms of raiding, your analogy doesn't quite encompass the teamwork, planning, and execution that's required.

You're not just faithfully replicating a text since there's some element of randomness involved and a requirement for some interaction between players. At it's best raiding will involve significant amounts of interaction between players before and during the encounter. Planning out who's going to tank what, who's healing who, and what the dps will doing etc. During the encounter people need to react to the events, or to other people (ie who's the bomb and has to be avoided)
Wait a second there, is Tobold from Quebec? :O

The phrase is ... The quick brown fox jumpS over the lazy dog.
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