Journal Of Applied Misanthropology

Bowling For Goblins

So, I am slowly being sucked into a massive timesink called "Everquest", even though my first two experiences were less than laudatory. (My Dwarf Warrior was doing good, made it to 4th level in one weekend, then some Krag Chicks ganged up on him, he couldn't find his body in the dark and the rain, and he's out of food, moneyless, and weaponless. My Human Paladin, Agamar, had just begun his life when he tried to type "What is the quest?" but, instead, was in the wrong mode (think vi) and accidently entered a string of commands that translated to "Whack the guy in front of me" -- who was the head of the Paladins Guild. Agamar was red mist in nanoseconds. (He resurrected, of course, death is but an inconvenience, but it was still irksome.)

So what is the point of Everquest? Well, basically, you make a character, who begins naked and weak. You send him outside his main city to whack tiny monsters. When he whacks enough monsters and strips their corpses of skin, teeth, and on rare occasion a Rusty Dagger or (once in an entire weekend of monster-whacking) a backpack(!), you get a little 'ding' and you gain a level, which means you raise some skills, which lets you whack slightly tougher monsters, which yield slightly better treasures, which you can use to buy better weapons and armor, allowing you to whack EVEN TOUGHER monsters, and so on, until you get high enough level to...

Q:To what?
A:To leave the starting zones and go somewhere else!
Q:Cool, then what?
A:You whack more monsters!
Q:And what do you get?
A:More treasure and experience!
Q:Which lets you do what, exactly?
A:Go to DIFFERENT zones and whack EVEN TOUGHER monsters!

Repeat. And repeat. And repeat. Until you're 50th level, then you can't GET any tougher. Except that a new expansion is coming out, which will let you 'level up' even further.

Sounds pointless? Yeah, it is. But consider this:

Q:So, what do you do for fun?
A:I go bowling with the league.
Q:Bowling? What's that?
A:Well, you roll a ball down a path, and hits some pins, and knocks them down.
Q:OK, then what?
A:Then the ball comes back to you, and you do it again.
Q:Oh. Is that it?
A:Yeah, but you also can win trophies!
Q:Does anyone care? I mean, if you put down "Champion Bowler Of East Oshkosh, Wisconsin, 1997" on your resume, would it get you a promotion down at the Tool&Die? But it's FUN.
Ditto golf. Or poker night with the boys. Or disco dancing. Or, lets face it, almost any activity we engage in that isn't directly related to money or sex. It's just that some peoples pointless endeavours are more socially acceptable than others.

People in online RPGs work -- spending HOURS of tedious, repititious mouse-clicking -- for a chance at nothing more then, basically, seeing a slightly different arrangement of polygons on a screen, getting a 'weapon' or 'armor' that's just numbers in a database, or, in the best and richest of the online worlds, getting your own house or having your guild be mentioned in some website somewhere. People even spend REAL money -- honest to goodness green stuff, ten dollars US GI, to get a castle in Britannia or a forty-third level druid in Norrath. (This is, to me, the moral equivalent of buying someone elses bowling trophy and proudly displaying it on your own mantelpiece. I mean, what's the POINT?)

Why? I mean, I do it too. And I admit I was THRILLED when my Dwarf Warrior (Bron, on the Luclin server, can usually be found looking for his corpse outside Kaladim) reached the point where he could take down not one, not two, but THREE Goblin Whelps all at once. I did the 'fist pump' when I found that backpack. I was ecstatic as I watched my "1-Handed Slashing" skill slowly climb from "Awful" to "Feeble" to "Very Bad". I felt fear as I realized I had nearly stumbled on a Goblin encampment in the dark, and was relieved as I slowly edged away without the Goblin Shaman (Who 'conned red' for you EQ-savvy types) noticing.

So why do we do it? Well, first off, I think we're programmed to follow an activity/reward system. It's part of our upbringing. "Do all your homework and then you can watch your favorite program". The whole idea of "Do x, get y" is totally ingrained in our culture, and, let us be honest, 99.9999% of the "y" we get is useless from the grand cosmic perspective. From a purely functionalist point of view, all a human being *needs* is a small plain cubicle with a mattress to sleep on and a daily supply of nutri-paste and tepid water. Fortunately for humanity, we are far, far, far, more than simple automatons. We need a continual source of abstract satisfactions, and online games provide those, if they're well designed.

There's another factor, as well. There's six billion of us, and, let's face it, the majority of us -- the vast, overwhelming, majority -- are total nobodies. We don't get the suitcase with the nuke codes. We don't get to star on a top-rated TV show. We don't get the private Lear jet and the golden parachute. We might score tickets to the Superbowl (if I did, I'd sell them, but other people value them, or so I hear) but we aren't going to be the guy who scores the home run in the fourth quarter and wins his team the Stanley Cup.

But we can be the champion bowler of our local league, or be Lord High Archmage Thurgood Dragonthwhacker on our favorite online server. And our hindbrain, the little bit of us that keeps screaming "Get status! Whomp enemies!", is often satisfied enough with that that we aren't tempted to go buy a shotgun and permenantly empty a Taco Bell.

And, frankly, that's a good enough excuse for me.

P.S:I had some time last night to play a bit more. Bron is still naked, but he's found a Rusty Broadsword and bought enough food and water that he isn't always getting "You are hungry" messages. A few more Bone Chips and I can start buying armor again.

P.P.S:It's taken me a while to post this. Bron is sixth level and earned a Scarab Helm, completing a quest! And he's made it to the next zone over, where he discovered snooty elvish merchants don't offer fair prices to dwarves. Smegging pointy eared freaks.

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