There were 2 new occupations which started during my absence from blogging about which I must write. The first, and much the most significant in terms of time, was my involvement in the world of MMORPGs (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-playing Games – and that’s the last time I intend to type out that abbreviation in full!).
I have occasionally written about my video-gaming, especially in relation to its therapeutic value during depressive episodes. However I had always been a solo gamer, that is to say played games designed for solo consumption, whether on the Playstation or my computer. I had thought that MMORPGs would be largely populated by teenage Americans with whom..
- I would have nothing in common.
- Would be brilliantly proficient at gaming and thus kill my character in seconds (because I am rubbish at playing video-games!).
However late in 2010 on a whim – whose nature I cannot fully recall – I decided to try a game called Runescape. I know that part of my decision was based on the facts that it was very easy and quick to access on the one hand, and that one could play for free on the other. Within a few hours play I was completely hooked and from then till around October 2011 spent hundreds of hours playing Runescape. I never became very proficient or adept or advanced my character very much, but I did take great enjoyment from the experience. I soon migrated to the paid version (it costs about £4.00 a month) which offers vastly increased content, and I also reasonably quickly discovered a group of people (a clan, or guild in other MMORPGs) who were all mature, friendly and intelligent.
It is difficult to describe Runescape to those who have no experience of video games and in any case, as I later discovered, it is a very atypical game. This latter is because it is possible to play the game without doing any fighting at all – whether against monsters or other players (both of my preconceptions about MMORPGs thus proved completely uninformed). You can spend your time cutting down trees, or cooking, or fishing or a whole host of other activities. The game is quite extraordinarily complicated and vast and demands huge amounts of time if the player is really serious about understanding it and becoming wholly proficient. On the other hand you can just fool around and chat to friends. One of the game’s great strengths is that its ‘quests’ (which there are no obligation to do) can be very funny indeed – the writers are extremely skilled. It should however be said that graphically, although it improved during the time I was there, it is very basic indeed.
In October 2011 I was really ill and the strain of having to make conversation – because whenever you log on to the game people know you are there – became too much. I had also during these months become aware of the whole world of MMORPGs and various fan-sites and commentators, so I knew that there was now a slew of free-to-play games available. I tried several but eventually settled on Vindictus which proved as opposite to Runescape as one could get. Vindictus is graphically stunning, especially in its portrait of your character and their clothes, and it is almost entirely concerned with conflict: you bash various evil beings and that is about it. I also went on a steep learning curve as to how so-called ‘free-to-play’ games make their money: while there is no subscription you can buy things in what is called a ‘cash-shop’ – which means you spend real money. The things you can buy vary from game to game and are the subject of much debate (some of it absurdly over-emotional) as to whether a particular game is ‘buy-to-win’ – that is whether by spending real money you can buy weapons and so forth which give you an unfair advantage. The truth is that the games rely on people becoming sufficiently engaged with them to want to part with their money. In a sense anyone who does so is a sucker; but in that case I am one of the biggest as I spent quite a bit of money on Vindictus, mainly getting a really good-looking costume for my character! So once again I was hooked on a game, though this time I did take my character to the maximum ‘level’ (as it was – I haven’t played for a while), which was a comparatively simple task – if one was prepared to spend many days on it! But, typically, I repeated exactly the same mistake I had done with Runescape – I joined a Guild and then found that when I was ill I couldn’t log in because I didn’t want, or wasn’t capable of, socialising. So I started a third game, called Aion, which occupies something of a centre-ground between the other two – it looks great but has several things you can do other than fight (though it is combat oriented). This time I haven’t really joined a guild/clan!
There are a couple of observations I want to make about my MMORPG experience. The first is that it has been different to my other video gaming in that I played just as much when I was well as when I was ill. This is obviously highly relevant in terms of my not doing any writing. I think therefore that MMORPGs do carry more of a danger of fixation, if it is a danger, than solo games. There are at least two obvious reasons for this ; first the social aspect – if you become friends with people then you have both an obligation and a desire to be with them. Second, the fact that the games are open-ended; the developers/producers/writers have to keep coming up with new material/scenarios/quests in order to keep their audience and so earn money in an extremely competitive market. Now many solo video games are vast – the Final Fantasy series, the Oblivion series etc. but they are not limitlessly open-ended in the way in which MMORPGs must be. Can a fixation become a dependency? ( I am carefully avoiding ‘addiction’) Yes, I think it can. And perhaps for a time I became dependant. But paradoxically one of those fixating aspects – the social nature of the games – became the reason that I twice broke my dependency.
My other observation is something I really want to write about separately which is the nature of the MMORPG community – those people who have a commitment to the genre and write and comment on it. Now it is important to say that many of these people are intelligent, witty, balanced and a pleasure to listen to or read. But despite this there are elements in the community very similar to those which I have observed in various other communities, to greater or lesser degrees, with which I have been more or less involved in my lifetime. But that’s for another entry.
The second occupation which I took up is far simpler to describe and analyse. I stopped going to watch football matches some time ago – I disliked the hassle of parking, the jostle and bustle, even the atmosphere didn’t excite or stimulate me in the way it did in my younger days, and much of the actual football was negative. But I had for years been meaning to go and see a Women’s Football match, especially as Birmingham City had a club that was in the top division. Then in 2011 Women’s Football in the UK was completely re-organised and a new Women’s Super League (WSL) established consisting of 8 teams, Birmingham City Ladies Football Club (BCLFC) among them. So I took the opportunity and went along to the first game in the WSL which happened to be at ‘home’ (home being Stratford Town Football Club – as in Stratford-on-Avon). As with Runescape, though for very different reasons, I was hooked in a very short space of time. The reasons are simpler to analyse. The ground is set in lovely countryside and so if there is break in play you can admire the landscape; the smallish (hundreds) crowd were friendly and there were families, children and so on (never thought I would say that is something I appreciated!); you can walk around and change ends at half-time so you are always watching your team attack; I can even have a cigarette. And of course – not really last – the game itself is of a very high-standard, pleasing to watch, with teams in general (certainly BCLFC) committed to attack. OK it didn’t hinder things that we played very well in that game and won 4-0! The next thing I knew I was going to away games, which I really enjoyed because I like a drive and you can go with no worries at all about having any problems – it really is a world away from men’s football (or top level men’s football anyway). I should also say that it is cheap so that anyone can go without having to pay a fortune.
Now I am a dedicated follower of BCLFC, a player sponsor and I have been to every match so far this season – which includes our winning the Women’s FA Cup (the first time any Birmingham City team has won an FA Cup) which was a fabulous, though very tense (we won in a penalty shoot-out) day at Bristol City’s ground.
My discovery of Women’s Football has been a considerable improvement and addition to my life and I am planning to go to an England and some Olympic games this summer.