Here is a dumb rant from someone on Massively.com about how much they want MMOs to go back to the pre-2005 mindset (read: the Dark Ages). The various Rift fora are filled with these dinosaurs, throwbacks to Everquest and The Realm, longing for the glory days they know they cannot have back.
But why? At least Jef Reahard gives a coherent explanation of just why he is so upset by online gaming’s newfound accessibility:
[T]he real issue here has nothing to do with classism and everything to do with a nerd pastime going mainstream and subsequently being stripped of what made it magical in the first place.
These are the same people that got upset when Wizards of the Coast simplified the long-held Advanced Dungeons and Dragons rulesets into the Third Edition… and when the Third Edition players got all bitchy about the Fourth Edition. They had fun with the old and so became convinced that nothing else would be fun, ever.
This is what I call Nerd Love Theory.
Nerds are socially awkward people that had bad formative years, mostly in adolescence, where what they desired (sex, and lots of it) was often denied to them by the cruel vagaries of life. These people “grow up” (somewhat) into nerdy adults, who are still denied what they desire (sex, though less of it, along with money, power, prestige, adventure, social stability, economic stability, learning, expertise… the list goes on) because they lack the social acumen to navigate a world where such skills are required.
Enter escapist hobbies, like comic books, role-playing games, video games, et cetera. These things salve the roughened psyche of the nerd. Here, it is OK to be a wage-slave stringing together corporate computer networks for executives that mock the nerd as soon as he leaves the boardroom where the executives will soon take an important phone call, because as soon as our nerd returns to his dingy basement beneath his parents’ home, his Thorigor, the Orc Barbarian from Darkbadia, and with is Mighty Axe of Infernal Bloodletting, he rules over an empire of wailing peasants from atop his throne of skulls crafted lovingly from macrame and the souls of his enemies.
Old-style MMORPGs did not reward skill; they rewarded vast amounts of time that could be sunk into playing them. The hobby that our Nerd so desperately Loves was something he could be good at with minimal skill. Even an annoying online game, such as a FPS multiplayer map as is found in dudebro Halo heaven, requires skill to progress, not merely time. World of Warcraft, the current whipping boy for “lol game iz too easy!!!” idiocy, still requires skill to play at the highest echelons of play. After all, how many guilds worldwide have managed to kill the heroic-only boss of this tier of raiding? Less than 10,000, the last time I looked. Less than 10,000 out of a game that has over 12 million subscribers. Clearly, if there are ultra-nerds that want to play the game and be the biggest Billy Bad Ass on the block, the potential is there…
So why do these grizzled veterans of the Nerd Love sagas not “nerd up” and jump in with top-tier raiding guilds in World of Warcraft or Aion or other popular MMOs?
Because somewhere along the way, the outer adult Nerd did realize that it was time to grow up. The inner Nerd may be stuck in Mom’s basement, but the outer Nerd got a respectable job, a mortgage, a house, and probably a few kids to support. He goes to work in the morning, and can only squeeze in an hour or two of gaming at night after the kids are in bed while his wife reads on the couch. The outer Nerd does not have the things that the inner Nerd still desires: the power, the prestige, the success. But that is OK, because none of us really have those things. Avarice and greed begets only more avarice and greed. Even CEOs and the ultra-rich and the leaders of nations still have bad days; they still have to take a shit after they eat. They still have to deal with the petty annoyances that the rest of us do, and they are just as unsatisfied with the things they have because satisfaction cannot be grasped through having the most of something, whether it is earthly political power of the most “leet” gear in EverQuest. Status is what we make of it, and has no more wider importance in the world than what we attach to it.
So the casual player who finally gets a crafted epic in WoW and the world-class raider that got a server-first kill on Cho’gall are equal in their own eyes: they have achieved some arbitrary goal and can now feel “good” about themselves, because they can proudly display the product of their action. The “good feeling” or value that was created is a distillation of time and effort spent, of skills acquired.
But for some, the Inner Nerd will not be silenced. The Inner Nerd still loves the feeling of the Hobby that came to dominate a part of the Inner Nerd’s formative years. Like a drug addict questing for that mythical first-time high, the Inner Nerd will not relinquish the dream. And the Inner Nerd tells the Outer Nerd these lies, that things really were so much better before everyone else got wise to how cool this hobby could be, and Inner Nerd was king among a subculture. And so the Outer Nerd writes diatribes about how good things used to be and how everyone is ruining his fun by having fun of their own.
This is the same subcultural exclusivity phenomenon one finds among any identifiable subculture: hipsters, for example, are routinely mocked for it, although I can think of several other handy examples, like goths. When one becomes king of a relatively small group through manipulation of esoteric knowledge common only to that subculture, it can be an effective substitute for that person’s own lack of efficacy in the wider world. This same practice happens in academia, as Lusipurr can attest, where students and professors rush to carve themselves out a niche just small enough that they can claim expertise. In fact, I conjecture, this happens in all walks of life and everything because it is a drab fucking prospect to realize that no matter how good we get at something, someone will always be better, know more, or do more, and thus we will never truly matter in the cosmic scope of things…
And so we tell ourselves comforting lies, like the Inner Nerd tells the Outer Nerd, and we hope that those lies are true, and romanticize about the “good old days” when things really were better, before too many people started crowding in on our little niche and it got hard to feel super-special about ourselves.
But things never are as bad as we believe. And wishing for things to return to the idealized former state betrays a sickening nihilism about the possibility of new horizons. People cling to this pablum like security blankets, because psychologically, that is what ideas like “pre-2005 MMOs were better because they were a niche nerd hobby and I fucking conquered that beat” are. They are comforting things people can hold on to so as to avoid the realization that their “hobby” is meaningless, mindless nothing that adds nothing to their life but pure, simple, unadulterated enjoyment of life.
And until they realize that not only is that enough, but that it is absolutely essential to happiness, as my good buddy and touchstone Bernard Suits said, they will be doomed to this same nihilistic cycle. Put that in your Friedrich Nietzsche and eternally recur it.