I spent a year as the massively multiplayer columnist for another magazine and let me tell you: That was one loooong year. Perhaps it was because I had to play the games, but I came to see the whole genre as a giant time sump, trapping gamers on a road to nowhere with no end in sight, just an ever-expanding horizon of “additional content.”
Though I swore you couldn’t pay me enough to play one of the blasted things again, I checked into both City of Heroes and World of Warcraft long enough to get a pulse check, poke around, and see that (1) the road to nowhere was still lovingly paved, albeit now with prettier graphics, and (2) the games were still mightily impressive chunks of design positively overflowing with content.
See, the problem wasn’t the MMOs, it was my expectations. Conventional RPGs always build to something. Sure, the journey to the end is part of the fun, but there is an end in a conventional RPG, and it usually involves some sense of completion and final accomplishment. MMOs, of course, can’t end. They’re simply… the journey.
Lord of the Rings Online finally convinced me that the journey is enough. Tolkien’s work was about going “there and back again.” It was about the trip, not the destination. Only the call of Middle-earth could get me into another MMO, so I signed up and joined a kinship of Catholic priests and laypeople called Veritatis Splendor. (RC literary types have an enduring affection for Tolkien, who described his great work as “fundamentally religious and Catholic.”) When I paused after cleaving a Blue-crag Sapper in twain and saw kinship chatter about the new motu (shorthand for a specific, long-awaited papal document), I realized that many of my passions —Tolkien, faith, role-playing, and PC gaming, not to mention the sublime pleasures of Orc-kind cleaving, which are self-recommending—were colliding in one place and that this was only possible in an MMO.
As the man himself wrote, “the road goes ever on and on,” and when the journey and kinship is as good as it is in LOTRO, that’s all right by me.
Thomals L. McDonald has been covering games for 17 years. He is editor-at-large of Games Magazine.