This may seem like a strange dedication to most people, even those who played Everquest. In fact, I am pretty sure that I am the only person with a fondness for a particular tree in a particular zone in this particular game. But it is not just about a particular tree, it is about the way that Everquest affected me as a kid – the way that many MMO games effect their players.
MMOs have an ability to create unique contexts and situations that stick with us, the players, as fond memories and stories. This particular tree is nothing special to most, but to me it is a tree located precisely outside the window of the Crushbone Keep throne room. Often, I would climb up it from the outside to see who was camping the room and if they wanted any help. Eventually, however, I started climbing up it and looking in just to have a conversation. It was a great way to make acquaintances and pass the time, even if it didn’t really advance my character’s level or get me any new gear.
Unlike most other games, MMOs can be fun when you aren’t even really playing them. From standing at the bank and chatting, to running circles and circles around Orgrimmar as Trade chat lights up with conversation, the social aspects of MMOs really make them something special. Though I don’t necessarily want to go back to climbing virtual trees to see if the spot I want to camp for the next few hours is open, I do miss the sitting and chatting and community building.
Sure, it was slow and boring. It was not well-designed nor well-written gameplay. But it provided something that most games today don’t even acknowledge: it provided a means to meet those who populate the world you are a part of. Nowadays, games send us from one queue to another, and lock us away deep in our own virtual slices of the world. Cutscenes, scripts, and generally fast-paced dungeons, only further incentivise players to not sit down, to not wait, and to definitely not talk.
Again, I am not asking for a return to camping bosses and quest mobs. I just want designers and developers to pay closer attention to the aspects of classic MMOs that kept me returning day in and day out. Features that setup the environment and context to interact with a whole new world and a new people.
I did not sign in again and again because of the gameplay nor the loot. Rarely was I only looking for story and only sometimes did I log in for the journey. No, what kept me coming back again and again was the friends I had met along the way and the friends I still had yet to meet.