Following my last post, on the loss of my gaming time, I’ve found myself drawn back into Lord of the Rings Online, the red-headed stepchild of my online gaming collection. It had been about 3 months since my last log-in, and I was honestly surprised at how well I fell back into the pace, the skills, and the world of Middle-earth.
It made me think about the way in which gameworlds are really that–entire worlds–but also, how in each one I have the opportunity to be something different, not just in terms of a race or class I choose on the selection screen, but in how I interact with that world as a player. I find it fascinating how entering LoTRO, I almost become a different player, a different segment of the gaming population than I would ever envision for myself in WoW. Take traveling for instance. I can barely remember the last time that I was running around Azeroth without a mount where I haven’t hoped, wished, dreamed, that I was level 20/40/60/70 and could have a better mode of transport, a faster way to zoom around the world. I rarely spend more a level or two in a particular zone, which generally translates into 2-3 sessions of playtime, maybe an entire day of actual time in game on the outside. And death. Unless I’m in a raid, I had better be afk when I get clobbered in solo combat. Just NOT happening.
Contrast that to my latest time in LoTRO. I have a mount, I admit, a lovely pinto horse that I saved up points for weeks oh so long ago in order to ride. And ride I do, when traveling from map to map or traversing the colossal cityscapes. I’m not sure I’d have the fortitude to travel around my current zone, Forochel, with a sum total of 3 towns which can take upwards of 4-5 minutes to reach by pony express.
But I spend most of my evenings on my own two feet. Unless I’m traveling down a roadway, it usually just doesn’t make sense to travel on my horse, which is likely to up and die while I’m standing in the middle of a hostile camp and ripe for the picking. A mount gets you where you’re going, but once there, you’re better off letting the poor thing munch some oats while you take care of business. That makes sense, plenty of places where you wouldn’t want to take your pony. However, while the gameworld might dictate that, it doesn’t make sense that I, of the zero patience for a merely standard flying mount, would find it so wonderfully intoxicating to be trudging along at a snail’s pace.
I’ve also spent all this time in the same zone. I haven’t traveled back to “civilization” (i.e. a town with a honest to God auctioneer) and I estimate it’ll take me the rest of the weekend to finish clearing out this zone…. not from achievements, but from quests. You would lose all respect for me if I told you how often I die a night, and would you look at this?
So why the big changes? What’s the difference? I actually have a few ideas about that. For one, WoW has been my “main” the constant companion of my MMO gaming for so many years I’ve lost count. I’ve devoted tons of time and energy to making sure that I reach and partake in end-game, and because of that, I have lots of goals that I feel must be accomplished within a set time period. I have to level quickly when expansions release. I have to churn out tradeskills. And I absolutely must play day x, y, z for 3-4 hours just to stay even with my team-mates.
LoTRO is a stepchild in my gaming time. I pick it up and drop it off, much more like a console game than my main MMO. I’m not max level, I have yet to see all the content, and who knows if I’ll even be max level when the next expansion rolls around. I’m in a guild. They didn’t even kick me during my extended hiatus. I think they have some guild stuff they do when they feel like it, but that’s not my role. I show up, I hang out, and I grats people when they announce they leveled up their 3rd bard.
If I decided tomorrow that Lord of the Rings was going to be my main, I think a lot of what I currently enjoy about the game would change. My relationship with LoTRO as a gamer would change, and likewise, my relationship to the people who I interacted with in-game would change as well. Something that has never bothered me about LoTRO (the grindy achievements) would take on a new and horrible meaning which I’m sure would sour my entire perception of the game. My time spent goofing around and spending half an hour to find the right way to climb a mountain to take a particular shot would fade away.
Through it all, I’m the same player. I enjoy the same things in all the games I play: exploration, variation, and mechanics; however, the way in which I express those loves in a particular gameworld depends on the role that game occupies in the overall mix of worlds I’m choosing to inhabit.