Change is good / We fear change

Well, it seems that yet another virtual world is crawling towards its end. The inimitable EverQuest II is consolidating its servers, “with the goal of providing an even better gameplay experience for everyone.” Don’t you believe it; worlds die.

Stop and think on that a moment. It’s really quite sad.

Your beloved world and ‘toon simply shut down by the Gods.

Now, I’m not saying there isn’t a silver lining. You might discover another world. You might become a full-on FFXIV convert. Or heck, you might start getting really into Farmville, Bejewled, or playing B-ball in the park. But at first, and for a little while, it would be terribly, terribly sad. Maybe not because you even liked that dying world so much, but because you will have to change.

We fear change.

And in the immortal words of Garth, “We fear change.”

That change comes in many forms, really, not just the aftermath or world destroyers. Take the recent patch and upcoming WoW expansion, Cataclysm. Talk about change!

Scattered Shots had quite the post in August about the switch for hunters from mana to focus. Do things like this change the experience of gameplay? Does changing the experience of gameplay change who you are in that space?

Okay, those are pretty big questions, with a sort of philosophy behind them as an assumption: what we play / how we play affects who we are.

Recently, animated conversations about this with extremely clever people in my life has involved musing about whether you change your perspective when you play, say, a rogue versus a hunter versus a warrior tank.

So change is a-comin’ with Cataclysm in the wonderful World of Warcraft that we play. Perhaps some of the mechanisms that made us kind of less social, like easy dungeon queuing for PUGs along with decreased dungeon difficulty seemed to lead to a lot less conversation in those settings.

So, as two Swedish researchers recently presented at the HomoLudens conference in Montreal, PUGs are pretty quiet since WotLK. They argued that this results in fewer friendships being formed with strangers (especially because those PUGs are now cross-server, making maintaining those friendships harder). So, if, as a result of specific aspects/technicalities of gameplay, we have different relationships with people, we present a different self (e.g., I am not chatty in PUGs, but normally I am), we face the world differently…. is that changing who we are in that space?

(ps, I’m not ready to say anything about “Who we really are” in relation to this, just who we  present ourselves to be in that specific space)

So back to the worlds die piece of things. When worlds die – or even change profoundly – does a self we get to know and love die too? I would be heartbroken to lose my Lan, but is it losing her, watching her, fighting with her, making her pewpew or heal things that I would miss? Or is it also a Me that I am/can be with her that I would miss? (Or perhaps, do miss. As C. has pointed out, I hardly ever play her anymore, leaving her on the sidelines for my D.K. of late.)

What do you think? What do we lose of ourselves when worlds die? Sure we lose that particular lovely space, those social groups, those specific types of social moments, but do we also lose a Me?


3 responses to “Change is good / We fear change

  1. So I’m old enough (in game years) to remember the death of my beloved toons in EQ1 when EQ2 came along. Unlike the shift to WoW Cataclysm, which spans a world-rending event in “real” time, the cataclysmic shift between versions of EQ came with a whole new game engine (and look) and a leap of many years (I forget… centuries perhaps). So despite the fact that EQ1 continued to exist for a while, making the jump to the new game did involve starting a whole new toon, with new capability choices and talent progression concepts. Only some of the place names and history remained.
    In that context, some players tried to create as exact a duplicate of their old toons as possible; some couldn’t, because of whole new servers and overlapping name choices. Mostly, we just had to start over, and it was a bit traumatic.
    I had a similar experience when I made the leap from EQ2 to WoW. Along the way, I’ve even tried to create toons with the same race/class/name combination to continue the experience of that Me… but the context of that persona is so different that I’ve failed to retain the connection. They’ve all remained stalled at low level. None of those WoW toons, despite tying into EQ1/2 selves into whom I’d invested significant time and energy, ended up feeling like the same kind of Me (though I feel a certain pang of regret when I delete these attempted continuances).
    Clearly I’m not like those people I’ve witnessed who use the same name in every game and every online forum, and seem to derive ongoing identity for their overarching selves (their persistent online selves?). I find identity to be much more contextually situated.
    So yeah… I would understand (and maybe sympathize) if before long we started to see claims of PTSD based on the death of an online persona, when the game gods pull the plug.

  2. It strikes me that this is perhaps one of the biggest differences between online and offline gaming (not to be confused with solitary and social gaming). While I don’t think game studies writ large is ignorant of the differences between the two, a lot of what people write about identity and attachment tends to focus very specifically on online games (with some exceptions of course, including me). Change is much less traumatic in a game that is designed to end at some point. Even games that one can continue playing long after the narrative ends (Fable, Fallout, other games that begin with F I’m sure), there is a sense that the game itself is a discrete unit. The sociality of online games, however, the relationships formed there and the way the world itself is designed to feel, if not be, lasting, shifts that attachment to characters. See, I may replay a game because I “miss” a character, much in the way I re-read my favorite books and re-watch my favorite movies. I feel a little bit of loss when a text I was really enjoying ends, and when I know that even if I can revisit the characters, I can’t learn more about them. It’s not traumatic though, in the way Steve describes. The source of the trauma, the PTSD, of losing a character from a mmorpg is an interesting question though, and one I can only guess at explanations for being an offline gamer largely. Is it because it was a character that you were known through, that it feels like a loss of self when it is gone? Not just the social ties made through the character (one can always maintain those technically) or the relationship with the character as an isolated entity but…perhaps the self as experienced through that character is what is lost, and the self recognized by others through that character…

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