Guild Wars: Going it Alone
Several months ago I ran across a game that interested me while shopping at a local Target store. It was in the discount bin. I think it was the dragon on the inside of the front flap that hooked me and got me to buy it. I'm pretty sure that's what it was because I told my girlfriend about it later and she made fun me. I remember things like that. The game, of course, was Guild Wars. Yes, I held in my hand an epic adventure which in my mind chalked me up to be a dragonslayer and a medieval superman of sorts. Now I wonder how far off I was. I am not writing this from the position of someone who has beaten the game, but as a fellow traveler in the land of Tyria (the land in which Guild Wars is set for those unacquainted with its lush and barren landscapes). I have not yet seen a dragon, or even heard a rumor of a dragon, but perhaps I do take a cue from superman.
Superman, as an individual, does not have particularly strong social skills. I submit to the reader, however, that this same lonely (or solo, if you prefer) trait of the hero is part of the allure of being a hero. I think that there is a part of each of us that wants to do things alone. Going solo really makes who gets credit for achievement a simple matter. It is also ego boosting. So, when I started my adventures in Tyria I found myself constantly avoiding other players, not because I am extremely bad at team play but because I just enjoy being completely in control of my own fate. It is no easy matter to switch from wanting to say "I did it" to "we did it."
I remember well, wandering around somewhat aimlessly at first (like so many tend to do when they haven't adjusted to a new game). It's lucky that in these first lonely hours the visual beauty of the landscape was still so fresh that I had little trouble taking my time. I guess it's the nature of the wannabe loner...if they can survive the first few hours without running for backup then they are probably the type that can go for the long haul. However, while I enjoyed wandering by myself throughout the Tyrian countryside after about ten hours of game play (time spent doing menial and somewhat pointless side quests) I finally caved in and got some henchmen to follow me around. Why? I think that I wanted to be alone, but not the only 'sentient' presence on the screen at any time. Too many monsters, too few friendly faces.
Going With Groups
This is the crux of the matter: many gamers enjoy playing alone, but even through single player campaigns (on all gaming platforms) there is often the presence of other AI units on screen. If these units aren't interactive in some sense (brainless units to be killed do not count) the weight of 'going solo' strikes. Essentially, it is one thing to not take advantage of multi-player options, but it is another thing entirely to insert that same attitude of wanting to do it alone on an in-game character. Whether we realize it or not, our in-game characters are usually very social. Most games require character interaction to complete objectives. Yet, the gamer still is left with a desire to strike out on their own into the wilderness. Games that somehow balance these two social tendencies, I believe, are in a good position to engage the full range of interaction that gamers seek.
Take Diablo for instance. Here is a game that puts the player by themselves for periods of time in complete isolation (the various monsters/creatures encountered beneath the surface do not count as interaction). Yet, this wandering is augmented by short periods of time on the surface in which game characters must interact. While it may be quick to dismiss this idea of two social approaches to gaming consider whether you go right to multi-player when you get a new game. Most gamers, I believe, do not fall into this category. It is after the player has already started or beaten a game on their own that they go multi-player.
Let's go back to Guild Wars. Guild Wars presents a valid representation of this idea. Through guild formation and teams for missions or PvP battles there is an integral commitment to social interaction within the game, whether this is between you and other players online or between you and an AI unit. No matter how BA we like to think our characters are, in-game they depend on information gained from interaction. We depend on that information to complete the game. When I first started using henchmen in the game I remember thinking how sweet it was. I was still immensely stronger than they were, but it was nice to have other people on 'my side' hanging around. Yet, further into the game I started desiring even more interaction--preferably from hearing the stories of the various characters associated with missions. This turned into a drive to start completing the game so that I could more easily conceive of the entire social structure of the game. Perhaps there is some sort of social completion imagined in completing the game. Later still, I found myself wanting to join a guild....not that I intended on only doing stuff with guild members, but I developed a desire for a deeper interaction. Now, I am starting to look for a group of people to actually do missions with.
I am not a sociologist. Is anything I'm saying making sense? I know that this social model won't apply to all games (really short games don't allow for much loneliness to develop), but Guild Wars is a game of sufficient length and involvement that I wonder if the social interaction element was absent it would even be playable? I know that the graphics are good for a game of its size (size referring to length, price, and time of release) but what if there were no guilds or other players to interact with? I think that the game would suck. I think most games would suck. While not all games are online so that interacting with real players elsewhere is possible, there still has to be somesort of social development in the game. The longer the game, the more socially intricate it should be. It's a social dichotomy of sorts. The two social aspects of gaming. I'm trying to find those intricacies in Tyria...where do you find yours?
Links: Related and Interesting, for the curious