Man, massively-multiplayer online gaming. It attracts a strange kind of person, really. I mean, it must do – here are games where your objectives aren’t particularly fun; they’re time consuming and boring, and your rewards are suspiciously real-world (money.) Instead of using this money for fun things, you instead have to do things like get an insurance policy and pay your water bills. It’s basically an imitation of the real world, and it tricks you into thinking it’s fun by giving you the kind of job that sounds awesome, like an intergalactic spice miner or a dungeon master, and this thinly veiled deceit works remarkably well when, in reality, working at McDonald’s is probably less boring. The worst part of all this is that I knew this whilst I was playing the game – I knew it every day for going on for two weeks. And still I logged in with a smile on my face to fly into weird solar systems and go mining, which is marginally less fun than it sounds like.
So, in this respect, EVE is an incredible achievement. I’ve honestly never played a more boring game that had me addicted so quickly, and if I hadn’t been on a time-limited free trial who knows what would have happened. I suppose the very first thing that attracted me to the game, unlike other MMOs, is that it’s sci-fi. I can do without fantasy games (RPGs anyway) because of all the paper thin mythos that surrounds them, and the very vague definition of ‘magic’ in them. The mythos in EVE is very simple indeed, and more realistic because of it – essentially, in the future various humans go through a wormhole to a distant galaxy, but then the wormhole closes. The people are then trapped, and isolate themselves into four distinct factions, which evolve over thousands of years into the groups you see in the game at the moment. You choose a race (three races per faction) and then choose a job. Then all you have to do is earn money and increase your skills in order to buy bigger and better spaceships and weapons.
I’m sure that if you do that for long enough you will feel like you have achieved something, but personally I find it hard to play a game without there being some kind of end in sight. The main reason why I kept playing at first is because, well, it’s a very pretty game – here, see:
Simply, it’s a joy to watch sometimes. It’s relaxing, and at first you really do get a sense of being in an immense gameworld – it’s all set out before you, and you can easily while away a few hours flying around and enjoying the view whilst you get used to the interface. Ah, flying…
You have visions of being at the helm of some advanced piece of machinery; that you will be Han Soloing it up across the galaxy with skillful flair. While it is possible to control the ship yourself, there really isn’t any point, and you end up using the autopilot for the vast majority of the time. In essence, this amounts to you as a player watching your ship fly in various straight lines for varying lengths of time. Due to the way you get from star system to star system in EVE, this involves flying to a stargate, jumping to the next system, then warping to the next stargate and so on. If you are going to a system that is more than five jumps away, you will easily have time to go to the bathroom, make a cup of tea and chat on IRC whilst you travel. I suppose, in this respect, EVE is remarkably realistic – and remarkably dull whilst it’s at it.
So, in order to alleviate this dullness, I convinced Huz to sign up on a free trial too. And when he did, the game became much more interesting, because I essentially had a wingman to back me up when I went into dangerous star systems to mine for rare minerals and suchlike. What this amounts to for full time EVE players is joining a corporation, which is a group of players you are friendly with and share similar objectives. As I wasn’t planning on signing up for a paid account I avoided joining a corp (and most of them wouldn’t have had me anyway) and so the only real person I had any contact with in the game was Huz. And we spent a bit of time earning money, and upgrading our ships and things (actually, Huz robbed most of his things by doing things that seemed to get me blown up by the police, so I had to do it the legit way on my own) and then, after a few days, we were ready to do something fun:
Get into fights!
And sadly, like most else in EVE, this wasn’t as fun as it appeared to be. And it was at this point that I realised what the flaw is with these MMOs – you have to play them constantly for months in order to become a contender, and I don’t like that. I don’t play games that I like constantly for months, let alone games that I don’t. I’d rather play an FPS where I can turn it on, and my own ability at the game will decide whether or not I lose rather than an arbitrary ‘skill’ that equates to ‘time spent playing the game.’
Still, as much as I deride this now, I remember the main thing I was saying to people when I was playing this thing and they didn’t understand why: ‘It’s fun. I don’t know how to explain it… but it is.’ Looking back on it, I don’t see how or why… but I guess there is a part of me that really did enjoy having an alter-ego life where I was the pilot of a space ship. In the end, the only way I managed to realise which world I preferred to be in was when I realised there were no pubs in EVE.
It’s probably great in the scheme of MMOs… it just depends on how you feel about MMOs themselves.