Videogames: Personal evolution Brief reflection on the impact videogames have had on my life, focusing on the Aion MMORPG game

With the recent release of Pokémon GO, I had some sort of reflection time about my history as a ‘gamer’, and I can assert that videogames have been part of me since I was a child.

When I was 4-5 years old, I had the chance to play ‘Abe’s Oddysee’ (gameplay link) on a PC. I didn’t have a clue about the dark plot of the game, but it was the first videogame I had contact with. And I even remember completing it; it was quite challenging, though.

Later on, I played to the Pokémon Silver we had on our home, and I even managed to obtain a bunch of Pokémons, but I didn’t reach to a ‘completionist’ level at that time.

During my childhood I played various RPGs (Final Fantasy VIII & IX, SpellForce, Neverwinter Nights), as well as some minigames in Kongregate (where I eventually returned to find interesting minigames; this is my profile there). I even retook Pokémon series for a while, and I managed to obtain almost every single Pokémon that existed in the Emerald version.

Logo_Final_Fantasy_VIIISpellForce: The Order of Dawn cover

However, during my adolescence, I played 2 MMORPGs (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games). The first game was called Metin2 (which actually bored me quite a lot), and the second one was called AION. The latter, created by the South Korean company NCSoft, is a Korean game, so the main resource a gamer will have to invest on here is, undoubtedly, time. Indeed, it happened to be like that, and I will develop my story here, because I have noticed that the time I spent on this game made me who I am.

If any reader has any experience with the MMORPG topic, it will certainly know what will I be talking about. However, for the ones that don’t know what all this stuff is about, you have to consider few things:

  • You take the role of a character (it tends to be a fantastic character, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be like that).
  • You interact via your character with the environment created by the developers: maps, shops, dungeons, monsters, etc.
  • But in order to have access to every single content (such as buying the best items for your character, killing the toughest monsters, …), you have to ally with other players (unless you are ‘really pro’ or a donor). In some of these games, those 2 details can lead to a huge difference between characters.
  • However, those interactions with players aren’t always friendly. In some cases, PvP (Player vs Player) is fostered, and this includes some showdown between players, with the aim of offering a bigger challenge than the game’s AI do or, simply, to obtain certain improvements. In some cases, opposed races or factions appear, and the game is based on their confrontation. AION was this kind of game.

Basically, these are the parts MMORPGs have, which are also thought so that a player spends a terribly big amount of time to obtain the best gears (on the current version of the game, which will get deprecated in some months). With ‘terribly big amount of time’, I want to convey that it’s estimated to be like 5-10x the duration of a long RPG game, that means, at least 1000h.

I also want to highlight that there are tons of this type of games, and the majority of them are pure crap. Although that happens, there are some few (which are generally developed by big studios) that really have good gaming quality, or a huge fanbase. Here we can include cases such as World of Warcraft (a.k.a. WoW; created by Blizzard), or Lineage II (created by NCSoft), which are 2 of the games that have had the biggest impact in this MMORPG context, because of the huge variety of details they contain.

However, someone could ask me the following question:

And what made you to have so much interest in AION to spend so much time on it?

Precisely, the similarity it had to the society. The good (and bad) part of these games in populated servers is that you can understand how people are. As a matter of fact, I played in Aion Europe (Server: Nexus | Side: Elyos) with a mage character called Benion, and I aimed for an objective: To reach and to keep the ‘Governor’ rank (the highest rank of the game, considering a PvP ranking and lots of hours of ‘farming’) with my brother’s help. I wanted to do so to know what meant to had ‘power’ in a group of people.

NOTE: Let’s be honest, all this story is about a 14-15 year-old teenager that was playing this game to avoid the contact with many people near him who he considered quite dumb at that time.

And, sincerely, I think I learnt how to talk to people, how to cooperate in groups to achieve main goals and how to resolve conflicts better than I would have learnt in a ‘common’ adolescence.

Benion Governor in Throne
AION 4.0 version interface.

I’ll be giving some examples to illustrate this fact:

Trade Broker. It created a marketplace for the players, so they could trade with each other. The concept is quite simple: a player gives some NPCs (Non-Playable Characters) items to sell, and other players buy them using this platform. The first thing I learnt to do with this Broker was to observe prices and to value the money I had ingame, learning to understand what supply and demand meant. I noticed that when lots of people ‘farmed’ some useless items a lot, their prices tended to collapse. Conversely, when the same item stopped to be sold or when few people created some oligopolies over them, their prices showed a stupid increasing trend.

Faction-scale sieges. At certain times of the day, some forts spread over the whole world used to become ‘Vulnerable’. This implied that factions had the chance to organize some big bunches of people to attack and conquer a fort, which granted several privileges to every player of the winner faction. However, these battles weren’t easy: sometimes, 250 vs 300 player combats happened, as the Elyos faction had some number disadvantage over the Asmodian faction. Obviously, to succeed on these sieges, some previous organization tasks had to be done; duties that were assigned to the Governor and to the major legions (clans). Because of that, I wonder if I could have said that I would have had the chance to lead around 250 people to achieve a common goal in an ordinary adolescence. It doesn’t seem too likely to me.

People. I think I began establishing relationships with people of different ages and mindsets on my own when I started playing this game. Even if videogames are often classified as ‘childish stuff’ by many people, I had the opportunity to meet 10, 20, 30 and 40 year-old peers, and it made me understand that the age difference isn’t relevant in behavioural terms. In fact, many users thought I was over 25 years old, when I was nothing but 15 at that time.

Cooperating. To achieve something in this game, you were forced to do lots of activities in groups: groups of 3, 6, 12, 24 and even 48 people. 192 people Leagues were hard to find as they weren’t really required unless your faction wanted to have some fun at sieges.

Conflict solving. Sincerely, I think I never needed so much patience as I did at that time to react when our faction lost some sieges, and about 20 people were trying to incriminate me of the failure. It was indeed a game that increased my patience.

Aion: Tower of Eternity cover

Therefore, considering these concepts, I can admit that videogames have had a fundamental role on me and my behaviour, as I know I wouldn’t be the same if I hadn’t spent so much time in AION.

So, I don’t know how people will react with new videogame concept changes like Pokémon GO’s, because it has broken the idea that a videogame is a (physically) static activity for the player. This means that the ‘Oh, you should go out of your bedroom, son’ quote shouldn’t be taking place, knowing that this game has mixed both game and reality, which is also known as augmented reality. Despite this fact and the Nintendo’s spectacular value growth that happened in a couple of days (Nintendo Adds $7 Billion as Pokemon Go Marks Surprise Hit: Chart), I doubt we will be calling it a ‘long-term sustainable growth’ in the future.

Nintendo valuation Boom
(Source: Bloomberg)

Why? Because I think this game will try to generate a big dependence on the consumers. However, the physical movement implied in this game’s mechanics will certainly bore many people. Maybe the first days, weeks, months, it will be something funny, different, … But in the long term, many people (not all of them, though) won’t feel like to move so much.

Anyway, time will tell us what will happen; it’s about time we should remove that existing ‘videogames = things played by nerdish people’ idea.

[Originally written at July 12th, 2016]