What Online Roleplaying Games Have Taught Me About Life

Anyone that has known me since 2001 knows I am an online roleplaying game enthusiast. I have played most of the online titles such as Asheron’s Call, Ultima Online, Everquest, Dark Age of Camelot, World of Warcraft, Star Wars Galaxies, Age of Conan, Eve Online, Star Wars: The Old Republic, and others I’ve forgotten. Sounds like a lot and it is, but I admit i’ve played them in capacities from only logging in once a week or less to keep up on my friends and guildmates, to logging in hours at a time on three day weekends. Then, i’ve made stints where I had to quit playing these games altogether to pursue other priorities in my life. There have been great times and bad while playing them, but they have also offered a refuge at times.

However, there are a lot of lessons to be learned while playing roleplaying games. In this digital era, people are more glued tot heir electronic devices than ever, and that is decreasing social interactions. Behind roleplaying avatars, this digital representation offers many the ability to become something better, or at the very least something different from the person they are in the day-to-day rut. You could be stuck in a droll office cubicle, no windows, 10 hours a day, then come home with no time left to yourself except to log in and get a few experience points or coins of gold. You transform from that dreary grey office space into a dark cave, a Warrior with a huge hammer descending into the abyss in search of trolls or ogres. There lies some excitement in your routine, until disappearing into the other realm becomes part of your routine.

When we take a closer look, we discover that some of these games, at their peak, have had economies that rival that of their real world counterparts — actual countries. Everquest in it’s heyday did more commerce than the entire production of China. That’s something to think about. When you inspect closely the game mechanics, some of these economic models and algorithms used are some of the best entrainment and motivational tools used to program a populace in how to do more for one another to gain personal rewards.

The environment we are in now, this digital information age, has a “game layer” placed on top of it. For instance, in order to gain experience points (gas points), you must first deliver three messages to some person. (buy gas at particular grocery store.) This gains you favor toward that person’s faction, eventually allowing you to do another quest. (save gas points until 100 points, then you get 10 cents off per gallon.)

We can also more directly make a quest in real life. Your mom wants you to take out the trash. Each time you take out the trash successfully, you are gaining favor. After taking out the trash 20 times, the parents finally decide to offer you allowance money for being responsible. Continue this as a teenager and you will probably get an achievement award. My wife is going to read this and I am going to have to do this now.

Online roleplaying games have taught me more about teamwork against adversities, while still being more sympathetic to an individual member’s real life needs outside of the game. This begs me to ask: why can we not have the kind of teamwork and guildship in real life that we have in a fake environment? The sum of the parts is always greater than the whole. Everywhere, every time. Often, we find that when leadership is broken, guilds are broken also, and people leave for wherever their hearts desire. This is also so with personal relationships, companies, countries, and probably worlds we don’t even know about yet.

It has always been better to get more experience by doing tasks and favors for someone who needs a lot of help than to go out grinding in the wilderness slaying rats and skeletons. In almost all games, there is a core quest line, usually for the game itself or the character’s class. There are other quests for each city or zone, and there are a lot of little other time consuming quests. A lot of the time, the quest steps purpose is to take up a lot of time, put you in danger to get experience, and traverse the myriad zones developers have been working hard to provide for your entertainment. Life is a lot like that. A lot of people stop what they are doing in real life because they don’t feel like traveling outside their boundaries, or don’t feel like taking the time to go to multiple people in sequence to meet their goal.  Persistent Determination.

In the beginning of these online roleplaying games, there were no instructions. Each character had to run out and do the quests themselves, maybe asking another player who was doing the same quest for help or input on what to do next. That evolved into grouping and the creation of guilds for sometimes hundreds of players. They shared information. They combined skills and abilities to help strengthen one another and make their guild more successful. This really is no different than medieval England. Some guilds were established as friendly, family guilds, others were hardcore raiding guilds who banded together to surmount the toughest obstacles and encounters which were beyond the reach of those casual guilds. These could also be shadows of multinational corporations fighting over market space and relevance. It could be an environmentally conscious company of eager entrepreneurs carving new paths into an undiscovered market, too.

Take another look at whatever you do, whatever you are good at, and see how it affects your life. Take a look at it from some other viewpoint that you haven’t before. Then get around more of the people who do what you like, and share information with them. Ask them about what they think is best. Try out how they do things. Sure it’s new. Sure it might not be as efficient as your way. It might be worth doing! You might be able to improve upon this idea with your own and make something better that neither of you could have come up with before. Then go find more people, and repeat the process. Do it until you have a well oiled machine, devised a plan to go somewhere, and then go for that goal. When you meet it, go for new content. Stay on top, and push yourself.

That’s what online role playing games have taught me.


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