December 21, 2004
The case for risk

The reason this site exists is because of a man named Scott Jennings, sometimes known as Lum the Mad. Lum ran a 'rant site' back in late 90s about the state of Ultima Online (UO), the dominant MMORPG. This was before we called them weblogs and just called them 'web sites'.

Lum's commentary was funny and insightful. I started my site in an attempt to make my views on gaming known in a similar way. I actually met him in person at E3 one year and we chatted a while. A nice guy offline as well.

Well, Lum's current site is called Broken Toys and he's getting back into the groove of posting. One of his recent posts is about the role of grief playing in games. Go read it, I'll wait...

Well, as much as I respect Lum, I think he's wrong on this. He tells the truth about what UO was like 'back in the day' and it was a harsh place. When they created the harshest persistent world ever, Siege Perilous, we went there and we loved it. So did Lum, and he loved it too.

I thought alot about this kinda stuff when I played Ultima Online (four years). We called grief players "PKs" (Player Killers) and those that fought them were "antis" (anti-PK). Back in 2002 I wrote the following (slightly edited to make it more understandable to the non-UO player):

The case for risk.

I have fought against PKs since the beginning of my UO playing well over 4 years ago. My anti credentials are impeccable. I helped lead an anti-PK guild on my first shard and even moved to Siege Perilous, the 'PK shard', and worked as an anti-PK there. I have never PKed or even had a red character. My nightly gameplay involved hunting down the accursed scum and helping them enjoy a nice dirt nap. Be clear, I have no great love for PKs.

Regardless of my chosen playstyle, PKs are good for Ultima Online. How can an anti be advocating PKs remain in Ultima? The answer is really quite simple.

Without villains, there can be no heroes.

While fighting AI NPC monsters can be enjoyable, it cannot compare to fighting another person. Getting revenge on a PK that killed your guildmate is far greater satisfaction than killing a hundred blood elementals. Many enjoy fighting NPCs, but many find it tedious and predictable. Gaining paper doll titles for slaying endless hordes of monsters may appeal to some, but some require more from UO to enjoy it.

OSI's attempt's to replace PKing with guild war and factions are admirable, but still do not give players the real chance to be the good guy, the hero, or the force of good. Guild and faction wars allows players to engage in PvP combat, but to what end? These are simply substitutes for the real battle between good and evil. What greater evil is there than those that pray on the innocent? What greater good is there than those that protect other from evil?

Allow players to still be heroes. Allow players to still PLAY A ROLE, that they cannot play in real life. Allow players to do more than push the virtual lever of predictable response.

Keep surprise in UO. Keep risk in UO. Keep PKs in UO. Most of all, keep heroes in UO.


Since I wrote that, I've played Everquest, Asheron's Call, Shadowbane, Dark Age of Camelot, and currently World of Warcraft. They all lack the same thing, a chance to be a hero. The chance to put things at risk in the game.

The PvP servers allow player combat, but to what end? Capture territory and gain character improvement? Better access to "mobile bags of improvement"?

For all the pain of Ultima Online and it's allowances for griefing, it was a fleeting moment when the game mattered more than for bragging rights on the message boards.

Lum's right. Your gear was at risk. Your home was at risk. Camp a spot too long to farm monsters, the PKs would arrive. Your choices were simple, flee or fight. Confront the bad people or let them run amuck. NOTHING like this has existed since.

People like to look back and blame the game for the fact that they couldn't handle the true reality of a virtual world. They are wrong to blame the game.

Fucking Everquest and the rare pretty boy armor that took days to acquire and was never at risk once you had it became the norm. No drop & soulbound, all invented to deal with the fact that there is absolutely no real risk in any game since Ultima Online. Ebay sales of virtual gear that you couldn't lose became an issue because the risk in games was removed.

Alas, the day of risk is over. All of the MMORPG worlds are carebear worlds now. Many are happy over this, but something has been lost that was good.

Posted by michael at December 21, 2004 09:11 PM