The Party Goes On in Massive Online Worlds

It’s easy to wax poetic about how videogames let you do things that you can’t in real life anymore. You can host house parties in Animal Crossing. You can play basketball with your friends in NBA 2K20. Whatever. The easy sell for MMORPGs in the time of pandemic is simply that you can exist together, even /hug. Maybe that’s not entirely distinct from Zoom happy hours or Skype trivia at a time when there are plenty of digital channels for connecting. To feel like myself again, I needed to vector my personality off a new experience, and do it alongside people who know me.

A group of us were slogging through a checklist of mundane quests in World of Warcraft Classic when our undead friend Baen Chunch—named for Martha Stewart’s pony, Ben Chunch—suddenly started toward the mountains. As she sprinted, she rotated herself toward the tallest ridge we could see, a jagged, tannish peak looming over a massive desert. Over the Discord app’s voice chat, we egged her on and, one by one, enthusiastically followed suit.

Because the game replicates the experience of World of Warcraft as it was in 2001, climbing isn’t a straight shot up. Most craggy geometries only offer a small window for forward movement, and to find it, players rhythmically alternate between the space bar, which makes them jump, and the W key, which is “forward.” While the rest of us climbed in this frenzied zigzag, Trollthan the troll happened upon a rare smooth trail and gunned it. Meanwhile, Baen Chunch and the rest of us were missing jumps and falling downward.

One by one, we all eventually made it to the summit. It was beautiful to look out together onto the dusty desert, but not consequential, like a for-the-sake-of-it hike. It was just a thing we had all decided to do.

Transferring my social energies into MMORPGs has been surprisingly seamless. In World of Warcraft, I can /burp and /cackle. My partner, if he’s feeling tolerant, might /chuckle. In Final Fantasy XIV, I can magick my high-level armor into the sort of outfit I’d purchase at Urban Outfitters. Then I might beg Cid to meet me in the city and assess whether my orange leggings are too loud. It’s an embarrassing thing to admit, but the social validation of others is something I desperately miss; expressing myself in a void is not so satisfying. A question I keep having, locked inside and isolated, is who I am without the connections that normally define me, and to what extent this sense of self I’m accessing in MMORPG is a viable substitute.

In-game, Cid looks much like herself: androgynous, with short hair and an all-black outfit that could have come from a trendier Army surplus store. Cid’s been on Final Fantasy XIV a lot recently since the cafe she works at closed, and along with my partner and our friend Responsible, who is sheltering in place 20 minutes from either of us, we drove over to Nina’s party.

Courtesy of Square Enix

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