Real Life vs. MMOs: Disturbing Parallels

Real Life vs. MMOs: Disturbing Parallels

“My life is an MMO!” That’s the answer I got from a twenty-something employee of mine last week when I asked what the latest online game he was playing was. Feeling like he was about to go all William Gibson on me, I instantly turned to go, but he would have none of it. “It’s like, way back in the day, 2008 or so, I would get up in the morning, log a few hours of World of Warcraft or Eve or something, head off to work, grab a few more hours during my “lunch hour” (he actually did finger quotes and I tried to remember if he had started working for me by then), and really get in some serious grindage around eight at night usually until dawn. Nowadays I just can’t afford to make that type of time commitment. I mean, have you seen all the crap there is to do now just to stay relevant in your own life? It’s like you’re your own living avatar: Checking in here, posting there, updating somewhere else. Seriously sir, I need a shorter workday.”

Okay, he really didn’t call me sir. No one does yet, thankfully. But his point was made, and while I’m admittedly at the age where my geek-cred could be waning, I still keep somewhat on top of the wide world of techno activity. I drew obvious parallels between life inside our favorite virtual worlds and the real one we wake up to every morning. What I soon realized was that there are many such parallels, many more on the horizon and that the old cliché “Life is a Game” is getting truer everyday. And the next step in the process was thinking just how this could affect the very industry in which I make my living.

If you think I’m reaching here, take a look at all of ways we now have to stay connected, how they’re ‘game like’ and how they’re similar to the various tasks and features we know and love in our favorite online pastimes. And then let’s see how this affects our own personal and professional gaming lives. I’m going to miss a lot, but there are enough parallels here to get the point.

You as Avatar

Well over a billion people are members of Facebook, Linked-in, MySpace, or one of countless other smaller or bespoke social networks catering to niche communities. When someone creates a profile, they’re really building an avatar; rolling a character if you will. It might not be a dwarf mage or warrior elf, but in most cases there’s enough fiction (or at least carefully chosen fact) to go along with the profile, updates and posts that what’s outward facing to the world isn’t nearly a fully factual representation of oneself.  Let’s face it, most of us only update the good stuff, the great achievements, and the cute moments with our kids. The photos rarely show the dark side, the idiocy or the “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” moments. And let’s not forget how much time many spend on these profiles: Updating, reviewing privacy settings, looking through just the right photos to post or people to ‘tag.’  It’s eerily similar to the time spent on in-game characters, outfitting them with just the right gear, armor, and weapons to get through that next quest or raid.

Your Guild

Once this online persona, so carefully crafted and honed and seen by more people who barely know you than by those who really know you, is out there, well, that’s who you actually become to most of your friends, links,  or in other words – your real-life Guild. To them, you’re the everyday yoga-going, charity-giving, golfing workaholic, not the guy walking out to get the mail in his underwear that the neighbors see.

Grinding In Actual Time

“Checking In” is the real life equivalent of grinding. Remember those simpler times when you only had Foursquare, Gowalla, Loopt and a few other “check in” location-based (LBS) apps from which to choose? Back then the extent of the time requirement was minimal and all you really needed to do to satisfy that grinding requirement was to go simply go somewhere, check in and post. Who knew that this was something fun to do? And while the vast majority of people still have never even heard about these services, there are enough people on board and checking in that the venture capital money is piling on en masse and the industry gorillas (Facebook, Google, et al) are tripping over themselves to catch up to these upstarts (sorry, start-ups). Not only does there seem to be a new check-in dedicated service popping up weekly, but every established shopping, mapping, and LBS app company and their sister is adding that functionality to their current apps. And while I’m not (yet) fully on the check-in bandwagon, I know a lot of people who are and who, bless their hearts, never tire of letting me know they’ve eaten at this truck stop or become empress of that car wash.

About Doug Dyer
Doug Dyer has been in interactive entertainment for 20+ years with time logged in the PC, console, online and mobile spaces as a consultant, founder and employee. He currently heads Oasys Mobile and recent start-up AFK Interactive, a platform developer connecting MMOs and mobile phones.

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