A Third Element?

I don’t know about you, but when I first saw the title of ‘The Third Element’ I wondered if Bruce Willis was involved somehow. What can I say, I loved ‘The Fifth Element’. Korbin Dallas’ form of negotiation will always be my favorite scene in a movie. It was with a little bit of a pang I read that Bioware considered community to be the third element in a great game. Then I started nodding.

I got involved in MMOs back in 2003. Being a Star Wars fan, I had little choice in the matter. Star Wars Galaxies (SWG), was the way to go. I bought the game, rolled a Wookiee Teras Kasi Artist and started my journey into Star Wars. I played SWG for two years and I have to say that those two years were the most fun I have ever had in my time on a computer. Every day after school, I would log on and look for my friends to hunt Imperials, cause havoc or just sit in the cantina shooting the bull. It wasn’t the game that made my life so interesting – it was the communities. There were so many issues with the game: glitches, bugs, exploits, pathing, almost any problem a game can have was there. And it didn’t matter. To myself and a number of other people, the major draw to SWG was not the game itself, it was the people we played with.

SWG was my first incursion into online games. I had heard a lot of negative things about them, and frankly, I wasn’t sure I had the income to continue the subscription. I found the money after the first week. I was part of several guilds, my Wookiee being a bit of a wanderer. I am very much a solo player at heart, but there was something about the communities that drew me back.

Then came 2005, the year that will live in SWG infamy. I am not ashamed to say I cried when I logged in and my Wookiee TKM, master pistoleer was gone after the NGE. I had been on a trip, and logged out for a week. I came back and found nothing. Everything was gone, everything had changed. I had gone through so many iterations with him; he was almost a kind of family member. I went online, looking for my friends. Most were gone. A few were standing around the opening areas of the new game, and everyone was sad. SOE had decided we were not worth listening to or keeping, so we were gone. All of us. I think there were five of us that day, out of a guild of a hundred and six. We gave each other our farewells and I logged out and uninstalled the game. To this day I wonder what might have been. I tried the NGE with the free trial once in 2008 and had to shut my computer off. It just wasn’t the same, no sense of community.

I have looked for that sense of community in other MMOs. I tried World of Warcraft for a week before getting bored with the grindfest and the idiots on the server I was on. I played City of Heroes/City of Villains, and had a level 50 hero and villain, but the few groups I tried to stay with just disintegrated. No one was willing to invest the amount of time and effort in creating an online community for fear of what happened to SWG – having their long term work just vanish one day. Many veterans (survivors) of SWG were present and I caught up with a couple of old friends, but it just wasn’t the same. It wasn’t Star Wars, and it had no community.

The closest I have ever come since 2005 to that sense of community was in a game called Tabula Rasa. I heard about it while playing City of Heroes and was unsure. So I joined the open beta for it and was astounded. It had its problems, sure, but the people were a definite pull. I hadn’t felt such a strong sense of belonging to a community since SWG. Both the players and developers wanted it to work. Unfortunately, the publisher apparently did NOT want it to work, so after a year they canned it. Tabula Rasa had a strong story, incredible graphics and music, and one of the most dedicated player bases I had seen since SWG. I truly felt I was part of something big. And then they threw it away in the name of selling more micro transaction, free-to-play utterly boring MMOs that were only to be sold in Korea. Or it was back room politics, depending on who you talk to. But for a little while, just over  a year, I was part of a community again online, and it felt good.

And that is the main thing: humans are at heart, still herd animals. Just look on any highway on Earth sometime if you don’t believe that. Where are all the cars? Clustered together – it makes no sense from a safety standpoint, but instinctively humans seem to want to be close to one another. Humans need social interaction, be it face to face, over internet chat boards or in MMOs. We need to feel we are part of something. We need to belong. We need community.

According to Wikipedia: “In biological terms, a community is a group of interacting organisms (or different species) sharing an environment. In human communities, intent, belief, resources, preferences, needs, risks, and a number of other conditions may be present and common, affecting the identity of the participants and their degree of cohesiveness.”

In other words, we share with each other. Humans are social animals for the most part. Aberrant types exist in all species, and anti social behaviors are not uncommon, but for the most part, humans want to interact with each other. And online games provide that interaction. If you want just to blast things, online First Person Shooter (FPS) multiplayer is for you. It is far more challenging than facing artificial intelligence enemies for the most part. But for many of us, the main draw is the social aspect, the community aspect. So, we are drawn to MMOs.

Bioware has the reputation of being very good at what they do. They have created some of the greatest games I have played over the years. Mass Effect, Dragon Age: Origins, Neverwinter Nights, Baldur’s Gate, Knights of the Old Republic, the list goes on and on. They were all great games. But in all those games something was always lacking. Something was missing. Something powerful, something necessary, something that humans seem to need. A sense of belonging, a sense of community.

Bioware seems to understand that and be focusing on that aspect, and if so, I personally will be first in line to stand up and shout ‘TOR forever!”

Over to you, what do you want in a community online?