I think I understand the fundamental appeal of online role-playing games (or MMORPGs if you like unwieldy acronyms). There’s a definite attraction to the idea of embarking on some grand adventure–the kind traditionally offered through popular offline series like Final Fantasy or Dragon’s Quest–while engaging with other players at the same time. The dozens of hours spent fighting monsters can be made less lonely online. Games that are sprawling and time-consuming turn from solitary to social activity when other people are thrown into the mix.
Despite understanding the draw of this design on a theoretical level, I’ve still never managed to get more than a handful of hours into an online RPG and remain invested. The process of building up a character–earning new equipment and skills-in these games has always seemed unnecessarily convoluted. The stories of those I’ve played have been uninteresting. Instead of presenting the kind of fiction that encourages long hours of exploration, they seem content to entice players with the dangling carrots of experience points and always-close level ups. None of this is what I look for in games. But, still, I’ve always been fascinated by the online RPG. I’ve always wanted to understand what keeps players returning to them.
So, I took two recent, apparently popular, and, most importantly, free games for a spin to try the answer the question: why bother playing an online RPG?