Sacred Cows

A bit of a nerd fight erupted in the blogosphere recently as a Richard Bartle interview on Massively caused eyebrows to crinkle, and when some folks raised questions about Bartle’s current relevance, such discussion was met with rebuttal or backlash.

What this boils down to is that you have the Old Guard protecting their sacred cows, and the New Guard (many of whom have World of Warcraft as their primary or sole point of reference) questioning their elders. This pattern should sound familiar, because it happens in every generational shift around pretty much every art form. Congratulations to the MMO industry for finally being old enough to have a generational gap!

The Old Guard must come to terms with the fact that this is the natural order of things, and they need to stop getting pissy about it. Youth questions its elders; that’s how progress happens. People should stop feeling like they need to pounce on anyone who dares question Bartle’s position in history, for as he himself noted in a response to this mess, he’s relevant for as long as people think he is and are willing to pay him for his input. That seems fair to me.

While I’m at it, there are two other old school truisms I’d like to take some shots at. Hey, I’m on a roll, so why not?

First, I get tired of people implying that today’s MMOs owe their entire existence to the MUDs of yesteryear. Sorry, I disagree. The gameplay style of EQ or WoW is obviously influenced by MUDs, but I propose that MMOs would have evolved anyway. I hereby offer Moorgard’s Theorum of the Origin of the MMO Species:

P&P RPGs + personal computers + Internet = MMOs

I submit to you that there would absolutely be a World of Warcraft today even if there had never been a MUD or DikuMUD. Certain elements of WoW would likely be very different, but I think we’d still have MMOs in much their current form.

Second, I want to talk about the notion that MMOs are failing to evolve, which is a common theme in Old Guard rhetoric. I totally agree that many new big-budget MMOs are evolutions of the genre rather than revolutions; what I’m saying is that it doesn’t matter, and moreover it’s not even a bad thing.

We have a whole new generation of players who don’t know anything but WoW and the games that followed it, and guess what: they like this kind of game. When the next mega success comes along that matches or exceeds WoW’s numbers, that generation of gamers won’t care when WoW players insist that the new game is living in the shadow of the older one.

It’s the same reason that people can still write fantasy novels after Tolkien and make science fiction movies after Star Wars. The audience is constantly changing, with new blood coming in all the time. It doesn’t take a revolution to entertain these folks; they just need an experience that is relevant to their generation. This process will result in both revolutions and evolutions, and that’s okay. A healthy mix is nice, and MMOs are getting there even if it’s not at the pace that the Old Guard would like.

Let me make clear that none of this rambling is intending to diminish the history or importance of people like Richard Bartle. His name is going into the history books regardless of what the new generation of players and game makers says or does. But at the same time, we have to recognize that this industry and the gamers who enjoy it are evolving, and questioning what came before is a natural aspect of that evolution. The Old Guard would do well to try nurturing the New Guard rather than lashing out like an old man who wants those damned kids off his lawn.

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