Digital Wanderlust, or You Can Never Go Home Again

So, what happened during “Top priority – Rest my wrist” week?

Well, there was the mildly amusing and somewhat painful observation that as the wrist in question healed, other parts of my body started to take turns aching.

Apparently, this is quite normal and to be expected, as one overworks the other muscles and tendons in compensation for the nonfunctional one.

First it was the other wrist (too much button pressing and door opening presumably), then the lower back protested, and yesterday the neck decided it hated life, committed suicide and went into rigor mortis for 24 hours.

I can only conclude that I’m getting old(er) and my posture is fucked.

The good news is that amidst this tag team symphony of minor strains, I ate healthily, slept earlier, stretched -very- carefully and whatever was bothering me that day seemed to heal itself up by the next day or two.

I imagine that within my body is a little ragtag cartoon group of muscle-repairing cells in an ambulance racing from locale to locate, going “Can things STOP breaking here for just a day, please? Sheesh…”

Or maybe that image just comes from Ghostbusters: The Video Game, one of the many games I’ve been sampling over the last 2-3 weeks.

As I was telling Syl in the comments over at MMO Gypsy, I think I’m done with MMOs for the time being.

GW2 has been becoming less and less of a home, beyond the obligatory raid night with friendly, understanding but not-my-generation people, and the lack of new and novel content is killing my interest slowly but surely.

Most of the achiever content that I cling to as a lifeline when the explorer isn’t sated is either done, or is SO long term that the anticipated grindiness stops me from even contemplating it. I -could- do it, but when faced with the question of whether to spend 12 hours incrementing tiny degrees of progress in GW2 or use those 12 hours to play other games, read and watch Netflix, well, the decision is a no-brainer. There’s no one I want to impress with herculean feats of treadmilling in a constructed game anyway.

See, the more I think about it, the more I think the allure of the MMO comes from two things. The first is the idea of a home and a community, a place you want to spend your virtual ‘second life’ in, surrounded by people you’re happy to live amongst. Hence the themes of longevity, of “I could stay here forever!” being an important consideration when people evaluate MMOs.

The second is the feeling of expanse, of openness, of discovery over a new horizon that a vast and deep virtual world that you don’t understand well yet and want to learn more about. Hence why people lament when any MMO world feels small, constricted, not open and go chasing after procedural sandboxes.

The tragedy of the second is that everything closes up and becomes smaller over the passage of time. GW2 was an immense bounty of new discoveries when it first launched, but now my perception of its world has shrunk to waypoints whose surroundings I can readily recall at will. Don’t get me wrong, the convenience is great for revisiting, but the point is that it was a lot bigger in my imagination when unexplored than after the fog of war disappears.

A mapped world is smaller, no two ways about it. A mapped world is great for everything that comes after, exploitation of its resources in fulfillment of goals and so on. But a mapped world means you already know what is coming up over the horizon as you get closer.

The more I think about it, the more I think the age of MMOs is past. An MMO cannot fulfill both themes at once these days.

How can it? A handcrafted world is finite, limited by the number of developers that can work on it effectively. The number of developers is limited by the number of customers and revenue it can generate. The age of the one single MMO where everyone congregates to is past, everyone is spread out to a million smaller online games now.

Even if we hypothetically assume a mythical game that attracts even more numbers than World of Warcraft pulled in its prime, there must be a limit to how many teams of developers can work effectively on its world without it becoming a Frankenstein mess that turns away players, dropping revenue, which drops number of devs.

A finite world will eventually feel small. It’s just a matter of time.

So then, let’s go for the infinite world. Let’s go for procedural generation on a way more refined and fantastical scale than any singleplayer game currently existing and do it well. Online. Massively multiplayer.

Assuming such a hypothetical behemoth works magically and perfectly, and we have a virtual world on the scale of Earth to explore and colonize and exploit… isn’t it likely we’re going to run into the problem of “Where IS everybody?” “Halp! I can’t find players to play with.”

Given limitless lebensraum, people are going to spread out. Sure, there’s probably going to be clusters of people forming towns and villagers because people are social creatures and like to be near each other, but how far are these towns and villages going to be from one another?

I think of A Tale in the Desert as a good small-scale experiment as to what this mythical MMO is going to look like.

At first, it’s going to look very nice. People will cluster in their towns and villages, forming little metropolises of trade and civilization, while the more adventurous wander out into the wilderness and start the exploration and mapping process.

But then everything around the civilized centers will be known, and the explorers will either venture even further away or grow bored and leave. People attrition from real life all the time in games, so these villages will wind up with abandoned house lots, imitating a form of urban decay. Other players look around, realize their community is breaking up and will either leave the game or accrete to another community in-game, preferably the largest and most populated one.

It will take an act of God for the most social and rooted to their homes to pack up and move from what-is-known and move to lands unknown. (In other words, not bloody likely. Even a dragon invasion on the scale of the Cataclysm is more likely to just chase the homemakers from the game when they’ve had enough of large scale change, or make them more stubborn to rebuild where they’ve decided to live.)

So at most, the ideal MMO of tomorrow is a small known world of established communities with some kind of connected interrelation with the more nomadic explorers that venture into the always-shrinking-once-mapped unknown.

There are so many things that could wrong in this MMO. If the communities don’t need anything from the explorers, there will be no reason to explore. If the explorers don’t need anything from the communities, there will be no reason to have social dealings with them.

Maybe -everybody- wants to explore, and so there will be towns but no one’s in them because everybody’s out in the wilderness. Maybe the balance of self-sufficiency is such that everybody just trundles out to find a nice spot of wilderness for themselves – RIP towns and social communities. Maybe there is too much inter-dependency and reliance on others for today’s players to accept, so few people want to play anyway – RIP MMO.

Anyway, such an ideal hypothetical MMO is years from coming into existence. Much less ambitious fare will come into the picture first, and I’m not at all sure I have any interest in those.

Anything with Fed-Ex fetch quests and collect 10 bodyparts after killling 99 mobs is right out of the equation. So done with those.

Tropes like holy trinity combat, raids, dungeons are pretty likely to show up in MMOs because that’s what most players are familiar with and used to. They do absolutely nothing for me.

To add a little insult to injury, region-locking for most smaller F2P MMOs is a thing. It becomes a principle not to pay any money to companies who are content with smaller pieces of pie in today’s globalized internet-linked world.

Innovation is expensive and dangerously risky. Not innovating produces stale MMOs that enough people will play to keep a small company alive.

Personally, I’m done with stale MMOs.

So over the last 2-3 weeks, this was what I did instead:

Games Played

  • Endless Legend – up to turn 85 of a Broken Lords campaign
  • Deathless: The City’s Thirst – finished a playthrough
  • Learn Japanese to Survive – Hiragana Battle – got up to 15 Hiragana word/letters?
  • Crusaders of the Lost Souls – lost count of the resets, idols in the 100-200+ range
  • Defender’s Quest: Valley of the Forgotten – in some spooky cave levels
  • Human Resource Machine – got to puzzle level 17 or so
  • Minecraft: Story Mode – playing on mobile, finished episodes 1 and 2
  • Reigns – also on mobile, finished a playthrough, didn’t manage to trick the devil, but not for lack of trying, gonna restart and try again
  • Minecraft: Simply Magic modpack – was doing good fulfilling my nomadic urge to wander and explore, until the last update crashed the client and I couldn’t move back a version. RIP.
  • Minecraft: BeeHappy modpack – so now I’m growing bees in a skyblock map!


Books Read

  • Two Serpents Rise by Max Gladstone (Book 2 of the Craft Sequence)


Netflix Watched

  • Van Helsing – binge-watched the entire season 1, the zombie apocalypse with vampires instead of brainless zombies
  • Bitten – got up to season 2, episode 3, based on Kelley Armstrong’s Otherworld books, the books are way better, but it’s interesting to see the casting decisions and how like or unlike one’s image of the characters they are
  • Minority Report – watched again for fun, looks so dated now
  • Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency – made it through episode 1, which was like floating through a drug-haze of surrealism. I am convinced it will all tie together in the end, but it’s such a hard slog at the beginning that it’s hard to continue.
  • Trollhunters – binge-watching like crazy, up to episode 17. I am totally going to buy a ton of troll toys / collectibles when they finally come out. Got so many 80s cartoon and Amblin movie nostalgia flashbacks while watching – intelligent not-just-for-kids plotlines, what madness is this?



In other words, I expanded inexorably through a fantasy landscape as a faction of fallen spirits encased in suits of knightly armor; juggled politics and morality as a necromancer lawyer negotiating water deals to prevent the desert city Dresediel Lex from drying up; and fought shadowy Hiragana warriors whose only weakness is enunciating the sounds they represent.

Perhaps the most entertaining Spaced Repetition System ever created. This is ‘a’ – aka a man standing upright with two arms outstretched and a swirl of magic about him, going “Ahh!” Or maybe that’s just how I’ll ever remember what this word/character sounds like.


Earned 7.79 tredecillion gold; summoned barbarians and rangers and knights to fend off a rampaging army of undead revenants;

(while avoiding being traumatized by a ghostly barbarian’s manhood)

wrote spaghetti code to struggle to the next floor of a soulless office building;


went on a Minecraftian animated adventure to assemble the heroes of the Order of the Stone in order to save the world; lived and died as a lineage of 63 cursed kings making tradeoff decisions to keep church, people, army and the treasury neither too low nor too high; wandered the wilderness, made a cave in the side of a mountain and started learning magic; and bred bees.

Lots of bees.
Industrial apiaries filled with bees. (The ugly yellow block things.)

Feels like the journey’s just beginning.


10 thoughts on “Digital Wanderlust, or You Can Never Go Home Again

  1. In a way that’s why I have never done “map completion” in GW2 on any of my seventeen level 80s. I’m not logged in as a I write but from memory my highest is at 68% and that’s my very first character, my Charr ranger. None of the others even come close and the characters I’ve been playing most regularly for the last eighteen months are mostly still in single figures.

    What’s more I haven’t even come near to “map completion” as a player. All my thousands of hours on all my characters together haven’t even nearly taken me to all the marked POIs let alone the unmarked oddities.

    Every time I play there’s a possibility that I might discover something new so the world still feels as wide and open and unexplored to me as it did on launch day. Only two days ago I found myself by sheer chance in a part of Sparkfly Fen I’d never seen before. I was ranting and raving wildly in guild chat about my amazing new discovery much to Mrs Bhagpuss’s amusement.

    I’ve played EQ2 for much, much longer than GW2 and EQ longer than either and still I feel I’ve scarcely scratched the surface of either. They are far larger than I will ever be able to explore, not to mention that, like the quasi-real places they are, they change continually. I still, frequently, see new events, hear new dialogs, observe new NPC interactions in places I’ve visited a hundred times before.

    And that, of course, isn’t counting the never-ceasing cavalcade of player characters, their might-as-well-be infinite variety of looks and attitudes and conversations. I don’t think it’s any more possible to exhaust an ongoing, reasonably well-populated MMO than it is to exhaust a city or a country. Something new is always happening, there’s always something new to see.

    Of course, as an individual, you can become bored with that. It can stale on you. Virtuality is not a cure for ennui. My feeling on this, though, is that it’s the individual’s need for novelty that’s the presenting problem here, not any shortfall or lack in the MMO concept. People who get bored will get bored with anything. I get bored with having to go to work to earn a living and with what I have to do when I get there. I never, ever get bored in MMOs (although, curiously, repetitive actions within them do indue a kind of narcoleptic, trancelike state that i dislike intensely – I’m the opposite of bored and want to get on with what I’m doing but something in my brain thinks I should be fast asleep…can’t figure that one out).

    All that said, ANet’s ability to supply new content IS abysmal. Possibly the worst I have ever seen from a large developer. They really should be ashamed of how deeply inefficient they are. I’m not surprised it’s losing them customers.


    1. I need novelty. No two ways about it. The two week/four week cadence of the Living Story was perfect for me.

      Take it away and my interest dies a slow death, helped along by the more fractious divisive community sentiment and the obligation to show up on a schedule – which is still happening, by the by, but it’s also becoming all I want to do in GW2 for the week so that I have time for the rest of life without GW2.


  2. I think I agree with your assessment – MMOs are about a vast, unknown world and about communities. Only the second asset can create almost infinite gametime pleasure, I don’t really think you need an endless open world. No MMOs have that and some fairly popular MMOs have relatively small worlds even, delivering content only slowly. It’s community that makes the games stick in the mid- and long run and personally, I don’t have it in me anymore to start over again getting to know new people, build new guilds etc. I remember Liore wrote once “I’ve met all the people online that I want to meet” and I think I agree….there’s only so many times you can build a life from scratch. Maybe we’re not meant for endless lives….maybe we would come to the same conclusion in the real world too, if we were immortal. 🙂


  3. Your description sounds very much like one of the competing visions for Pathfinder Online earlier in development. It was being sold as a frontier settling/exploration type game with a sandbox-style need for players to cooperate to form communities outside one or two permanent NPC run starter towns. Of course early on on the forums the debates over the plans for open-PVP rather split the potential playerbase.

    If we could have a more expansive game like your desciption without the insistance of devs on PVP as the main source of conflict then I’d be willing to give it a try.


    1. Have you tried/heard of A Tale In The Desert? That seems like it might be in that vein, with large-scale crafting/exploring/social community goals and no combat.


    2. Chalk up another recommendation for ATItD if one hasn’t tried it.

      It has some of the neatest systems/ideas ever, along with some very instructional experiences about the point where cooperation and competition meet and come into conflict.

      It just eats up one’s time/life though, which is the primary reason I’m not currently playing it. Every now and then I remember fondly beetles and beer-making and vine-tending on grapes… then I consider how much time that’ll take and sigh and go, nope, can’t do it again right now.

      Everyone who plays MMOs and dreams about sandboxes should at least give it a go though.


  4. I remember reading Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency after the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series some time back in elementary school. I had no idea what the hell was going on. Good luck!


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