04 October 2012

Letter No. 4

I’ve just found a big bowl of salad at the top of a tree.

I don’t know who put it there. It might have been a bug. It might have been a fellow player. It might have been a gamemaker. It might have been a gift from any of the 11 Giants who are said to have imagined this world. (It’s probably Pot, Giant of Cheffery).

But whoever or wherever it came from, this random-seeming meal from the sky has enlightened me on my new purpose in life. Becoming a master furniture craftsman can wait. I’m going to dedicate myself to cooking and leaving food in weird places, too.

Maybe I’ll start calling myself a food fairy. A food-lanthropist. No, a benefooder! Yes, that’s it.

And I’ll follow in the footsteps of my own benefooder, leaving delicious meals for tired, hungry travellers in my wake. And maybe that will inspire others to do the same, who will fill other bellies and inspire those bellies’ owners to do the same.

And maybe at some point in my journey across the magnificent world of Ur, I will cross paths with the first great being who left me this salad, and he/she/it will tell me that I have been a good follower, spreading the joy of excellent cooking throughout the land, from the snow-capped mountains of Andra to the darkest corners of Illmenskie Deeps.

And maybe he/she/it will finally tell me what makes secret sauce so secret, even if its ingredients make it sound a lot like regular mayonnaise.

Or maybe he/she/it will reply to this post, “You idiot. I dropped the salad there because my pack was full.”

And why not? I’ve only been playing Glitch for about a week, but this kind of far-fetched fantasy seems to be just what this game encourages.

[You can skip this part and scroll down to the next heading. The following is just rambling geekery.]

Let me backtrack a bit, before you think I’ve been munching on mushrooms. (I’ve yet to eat a mushroom in the game, so I don’t know what that does. I’ve eaten a purple flower, though, and the experience was very, very interesting.)

I don’t consider myself a hardcore gamer, mostly because our only console growing up was Family Computer, and my personal computer has been a Linux netbook since 2008. If I really wanted the MMOG experience or even just local network games like DoTA, I’d have to make the commitment of going to an Internet cafe, paying for access, training, paying, and training some more, for days or weeks  before I’d reach a certain satisfying level of progress. It just seems too expensive and time-consuming for something I’ll probably get bored with a month or so down the line, anyway.

Because somehow, I’ve always missed the thing in these games that draws players in for really serious, notebook-filled-with-formulas, level-99999-with-all-the-upgrades play. I do love computer games, and I love playing with friends, but none of the MMOGs I’ve tried so far have been able to hold my interest.

I think it’s because most of these games are essentially war games, and being a warrior of some sort is all you really get to be. Even if some games let you choose a non-martial class, like a healer or a wizard, you’re mostly other players’ sidekick; you don’t really get to fulfill your purpose if you aren’t there at the battleground for the warriors’ benefit.

And no matter how beautiful the graphics, how masterful the world-building, or how rich the story, in the end, you’re still in that story to fight. You never really get to be the bartender, the city tour guide, the blacksmith, the chef, the storekeeper, the farmer, the brewer, the scientist, the local doctor, the monk — all these roles and more are filled by game robots, when I’m sure there are lots of human players like me who would love to take over, instead of heading out into the dessert to kill 200 squishy pink things for a handful of coins.

On the other hand, non-war MMO games these days are mostly designed for the gamemakers’ benefit. They let you level up fast, and then they ask for your wallet and your phone book. Facebook-based games in particular tend to tie your progress to the amount of real money you’re willing to pay and to the number of other people you can coerce into playing with you. After a while, these games become a drag, and you become a drag on your friends, who would like you to stop asking them for imaginary nails.

So, when I read this boingboing post a few days ago, I was intrigued. The computer requirements were netbook-friendly, and Glitch’s about page, quoted below, sounded like everything I hadn’t realized I wanted in online gaming, plus a touch of weirdness:

Glitch is a web-based massively-multiplayer game which takes place inside the minds of eleven peculiarly imaginative Giants. You choose how to grow and shape the world: building and developing, learning new skills, collaborating or competing with everyone else in one enormous, ever-changing, persistent world.
What's different? For starters, it's all one big world. Which means everyone is playing the same game and anyone's actions have the ability to affect every other player in the game. It also involves very little war, moats, spaceships, wizards, mafiosos, or people with implausibly large muscles. Also: we have egg plants. Egg plants make it very different.

I had to see it for myself. I requested an invite to the recently relaunched game, and as soon as it let me in, I was hooked.

[If you skipped all that stuff, you can start reading again.]

As much as I’d like to describe Glitch by comparing it with other games (I sucked my own brother in by telling him it was an MMO version of one of his favorites), I’m afraid this might just make people dismiss it without giving it a try — and I really, really, really want other people to give it a try.

It’s kind of like having read the most amazing book and wanting to shove said book in all your friends’ faces, so you don’t have to feel the way you feel about it alone. Your friends ask you, “Well, what’s it about, what’s it like?”, and all you can do is grunt exasperatedly and say, “Just read it! Read it already! And then tell me what you thought about it!”

That’s kind of the way I’d like to go about sharing Glitch. Forget everything I just said about the MMO gaming experience. Just think of the way you felt when you read or listened to a favorite story as a child.

Think of the thrill you felt, imagining yourself exploring the world of those stories — how spooked you got as you followed some mysterious instinct deeper into the forest, swamp, or abandoned house, and how wonderful it was when you saw the reward at the end.

Think of your old make-believe games where jumping over a hole in the ground was really jumping across a canyon, and how seriously you took your play.

Think of your half-remembered dreams, of conversations where you can’t remember the participants’ faces or what they actually said, yet you find yourself puzzling over what they meant when you wake.

Think of the wittiest, gentlest, wisest characters who’ve made you laugh, made you think, and made you want to improve yourself a little bit — or a lot.

Then tell yourself that Glitch is that kind of story or dream. It’s still in progress, and you get to be one of its people. And if you want, you can be a guru, builder, gardener, wanderer,  healer, businessman, bureaucrat, or benefooder — and no one’s going to force you to be or do anything you don’t want, because the only character class is “character.”

The only way I can conclude now is to say, play. Just play it, play it already, and then tell me what you thought about it.

If all that’s way too vague for you, I suggest you just visit this page. And if you want a more traditional what-this-game-can-do review, this is a pretty good one.

1 comment:

  1. Kat, I've just started playing the game myself. It's amazing.