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Claiming loot, killing orcs, making friends

March 28, 2006|by PATRICK DATTILIO

After writing numerous essays, solving hideous physics equations, and solving who-knows-how-many Calculus Independent Study problems, it is liberating to sit down at my computer and drift off into a different world - a world of swordplay, magic and grotesque monsters waiting to be slain (and give up their exquisite possessions). It is a world of glory and honor.

Welcome to the world of Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) Role Playing Games. A MMORPG is a single persistent world that exists online and is accessible to anyone who owns the game, the equipment to play it (PC or console) and usually requires a monthly subscription. To me, it is a world of friendships, cooperation and, most of all, fun.

An MMO can involve hundreds or even thousands of people playing in one "world" at the same time. While many focus on the classic dungeon-and-dragon fighting themes, the genre is not limited to medieval and magic combat. There are numerous space-oriented, sci-fi, and other interesting games as well as combinations of them all.

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Many MMOs are driven by truly epic storylines, such as the rise of a great evil (or its return). It is up to you and your friends to put an end to the trouble. Many times there are different levels - player-vs.-player (PVP) conflicts, races fighting rival races, factions against factions - all converging into one amazing story.

These games take time, and lots of it. I have previously spent anywhere upwards of 12 hours in a single day fighting epic battles with upwards of 40 of my guild-mates. Slashing through dungeons, completing quests and helping friends get a new piece of armor (and hopefully getting something for myself in the process) is all in a day's work.

On less-scheduled days, I enjoy dabbling in crafting recipes, concocting potions, or skillfully shaping a new set of armor. Crafting, as well as other mini-games and humorous quests, are offered for the more "casual" gamer. They are also fun for the veteran gamer who is tired of blasting orcs into oblivion.

While I play much less now, I have found the MMO community to be absolutely amazing. Players work together to conquer the greatest foes and gather the best loot (items dropped by a monster), all while forming great companionships along the way.

It is these relationships, these amazing bonds between people, which appeal to even a practiced gamer, such as myself.

I was reminded of this recently when I returned to one of my former favorite MMOs (Final Fantasy XI - ranked in the top 10 massive multiplayer online games by Gamespot.com). I was surprised to find a familiar group of old friends - my old guild - still intact. A guild is often formed when people group together, sharing a common channel for communicating with one another and allowing them to more easily organize and find participants for particular activities.

Together, a guild might try to defeat a vicious beast for a new and glorious weapon, form a powerful escort, or simply gather for some company. In a good guild, one does not have to search very far for companions.

If you want to experience top-level content as you progress through an MMO - like an assault on major enemy strongholds - an experienced guild is almost a requirement.

My Final Fantasy guild has a few hundred members. Most are Americans, but some are from as far away as Finland and Australia.

When I returned after more than a year's absence, I was greeted by players who remembered me. Words splashed upon my screen - "Where ya been?!" and "How are ya!?" I was welcomed back as if I had never left. While gamers usually communicate via typed messages, often for more difficult battle encounters they will use VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) programs, allowing them to speak using a microphone over the internet. It still amazes me each time I speak with them, what great friends they are - friends I have never seen in person and probably never will.

And I truly consider these people friends. My guild friends care about each other; they asked about one member's sick girlfriend. They asked other members what they did for their birthdays. Players in the game chat just like friends do in real life. They ask questions and receive helpful hints on topics ranging from in-game topics to what one should wear on a date.

If you are interested in trying out an MMO, feel free to drop me an e-mail at Patrick.Dattilio@gmail.com, or try www.gamespot.com for more information.

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