Thursday, June 29, 2006

Playing a Jack-of-All-Trades in MMORPGs

"A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly."

Specialization is for insects.

-- from Time Enough for Love by Robert A. Heinlein
That concept of action has been with me pretty much since the first time I read it lo, these many years ago. And it's how I prefer to play MMORPGs. I like being a jack-of-all-trades.

Note that when I say "jack-of-all-trades" I do not mean a support class like Healer. That's not a jack-of-all-trades character; it's a class role character who is directly aimed at satisfying some developer's role requirement. When I say jack-of-all-trades, I mean a character who is capable of doing a lot of completely different things in a game. Maybe not perfectly, maybe not even well, but to be able to do many things at all is satisfying enough.

I'm just not interested in spending all my waking hours in some futile attempt to be the "best" at something in a game. I prefer to go my own way, do my own thing in my own time. Specialization would box me into a particular set of content -- why would I want to do that?

By having a jack-of-all-trades character, I not only improve my chances of being able to survive most basic problems the game flings at me, I'm also able to experience many of the different types of content available in the game. I can never master any of them -- in fact, being a generalist in a MMORPG pretty much insures that there's some content (the so-called "high end" or "endgame" content) that I will never be able to enjoy.

So? If it's that intense, I'm not interested. I get enough "intensity" in my life outside of games; I play games to get away from intense stuff. (Note that this doesn't mean I don't enjoy playing FPS games. It's just what I get out of them is different: I tend to play snipers because I like the chess match; I don't play them for the sensation/excitement of an intense firefight... and I absolutely hate being put on a countdown timer. That's too much like work.)

The jack-of-all-trades approach lets me enjoy a game on my own terms... unless of course the game insists on stuffing every player into a neat, tidy little class to fill some developer-determined role, rather offering a rich array of player-selectable skills so that players can write their own stories. A class-based game is the mortal enemy of the generalist.

So why don't developers respect gamers who prefer to be a jack-of-all-trades by designing content specifically for them?

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