Gobblecide

I went out to the swamp, because I’m a video game completionist, and I wanted to do everything possible in the area of Bree before moving onto a new area. So, I had some bugs to kill. I needed to kill “neeker-breekers” (?) and flies. As I was wandering around the swamps, I encountered some Goblins. This led to my accidental discovery of the following Deed:

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“It is uncertain what Goblins think of Elves…” BUT KILL THEM ALL!

As best as I can tell, this is an ancient race war. I wasn’t sure that I wanted to participate in such a dubious enterprise, but a game is a game, and the reward was impressive (+5% damage to my bow!). I needed to kill 150 goblins. This wasn’t a big deal, because the goblins in this area were so very far below my level that they didn’t actually attack me. They just stood there and waited for me to kill them. Observe:

These Goblins don't know it, but they're already dead.
These Goblins don’t know it, but they’re already dead.

Some of these Goblins would actually start running away when I shot them with my first arrow, because they knew I was too much for them. This didn’t save them:

Not fast enough.
Not fast enough.

I’m blogging about this because it disturbed me. True, these are agents of an unspeakable evil, but it really demonstrates the pull between playing a game and acting in a moral way. It might have been more morally upright, from a chivalry standpoint, to find Golblins a bit closer to my level to fight. But slaughtering the little ones was so easy—and fast. I was able to kill 150 goblins in around 20 minutes—or one every few seconds. In games like this, time is money. There isn’t much of a chivalric code to be found in MMO’s.

Making Me Care

I actually had a moment of true emotion yesterday while playing LotRO.

So there I was, questing around Bree. Bree had up to this point been fairly annoying; after all, the Bree from the books never seemed like the sprawling rabbit-warren that is represented in the game (though little is actually said about it besides the curious fact of Men and Hobbits living together). However, I was starting to find my way, and actually enjoying questing around the Barrow-downs for L007. A distraught mother was missing her son, and wanted me to locate him. Ho-hum, I thought, standard FedEx (delivery) mission like most of the other quests I’d encountered. So, I go to find the boy. I find, instead, a corpse. I click on it a couple of times, but the boy is truly dead. This was my first moment of real emotion. I go back to the mother to tell her the news. She is distraught, but asks me to go find her other son. I go to find the other son, hopeful that he will be alive, at least, since there’s no way the designers would leave the mother so bereft. I find the boy, but he’s possessed by an evil spirit. After I fight the evil spirit, he leaves the boy’s body…and the boy is dead.

Fuck.

I literally said that out loud while I was playing. I had to go back to the mother, AGAIN, and tell her that her son is dead, AGAIN. The boys had been treasure hunters, I was told, and that was their doom. I later found the treasure they were searching for and returned it to the mother, but it didn’t make me feel any better.

This illustrates nicely the discussion of the importance of the shift from the epic to the personal story. Up to this point, I’ve not been terribly invested in the game, since it is a sweeping narrative arc where I have little effect. However, I genuinely cared about the fictional mother being represented to me. I’m sure Cantor would find all sorts of Oedipal feelings there, but for whatever reason, the game touched me in a way that I haven’t been touched in a long time (have fun with that sentence, Cantor!). Well played, Turbine.

Tolkien’s Medievalism according to Cantor According to Turbine

In Inventing the Middle Ages, Cantor makes a very specific argument concerning just what Tolkien was trying to accomplish, and what he did accomplish, with his series The Lord of the Rings. Specifically, Cantor argues that it “can be read as an argument against the mechanistic state and society that commit evil even when their intentions are good” (230). While this is true of the book, is it true of the game?

I am afraid that my answer may be that it’s too early to tell. So far, I haven’t encountered anything mechanized whatsoever. The main villain, a wily dwarf, seems to be dabbling a lot more in magic than machine, though I wouldn’t be surprised to see him animate some sort of dark contraptions somehow. However, the unintentional evil is there. During the introductory quests, there begin to be rumors of a dwarf doing something that he shouldn’t be. There is a lot of talk of “restoring the old glory” of the dwarves, which is a noble ideal, even one that Tolkien might approve of. However, ultimately this quest to restore glory leads to betrayal, with an evil spirit animating a dwarf corpse and convincing his followers that it is truly the old dwarf come back. So, the dwarf quest for glory ends with the raising of an Anti-Christ figure, just as Frederick II’s story goes in Kantorowicz’s masterpiece.

Free to Play?

Several of the articles we read recently dealt with the state of work in gaming. One of the ideas introduced in those the online store in as much depth as in other games, but it seems to be similar was that of “grinding,” or “farming;” that is, spending a lot of time killing the same monsters over and over in order to capture experience or materials. One thing I haven’t noticed so far in my Lord of the Rings Online adventure has been the necessity to grind for materials or experience. However, when all of the missions seem the same, the game itself can feel like a grind. One of the solutions that LotRO seems to offer for this self-made problem is to play new levels and adventures. Of course, these adventures are not free; rather, you need to buy them in the LotRO store.

The store is ever-present as the largest icon on your toolbar, represented (ironically?) by the One Ring, Sauron’s source of power. I haven’t explored the store in as much depth as other games, but it seems to follow the same rules. The types of things you can buy from LotRO stores include other missions, customized clothes, etc. One element that seems to be present, though, is the presence of pay-to-win, or P2W. You can buy “legacy slots” and “legacy weapons” that are more powerful, thus making your character more powerful.

Online communities often have fairly high standards when it comes to what characters should be allowed to buy. Interestingly enough, this is tied to “grinding,” as well. The general consensus is that if something can be acquired in a game by grinding or farming for it, it is acceptable to spend real money on that item instead. The advocates of the online shop will tell you it’s just part of the same equation: rather than spending my time working IN the game, I go to my real job, make money, and spend it instead. In this way, players who don’t have time to grind and farm can still have the same stuff. This works out well, in my opinion. However, when you start having things that can ONLY be accessed with real money in the store, then a game no longer deserves its “Free-to-play” title.

The un-Gothicness of Lord of the Rings Online

In some of the most brilliant 19th century prose I’ve read, The Stones of Venice, Ruskin illustrates the six key components of the Gothic (6). I’m going to focus on his first two, and illustrate that, despite using medievalism as a setting, LotRO is decidedly un-Gothic in nature:

1.Savageness.

By this, Ruskin largely means flawed originality. Ruskin admonishes the reader that forcing people to copy other items, rather than allowing them to explore and create on their own. He decries clean lines and finished work, rather celebrating the flawed romantic work that lesser men are capable of. Lord of the Rings online seems an exceptionally rigid game. The variety of the quests, at least in the early part of the game, is all clean lines and finish, not allowing the player to do much at all besides finding the next quest and doing what’s told. To paraphrase Ruskin, by doing this, we make a player, but we don’t make a man.

  1. Changefulness.

On a related note, I’m having trouble continuing the gameplay of Lord of the Rings online. While many MMO’s rely heavily on the “go here, kill that, gather that” type mission, I’ve never played a game that relied EXCLUSIVELY on this type of mission. This is the sort of monotony that Ruskin decries. While I’ve been “cultivated” by many years of gaming, I can’t bring myself to wait any longer for variation to show up. I am longing for an experience that is more Gothic in practice, rather than merely in external form.

Descent into Middle-Earth Gothic

Though we’ve been discussing many aspects of medievalism lately, our talks on the discussion board have evolved specifically into a discussion of the Gothic aspect of medieval attribution. Unsurprisingly, I was very attentive during this most recent run-through of the game to the Gothic influences surrounding me. After completing a couple of quests, the tone turned darker. I soon found that I was in a fairly benevolent world (at least at first, more on this in a sec) when out in daylight, but as soon as I joined a specific instance, I was surrounded by Gothic sounds and sights. For example, I was introduced to a quest by the following poem:

Blood-red footsteps

Upon snow coloured black

Where the Dour-King Walks

To take back his throne and finish what was begun

I was then instructed to make my way down to the “Rockbelly Pit,” which was lit by dim light and contained such Gothic standbys as bats and loud, deep, tympanic music. Coming up from the Pit, I was almost relieved to hear a lighter, more festive soundtrack, but was soon thrust into the other Dark Age relic: plague. My new quest was to figure out what was making all of the dwarves sick; in order to solve the mystery, though, I had to do SCIENCE, much like Lord Woodville from “The Tapestried Chamber.” I inspected soil near the river and slew sick bears. So, though I was motivated by the appearance of a medieval plague, I used empirical research to solve the problem, illustrating the present’s intrusion on its own construction of the past.