Whether you’ve been playing MMORPGs for a long time or just getting started, one thing’s for sure, a game’s experience varies wildly depending on how you interact with the community. For decades, most of the interactions players have had in the game revolved around chat windows and predefined emotes. Recently I have spent ample time in the virtual world of Zenith: The Last Cityand had an overwhelmingly positive experience that gave me hope for what the future of MMORPGs might look like.
When it comes to the way I play MMORPGs, I can best describe myself as anti-social. I enjoy grouping and will often prefer a matched PUG for its ease of access, the main caveat being that I won’t be very talkative and will only get in if I’m well versed in the encounter. I rarely participate in global chat and turn it off if I find it will lead to widespread trolling, and the thought of an in-game voice chat party with random players makes me think if playing the content is worth the risk of the kind of pointless communication that could soon happen to me.
But every now and then the pieces fall into place that remind me why MMORPGs are so special and why I keep coming back to them. This recent encounter took place in a place I never expected. The VR MMORPG Zenith: The Last City† I’ve been a pro, however skeptical, of VR games for years, and get in Zenith was an experiment to satisfy my curiosity about how far VR MMOs have come. I think RamenVR has created an exceptional experience, even if it may not be perfect. As a newcomer, even as I was introduced to the basics of the game, I was left with many questions about where to go and what to do.
Within moments of walking through the world, I was approached by other players. My nightmare was soon realized when I discovered that voice chat was turned on by default, so people would randomly come up to me and ask questions, many of them asking the same questions as me.
Where are we going?
How do I get out of here?
What shall I do?
These questions weren’t questions I could answer, and after I turned off my voice chat in settings and no text chat was available, I figured I could just be alone until I figured out these things. I went into the unknown virtual world alone, as I’ve done in dozens of MMORPGs before, but shortly after I set out, something strange happened. After nearly eating dirt on some fiendish monsters in the starter area a few times, I was approached by someone who saw me struggling, and asked if I could use some help.
Because my voice chat was turned off, I couldn’t communicate directly, but in response I raised my hands with a shrug. What followed was a curious exchange of communication where my physical cues, such as nodding, shaking my head, and pointing or gesturing with my hands met the necessary requirements that led to cooperating with a stranger, joining a guild, and making new friends. The experience also didn’t stop with a single user who contacted me. Once immersed in the world, it became extremely easier to communicate non-verbally. As a tank, I could easily gain aggro, saving players who might not be able to handle the amount of enemies they had to send. A simple nod, a wave, or even their hands together as a thank you made the most mundane interactions worth while. Without starting a conversation, receiving a private message, or scanning a chat window for an emote notification, other players and I can easily communicate our intentions to each other.
Despite having a mixed past with VR games I’ve tried before, the community engagement and positive outcome of my experiences is within Zenith gives me hope that there is a future for meaningful interactions in MMORPGs. While I’m not looking forward to a future of headsets and shaky locomotion peripherals, with the right design perspective, I see a significant improvement in community engagement. For those times when we don’t want to talk, or type, or make an effort to carry on a conversation, my experience found that the simple physicality of Zenith opened up a path of communication that was immersive and enjoyable and led to the most fun I’ve had in an MMORPG this week. I hope these ideas of accessible communication are obstacles that developers extend as they design our future MMOs.
VR Games are definitely not for everyone. Whether the headsets give you a headache, or you’re just not captivated by the premise of a large amount of movement during your gaming sessions, the upside is that it’s not just the developers who make MMORPGs. You do. We all do. It’s easy to get caught up in the redundant systems and core game loop of an MMORPG, where grouping can feel like it’s just a means to an end. So whether you’re introverted or just don’t have the energy to chat with your virtual fellows, that’s okay. Take advantage of the communication tools you are familiar with and enjoy the community of your favorite MMORPG, if only to help a poor newcomer like me.