It Started With Ragnarok: Why MMOs Capture Many Gamers' Hearts and Wallets

MMO MMORPG
PHOTO BY Ragnarok

If we could travel back in time to the early 2000s and visit one of the many computer shops in the metro, you’ll likely see teens and young adults playing a few “classic” games. Some would test their skills against friends in a local game of Counter-Strike, while others fancied building the biggest possible army they could in their Real Time Strategy (RTS) game of choice such as Starcraft, Warcraft, Red Alert, or Battle Realms. Of all these gamers, one group  dived into Prontera, one of the main cities in Ragnarok Online (RO).

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“I wasn't really into the idea of MMOs until I played with actual people. Ragnarok Online was a game I played with my cousins back then, and I was eventually introduced to World of Warcraft when it came out," said David Sison, Head of League Operations, Gariath Concepts. “There's always something to do, and it's even better when you're doing it with friends.”

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The rise of MMO and MMORPG

Ragnarok online is perhaps the first mainstream Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game (MMORPG, or simply, MMOs) that captured the hearts, and wallets of Filipinos. These MMOs share elements of traditional RPG franchises of the time such as Final Fantasy and Suikoden such as a story- driven narrative in a fantasy world where characters would do quests to gain power and beat the final boss. MMOs on the other hand stood out primarily due to the importance of being online to communicate, and participate in the game with other players in real time, hence, “multiplayer.”

“MMOs became a social outlet for me since I was a very awkward kid. Everybody has their growing pains when it came to socializing, and MMOs allowed me to dump all my embarrassing moments there, all the while learning how to interact with people the more I played, Sison said.

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Perhaps, one of the most fascinating things about MMORPGs is your ability to create a customized avatar for the player, one that would represent him in the game and would be their primary way of interacting in game with other people. You are not assigned a character to play with, instead, you are the character yourself. Through this, you can project your ideal self (or ideal partner) and have them act accordingly, or simply create the perfect aesthetic character for your story.

MMO is gamer's outlet

MMOs provide an outlet for personal expression and interaction, both in-game and out, and this makes it welcoming for both casual and hardcore gamers. Are you interested in only playing the game for the story? No problem! Maybe you want to be known as the player who is tremendously rich in in-game currency, allowing others to buy rare materials and equipment from you, or the player that seeks the challenge of hard boss fights that require teamwork and adaptation. The best MMOs have content for all these different players.

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“MMOs are the ultimate distraction, you always have something to do, whether it be fight a boss or just hang out with people, and you always have a sense of progression as well whether through gearing/leveling” said Gabriel Matias, an IT professional who has been playing MMOs alongside Sison for the past few years.

The psychology behind MMO

Such appeal to a wide audience of gamers is reinforced by a 2006 study on Self-Determination Theory (SDT), which proposes that human behavior is influenced by a combination of Autonomy, Competence, and Relatedness. Practically speaking, one is able to control their character in any way, within the bounds of the games’ rule. One must meet a minimum level of skill in order to beat the challenges presented by the game, and one connects with the game world as well as other gamers which make us emotionally and cognitively invested in our character.

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Psychologically speaking, MMOs may also provide insight on concepts such as one’s fantasies, self- concept, role-play, and sense of fulfillment. For some, it serves as a trial-run for the real world. Impulsive buyers may tend to be thrifty money savers in game. Shy, introverted people may find the courage and confidence to be outgoing, even taking a leadership role thanks to the anonymity provided by their avatar.

Today, MMOs have grown to a degree that fully showcases gamers’ ability to connect with other people. Critically acclaimed Final Fantasy XIV (FFXIV) for example was released in 2013 and has recently wrapped up their MCU level long-term story telling with their fourth expansion title, “Endwalker” in what could be considered the title game’s Avengers: Endgame, no pun intended. The emotional investment of 8 years of storytelling has endeared not just the game, but its developers as well to the fanbase.

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This is seen when the game’s lead composer and sound director, Masayoshi Soken, responsible for the game’s beautifully crafted music had disclosed that during the pandemic, he was working on the game’s music while battling cancer privately. An outpouring of love, appreciation and support from fans expressed online showed that FFXIV was no longer just a game for many, but an extension of the self with bonds forged across the digital landscape. Further proving that gaming has evolved past a tool to entertain, towards a tool that can help us discover ourselves and connect with others.

About the author: James Dominic Flores is a lecturer at Far Eastern University Manila, specializing in psychology. He is also a competitive gamer specializing in fighting games.

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