Trade Chats: Interview With Tobold

I’m back from my week off, having travelled far and wide to bring you delights from around the blogosphere. Well, all right, I haven’t travelled anywhere. But I have got a delight in store for you in the form of a new feature that’ll pop up from time to time: interviews with MMO bloggers.

Now, Tobold is … well, Tobold. There’s no-one else quite like him. He takes big, real life topics like freedom and social experiments and applies them to whatever MMO he’s enjoying at the moment. And really – you name the game, he’s probably played it and written about its deepest, darkest nooks and crannies from business models to in-game marriage.

He’s quite a guy. And he’s kindly agreed to kick off the new feature with a great interview looking at desert islands, grinding and whether or not gamers really can change the world. Thanks Tobold – it was great chatting to you about this stuff!

Let the transcript roll!

Q: Desert Island Games: If you could choose only one game to play for a year, what would it be?

_ Tobold:_ I have a strong preference for online games, and already played several MMORPGs for over a year. But if I had for example World of Warcraft running on a desert island, I would probably try to use that contact to the outside world to call for help to rescue me. I guess that limits the possible answers to single-player games. For a game to be replayable for a year, it must *not* have a story, because sooner or later you know the story by heart. Thus I’d opt for a game which is different every time, like having a different random map and different AI opponents. I think Civilization would be a good choice, either IV or V.

Q: What makes you keep playing games? Both generally, and in regards to specific games (I believe WoW and A Tale in the Desert (ATitD) are your current favourites, though feel free to talk about others!)

_ Tobold:_ I think there is a lot to Raph Koster’s theory that fun in games is related to us learning new things. Thus online games have an advantage, because real players are always more unpredictable than computers. Social interaction is a part of a game which you are unlikely to ever completely master. For the fixed, “content” part of the game I obviously prefer huge games like World of Warcraft or A Tale in the Desert to games which you can play through in 10 hours and then already have seen everything there is. Nevertheless I do play short, single-player games once in a while, but would consider them like a disposable version of games, not something which keeps me playing for a long time.

Q: What do you think of Jane McGonigal’s ideas that games, and gamers, can change the world?

Tobold: I think Jane McGonigal overhyped that idea. I do consider games to be media, and media can always be used to communicate ideas, and ideas that are acted upon can change the world. Thus I do think that a well done game in which players learn lets say about global warming and what we all can do to prevent it can possibly work to contribute. But it could never be the sole way of communicating that idea. And in reality the kind of games which are designed to “change the world” are often unbearably preachy and basically unplayable, thus not really working. If we would assume that behavior learned in a game has a strong influence on real-world behavior out of game, we should be more worried about the huge number of games that teach us how to kill. If we say that GTA doesn’t turn us into car thiefs and killers, then why would a game with a more positive message turn us into better people?

Q: What’s the strangest thing that’s ever happened to you in an MMO?

_ Tobold:_ When I played Everquest for the very first time, a decade ago, wandering cluelessly and lost through the newbie zone, I met a higher level player who unselfishly helped me by giving me a magic necklace and some pointers on what to do next. Since then I experience a huge range of human behavior in MMOs, both of people being a lot kinder to strangers than in real life, and people being extreme jerks and saying things in general chat that they would never say to somebody in his face. It is hard to point out a single “strangest” event, but I do feel that the range of human behavior from good to bad is wider in a MMO than it is in what you are likely to experience in real life.

Q: Both WoW and ATitD are big on gathering, or grinding, resources. For WoW that might be gold, for ATitD that might be flax, wood, bricks… So, how do you grind for stuff? Do you have any particular methods to organise yourself, or tricks to optimise gathering?

_ Tobold:_ I don’t think I ever “grind”, although that is a question of definition, and I already have a blog post about that in draft. I would say the trick is to realize that you play for fun, for entertainment, and that you need to set yourself limits of how much “unfun” activities you are willing to endure to reach some goal in a game. I only gather resources in games when I feel like it, and only as long as I am enjoying the activity. In good games you can always switch to another activity if getting bored with any single one. There are a lot of different ways to make gold in WoW, so if I get bored gathering lets say ores, I might do fishing instead, or crafting glyphs, or playing the auction house, or doing daily quests. Or I might just stop making gold and just play running dungeons or something. In ATitD its the same, if I see that to pass the test of the obelisk I would need to make many thousands of bricks because of strong competition from other players, I can simply opt out and concentrate on another test which doesn’t involveĀ “grinding” bricks.

Q: What’s the biggest reaction your blog has had from the community – for example, a topic your readership either really liked or hated?

_ Tobold:_ It is hard to say which was the biggest reaction my blog ever had, but me comparing EVE gate camping to “bullying” must have been somewhere near the top. One thing a blogger has to live with is that readers are more likely to comment if they dislike what you say than if they agree. If I run around in a MMO using “Tobold” as my character name, I sometimes meet people who recognize the name and tell me they like my blog, but I never met anyone in any game who told me he hated my blog. But when I write about anything contentious, I get a lot of hate comments on the blog itself. What is noticeable is that reaction to general game design theory is usually muted, while discussing a particular game brings out the fans or haters of that game. For example if I wrote a general lament that games often ship unfinished, most people would agree, and probably not even bother to comment. But if I wrote “game X shipped unfinished”, I’ll get a lot of hate comments from fans of game X. Gamers tend to be rather territorial.

Q: What do you think are the big topics that are being discussed in the blogosphere at present and are there any topics you think should be getting more attention?

_ Tobold:_ I don’t know how to say this while sounding humble, but I really have no excuse if there are topics I think should get more attention, because I am able to *create* that attention by writing about that topic. Many of the better know bloggers are in the same situation, it is how the blogosphere works: One blogger writes about a topic he thinks should get more attention, and other bloggers or sites like MMO Melting Pot link to him and take up that topic. That even happens if the topic isn’t “big” at all, bloggers can get a lot of links and attention to silly little flame wars, of which I had my fair share. The *really* big topic is “What is the future of MMORPGs?”, but as that topic is actually too big to comprehensively be discussed, we tend to slice it into sub-questions, and for example discuss the merits of Free2Play versus monthly subscription business models, or the merits of making games similar to previous games versus extreme innovation.

What do you think – what would you have asked Tobold? And who would you like us to chat to in the future?

You can find Tobold’s homepage here.