Yesterday’s post, the great comment from Bhagpuss thereon, and Keen’s post yesterday all highlight a growing issue with MMOs. The term “MMORPG” itself is breaking down. It’s applied, these days, either so broadly (as Bhagpuss does in his comment) or so narrowly (as Keen does regularly,) that its usefulness is being eroded. If Minecraft is getting lumped in with MMORPGs, then I think we need a new word for “these kinds of games.”
The trouble is getting people to agree upon such a new term and adopt it broadly. I could propose such a term… say, MOVE, for Massive Online Virtual Environment, but all that does is highlight what I consider to be the unifying aspect of such games, which is the virtual space (which must by definition be both shared and persistent) and the ability of players to inhabit it via an avatar of some kind.
Such terminology does, however, eliminate some nagging issues with some titles that we’ve historically had arguments over. It puts an end, for example, to the idea that “Guild Wars is not an MMORPG.” It also eliminates the rationale for not including Second Life in “these kinds of games,” by removing or at least de=emphasizing the “game’ parameter. DDO remains a borderline case, given that, while it’s still ultimately lobby-based, the lobbies are much more elaborate than they are anywhere else, and it adds persistent (though not shared) wilderness zones.
But that’s just me talking, and the hobby at large does not, as a rule, take much notice of what I have to say (unless it’s about World of Darkness Online, maybe.) A propensity toward inventing and then adopting my own jargon will lead me inevitably in the direction of The Forge and a lot of useless navel-gazing. (Non-tabletop gamers probably shouldn’t follow that link; tabletop gamers will be equally mystified but will have the background to understand why it’s ridiculous.)
The boundaries of “these kinds of games” have changed faster than the definition of “MMORPG” has, given that we’re able to meaningfully debate whether various titles that lack one or more of “Massive,” “Multiplayer” and “RPG” fall into the category or not, the only universal commonality being “Online.” But then, how does Team Fortress 2 not fit in? (I have seen it referred to an as MMORPG.) Clearly, the distinction between TF2 and EverQuest is a meaningful one. If the parlance isn’t keeping up with reality, it’s time to catch it up or abandon it. This is why I’ll generally use “MMO” instead, but even in this case something like Minecraft stretches that definition to the breaking point. Clearly it’d be clumsy to keep talking about “these kinds of games.”