Words Fail

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.”

3 responses to “Words Fail

  1. I’ve often been leaning towards MMOG being more fitting, but I admit that I can’t avoid using MMORPG anyway. It has really become a bad habit and it’s hardwired in my finger muscle memory.

  2. WoW…haven’t we had this discussion umpteen billion times as well?

    It IS quite tough to decide what should be clumped into that “MMORPG” title. I, for example, DO consider Guild Wars an MMORPG, and a considerably more successful one than most any other (besides WoW of course).

    Since Television, Books and Music can have “sub genres”, it may be time to start splitting these games out into “Lobby MMO” or “Facebook MMO”, or “Browser MMO”, etc, etc..

  3. I’m often found myself using the term OCORPG (Online Co-Operative Role Playing Game) for games such as Guild Wars and General Themeparks which don’t really have persistent elements that could be considered a virtual world. However, for games such as Eve, Earthrise, or those that follow the classic sandbox model and feature changeable and persistent virtual worlds, the original term of MMORPG still works. Although, for those that want a new term, how about MMOVW (Massively Multiplayer Online Virtual World)? I think that would pretty much eliminate the confusion, since most people understand what a virtual world entails.

    I think the distinction should be made along these lines, specifically between games that utilize virtual worlds which allow players to have a serious and lasting effect upon the world in which they inhabit (such as Eve), and those who do not feature this element, or feature it at a very small factor (Guild Wars, Wow, and General Themeparks).