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10:31am on Sunday, 14th January, 2007:

Missing Meaning


One of the advantages of reading The Independent is that it offers such a rich vein of material for QBlog. It sees itself as progressive and liberal, but it's hamstrung by its snobbish pro-arts, anti-science attitudes. For every occasional front page headline about some new scientific discovery (usually Astronomy, as that always comes with a nice picture), there is page after page on cuisine, female fashion and holidays to places where the number of tourists visiting each year is less than the number of people who sign up to EVE Online.

I was reading the weekly radio review, in which the author was complaining about the intrusion of trailers for celebrity TV programmes (on the not unreasonable grounds that if radio listeners liked celebrities then they wouldn't be listening to the radio). All was fine, until it ended with this pot shot at computer games:

No irony in computer games? Uh? How'd he work that out? Some games are entirely ironic! Is GTA some kind of gritty, urban drama, and I've been misreading it all these years?

As for irony within games, most gameplay is so constructed that irony is almost a guaranteed spin-off. You make a decision, things should work out but they don't, you have to try something else, then that works out even better than you'd expected the first decision to work out. Ironically, if things had gone as you'd originally planned, you'd have been in a worse off position.

Example from WoW (not exactly a game, but it has gameplay): as part of my mage's doomed attempt to get her tier 0.5 armour set complete before the Burning Crusade expansion appears, I needed to collect 40 drops off orcs in Blackrock Spire. I had 15 from a Lower BRS run on Friday, so when I logged on I was planning on getting the rest. Immediately, though, I was asked to join a pick-up group running Molten Core, so I did. About 30 seconds later, I was asked to join a Lower BRS group. Damn! But I'd committed to the MC run, so turned it down. The MC run was an utter disaster, because the leader got disconnected, a new sign-up was still keyed to an earlier run, and then everyone who came along afterwards was directed to the old instance. It was devoid of bosses and only contained four types of mobile. After two hours of torture, the optimism of the new leader was finally reduced to a sufficient level to call it, and those of us who never abandon a run could finally leave guilt-free. I checked the LFG sign-ups and found there were people looking for Upper BRS groups (starting my own group in the process of looking — what a crock of a system), so I put my name down and was picked up moments later. We breezed through, I easily got my remaining 25 bracers, plus a fire-resistance nice helm, plus the recipe for the flask of titans I've been after for ages. Oh, and the Ace of Beasts.

Irony: I wouldn't have got all that gear if I hadn't signed up for MC — I probably wouldn't even have got the 25 bracers I needed just from LBRS. Irony: I was picked up so soon after leaving MC that I couldn't go to the bank, so didn't have the other bracers and the flask of supreme power with me that I could have handed in for the final part of the tier 0.5 quest chain — which actually takes place in UBRS. Irony: the gear I got and the set I'm trying to collect will be worth nothing once the Burning Crusade comes out anyway.

If there's irony in life, there's irony in computer games.

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Copyright © 2007 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).