the long road to solitude, i mean, riften


There are many reasons to be trepidatious about Elder Scrolls Online.

The fact that it’s an MMO isn’t one of them.

Don’t get me wrong, I too gnashed my teeth when it was first announced that my beloved series would be making a foray onto the MMO scene. As a long-time player of both MMOs (pre-dating EverQuest 1 back to MUDs and MUSHes, even, if you want to stretch the definition that far) and the Elder Scrolls games, I was devoted to both, but quite determined that never the twain shall meet.

This was a problem.

Not one you would have gotten me to recognize during my lonely year abroad, whose evenings I spent hunkered down in front of Oblivion instead of being spat on, groped, or in one instance, held against the train wall and dry-humped while no one met my eyes let alone tried to help me. Nor was it a problem I would have recognized during my grad school year and a half, where a truncated graduation schedule left me with 11 straight hours of class on Tuesdays, and I fled into the sweetly empty, uncluttered plains around Whiterun for mindless deer-stalking and dragon-slaying.

But it’s a problem I recognize now, stealthed and squeezed as far into the cluster of rocks I just rounded as I can fit, just west of Bleaker Outpost as over sixty Daggerfall Covenant players stream on white horses past my hiding place. I can see the eye symbol that indicates my visibility pop open again and as they pass by; if just one of them swings far enough to the right to see me frozen in place among the rocks, I am so dead.

And they don’t.

And I survive.

And this is what I was missing on all my blissfully oblivious days heigh-hoing it up and down the mountains in Morrowind, Oblivion, and Skyrim. The kind of oh-shit situations that only humans (so far) can put in place.

Because AI would have been smarter than to dump 60+ players, maybe 30 of whom knew what they were doing with the other half blundering blindly along after their followers (I am not so foolish as to believe they are any more or less capable over there in the Covenant than we are in the Ebonheart Pact), at only that one spawning point. AI would have wisely sent half the forces straight from Aleswell and half north or south, to avoid stringing themselves out in this endless parade that keeps me pinned trembling against the rocks for a good 3-4 minutes. AI would’ve been smart. AI would have been tediously¬†lacking in human foibles.

They never got Bleakers that day.

Because even as I lay there hoping no one would turn and look as they galloped past, I let everyone on my team know about the scores of enemies pouring in on our meagre outpost. And while, again, half the players don’t and won’t likely ever know what they are doing, the other half are veterans by now, in veteran-only groups, and this smarter half swung south and west of Bleaker’s to pound into the DC line as they came in, setting aflame to their hastily-planted forward camp and utterly destroying their attempt to head further east into our territory. It was a human triumph over other humans, and was deeply, deliriously rewarding.

(Especially the setting fire to the forward camp. That is always particularly rewarding. I remained undiscovered there in my pile of rocks and slithered up behind them to torch their camp, eliminating the possibility of them retaining a nearby respawn point upon their deaths. Joy!)

There are, of course, assholes. And while fear of said assholes trouncing on my simulated world–shattering the illusion–was one of the chief reasons I dreaded ESO in the beginning, there is something to be said for keeping them on hand. Because, as I used to explain to my mom when she (herself an avid gamer) evinced doubt about the online part of massively multiplayer online games, they add to the environment. So goes the world, so goes ESO–so yes, there are assholes, and cocky kids, and know-it-alls and creeps and all manner of people you probably wouldn’t want to hang with in real life. But you have to deal with them, as you have to deal with them in the real world. And in bowing your head and resigning yourself to the fact that people from all walks of life will inhabit this gameworld with you, you encounter people you might never otherwise talk to. People who you are guaranteed to have at least one thing in common with–a fondness for, and a comfort with, this fictional ethos you’ve both welcomed onto your respective machines. I spent several hours last weekend traipsing through the countryside around Cheydinhal, laughing with my comrade about the hopelessness of our fight at the moment to judge by the vitriol pouring over zone chat, and defending each other when would-be gankers came to disrupt our bucolic interlude with wanton butchery. Not on our watch, jackass. One of us would walk innocently up to the quest-giver to turn in the quest we’d just completed, and the other would follow at an undetectable distance, stealthed. And when those vermin who so love a chance to take advantage of lone players pop into existence to land the killing blow, out of the shadows would come the other of our pair, to send our ganker to hell halfway across the entire map.

We hoped he enjoyed the walk back. Maybe he bothered to take in some of the scenery.


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