There are many people on this planet who know what an MMO and/or an MMORPG is, but by the same token – like so many things in life – there are also many people who don’t what those acronyms mean. MMO stands for Massive Multiplayer Online, and MMORPG stands for Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game. Some examples of these MMOs include EverQuest, World of Warcraft, Lord of the Rings Online, and the forthcoming and constantly-growing-in-popularity Star Wars: The Old Republic, which is still in beta and scheduled to be fully released December 20. They’re essentially online video games that allow for much more ability and opportunity than usual console-based video games, and have no real end point: with each new expansion, players have higher levels to achieve, more quests to do, and more of the world to explore. Players get all this and more for a monthly fee, or some MMOs are free to play (ftp), but payment is required for certain quests or items. There are literally millions of MMO players across the planet, and I’m proudly one of them.
What’s interesting is that MMOs are starting to show up in fiction, mainly science fiction, usually as a construct of the fictional world the author has created. Sometimes it is a quasi dystopian future where playing the game is all there really is, while other books have the MMO be a main part of the story and play off it in the real world. It is an interesting growing sub-genre of science fiction that seems to get new additions each year.
Below are the books featuring MMOs that I have come across in my reading and reviewing, though I am sure there are more out there and invite anyone reading this column to elucidate on them in the comments section. As you read about these books and their respective MMOs, what do you think it says about our world and our society? More importantly, what do you think it says about where we’re headed? How likely is it that some form of one of these MMOs will come to be our reality? You be the judge.
Reamde by Neal Stephenson: Richard Forthrast is our approaching-middle-age hero who is one of the big brains behind the multi-billion dollar MMO, T’Rain, which is known throughout the world, whether you’re a rich white kid who likes to pretend he’s an elf, or a gold farmer somewhere in Asia looking to make some good money. T’Rain was in fact created with that in mind – Richard’s past is not a completely clean one by any means – to be open and available and possibly profitable to just about anyone on the planet with a good Internet connection. And then a very specific virus attacks T’Rain, known as Reamde, which immediately begins making a lot of money for its creators and screwing over a lot of the regular players. Richard and his team of brainiacs are now working round the clock trying to bring a stop to this.
Meanwhile, one of Richard’s family members – Zula – originally from East Africa and adopted into the family as a young girl, was hired by Richard to work for T’Rain, and becomes involved in a really big problem when her boyfriend Peter – who happens to be a renowned hacker – is looking to make good money selling credit card numbers to a shady, unknown character. Things take a turn for the worse, when the Reamde virus hits and screws everything up for him. Before they know it, the Russian mafia is breaking down their door, kidnapping them, and taking them to Asia by private jet to find the perpetrators of the Reamde virus and get their revenge. (Read the full review.)
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline: In the not-too-distant future, the world is quickly going to hell in a hand basket. It’s very much a dystopian world, but within this gloomy, depressing place is an MMO that just about everyone plays. OASIS is not just a game, but a way a life for most, where you can have fun, meet friends, got to school, and pretty much lead a full and entertaining life under the guise of your anonymous avatar (whose façade is of your choosing). Depending on what people can afford, the experience can be fully sensory so that players feel as if they are actually existing in the world of OASIS and experiencing it in just about every way possible.
James Halliday, who grew up in the 1980’s when computers were beginning to take off, quickly became addicted to video games and then began making his own. He is the creator of OASIS, which has gone from a game to life and reality for so many people in this world, and he is many times a billionaire. When he dies, he activates his will which states that whoever finds the three keys and solves the puzzles will be entitled to his entire fortune. Wade Watts is an eighteen year old nerd who has hopes of finding all three keys and gaining those untold riches. His parents are dead and he lives with an aunt who treats him terribly and he cares little for her, scraping by in abject poverty. And now he thinks he might’ve just found the location of the first key. (Read the full review; read an interview with the author.)
Omnitopia Dawn by Diane Duane: There are two worlds here: the compelling fantasy world of the massive multiplayer online game (MMO) Omnitopia and the real world where video game companies fight to keep doing what they do best and keep the fans hooked, and make lots of money. It is the near future and when one sits down to play an MMO – like Lord of the Rings Online or World of Warcraft – they can use the familiar screen and keyboard set up, or there is the full immersion into the game, akin to virtual reality only better, where one experiences almost all senses of the game. It is an incredible complex world of fighting and raiding, of gaining levels and increasing your wealth, and even eating and drinking with friends, while discussing your next strategies. But Omnitopia is unique as every once in a while it selects one of its subscribers to create their own unique world of their own choosing and actually make money from it. So there is the world of Omnitopia, and then there are the thousands of other user-created worlds covering all of history and the imagination. The result is a game that one can quite literally be completely absorbed by, almost forgetting the real world.
Rik Maliani is an ordinary person with an ordinary job who’s been a fan and player of Omnitopia for years. Then he gets selected to create his own world; it’s a dream come true, especially with the possibility of making serious money, but the question is what type of world to make? What would make it truly unique and encourage people to come see and play? As Rik begins creating his world, he notices some unusual events happening in the world of Omnitopia that seem to affect the one he is creating, but at the same time to be affected by his world somehow.
Dev Logan is the CEO of Omnitopia and started the whole enterprise many years ago as a college student, and is now the eighth richest man in the world because of it. He has a crack team of computer whizzes and geniuses who spend their days monitoring Omnitopia, making sure it’s running as smoothly as possible, and preventing the constant attacks and hacks against the worldwide popular MMO. And now things are really heating up, as the new expansion is about to be released. Everyone is working pretty much nonstop and none more so than Dev, who forgets to even eat at times. Delia Harrington is doing a story on Omnitopia for Time Magazine about the company and the expansion. As Dev deals with the reporter – who seems to be snooping around a little more than she should be – he’s constantly being barraged by updates and news on what’s happening with Omnitopia. It seems there are an absurd number of attacks building against the MMO, more so than usual, even for an expansion, but then that’s all in a day’s work for the CEO of Omnitopia.
Finally, there is Phil Sorensen, who was a good friend of Dev’s in college – they were going to revolutionize the gaming world together, but then had a falling out – and is the CEO for Infinity Inc. with his own giant, money-making MMO. He would like nothing more than to see everything that is Omnitopia come crashing down, and have Dev come crying back to him. He’s going to stop at nothing to make this happen. (Read the full review.)
For the Win by Cory Doctorow: For anyone who’s ever played an MMO game like World of Warcraft or Lord of the Rings Online, you know it can be a lot of fun. What you might not know is that if you’re really good at it, play it just right, and know where to advertise, you can make a lot of money from it. There are certain quests or missions that can be repeated over and over for maximum experience points and/or gold; that gold can be turned into cash. People who do this are known as gold farmers; it’s illegal; thousands of people around the world do it for profit. (Read the full review; listen to an interview with the author.)
Daemon by Daniel Suarez: Daemon begins with Matthew Sobol, a renowned computer programmer and video game designer, dead from cancer. It is upon his death, when the obituary is posted online, that the dormant daemon is unleashed upon the world. In this world – just like our own – everything is automated and computerized: banking, transportation, defense, government, patient records; there are few things remaining “off the grid.” The daemon works fast and incredibly efficient, beginning a systematic takedown of technology and world systems, causing deaths and the collapse of companies, and a financial meltdown that is scarily similar to the current economic climate.
It’s up to Detective Sebeck and computer genius Jon Ross to try and stop the daemon somehow from destroying everything. Then there is The Grid, the Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game – in the style of World of Warcraft and Lord of the Rings Online – created by Sobol, where the daemon secretly begins recruiting the disaffected but brilliant youth who play the game as part of its efforts to bring down technology and society. (Read the full
review; listen to an interview with the author.)
As you can see, each MMO is quite different in each book, and in how the MMO is used as a construct. Sometimes it is a tool for good, sometimes a tool for evil, and sometimes a tool for something completely different. Regardless of what the future may hold for us in the growing world of MMOs, and whether any of these possible and seemingly plausible realities will come into being, the fact that this subject is being written about by a growing number of different authors sends a message that this is not something we can just ignore or assume will go away. MMOs are here to stay, whether some of us like it or not, for good or ill; the question remains: how are they going to stay and what affect will they grow to and continue to have on our lives. Only the future knows.