Friday, August 24, 2012

Six Years of Loathing

So I logged into my Kingdom of Loathing account yesterday and got a message that I received my annual anniversary package.

That's a screenshot of my account on the right (without the character name and player ID). The custom title's pretty nifty though!

Anyway, it's hard to believe that it has been six years since I first stumbled upon this game. If that was a person, he or she would be a second grader by now. It's hard to imagine that I've been playing a game whose graphics consists of hand-drawn stick figures and is knee-deep in pop culture references for more than half a decade.

A popular saying among the game's veterans (those who've been around for seven years or so) is Come for the Humor, Stay for the Gameplay. I guess that rings true for many players. Other than that, there are several things I've observed about the KoL community which I've never seen in other online game communities - appreciation for proper grammar (whose level is above academic but below grammar nazi), folks who sacrifice their personal time to give back to the community in real life (including, I shit you not, twenty-four hour radio stations, relief operations and artists who sell their work) as well as devs who seem like they're part of the crowd.

Me? I have other personal reasons for sticking around for so long.

I have been unable to put it into words for a while now. I've actually had a draft for two years, which I deleted a few months ago, but a very recent article by David Sirlin nailed it. I really recommend giving it a read, but in case that would be a chore, here's a passage which pretty much summarizes things:

Former Capcom community manager Seth Killian once mentioned something to me about addiction. He said, "If you think you're addicted something, try not doing it for a month. At the end of the month, if you want to do it again, go ahead. If you don't feel like you really need to do it anymore though, then you've exposed that it was just a shitty habit to begin with." I thought about that as Portal 2 had cleansed my pallette of Diablo, and I never logged in again.

In a way, I'm glad I found KoL. Back then, MMOs took up a lot of my time to the point of it affecting my studies. One day, I saw myself paying six hours for my game account to be automated and looked after by the computer shop personnel while I went to class. While I never cut classes to play MMOs, I think this was the tipping point, and I had to walk away. Needless to say, I never logged in again after that.

Where does KoL fit into this? A few months before I quit MMOs for good, I ran into this game from browsing the web. I found that the writers were extremely talented in weaving contemporary pop culture into the game's mythology and I knew that this was not just another game. I felt that behind the game's humor, something about the game rewarded smart gameplay and it wasn't just another mindless clickfest. In David's words:

There is no addiction involved at all. There are no external rewards at all. It's entirely based on your own internal rewards of feeling satisfaction at solving the puzzles. It's sort of like, "What if a game used *zero* tricks to get you to play, and you only played because of its own merits?" The result is that the game is so good that I've played it a lot, but have not ever played it more than makes sense based on my level of liking it. In other words, the want and like are aligned.

Like Portal for David, KoL offered a game that I enjoyed solely because of its own merits and didn't force me to play more than was necessary. It was what made me realize that in my case MMOs were taking its toll, and there were games that were just as rewarding (if not more) yet allowed players to put them down anytime without diminishing the satisfaction of gameplay.

Nowadays, I mostly just use scripts to burn my turns (which is a skill that conveniently coincides with what I do for a living), simply because I no longer have time for normal gameplay. I only play manually whenever there are limited time events, which the devs are so fond of, and even then I often have scripts set up after a few hours.

Do I still get as much fun out of it just as much as I did six years ago? Is Kingdom of Loathing a candidate for Best Game Ever?

You bet.

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