When is a Video Game not a Video Game?

The answer, when it is Everquest II's Station Exchange auction system.

For those of you uninformed, RPGs that are playable online, whether massively or otherwise, have been plagued by the "black market" selling of items, characters and more on sites such as eBay. One can barely enter a Diablo II chatroom without being assaulted by automated messages from dummy accounts advertising websites selling the most powerful sword in the game.

Up until this point, any and all respectable game companies disavowed the "black market", and most took actions against players found to be participating in it. Sadly, they had to tell their players that being swindled from use of the "black market" could not be recompensed. This was not a sanctioned arena for item trade.

There is one very good reason not listed in the article for fighting the selling of what amounts to 1s and 0s on the internet for real cash. It destroys the game. For a player such as I who can invest a multitude of hours into a game, it is wholly frustrating to fight monsters for hours, barter carefully with other players, and work hard to get one of a few elite items for my avatar when, with a few clicks and fifty dollars, some idiot twelve year old can get the whole set of powerful magical equipment I seek.

Auctioning and selling of the equipment and characters in RPGs online destroys the fundamental gameplay and setting. By being able to buy the items straight, it destroys any feeling of accomplishment a player gets from actually working within the game world for hard to get items (which are no longer hard to get so long as you usurp the process and buy them with cash). Also, the setting and world of the game are compromised when one spends actual money to equip your character. The real world becomes juxtapositioned on the imaginary. It's the equivalent of Frodo buying Sting from Bilbo with three hundred dollars US currency. Tolkien's masterwork would suddenly lose some epicness every time Legolas used fifteen dollars to magically refill his quiver of special arrows. Not to mention that Smeagol or Sauron could have simply forked over the ten thousand dollars for "the Precious".

The president of SOE, the company in charge of EverQuest and Station Exchange, responded to the general attack by noting that "innovation will always have its critics" and that "Unsanctioned virtual property auctions are now rampant, and will continue to grow whether or not publishers implement their own auction sites."

I have some words to say to that.

1. It's not innovation if someone was already doing it before you. If any innovating has been done, it was the who were the first to auction virtual property without sanction. The idea of auctioning virtual property is theirs. You've just stolen the idea and sanctioned it.

2. The whole idea that "rampant" virtual property auctions will grow no matter what is the same kind of argument people make in defense of abandoning ventures such as fighting poverty, drugs and violence. There's a reason why the US government hasn't made their own alternative to drug smuggling, it's morally abhorable, it destroys people. In the same way, you're just destroying your own game by allowing players to bypass what makes your game a game, not having to even play to have practically a deity of a character without playing a minute.

3. It is noted that the Station Exchange is an "optional" supplement to the game. The problem is that this "optional" supplement favors the rich over the motivated. Players who actually want to play the game the way it was meant to be played will be marginalized. Why should they want to bother to work hours or even days for Ergomir's Earthshaking War Axe of Bone Crushing +37 when after having achieved this goal, some newbie waves the one he bought at you in five minutes.

This is the same sour taste I got when I climbed Mount Washington. There's a reason why I feel Katahdin is the superior mountain. That one year when I sped ahead and reached the top of Mount Washington first in our sizable group, I sat down on the top weary, yet exuberant at my accomplishment. There, resting next to the sign denoting the top and stating the grandeur of this mountain, I was accosted by an older man in a Hawaiian shirt, a pair of sunglasses, some shorts and an odd hat with his wife in sandals, a short skirt and a revealing tank top chewing gum. I was asked to move so they could have their picture taken.

It's probably a good thing I hadn't gotten to college at that point and acquired the spirit of rebelliousness instilled by the kind men of Miller Dorm, 3rd floor. Not I'm all that rebellious, but I'd probably have said what crossed my mind as opposed to, "Sure, just give me a sec."

What I wanted to say was, "What audacity makes you think you have the right to drive your filthy vehicle up to this hallowed place? What arrogance is this that mountains are to be conquered by the four wheels of a soulless creation? You have bypassed the very point of a mountain for a sham of an ideal! You have forsaking the mountain stream and brook, the tree and moss, the bird and song for a worthless picture of how you wasted your gas and taxed your car's engines to bring your fitless form to this sign! I will not move from this spot until you drive back down this mountain and walk here."

I was not so bold then, and that was probably a good thing. Regardless, I was left with the sour feeling of a pointless venture. Not to slight Mount Washington, but something is lost from the final feeling of achievement when one reaches the top of a great mountain when someone else took fifteen minutes to drive there. I felt like I climbed for hours to reach a strip mall with a view.

Katahdin is infinitely better.

Unfortunately, the truth is that more money is made by having Mount Washington as it is. This is the apparent flaw in the analogy, but in the end it is not a flaw at all. Like mountains, games have a climax one reaches. Some say that it is all downhill from there, but with mountains the downhill itself has a climax of finally being able to return home. Yet even having climbed a mountain, people will return to climb it again, and again. Why? Because climbing a mountain again can be fun. You'll see things you missed before, travel paths you hadn't before and the view is always changing. When you shortcut to the top, all of that is lost.

EverQuest II will die quickly, because players will hop in, get to the top, and leave. There's no reason to play a game again when one didn't play it in the first place. Especially if you have to pay money per month to do so.

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