This is an excerpt from my personal blog/newsletter that a couple of people said was worth sharing. It was originally written for a handful of close friends, and I have not edited it much. It was either post it as-is or probably never post it, but I think there's something worthwhile to be found here, even in its current form.
I've been thinking about EQ way too much since our podcast on the topic. When I think of EQ, I feel something like the Longing that the Elves of Middle Earth feel for Valinor. I don't feel anything like that for any other phase of my life.
I know, I know, I probably love EQ and want to marry it simply because it was something that I did very intensely for an important phase of my life, and I would have the same exact feelings about WOW if I had been born five years later than I was.
All that said, I think EQ did some things pretty perfectly, and I want real life to be more like EQ.
For example, dungeons and grouping. Groups were hard-limited as six people. This limitation was a blessing in disguise. You can't organically coordinate more than around six people without having something like an "official" group leader. Six people feels like just about the maximum that the human mind can cope with on a one-to-one basis. Research says that small task forces peak in effectiveness at roughly seven people, and I think rounding down to six is safe in a game-world where things can change very quickly.
At the time I don't remember reading anything about the "culture" of EQ, but in retrospect, the culture was actually really great. (I have a feeling that if EQ were popular in 2018 there would be thinkpieces about the "culture of EQ" and this would ruin the culture of EQ in a Hofstadterian fashion.)
You look for a group. You find a group, or a group finds you. You behave in a cordial and competent fashion, and the existing group members will instantly accept you as one of them. This dynamic by itself set off all kinds of primate chemical cascades in my brain and may even be partially responsible for the addictiveness of the game. I recall a relatively consistent feeling of camaraderie in EQ groups. Rarely there would be some member who was a douchebag or a freeloader, and these people were usually abandoned relatively quickly. The system was self-policing with minimal drama and generally operated like a well-oiled machine. If anything stands out, it's a weird sense of "group mind" that could arise at times, where a hundred fluxing details were being coordinated and decisions were being made on-the-fly with no true decisionmaker at the center. I would literally experience a breakdown of self-concept accompanying a strong flow-state, although I lacked the language to describe it back them.
It's difficult to overstate the power and simplicity of EQ group dynamics. The group leader has very few powers, mainly just the ability to invite new members and to disband the group, but there always has to be a group leader. Each member has the crucial political right of Exit, in that they can just leave the group and join another group if they don't like what's happening.
Everyone knew their role, and even in complex and unusual situations, it was common for individual group members to step up to fill roles they weren't used to. There was a singleminded focus on the shared goals, which varied depending on context, but generally involved exp grind, loot grind, etc.
As varied as the dungeons could be in terms of layout, mob type mix, level range, and train-propensity, there was a rhythm that underlay them all.
There's a concept called "Fun Theory" from the Eliezer Yudkowsky corpus, which is mainly about how to optimize human experiences. (The 31 Laws of Fun is a pretty good read that summarizes the underlying ideas.) Another way of looking at it is as a thoughtful attempt to make a Utopia that isn't actually secretly a Dystopia. I've quoted below the Laws of Fun which apply in particular to this discussion.
Strongly relevant to this conversation, viz. how we perceive WOW to have eliminated all the work, and inadvertently thrown the baby out with the bathwater.
Paradoxically, although I was always sitting in a windowless room while playing EQ, my memories contain constructed experiences wherein I was galavanting across the wide-open plains of Norrath, literally hunting and gathering.
Again, all the fiddly crap involved in necessary traveling, camping or buying items, and so forth was actually part of the fun, and the game suffered from removing it. From a certain point of view, the point of all these things was, at root, social, and if you eliminate a task, no matter how minor, you eliminate a mode of social interaction. If "everything is Status", then whittling your own flute from a gazelle femur and camping your own J-Boots are the same thing, socially speaking - demonstration of effort and skill. And if everybody gets free flutes and free J-Boots, then those objects no longer denote anything important.
There were usually/often around 2000 other people on your server. You generally didn't see the Really Awesome Folks unless you just happened to glimpse one at a city entrance or something, or perhaps if you frequented the bazaar. In other words, most of your life was actually lived in a near-Dunbar band consisting of your guild and your level-cohort in whatever dungeon you were spending time. A high-end raid was usually around the size of a Dunbar band. I mean, it's literally a raiding party, the most time honored of primate traditions.
Going against my tendency to make things too complicated, I might just say that a critical thing about EQ was that you could accomplish pretty much anything you ever wanted to accomplish with at most fifty people, and that's good. Contrast this with EVE, where people form enormous corporations. It's an understatement to say that the social arrangements in that game are different in the not-good direction.
There's a lot packed into this one, but I'll focus on the class choices. I think there were probably slightly too many classes in EQ. I don't think there needed to be Paladins and Shadowknights. I think Wiz/Ench/Mage could have been consolidated into two classes, you pick how you want to split the powers. Ditto for Shaman/Druid/Bard. There's also an argument that EQ had just the right amount of classes to start with, and then messed up by adding more classes later, which were definitely redundant.
I think this criticism is somewhat borne out by the incessant whining about class balance. On the other hand, humans gonna complain.
I really regret playing a Necromancer in EQ. I thought I wanted to solo so I could level up quickly, but this was born of a core misunderstanding of the game. In retrospect, I think I should have played an Enchanter, or a Cleric, something practically useless outside of a group.
That said, I played a Wizard first, didn't like it, and chose the Necro in reaction to that. Didn't realize that what I disliked was "being a Wizard", not "grouping".
This is pretty much how EQ works. Losing hours of effort due to a single death really hurt in a scream-"fuck"-and-throw-things way but all-in-all it was probably not as bad as any given stubbed toe or hammered thumb. That seems like about the right level of penalty for a mistake, to give it psychological weight without making it "mind-destroying." Notably, that's MUCH more penalty than you'll find in much games. I'm not familiar with the level of loss intrinsic in a death in WOW but my sense is that it's much milder.
So I mentioned a few thousand words ago that I want real life to be more like EverQuest. Let's think about this - let's go through all the ways in which real life can be improved.
[insert WordPress chart of blog viewership climbing in a gradual, satisfying way]
Oh. Well, that makes a lot of sense.
(Bonus: I've previously described the "gamification" of the oil business at [redacted], where bonuses were tied to company performance along three easily quantified, transparent metrics, which were updated monthly. So [redacted] gets the "Sufficiently Like EQ Seal of Approval.")
Those were examples of the type, "Here is a case where real life being like EQ led to a good outcome." Now let's look at places where real life is not like EQ and how we might fix it.
I'm not out of ideas so much as out of time - I really enjoy thinking about EQ, as you can see, and it weirdly dovetails with my obsession with optimizing my life.
Commenting to signal approval for people writing about topics that are fun / interesting to them with rationality tie-ins, in addition to just posts that are 100% rationality content. I think in general we want more essays in Paul Graham's sense if we want posts with vitality to them, and also it's good practice for us to collectively think about a bunch of different fields.
Now I have an urge to go shout "TRAIN TO ZONE"!