2 days into the 30 day time limit I have afforded myself for this social gaming experiment, and after much deliberation and suggestion from the community, I decided I would commit myself to Free Realms, the free to play MMO from Sony Online Entertainment. For those that aren’t aware of FR, it just celebrated it’s 4 millionth player registration and is described by the sagely Uncle_Fista as “WOW-lite”, an MMO aimed at the casual audience that requires a small download, a decent enough broadband connection, and a tolerance for cutesy aesthetics. It’s also planned to be one of a few online RPGs to get a console launch later in the year when it comes to the Playstation 3, and this is partly why I was interested in playing it. I figured that it would provide a lighter approach to the whole experience, skewed towards a streamlined style of play that a console could deal with. Perfect for a self confessed newbie. With this decision made, I logged onto the site and signed up.
But before I could start my adventure I had three, extremely important decisions to make. One; was I to play as a human or a fairy? Going with my gut instincts and trying my hardest not to suggest to anyone I was some sort of sexual deviant, I went with human. Question two; would I be male, or female? Admittedly the thought did cross my mind to play as the fairer sex, I was going to be staring at the back of my characters head for most of my game time, so it might as well have been an attractive one. But as this is a ‘role playing’ game, I decided to play the role I was most intimate with, myself. A male then. Lastly; what was I going to wear? This was perhaps the hardest question, as the options were limited, but I didn’t want to look a mess. Opting for a casual, yet smart brown shirt, and some very fetching black trousers, I hit the Go button, and Xero and virtual Xero were away.
Taking my first step onto this virgin soil a single phrase entered my mind; to shout “Hello World” at the top of my digital voice! Of course, there was no time for that, I had quests to do, and besides, I hadn’t been ‘taught’ how to speak yet. So mutely I crept forward, taking in the sims-ish animated quality that the world of Free Realms has to offer. Its not a pretty game, for sure, from jagged landscapes, to rough character models, patchy animation and incredibly basic lighting, but it has something to it that isnt entirely unpleasant. The palette is very sweet shop, candy floss pink skylines bleed into a gumdrop green landscape, filled with players whose avatars could be based on the latest toys all the rich kids want for Christmas. ‘Twee as fuck’ doesn’t quite cover it then, but like a cutely designed smudge on the wall, while it may bother you at first, once you’re used to it, it doesn’t bother you half as much as you might think, and it quickly becomes second nature.
A few quests in and having learnt some of the basics I would need to survive in this world, chiefly combat, harvesting and haute cuisine, I decided to try some of this ’socialising’ malarky. Xero, keen to make new pals and add them to his rather conceited ‘list of friends’, approached two characters ingame, furiously chatting away about getting lost on their way to the mines. Both were just a few of the world’s winged inhabitants, bug eyed, and hovering. Perfect, I thought, some strangers online to talk to. So Xero sidled up and said hey, did a little wave and waited for them to converse, because maybe, just maybe, we could all work this problem out together. They didn’t say a single word to him. Rude. Still, having experienced some of the wonderful human beings on Xbox Live, I knew this wasn’t uncommon. Time then, I thought, to turn the charm on. Scouring through my emotes, I found the ‘pose’ option, and swiftly strutted my stuff. This’ll ingratiate me I thought, this’ll make them like me. It didn’t. ‘Fucking fairys’ I moaned. ‘They’re all the bloody same!’ I scowled in probably the only display of ‘rascism’ I’ve ever had.
It was time for the big guns then, and out came the running man dance, the staple of the always loveable Diesel branded wits in Home. And yet nothing. Was there some problem with me? Was I an outcast in an MMO, destined to walk alone, never to feel the cool embrace of digital brotherhood? The answer was a great deal worse than that, as my faith in existing in an entirely alive, intelligent, evolving world was unfounded. I had been conversing with NPCs for fifteen minutes.
Next week, part 3, and my adventure continues in this strange new world. If you get the chance, come and say hello and be part of the journey.