Social Architectures in MMOs
One game mechanic that has changed a great deal since the early UO/EQ days is the dramatic drop in death penalty. In many early MMOs, dying meant a reduction in earned experience points. And dying also typically meant a great deal of recovery time (i.e., the corpse run). In short, dying was a very costly mishap.
You could play for six hours and lose all the progress by dying twice. You could log in and log off with less than you came on with. [F, 25]
People would sit in front of their computers for hours, waiting for a cleric to come to their zone and rez them, because they knew they'd have to play for days to make up for the massive amount of Xp loss if they didn't bother with the rez. [F, 39]
And a comparison with more recent MMOs like WoW shows just how different dying has become.
In subsequent games, I have found it absolutely does not matter if I die. Really, who cares about some repair bills and some dread, or decreased experience gain for a short time? Running naked after your corpse in a dungeon? Potentially losing all your equipment if your corpse decayed or losing a level? That was a penalty. [M, 31]
Death is a Bonding Experience
Many players commented that the severe death penalty intensified social interactions, especially altruistic actions. Helping someone avoid death wasn't simply a symbolic gesture; it might help the other person avoid losing hours of work and then spending more time recover their corpse. As such, many players thought of death as a bonding experience.
The severe death penalty in EQ did help players form a close bond with each other, no one wanted to have friends die, lose levels and couldn't complete quests together. [F, 39]
As much as I hated corpse runs back in old EQ, having to run naked from Fironia Vie to Chardok with a coffin to have my corpse summoned after a raid wipe with my guild was a bonding experience. [M, 20]
And while everyone dreaded dying, it was death (and specifically the gravity of death) that many players pointed to as the driver behind long friendships.
While I'm glad the severe death penalty has been removed from EQ, I think it helped my character bond with her friends. I'm still playing with the same folks I met 8 years ago, and we often talk about the dreaded CRs (corpse retrievals) we went through, especially one in Chardok that lasted hours. [F, 39]
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