MMOs are not worlds, they are bowling alleys

I grew up in bowling alleys. I should know.

A bowling alley is a place  designed to facilitate different activities for different players. I’ll use MMO analogies.

Your hardcore raider is your bowling league player. This is the guy who always signs up for a league with his friends and competes with others. However the competition is not the main point, but the shared repetitive experience with friends. They do the same thing over and over again, for prizes. Be it real world or virtual trophies.

Your soloist is the guy who shows up to have some fun and knock down pins. The small group player is like the small group bowlers who come every friday to have fun. Would you believe that bowling famously predicted the group versus solo argument in MMOs? Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone described how community in real life was dying by contrasting the death of bowling leagues (organized group play) with people who when they bowled, did so alone. He went on to make that the centerpiece of how community could die from things like that, and its eerily similar to group/solo arguments in the MMO genre.

You even have the metagamers. The “roleplayers” use the bowling alley for something else: in MMOs, RP. In bowling alleys, they use it solely for the arcade games, or pool games. The trolls act obnoxious and spam the bar. You have the Pro PvPers reflected in the professional bowlers, and bowling is surprisingly like Starcraft or other pro gaming where players often share the same alleys.

Bowling was also very mainstream like MMOs and WoW are now.  It’s also quirky: MMOs have EVE, Bowling has The Big Lebowski.

As bowling declined and aged, it had to reinvent itself. WoW made MMOs more accessible: Bowling did also, through things like inflatable bumpers to cover the gutters, turning smoking-free, inventing special events, and adding a more themepark adventure. Sometimes both failed doing so. MMOs had Aion and Vanguard. Bowling had duckpin bowling, using miniature balls and pins.

The end of bowling alleys? They exist. They never reached the pinnacle of their success, like in the 50s. Look at the Flintstones: Fred lived in the bowling alley, but its expy the Simpsons seems to have forgotten about it. They didn’t die, compared to other crazes. Rollerskating? Dead. Flight simulators? Dead. But maybe they are a preview of the future. No longer vital or dominant, but just there, filled with people playing alone.


2 Responses to MMOs are not worlds, they are bowling alleys

  1. Dril says:

    I see where you’re going with it, and, in theory, I agree with it and you’re spot on.

    But, I suppose the question is: if the alleys encouraged and facilitated people to group up and play (and they’d all be from a local-ish area since, you know, bowling alleys are physical and in once place) then they’d possibly have more people coming back to play in groups, increasing profit. A certain MMO is almost exactly the same; apart from the fact that you can’t talk to the other people for long.

    • Dblade says:

      I don’t think it would work. The league bowling was a sign of community ideals not a shaper of them. When the ideals change, I’m not sure you can re-engineer them.

      The lack of league participation was a result of outside changes in the culture.

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