Rants tag

Rants, ruminations, and rambling remarks from my mad, muddled, meandering mind.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

No Levels?

But what is your level in Real Life? You don't have one! Because in a pure "world", without "game" elements, you are not defined by numbers like your level or your strength score. You do have knowledge and skill, you do have possessions which can bring a certain status, but a life in a world isn't possible to put into a few simple numbers.
~~Tobold, "There is no such thing as a sandbox game"
In the early-ish days of video games, certainly in the era of PacMan and Donkey Kong, video games had levels. These were defined by screens where the action took place, once the level was "cleared," the player avatar—be it Mario, some spaceship or whatever—would move on the the next level, which would usually be harder to clear. Players beat each succeeding level until the difficulty matched or exceeded their skill, at which point the game was usually over.

Flash forward to the the era of MMORPGs. Most still have levels and zones where players can go, but seldom is the level achieved tied to player skill. It is simply a measure of how much the player has done in the game. Some few MMOs claim to not have levels, though YMMV as to the truth of such claims. But this post is not actually about levels, or whether they are appropriate in MMORPGS.

I think Tobold is sorely mistaken, or maybe things are just different in the United States than in Belgium. Life is full of levels. Granted, they are not always numbered and don't always correspond to the relatively simplistic levels of PacMan or World of Warcraft, but they are there nonetheless. But then, game worlds will always be compressed versions of the real world.
  • Children are acutely aware of the various levels they are in: Age, grade in school, sports groups, etc.
  • The UK school system ends with O-levels or A-levels
  • Colleges have degrees: Bachelor, Master, Doctorate, etc.; and woe be unto you professionally if you do not have the appropriate education level.
  • The business world has levels: entry-level, professional, supervisor, manager, executive.
  • Trades like plumber, carpenter, and mechanic all have levels, like apprentice, journeyman, and master.
  • Sports like alpine skiing and white-water rafting have skill levels with courses rated for difficulty, and again woe be unto you if you attempt a course that is beyond your skill level. One thing the Real World definitely has is perma-death.
  • As far as "strength score," not many weight lifting conversations don't include the question, "How much can you bench?" or some similar gauge of strength.
  • The military has levels called ranks. In the U.S. at least, the ranks even have numbers associated with them and may or may not correspond with skill or achievement; though they generally involve pay scale increases and additional responsibilities.
Does this mean we should have WoW style levels—with gated content—in all MMOs? Not necessarily. However, I would expect some gauge of skill changes as players learn the quirks of the system and acquire new abilities, as seems to be the plan for EQNext. But don't try to claim that life doesn't have levels. I personally am close to completing 41 seasons of adventure on this blue marble, and I'm proud of every one.


  1. Skills and stats can have individual levels but an overall level that suddenly makes you x times better than you previously were is the problem in MMORPGs and RPGs in general(mainly due to math calculations).

    Part of the reason I like UO and Mabinogi so much is because the first one doesn't have over all levels and the second one more heavily relies on your skill level (per skill) than the generic overall level stat which gets into ridiculous numbers (I'm over level 2000) but a normal bear can still pulverise me if I don't fight perfectly.

    In both cases you got stronger and you got better at doing stuff, if you practiced getting stronger and doing that specific "stuff". I don't become a sword master by cooking a thousand cakes (though, that would be awesome. And possibly yummy)! ^_^

    1. You are entirely correct. I can carve a turkey; that doesn't mean I'm capable of performing thoracic surgery.

      THanks for commenting :)