The Race.September 18, 2008
Do you hear it? That distant horn, blowing stronger and stronger until your eardrums wiggle uncontrollably? The horn that calls to you, beckons, drives you forward. The horn that marks the start of The Race.
The Race is my pet term for the phenomena that happens at the beginning of any MMO launch, where players rush in the gates, then feel the compulsive need to flat-out sprint toward the end game out of fear of getting left behind. Left behind what? This isn’t the rapture, it’s a video game. Some yahoo is going to hit rank 40 in about 110 hours of non-stop, red-eyed gaming and be a minor game celebrity for six seconds. I’m not quite sure what Mr. Yahoo thinks, but I can assure him that women are not going to be throwing ovulated girlie parts at his feet because they want his awesome genetic legacy to live on. He’s just the first of several folk who think that the game “hasn’t really started” until they hit the highest peak.
So obviously nobody’s going to keep up with that, apart from a few insane hardcore guilds and their incredibly angry spouses. But there is this unsaid, palpable fear of getting left behind the main pack in those first few weeks, especially your guildies and friends who you want to team with.
Listen, I hear ya. I always feel the pressure of The Race when I first start a MMO, and I hate that queasy feeling I get when I’m not playing and knowing that, by the minute, my guildies are hopping up the level ladder faster than a frog on fire. I don’t care so much about being at the top as being eligible to team with them and participate in fun events — that require you to be a certain level. It’s like going to an amusement park with older friends who are tall enough to go on all the rides, but you don’t pass muster, and you wind up making a vague wish to an automated fortune teller to “be big” and then you’re a middle-aged man with hemmoroids.
It makes you kinda insane. You push yourself to play more, when you promised that, this time, you would balance your gaming time with your real life better. You skip content, skim quest text, and give yourself an ulcer trying to follow the most efficient path to keeping up with everyone else.
The good news is that feeling goes away, sooner or later. Like any race, chances are that there are always people in front of you as well as behind. Like any race, sooner or later it’ll be over, even if that means hitting that brick wall at rank 40 where they can’t out-level you or the content any longer. I knew a guild in WoW that hated The Race so much that they introduced guild leveling caps — once you hit a certain level, you just couldn’t level any futher that week. It kept the group together and happy.
I’m not calling for that, but I’m not letting WAR’s dash to the top get to me. At least, I’m going to say that publicly. We have guildies deep into tier 2 and looking at tier 3 while I’m just finishing up tier 1 content. Listening to some of their reports as to things you have to accomplish to get the gear that’ll help you the best has me scribbling notes and wondering when I’m going to find time for it all.
But I remember — it’ll come. I just focus on one character, max her out to 40 before starting any alts, and get in a good position where, from then on, I can do anything with the guild that’s happening. Until then, it’s just one step at a time, my pace.