Ask the Druid - Nostalgia is Dumb

Ask the Druid - Nostalgia is Dumb

The impending announcement of EverQuest Next left former EverQuest players awash in nostalgia over old school mechanics they hoped the game might revive. Expectations plus nostalgia create a classic recipe for disappointment. Why? Because nostalgia is dumb.


Dear Wise Druid,

I played classic EQ from 1999 until about 2005, and I loved every minute of it, from the fun and exciting things like grouping and raids, to the stuff that annoyed some people, like corpse runs and having to meditate. Even though I’m finished with that game, and I’ll probably never go back, I still miss the good ol’ days.

When I first heard about EverQuest Next, I got on the EQN sub-Reddit and started reading threads. There was so much nostalgia there that it left a lump in my throat. People were talking about reviving some of the awesome mechanics that today’s MMOs just don’t seem to have, things that made EQ the great community it was. I started having hope for the future of EQ Next, and thinking it would save me from all the MMOs that I buy, play for a month or two, and then dump. (Even EQ2 was one of those. Sorry. I know some people love it.)

I suppose it’s my own fault, but I let my expectations get really high. And then I saw the [Everquest Next debut] at SOE Live.  I felt like I’d been punched in the gut. It was cool and stuff, but definitely not the answer to my EQ nostalgia-lover’s prayers. Am I just destined to hate MMOs forever?

Sincerely,

Gut Punched


My Dear Punched,

I feel for ya, buddy; I really do. I’ve been there. Once upon a time, I believed in The Vision behind what was supposed to be the “spiritual successor to EverQuest,” Vanguard. In fact, my hopes were so high that I volunteered to write for an upstart MMORPG site called Ten Ton Hammer, all in hopes of landing a job writing about the game I expected to be my own MMO messiah.

At least I got a great job out of it. What I didn’t get was the game I expected.

Kelethin Greater Faydark signThere are so many iterations of the quote, “Don’t believe everything you think,” that I actually have no idea who originated it. Nonetheless, it’s true. It’s used often in cognitive behavioral therapy. (I won’t get into what that is, although the Wise Druid knows. You can Google it if you’re so inclined.) It also applies where hype and expectations are concerned. As you already suspect, when you keyed in on your EQ nostalgia, you let your mind spin all kinds of grand scenarios in which you’d be reliving your glory days, and that’s a recipe for disappointment. (See last week’s Wise Druid for sage advice on managing your graphical expectations, while you’re at it.)

Now, I can be a little angry with Sigil and Vanguard, because I was promised something that, in the end, wasn’t delivered in any sort of optimized, playable way. And that sucked. However, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to be upset with SOE over the EverQuest Next reveal, because they hadn't yet promised anything but a sandbox game based on the EverQuest IP. They didn't gut punch you--you did. Or maybe the whole damn “Nostalgia for the win!” community did, because nostalgia is dumb. Or, well, let me put that another way--nostalgia in itself is just fine, and can even be a lovely (if bittersweet) thing, but it’s dumb when you let nostalgia drive your expectations.

The truth is, you had a great time in EQ’s Norrath. Remember it fondly. Tell your tales and sing your songs of the glory days. But don’t expect to go back. Ever. Because you can’t. What made those days glorious was a mythical, magical sort of happenstance. You were the right person, in the right place, at the right time. Now you’re a different person, in a different place, in a different time. Things have changed, because change is the one constant. You’ll never be able to recreate the circumstances that made your time in EQ amazing, in part because it was very likely your first MMO, and no MMO can ever be first again.

Here’s a wakeup call for you: even if SOE could modernize and somehow recreate the things you believe made EverQuest great back in 1999, it wouldn’t work. All those things you believe you want, like corpse runs, trekking for 20 minutes on foot and by boat to reach a specific destination, keeping your nose in a book to meditate, and a lot of other old EQ mechanics that fostered community but also created inconvenience... all those things would piss you off now. Seriously. They probably even pissed you off then. That’s another trick our memory plays on us; it makes us slip on rosy nostalgia-colored glasses and remember things as better than they actually were. (Keep in mind that you tolerated those things back then because you didn't know any better.)

What you think you want is often not what’s good for you. Although SOE is actively and openly involving the community in the ongoing development of EverQuest Next and Landmark, I’m glad they didn’t take our nostalgia for 15-year-old mechanics into consideration when they created the infrastructure for EQNext. The world doesn’t need another dose of the same old MMORPG, reskinned with better graphics and a few shiny updated mechanics; the world needs a completely reinvented MMO experience. I think EverQuest Next is poised to deliver it.

Yours very truly,

Shayalyn


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About the Author

shayalyn's picture

Karen became hopelessly hooked on EverQuest when she wandered into Norrath for the first time, immediately fell off one of the Kelethin platforms, and had to ask a Bard to find her mangled corpse. She's gained a few skills since, and logged more hours than she cares to count playing all kinds of MMOs. The EverQuest franchise remains her favorite. Relying on her druidic wisdom, she pens a weekly column, Ask the Druid, every Thursday. Send your questions to her at shayalyn [at] tentonhammer.com.