[Firefly] Firefly Online and The Verse – Part 3

“There shouldn’t be a bounty on the innocent.” — Capt. Sebastian Derring

My involvement with computers started back in the IBM360 days, which (no foolin’, youngens) meant a computer that filled a largish room and your class assignment resulted in a box of punchcards that you had to schedule time to have run through the reader and you might get back a printout in a day or two to see if your program ran properly. As far as the “from the beginning” angle goes, I’ve got creds.

But as far as online gaming goes, I’m a noob.

Or n00b. Or noobie, newb, newbie, or FNG. Whichever way you put it, I’ve never been involved with an online RPG or MMO.

Oh, I’ve certainly been aware of them, tried some of them out, had friends who played nightly. But I’ve never gotten into any game enough to want to visit regularly.

Until Firefly Online.

And I’m not alone in this. Spend enough time on the Firely Online and SVSA Facebook pages, and you’ll begin to get the sense that there’s a sizable group of folks lurking in the background. Though “lurking” is not really accurate — it is more that they are hanging back, watching politely, as they learn the ropes. Newcomers, to the gaming world.

For a noob it can be a bit dizzying to be dropped into a society of experienced gamers. Besides the specialized acronyms and lingo — RPG, MMO, MMPORG, grinding, leveling up, dual wield — there’s coming up against the weight of shared experience, like visiting another country where everyone has common referents. It’s not unusual to see elements of FFO put in terms of, or compared to, elements from other games: “Oh, that’s what I liked in XXX 3. But there’s something in YYY that I would really like to see. Please please please avoid the pricing structure of ZZZ 6.”

It’s understandable that experienced gamers, many of whom have worked up through the same popular games, should use this shorthand. But to “foreigners” it can be a bit daunting.

So, since these folks are for the most part reticent, even silent, how do I know they are out there?

Because I freely and without embarrassment admit that I am a noob. I’m not shy about saying that I have to look up acronyms that I don’t recognize and research terms that I hear gamers use. So, other people newcome to gaming feel encouraged to join in the discussion.

And what’s the first thing they all say? With relief, that they’re not alone?

“I’ve never been interested in an online game before. But this is Firefly.”

That’s the power, and the draw, of the Verse. People who would not normally be identified as gamers, investigating the online world in a new way so they can arrange transport to the setting of Firefly. Folks willing to learn a new language, so they can better understand the locals.

Since these non-gamers are usually so quiet it could be easy to overlook them, especially when the experienced gamers are chatting familiarly and knowledgeably with each other and with the game developers. But there are many indications that the game devs themselves keep such folks well in mind.

The very fact that the game is designed to be cross-device says a lot about the mindset of the developers. I was thinking of it as “cross-platform” for a while, but that has for me connotations of XBox vs. Playstation, or PC vs. Mac — it’s more that the devs want everyone to be able to access the Verse from whichever standard device they happen to be around.

I work at a public library and one of the things we do is help people get comfortable with using their tablets and phones to access materials online. These folks may also have a desktop or laptop computer at home, but very few of them also have a game box; it is unlikely any of them would buy a game box just to play a game they’d heard of, but they’re learning to use their other devices to do more online. There are many such folks out there, but they’re sorta hesitant and a bit embarrassed about having to ask for help and you don’t hear about them much. I do what I can to help each one of them because at the very least they are making the attempt to learn and grow instead of throwing up their hands and saying, “This is all beyond me! I give up. Good thing I’ll be dying soon — I can’t handle all of this change.” (That is a word-for-word account of one interaction I had.)

The fact that folks will be able to play Firefly Online without having to have a dedicated box is much more welcoming overall, and shows that the game devs are not just thinking of established gamers but newcomers as well.

Θ╬Θ

It may surprise established gamers to hear that someone might feel anxiety when approaching the gaming world for the first time. But besides the very natural reluctance to make a newbie mistake or appear awkward, let me bring up another of those terms I had to look up: griefing.

Oh, I knew it existed; every way in which humans help or hinder each other has transported to online life. I just wasn’t aware, until I researched it more deeply, how common it was. And how much of a problem it has been in some shared online experiences — fully half of the user help calls involve griefing, in some games.

And a lot of griefing involves noobs. Word is that in Second Life, one of the largest virtual social environments, there’s often shifty types hanging around the newcomer’s portal to try to take advantage of their naivete — a situation directly analogous to the sharpsters who would hang out on the docks to prey upon new immigrants, during the heyday of America’s expansion. (Second Life citizens have actually set up “safe houses” for newbies to go to while getting their bearings. Some people prey upon, some help. We’re a highly variable species.)

It’s bad enough to be taken for a yokel. It’s freakin’ terrible to be taken as a yokel — to have some ruthless and heartless type who happens to be more experienced than yourself, prey upon you for points or just for kicks. I have no problem being thought of as a noob, but my back bristles and my hand curls around my gun if I get thought of as “new meat”.

(I’ll admit that when I first discovered the prevalence of griefing, and the range of ways it is committed, I was a bit nauseated. I know there are people who use the anonymity of online interactions to make themselves feel stronger and more important, if only by irritating others to get attention. But to deliberately, aggressively, and gleefully ruin things for others… I didn’t want to think of these people as being part of my species. Then I had a revelation. Maybe they aren’t of the same species, but have rather become some sort of monstrous mutate of normal humans. And maybe we’ve been pronouncing “griefers” incorrectly, all these years. Maybe those people who camp at spawn areas, who shoot their own team members, who lure people into inescapable corners… are Reavers. And that’s how I’m going to think of them, from now on.)

One thing I’m happy about, as a noob and just as a human being, is that the FFO developers look to be dead set against a setup that supports griefing.

Think how it would be:

You’re a newcomer to online gaming but a Browncoat true so you make the effort to learn how to be in the Verse. (And online gaming is a skillset one has to learn — longtime gamers may have forgotten what it was like but you too had to gain those skills, once upon a time.) You get your Captain squared away (maybe, the first time you’ve ever built an avatar), then you use those skills to create your First Mate. You get your ship prettied up and learn how to fly her, and set out into the Verse looking for those adventures you’ve been promised.

And someone hies up and takes out your ship. Just because they can, and you didn’t know yet how to stop them.

Not a very satisfying first game experience. And likely to make you just give up and not try again. Which would be a gorram shame because you’d miss out on all those adventures and stories and the community of other people out there beyond the cloud of evil-minded predators.

I’m not saying that everything should be rainbows and unicorns that poop diamonds. Real life doesn’t work that way, and some everything’s-always-shiny game sure wouldn’t be an accurate presentation of the Verse. I do a writing class for kids and one of the things we talk about is that, the greater a challenge is, the more satisfied we feel when the hero overcomes it. A game without challenges wouldn’t be very interesting.

But the Verse offers challenges enough, without adding every other player to that list. There’s already Reavers, and pirates and crime syndicates, and the Alliance tryin’ to meddle with how honestly-dishonest folks choose to do business. Challenges aplenty.

It’s pretty clear that the game devs intend that down the line, once the game has caught on and caught fire and keeps getting bigger, there will be more ways in which players can interact directly with one another. (That’s called player-versus-player, with the acronym PVP, noobs. <grin> ) And humans being what they are, some of those interactions will be on the downhill side of sociable. But by that time there should also be other social structures in place, like the safe houses in Second Life, to help prevent newcomers to the Verse getting tossed into a meat grinder first thing. The designers might also make PVP an option, as it is in some games — if you want to call out another player into the street, both parties will have indicated a willingness to be part of such a showdown. (And PVP doesn’t have to be negative; the devs know we would like to be able to hang out with our RL [Real Life] friends, in the game.)

I don’t know a whole lot about game design, but I know enough to appreciate the magnitude of the task the game designers have taken on to make it available to the widest range of those folks as might enjoy it. They could have gone for just one platform or device, or just aimed it at experienced gamers. But they went a non-exclusive route which, it may sound corny but I’ll say it anyway, is the Browncoat thing to do.

(You’ve heard of The Cowboy Way? The code of decent conduct favored by the white-hats of the Old West? Well, there’s a Browncoat Way too — and it is cheerfully, persistently, and firmly egalitarian and non-elitist. Have you ever heard a Browncoat criticize the quality of the knitting in someone’s cunning hat? And you’re not likely to either, not only because who would be foolish enough to put down Jayne’s mother’s knitting in front of him?, but also because every Browncoat is happy to help every other Browncoat just be in the Verse.)

I’ve been involved with enough (non-game) software projects to be impressed with the vision of the Firefly Online game designers. And their ambition, to provide an online experience that will be satisfying and entertaining and worthwhile to experienced gamers and newcomers alike.

Because there’s a lot of folks out there, more’n you might think, who want to spend time in the Verse. And while there are indeed Reavers out there in the Black, folks shouldn’t have to worry about getting chomped their first day out — they can just worry about it happening somewhere down the line, along with everyone else. There shouldn’t be a bounty on noobs.

I’m glad the game developers understand that if someone tries to kill you, you should have a fair chance to try to kill ‘em right back.

‘Cuz it’s the Browncoat Way.

 

 

1 comment for “[Firefly] Firefly Online and The Verse – Part 3

  1. September 12, 2015 at 2:43 pm

    Well said! My name is Trish aka Goldflower Moonstone and I’m a Noob too.

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