Everquest should be subtitled Strategies against Ennui. The real innovation of the game isn’t that it’s massively-multiplayer – MUDS have been massively multiplayer for some time, and like a palimpset, MUD logic and technology underlies Everquest. It’s not in the social aspects of the game – in fact, conviviality was one of the casualties in the diaspora from text to graphic interface, as hands moved from the keyboard to the mouse, from descriptions to hotkeys. What is remarkable is the use of two institutions to prevent complete anomie and boredom from driving everyone away: the quest, and the hard-won discovery of other zones.
Quests motivate each player to right-click on each possible non-player, hoping to be recruited for some template purpose. Nominally, the reward of the quest is the power-up – a “material” pay-back which enhances the ability of the player character to – do what? embark on more quests. The enhancement of the character is the nominal pretext for most every action, but that enhancement rings hollow and unsatisfying without a structured context in which to appreciate it. Thus, quests. It gives people something to do. Without these local structure micro-games, the environment itself would become charmless and tedious quite quickly.