Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Comfort Food for the Gamer

No, I'm not talking about actual food or recipes inspired by games and SF&F franchises.

I mean in the same vein as what comfort food represents: something familiar and makes you feel like all's right with the world. Maybe for some people they have an actual meal that gives them that feeling (for a coworker, it's all about the Texas style brisket when they get back to Texas) or for others it's getting to play a favorite game (for my wife, it's getting her crossword puzzle done) or still others it's curling up with a favorite book (for my brother-in-law, it's his annual reading of The Lord of the Rings). No matter what it is, everybody has some sort of comfort food.

For me, there are certain games --or places within certain games-- that I return to when I want a helping of comfort food.

"When life gives you lemons, make lemonade" is how the old saying goes, but when life gives me lemons I give life the finger and go play Sid Meier's Civilization IV.

Well, Hatshepsut isn't too bad a leader
to start with. And at least the random
location gave me a river with some resources.
I've been in worse starting positions, for sure.

It's a game I've been playing for over 15 years now, and it's the sort of game I can knock out anywhere from 2 to 5 hours depending on how the game plays out.* I can also get an early feel for whether my position is untenable or not --if I don't have access to Copper or Iron, for example-- and I'll just kill the game rather than die a slow death. 

But when I feel the need for gamer comfort food and I'm in an MMO type of mood, I return to the old standbys: create a new character and run through the areas I love best: the low to mid level zones.

Like, oh, this one:

Hel-lo, Ord Mantell.

For the record, the new on-screen map makes me look like I'm playing TERA** rather than SWTOR, so I'm grateful I can go into the Interface options and turn the damn thing off.

Or maybe start up a new toon in this game:

I'd never created a High Elf before, 
so I pulled out some of my Middle-earth
sourcebooks and started throwing names together.
I decided to not put umlauts over the last 'e'
like Tolkien would have; too messy to type.

There's something peaceful and pleasant about Ered Luin under starlight, just the way the Elves of Middle-earth like it. For all the quirks of LOTRO --such as trying to read those damn maps and the ability icons all looking the same-- the scenery, tone, and storyline are all highly evocative of Middle-earth.

And not to be outdone, I do have favorite places in WoW as well:

I always wondered what that Sentinel
was doing there.

I realize I'm in the minority, but I truly do love Teldrassil, Darkshore, and Ashenvale. They have that ancient Elven forest vibe down so much that you'd think you were in Lothlorien or something.  Yes, I do like Elwynn Forest, Westfall, Eversong Forest, The Ghostlands, and even the damn Barrens, but for pure atmospherics the Night Elf areas are dead on perfect. 


The more I go through some of these old original or vanilla areas on these MMOs, the more I enjoy them. You never get the impression that you're "the chosen one" or that you're there to save the world and/or galaxy --okay, the Jedi Knight story does somewhat sound that way-- but you're also not out there hobnobbing with all of the Powerful of the game world. Sure, you run into them from time to time, but it's not like they're saying "Champions! Meet me at the Town Hall! We need to take the fight to Mal'gannis!" At best they may offer counsel (Elrond, Gandalf, Satele Shan) or some quest direction (Aragorn), but nothing like what you find in later expacs in these MMOs. 

There's something comforting in the anonymity provided in these vanilla-esque zones. Even if you're on an active server, you're still not likely to run into many other players at all in these original zones because the latest and greatest zones are "where the action is". That is even the case in these megaservers in Wrath Classic, where most everybody has gotten multiple toons to max level and unless there's another 50% XP boost they're not likely to run another alt through the gauntlet. (I discovered this while waiting around for a Deadmines run in the past couple of weeks.) While those dungeon runs were active in the lead up to Wrath Classic launching, they're almost totally dead now. So, while you wait you go out into the world and quest. Or fish. Or level a gathering skill. Or explore. All of those sorts of things can be done on those three MMOs***, at your own pace without any concern for life, the universe, and everything. (Thank you, Douglas Adams.)


While these areas tend to be quiet and relatively empty, disruptions can show up when a high level toon rolls by and wipes an area clean of questing mobs. Perhaps they were going back and completing quests that were left behind, or perhaps they were farming for materials. Or maybe they did have a slightly cruel and/or trollish streak and did it just because. Whatever the reason, the effect was to basically throw off my cadence and I have to wait for respawns. If said high level toon zaps those, then I just abandon the area; arguing with idiots never ends well in my experience.

As a consequence, I've learned to do any low level questing on my high level toons when I know I'm not causing disruptions to people already there. On a (now) empty server like Myzrael that's not a big deal, because there have been times when I've literally been the only person in a zone for several zones in a row. But an "active" server, or a server where I'm new? Yeah, I'm sensitive to disruptions.


Okay, enough about me. Where do you go --or play-- when you just need a helping of comfort food?

*All about whether I've got a combat heavy game going. The combat heavy games are much longer than the ones where I simply out-develop the other civs.

**Minus the ridiculously sexy clothing (and the Elin), of course.

***Okay, so you can't fish in SWTOR, but you can do a lot of crafting and datacron hunting.


  1. I'm doing it at the moment, returning to my comfort zone and finding it quite addictive as well as, obviously, comforting. The odd thing is that it was completely unplanned. I had to move a character in EQII because the server she was on was getting merged with another I didn't fancy going to; I could just have used the Move token and left it that but I logged her in to sort out a few odds end ends and next I knew I was back playing EQII again.

    I think it's mostly that low-level play in most mmorpgs, especially the older ones, is so well-tuned to those infamous dopamine hits that it's actively difficult to stop yourself being drawn back in. Of course, if you've played all the way up to the endgame before, you know just when that sense of comfortable satisfaction is going to shioft into frustration and annoyance, so if you have any sense you'll jump ship before it happens. Which is why we end up making endless new characters, playing them up, then dropping them.

    1. The strange thing is that those early MMOs weren't explicitly designed with the dopamine hit in the same way that modern MMOs and video games are nakedly ambitious about separating you from your money. A lot of the dopamine rush for me comes from the immersion and enjoyment of being in an environment where I can simply lose myself for a while. I can spend time questing, sure, but also exploring and working on crafts as a way to connecting with the world.

      I'll never forget my son, when he was in elementary school, really really wanted to visit Elrond in Rivendell. Because Lord of the Rings, you know, but his character was something around L20 whereas the area surrounding Rivendell was for characters roughly L37-L40. (This was also before LOTRO's nerfing of the ogres that wander The Trollshaws at night from elites to normal --but high level-- enemies.) He spent a lot of time reviving, but he managed to figure out a way to get from The Shire to Rivendell solo. If he were playing a more modern MMO I'm not sure this would have been an accomplishment, because I'd imagine that the devs would have greased everything to allow a toon easy access to Rivendell. But for a kid who just wanted to explore, he truly had a grand adventure worthy of Bilbo Baggins.

  2. Often I'll just replay a class story in Swtor. I'm generally not trying to have yet another max level character, but just having some fun trying some variations on a theme. I have started to replay all the planetary missions and side-missions. It is nice to see how much I've forgotten over the years since Bioware redid the leveling xp curve. Nice in the sense it is fun to rediscover how many of the quests flowed without knowing "x, y, and z are going to happen in this order".

    I'm also very fond of the vanilla Wow zones for Night Elves. It was Teldrassil, Darnassus, and Darkshore on my NE hunter that really hooked me on the game. Redoing the Kalimdor zones was fun up until Cataclysm. After those changes I found I mostly enjoyed the Draenei starting areas and then just did whatever got me leveled easiest as the Cataclysm questing changes weren't that appealing to me. (I do wish Retail had an option for a Chromie time version of Classic as I would level that way over all the other options.)

    The closest I have to a set of comfort single player games would be (depending on my mood) No One Lives Forever 1 & 2, Half Life 2, Portal 2 and the Mass Effect series. Each of those games can pull me into their world when I need to take a break from my other games or need a small step away from real-life issues.

    1. I kind of jumped off the current content bandwagon in SWTOR, but I truly love the "classic" or vanilla SWTOR. And yes, Rise of the Hut Cartel too. If Bioware were to create Classic SWTOR, complete with talent trees and the old leveling cadence and the different planetary currencies, I'd be all for it.

      I do need to really do some work with Mass Effect, but given that I have a bad tendency to spend far too much time playing when I'm engrossed (or reading a novel, such as The Chronicles of the Black Company that I'm reading now) I'm seriously worried that I might not sleep while playing the ME Trilogy.

  3. I play Wow most of course, and just pop around to different servers and characters for a break from the Northrend slog. I have an active ESO subscription and love my Khajiit Templar. That game is so different from anything else. When I want to wander and explore it’s perfect. LOTRO always beckons for the same reason. If I’m really wanting to go somewhere where it’s just me and the imaginary world, Elder Scrolls Oblivion is my favorite. Also Mass Effect. Atheren

    1. ESO scratches the same exploration itch that GW2 does, but in both cases the automated level adjustment to match the zone you're in means in both cases I have to be on my toes whenever I go exploring in each. (Thank goodness for the Stealthie class in each!) But in terms of a relaxing ride being out in the world, the older titles are what I return to.

      I never really tried any of the single player Elder Scrolls games, Skyrim was that my kids played and I just never got around to either it or the other two well known games (Morrowind and Oblivion). As far as old school RPGs are concerned, Ultima V and VI were my thing. And Baldur's Gate, but I don't know if you can call that old school or not.

  4. Though I only play Retail WoW currently, in the early years of our marriage, my husband and I played Final Fantasy VI and the Portal games together. I had the Final Fantasy VI soundtrack in iTunes until iTunes went away. I recently bought the Final Fantasy VI soundtrack on CD to listen to in the car (and prep my oldest for playing that game himself in a year or two :D). I suppose listening to the Final Fantasy VI soundtrack even though I haven't played the game itself for several years is sort of like "gaming comfort food" for me.

    1. Ah, a person after my own heart! My oldest's SO got me the soundtrack to Stardew Valley on CD for my birthday a couple of years ago, and I still bring that with me on the long drives up to get my son from college. I also have the soundtrack to Jade Empire (the mp3s from EA) and the Mass Effect Trilogy (again courtesy of a deal from EA), and I've been known to have the music to Stellaris running in the background while I'm working. Nobody has asked about that, but on one occasion I had the soundtrack to Burning Crusade going (have it on CD) and during a pause in the call someone asked me if I was playing WoW. "Oh no," I replied. "I just have the soundtrack going in the background." I caught some crap for a few days about me "playing video games at work" but then it settled down.

    2. LOL! Once during my last couple of years of graduate school, I had the FFVI soundtrack running on iTunes and someone else in the lab asked if I was playing a video game... :P

  5. Yay, you played SWTOR!

    Low-level alts are definitely a type of comfort food for me as well. Not just because of nostalgia for the starting zones, but also for a change of pace and break from the endgame routines I eventually fall into.

    And I love the night elf starting zones as well. That magical forest feeling coupled with the music... just sublime. And yes, of course I'm biased from levelling a night elf as my first character back in the day, but still. 🙂

    1. Oh yes, I still play SWTOR, I just don't blog about it. I just don't go beyond the original vanilla areas because I enjoy them so much. There have been nights when I've been on and watching people come and go at Coruscant or up on Carrick Station. Not really doing anything, just people watching. Certainly not as many as there used to be, but there are times when players are there.

      LOTRO has been the one that I've hardly done anything on for several years. Well, other than pay the upkeep on the housing and wander around Bree and listen to the band on Fridays after hours.

      I'm no altaholic for certain, as I have far too many Mages and Paladins around, but you're right about the change of pace. I'm not there to powerlevel a new alt, I'm there to chill. Let other people worry about getting to max level in a couple of weeks; I'm gonna go fish at the Sartheris Strand and dodge naga for a while.

  6. Teldrassil, oh yes! I don't know how many poor Night Elves have been started so I can go through it again. Wow, so many good memories. Ancient

    1. I can imagine. I've created about a half dozen druids over the years that never got beyond the starting zone. While the class never grabbed me, the zone certainly did!