March 24, 2004

Middle-Earth Online: A Prediction

I was just joining in a group-whine in one discussion forum about the failure of massively-multiplayer persistent-world computer games, and we were commenting in particular on how freakishly bad the initial experience of gameplay is in most of them.

MMOGs, almost ALL of them, go out of their way, almost by design, to make the initial experience of a player as boring and horrible as possible.

Which doesn't fit the ur-narrative of the "level up" heroic fantasy, if you think about it. In the ur-narrative, the protagonist begins his or her heroic career usually in the middle of a contented or at least static life (Frodo Baggins, Luke Skywalker) but the hero's journey doesn't start with ten hours of killing household pests. It starts with a bang: with tension and high stakes, with ringwraiths and stormtroopers. If heroic fantasy was written to match a MMOG, nobody would ever get to Chapter Two.

So I thought about that a bit more. Since there is going to be a MMOG game based on Tolkien's Middle Earth, I wondered a bit what the novel Lord of the Rings would look like if it were based on a Middle-Earth themed MMOG. Here's what I came up with:


Lord of the Rings (if the novel were based on a massively-multiplayer game)

Chapter One

Bilbo Baggins opened his eyes and looked out over Hobbiton. Shouts of “plz need gold” and “rez me” echoed in the distance. A haughty elf looked at him and snorted. “dude, don’t be a fucking burglar, they’re totally gimped.”

Bilbo Baggins deleted himself.


Legoolaas the warrior-mage opened his eyes and looked out over Lorien. He nodded politely at Ligoliz, Legalos, Legolass, Logolas, and Leggollas as he unlimbered a generic sword. "I shall call you Plastic," he said proudly to the blade.

On the edges of the Golden Wood, he met a butterfly with azure-patterned wings and a small stinger, floating near to him in a manner that a highly imaginative and overly suggestive person might vaguely be able to regard as threatening. He killed it.

Then he met another butterfly. He killed it.

Later one more butterfly crossed his path. It stung Legoolaas. He killed it.

Walking in a meadow, he found two butterflies. He killed them and got stung again. He applied some athelas potion to the sting.

Another butterfly! Dead.

Delicate chimes in the distance and an evening wind blowing. Oh, and another butterfly, sliced in two.

Butterfly! Snicker-snack!

Much bigger butterfly with yellow wings and red eyes. Ouchies! But Legoolaas slew it.

Butterfly. Dead. Butterfly. Slain. Butterfly. Mashed. Butterfly. Gored. Butterfly. Maimed. Butterfly. Ex-. Butterfly. Gone. Butterfly. Exterminated.

Butterfly. Will pollinate no more. Butterfly. Ground into delicately azure dust. Butterfly. Gone to Valinor.

Butterfly. Murdered. Mysteriously a gold piece fell from the butterfly. "Cool," said Legoolaas.

Legoolaas wondered which of the Valar was responsible for butterflies. Eomwar the industriously unimaginative, perhaps. Whoops, a butterfly. Dead.

Legoolaas sang the ancient lay of butterflies. “O Elbereth! Githoniel! Butterfly! Dead!”

Legoolaas met Ligolaz at the edge of the wood. “In the Sindarin, butterflies are wilwarin.” “Yes. And dead is qualin,” replied Ligoliz.

Wilwarin. Qualin.


Legoolaas realized suddenly he knew more about using his sword.

He went back to the capital of Lorien, stopping only once to kill a butterfly.

Going down below the roots of Galadriel’s palace, Legoolaas found some tree rats.

He killed one.

Then he killed another. Then one more. Then, wouldn’t you know it, he killed a tree rat.

Galadriel glided through the cellar. “Thanks for killing all the rats! They keep eating the lembas stores.” She repeated this ten times as she walked past the roots and up to the stairs.

Squeak-squeak squish! Tree rat dead. Dead, dead, dead, almost dead but got away, and dead.

Fat lembas-fed tree rat. Dead, but definitely time for more athelas potion, the really big bottle marked “King’s Hand Brand”.

Legoolaas leapt madly upon his foe, whose squeals echoed through the mildly damp and really rather nicely earth-smelling cellar. Chiseled teeth met mangy leather armor, sword met fur. His foe fell to the ground, slain, its mighty squeaks echoing spectrally along the dripping passage.

Legilos poked his head in. “Watch out for the lembas-fed ones. They are terrible! Long ago they ate lembas and now are deep in its grip. Swords are of no use against this foe.”

Legoolaas looked quizzically. Legilos said, “Try clubs instead. They’re vulnerable to that.”

Legoolaas wearily trooped upstairs, counted his coppers, and bought a cheap club from Celeborn’s General Store.

He went back into the cellar and into the lembas storeroom. Logolas, Ligilas, Leegoolaas, Legolizz, and Giiimli were sitting on the ground, each gripping a club. “Take a number,” said Logolas.

Legoolaas went back and killed smaller tree rats in other parts of the root cellar for a few hours.

Then he killed some more.

"Are there any snakes or maybe some highly mobile pond-scum or something else besides tree rats down here in this cellar?," Legoolaas asked Giiimli when they crossed each other's paths.

"Nope," said Giiimli.

"Rats," said Legoolaas. "LOL," said Giimli.

A rat appeared and they both killed it.


In a daze, Legoolaas wandered through the Golden Wood, ignoring the butterflies or swatting them peremptorily into nonexistence when they came too close. In the distance were the mountains. Unthinking, he wandered beyond the Golden Wood’s boundaries towards the stony rise of hills.

A very small extremely flea-bitten warg casually wandered up to him and bit Legoolaas' head off in one smooth motion.

Legoolaas woke in Lorien and went to find some tree rats.

End of Chapter One