MMOs: A Snarky Guide for the Perplexed


Having now played three MMOs — one fairly fanatically — for, wow, a year now I am of course perfectly suited to explain the entire hobby to the rest of humanity.  Well, OK, that’s pretty heavily sarcastic of me; obviously there are people out there who know this stuff backwards and forwards, because they’ve been playing it for what’s getting on to be decades now and I haven’t.  On the other hand: there are people out there who haven’t played an MMO at all. These folks could use a primer. So let’s do a glossary!

  • MMO. Short for ‘Massively Multiplayer Online.’ A MMORPG is Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Game: in practical terms, it’s a bunch of people who all created characters and play in the same game-world(s). This largely involves a Level 50 Whatever running past a Level 1 Whatever as the latter is collecting ten bird kidneys, because the Level 50 Whatever is too busy collecting ten MEGA-Diamond Bird Kidneys.

  • Avatar/Character. This is your doll! There are many like it, but this one is yours.  You may typically dress your doll as you like, as long as the naughty bits are covered.  Most people tend towards the rococo; but if you encounter a Level 50 Whatever wearing the equivalent of jeans and a t-shirt… don’t fight that character in PvP.

  • Build. The combination of abilities and skills and whatnot that make you a death-dealing demigod. Like Gear, Build is often tinkered with at a level of obsession that rivals… actually, it probably should be the standard by which all other obsessive behavior should be judged.

  • Cabal/Guild. Like a Faction/Side, except that you can pick it yourself. Generally a good source of people for doing Dungeons and Raids. Also: an excellent source for drama.

  • Character Classes: see DPS, Healer, Tank for the main distinctions; also, there’s usually some sort of breakdown of classes into fighting/magic/sneaking around.

  • Chat. How you interact with your fellow players, in handy text-based form. Contrary to popular belief, Chat is not ALWAYS a wretched hive of scum and villainy.  Unless you’re in PvP.

  • Crafting. Do you have a slight case of obsessive-compulsive behavior?  Well, you can scratch that itch by building your own Gear. And building it. And building it…

  • DPS. “Hi, I shoot and/or stab things.  Please don’t hit me.”

  • Dungeon. Basically, it’s this big hole in the ground in which you – either by yourself, or with a few people – run in and slaughter everybody you see (except for anybody who needs rescuing).  But it’s OK, because they’re bad.

  • Escort Quest: “Hi, I need to get from Point A to Point B. It’s a real shame that I die if people look at me funny, huh?”  These Quests are hated. You get them anyway.


  • Faction/Side. Like a Cabal/Guild, except that you have to pick it at character creation. Generally a way to distinguish your Avatar from the rest, or more accurately: it’s a way to see how the game developers imagined what your game world was like.

  • Fetch Quest. “Hello, kind player! I need you to find me twenty [INSERT USELESS ITEM HERE] and bring them back to me.  Because reasons, that’s why.”

  • Fishing. Popular MMOs like Everquest and World of Warcraft did this, and for some reason people keep finding it soothing to take a break from killing things to go fishing, so it shows up in other MMOs.

  • FPS: Frames Per Second.  This represents how fast your computer screen updates during combat (also, out of combat, but nobody cares about that, really). High FPS? Then you can shoot at things and hit them. Low FPS? Then you can shoot at things where they were a second ago. Until you get shot in the back, and die! …As you might guess, FPS is one of those things people obsess over. Or use as an excuse.

  • Free-to-Play. You buy the game, and can keep playing it without a monthly subscription.  You can also check out the company’s Game Store, because the gaming company is going to be stocking that bad boy up with all sorts of stuff, some of which you’re probably going to need.  Hey, that’s why the smart players buy a monthly subscription: among other things, it usually gives you credit at the Game Store.

  • Game Manual. …HAHAHAHA Do you know how much MONEY there is in selling game guides to players? The game companies get a piece of that, you know.

  • Game Store. This is where you buy new outfits for your Avatars, new Mounts, new Gear, and whatever else the game developers think that you’ll buy.  For some reason, this always involves hats.  People who play MMOs often buy insane numbers of hats.

  • Gear. This is your equipment: armor, weapons, jewelry. All of it gives you a bonus; that’s why it’s Gear. Like Build, Gear is often tinkered with at a level of obsession that rivals… actually, it probably should be the standard by which all other obsessive behavior should be judged.

  • Group.  This is a bunch (four or five, generally) of people who link up to tackle a tough objective. Typically a Tank, a Healer, and the rest are DPS.

  • Healer. “Hi, I heal people when they get hit. Please don’t hit me.”

  • Hub. This is generally a staging area where people can buy stuff, sell stuff, make stuff, repair stuff — and, most importantly, show off their Avatars.  Their pretty, pretty Avatars…

  • Level. This represents both how massively good your character is, and how dangerous the environment is. Theoretically, you should be able to survive in an area whose Level is roughly equivalent to yours. Theoretically.

  • Level Cap. This is where the company gives up and says “Look, we’re not going to make the Quests any harder than this, OK?” Start a new Avatar. Or go back to lower Level Zones and devastate everything that’s bad (this can be remarkably fun).


  • Main Quest. This is the ostensible reason why your Avatar is getting out of bed in the morning. It will inevitably end with you facing off the main enemy by yourself… and not with everybody else in the game joining in, which makes a LOT more sense, really. I mean, yes, once you hit your Level Cap you can kill Cthulhu by yourself, but is that really sensible?  I mean, you’ve typically got an army at this point.

  • Mounts. Do you like ponies? Motorcycles? Hoverboards? Giant riding cats? Giant riding chickens? Giant riding polar bears? …Pretty much anything that can be ridden, and a few that cannot, will appear in a MMORPG’s Game Store.  Sometimes it’s not even too expensive. For given values of that.

  • Patches. When the game company buckles down and releases a bunch of updates/fixes to the game. It’s not a common swear word, but I’m not really sure why.

  • PvE. Player versus Environment.  This is the part of the game where you can’t kill other players because of reasons.

  • PvP. Player versus Player combat.  Largely involves you being repeatedly shot by somebody who has apparently had his brain transferred to a Mi-Go brain cylinder, thus freeing him up to calibrate his Gear and Build to the point where either could slice titanium in two.  At some point, you become that person.  Nobody knows how that works.

  • Quests/Missions. These are what you have to accomplish in order to gain XP. Examples include Escort Quests, Fetch Quests, and Main Quests.

  • Raids. This is a LARGE set of Groups: anywhere from ten to forty people, sometimes.  Raids tackle the toughest areas: participating in one requires careful planning, training in tactics and gameplay, and some sort of shared audio channel so that you can hear people screaming at each other when somebody does something wrong and there’s a TPK. You ever hear of Leroy Jenkins?  Yeah, that was a Raid.


  • TPK. Total Party Kill. That’s when everybody dies, because everybody except you screwed up.

  • XP. eXperience Points. This is what you accumulate in order to Level.

  • Zones/Boards/Worlds.  These are the places where people can do PvE Quests.  Generally, they’re grouped by Level: only, some gaming companies think that it’s funny to put an insanely high Level area in the middle of a low-Level Zone and not tell you. Real funny.

  • And, of course: Everything else.  I probably forgot a bunch of stuff.


So, why play these games?  Simple: they’re fun. Slightly exasperating at times, sure — but what human activity is not?


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