On Jan 1, Doug Flutie of the New England Patriots "produced a single point on a play that was deemed obsolete in the NFL (National Football League) at the outbreak of World War II." The Boston Herald went on to note:
Flutie, 43, very likely played in his last regular season NFL game... was bemused by the fact that his final contribution to the NFL would be the reinvention of an extinct play.
Furthermore, quoting Flutie:
“That was fun and I was pretty fired up about just scoring an extra point. I was fired up that it went through, and to be part of that was fun. That’s what football is supposed to be.”
This is just where it starts. Eve-Online, World of Warcraft and Kabuki theatre is where this strays...
The Wikipedia, (amazingly) updated so recently after the event, described Doug Flutie's drop kick as a non-strategic move and a farewell gesture. It also noted that the drop-kick
...(is) often used as a surprise tactic. The ball would be snapped or lateraled to a back, who would perhaps fake a run or pass, but then would kick the field goal instead... This method of scoring worked well in the 1920s and 1930s, when the football was rounder at the ends (similar to a modern rugby ball)... In 1934, the ball was made more pointed at the ends. This made passing the ball easier, as was its intent, but made the drop kick obsolete, as the more pointed ball did not bounce up from the ground reliably.
Bill Littlefield in the week after the play described Doug Flutie' gesture as a reach to an era when American Football was a sport of amateurs. This would be in contrast to our era when professional sports has turned play into work filled with specialists in teams min-maxing yields.
What of the MMOG experience?
To start, we may approach this via the wry question T.L. Taylor once posed, "but is it play":
All those instances where the fiction of the game collides with "real" lives. The buying and selling of virtual goods for offline money. The obligations, passions, even anxieties. Are all those players really players in any strict sense? Or are they doing something else?
And therein lies a well-established Terra Novan argument: when you overload the real world and real personalities onto the virtual (RMT, powerplaying), well, the roles are diminished and role-playing forgotten. Sin ensues.
However, for the sake of discussion, I'll muse an *alternative* strawman. Namely, that if the blur between work and play is indeed upon us, perhaps it says less about the activity than the demeanor of the participant. And that in turn speaks less directly to the superficialities of the space within which one participates than to the careful freedoms it affords.
By way of illustration, how can a place such as Eve-Online be construed as a playful place were it to be strictly judged by the color of one's actions? It is a dark space of vast distances and abstract avatars in a kabuki punctuated by moments of pounding brutality and intricate economic subtext. Very little seems at first like P*L*A*Y.
Were I to claim here that the nuance of Eve-Online is more playful than an MMOG world such as World of Warcraft (WoW), would you believe me? To some this may sound an unscrupulous suggestion, WoW is after all the darling of the MMOG evangelists - it is casual, cartoon-like, and attracts millions. But my thought goes as follows. WoW (and too it symbolizes so much in the genre) is a place that reeks of fun and playfulness on the surface, but once ensnared players are led into a deception that spells W*O*R*K. Eve-Online on the other hand is Icelandic with Calvinist overtones - yet in its straightjacket there is opportunity to find one's own way towards a demeanor of play. One represents a fall into an abyss, the other, a rise from one to redemption...
Bill Littlefield cited specialization as one of the factors undermining the amateur and playful demeanor of American Football. Perhaps it is. Perhaps too it is also the specialization of the roles in MMOGs that has undermined the sense of play in the MMOG. One spends so much time mastering the Warrior that one dare not stray too far from the stricture of role lest they be branded as not knowing how to play a tank. One dare not squander mana in friviolous spells as a priest lest they be branded as risking the party. Et cetera.
Superficially, Eve-Online is a poster-child of role-specialization in the MMOG today given the millions of unattainable skill points that could be allocated. But oddly, it doesn't feel that way. The roles players adopt are not discrete, but instead blend continuously over occasion. One day one may engage in trading, another in hauling, or "ratting" or guard duty, or just plain... If the separation between roles is, say, 5% of some measure of ability, and that 5% is furthermore so easily fungible with the cost of business, it seems to strangely invite the kind of freedom an instance crawl in WoW rarely does: does over-specialization choke play?
I'm not sure I believe all of my presentation above, yet, I feel like I might one day. As Tim Burke implied, there can be no *uberness* without distinction, and an important distinction in many MMOG spaces is a convergence upon specialized knowledge reinforced by roles. The players then take it from there, self-selecting groups to min-max their yields.
Would Doug Flutie dare drop-kick on a Raid today?
In a vague way, it seems like the missing MMOG hero may be due in part to the drive towards overspecialization. After all, if heroes were created then realized rather than to spontaneously emerge in a circumstance, would they still be heroes? To be "out of the ordinary" requires perhaps an element of improvisation involving choice and a grace too.