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The magic of Christmas and the power of prayer
Deputy Editor Zoya Street looks at some of the ways that Perfect World’s MMO Neverwinter retains and converts
I pray every day. Actually, it’s called ‘invocation’, but it’s basically prayer: I offer my body to my goddess, and I receive her message: ‘Sune recognises you’. She gifts me with riches, extraordinary abilities, and experience points. I can pray more than once a day if I wish, but it’s less powerful each time. If I fail to pray one day, I will lose some of her gifts. Every day that I return to Neverwinter and pray to Sune, I get another generous reward.
Neverwinter’s spirituality is one of the main ways that it builds a sustainable hobby out of gameplay. The game is engineered to be addictive, but by giving diminishing returns after a couple of hours of play, the developers avoid the kind of bingeing that can lead to player regret. I have been playing this game for at least ten hours a week, always in one- or two-hour sessions.
As a Devoted Cleric, I spend most of my time summoning meteors, issuing bursts of sunlight from my golden body, and being thanked by NPCs who tell me that I’m ‘capable’ and ‘did a good job’. I have earned the title ‘Anointed Champion’. It’s an incredible ego boost.
It’s also a ritual. It gives me a sense of continuity and hope every day. There is a community of other people carrying out the same rituals, who have the same faith that they are going somewhere. They too will reach level 60. They too will unlock the things they desire. We help each other on our paths, and aspire to be stronger so that we can be better at supporting others.
Neverwinter gives me easy access to the things that I truly value: community, and peer support. Not enough to give any kind of nourishment, but just enough to make a satisfying snack; it’s like candy for the soul.
It moves with the seasons. Neverwinter’s current seasonal event offers another daily spiritual ritual. Every day I go stargazing, and a fortune teller reads my fate and gives me a ‘Star of Fortune’. When I’ve collected ten of them, I can trade them in for a special sled. The sled will help me to win slalom races on the icy track that winds around the special winter festival village. Participating in races earns me another currency: Lights of Simril. I can trade lights in for other limited-edition items, the most expensive of which is the Fawn of Shiallia.
All of the items you buy with Lights of Simril look impressive, but that fawn has completely enchanted me. I’m not alone. The chat window in the winter festival village is often full of talk about the fawn. Questions about its real value. Advice on how to earn enough Lights to buy one. Meaningless puns like “hard core fawn”. Every one of us wants that fawn, the only difference between us is how much time we are willing to put into grinding the festival activities in order to earn one.
I know that this is an illusion, but I always feel like everybody else in Neverwinter has these beautiful companion animals and mounts, while all I have is a boring old brown horse and a scrappy little dog. Most of the impressive accoutrements that I see have been bought with premium currency, but there are much more beautiful items that can only be bought with some of the many other currencies earned in Neverwinter.
Only one of the currencies can be directly bought with real money, and some can only be earned through loyalty. While the premium currency could buy me a white tiger or a hawk, what I really want is a shining white horse and a guardian angel, both of which can only be bought with one of the loyalty currencies I receive every time I invoke my goddess. That means returning to the game every day for a year and a half.
Likewise, the fawn can’t be bought with real money, and there are only two more weeks left to earn enough Lights of Simril to buy one. Premium items certainly do help people to earn Lights more quickly, but even then, it would take significant power and dedication to earn enough of them.
Strength and dedication are everything, and strength will come to everyone as long as they are dedicated. What makes Neverwinter so seductive is its promise that good things will come to everyone who gives it their attention. Neverwinter rarely directly asks me to spend money, but it always reminds me to pray. Devotion is the only thing that matters, and it is always rewarded.