When my husband first invited me to step into my first massively multiplayer online role playing game (MMORPG), I did so with great trepidation. I was a gamer, but at that time, I had never played an online game. And I had heard the stories.

FFXIIt’s one thing to learn the ropes in a solo game, but online, my newbie status would be judged, and surely I would be found wanting. Nowadays, online gaming concerns go much deeper, with various forms of prejudice and harassment becoming more and more prominent. Such complaints tend to involve the more competitive games. While there is competition in MMOs, the focus is more on community, and I’d like to think that my subsequent positive MMO experience is a prime example of that. Because when I stepped into Final Fantasy XI, I discovered more than just a fun game to play. I discovered a world filled with wonderful, fun, and helpful people, some of whom are still good friends. And over a decade after entering the virtual world of Vana’diel, I have many fond memories that far outweigh any negative experiences.

While FFXI is my first love and the MMO standard by which I will compare all others, I have dabbled in several different online games since, and learned a thing or two about the process. If you’ve ever wondered about the world of MMOs, but have no idea where to start, here are a few tips.

DC Universe Online

Hanging out at the Superman statue in DCUO

First of all, which MMO do you choose? When I started playing, World of Warcraft and FFXI were pretty much it, but now the field is saturated with titles, with lots more in the works.

Maybe price is your deciding factor. Some games require you to pay up front for the game itself, and may require a subscription thereafter. Many games now offer a free-to-play (F2P) option, so you can get your feet wet without an investment. If you like the game, you can choose to upgrade to a subscription model to take advantage of further benefits. A well done F2P shouldn’t make you feel inferior if you choose not pay for it, and shouldn’t constantly nag you to subscribe. Personally speaking, if I enjoy a game, I don’t feel right in not supporting it monetarily. A lot of hard work goes on behind the scenes, long before the game even gets into our hands, and I think the developers deserve a little of my hard earned cash for their efforts.

One good way to try things out for free is to get involved in beta testing. This is when developers invite players to help them work through the bugs in their games. What you get to play during the testing period will not be the final product, and there will definitely be problems that you are encouraged to communicate to the developers, but the advantage, as someone new to MMOs, would be the opportunity to start fresh just like everyone else. There might be MMO veterans playing, but in a beta, you’re all starting at square one, learning how this particular game functions. Keep an eye on gaming and developer sites to see if they have anything new coming out, then sign up for beta testing whenever the option presents itself.

Perhaps the easiest deciding factor in choosing an MMO is friends and family. Know someone playing already? Why not have them take you on a tour of their virtual world? The social aspect of gaming is very important to me. I have a lot of online friends whom I chat with. If I can chat with them while killing things with fire, well that can only make our time spent together that much more rewarding. My husband and I also play together from time to time, and now that our kids are getting older, they are becoming more and more involved in our gaming too. Some people like to go out to bars to hang out with friends. We like to kill dragons.

Guild Wars 2

Ringing in the New Year in Guild Wars 2

Character Selection

Guild Wars 2 character selection

ArchAge character selection Guild Wars 2 (above) and ArchAge character selection

Once you’ve finally decided on what you’d like to play, the first step, after downloading the game to your computer or console and watching the pretty cinematic introduction, is selecting your playable character (PC). I prefer to play female characters, but the choice is entirely yours. Do you want to create a character that looks just like you? Or perhaps something a little less human is your cup of tea.

Most games now offer a lot of options during the character creation process, allowing you to customize everything from body shape to nostril size. You can get as detailed as you want, or keep it simple by using the preset models available.

During this process, you choose sex, race, and other details specific to each game. You’ll also select your class at this time. Do you have a penchant for stealth? Try a thief. Do you prefer to stay in the background? Perhaps an archer is more to your liking. Are you fond of magic? Select a mage-type job. Just want to get out there and do loads of damage? Look for the class with the biggest weapon.

TERA Online class selection

TERA Rising class selection. Pants not included.

Choose yourself a name, and off you go!

Just a few of my City of Heroes/Villains characters

Just a few of my City of Heroes/Villains characters

(If you’re like me and suffer from a disease called “alt-itis,” wherein having one character just isn’t enough when there are so many class, race, and appearance options—you may or may not end up back at this character screen several times…)


It’s not sink or swim when you step into your new online world. Tutorials will pop up literally every step of the way, to the point of annoyance, but, if this is your first time, be sure to read the useful tips. They will explain everything from how to move and where to go, to what all those strange icons and numbers mean.

Character Sheet

This is where all the information for your character is stored, including equipment, statistics, inventory, and more. Your character sheet will be a bit intimidating, but you’ll come to understand those numbers in time. Be sure to upgrade your equipment as you go along, but for now, as a new character, the statistics don’t mean a whole lot. There are always online player guides to help you out if you want to do some research. Veteran players often determine the “best” way to equip and upgrade a character based on your particular class. You can choose to get serious and follow these, or you can just relax and enjoy the game without getting into the nitty gritty.

Neverwinter Nights character sheet

Neverwinter Nights character sheet

Quests and Missions

No game is worth much of my time without a good story, which comes mainly through quests and missions. You’ll often be unavoidably directed through your missions, which are the main storyline of a game, while you can obtain quests by interacting with objects, areas, or non-player characters (NPCs). Often, you’ll be asked to perform some task to fulfill the mission/quest requirements. This can be one of the most tedious aspects of MMOs, but it is one of the many ways you can “level up” and earn rewards, including money and equipment.

Wildstar: Timmy's stuck in the well. Please rescue him. Also, bring back some milk.

Wildstar: “Timmy’s stuck in the well. Please rescue him. Also, bring back some milk.”

Many quests involve fetching something or other, which is usually inexplicably housed inside the body of an enemy character (usually marked in red). This is where you get to run out into the wilds and kill all the things! Just beware of the bunnies, okay? Trust me on this. Those cute, furry little bastards are never to be trusted…

Following story missions introduces you to interesting new characters, and leads you to explore the game’s universe as you unravel its mysteries. Story missions will often involve cinematics that play out like little movies where your character is the star.

Guild Wars

Guild Wars: If you have to ask, the answer is probably “no.”

Some games forego the quests and missions altogether, relying instead on player-driven content and economy to move their game forward. These “sandbox” games offer the player tools to engage with the game world, leaving them to develop their own stories. EVE Online generates complex stories of corporate espionage that are entirely created by players. Wurm Online‘s crafting system allows players to build everything in the game world, including custom-made structures and cities. Landmark’s current beta consists of tools to build structures and reshape the environment. Some of these structures may be included in the upcoming EverQuest NextStar Wars Galaxies role players run custom events ranging from large scale battles to disco parties.

There. Now you have the basics, so jump in and go!

Okay, okay, there are still a few things to go over, but we’ll get to that in the next installment. In the mean time, if you’ve been brave enough to get this far, then take your time and enjoy. The key word here is “game,” so have fun! Poke things with your pointy stick, pick up random objects, and don’t be afraid to see the sights and explore!

Fresh off the boat in Final Fantasy XIV

Fresh off the boat in Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn

Read the rest of the How to MMO series.