The kobold sniffed the air. Did it smell an intruder, its small brain wondered, but before it could begin to process this information, glowing green vines appeared at its feet. With a howl it took off after the elf already running off into the distance. As it chased the speeding elf, its feet hampered by the snaring vines, the elf tossed swarms of stinging bees and smoldering embers at it. Finally, the kobold could take no more and fell over, lifeless. A short distance away, the elf happily told his friends “Ding!”
These days, every level in every MMORPG is a celebration. This celebration began in the days of EQ, when leveling up truly was an epic situation. Unleveling, the “Gnid”, was also frequent in these days, but I’ll talk of that in part 2. Because you took so long to level, anywhere from several days to weeks, a level was a major event. People would shout to the zone their happiness, and you’d get some cheers and jeers back. It didn’t matter, because you finally leveled! The sound that this leveling made was iconic. I used to have it as my new mail sound. (I was really into EQ though – I had the “quest completed” tone as my computer shut down sound at work.) The sound was your only notification that something glorious had happened, and thus leveling became known as “dinging”.
The first game to actually make this a celebration was Anarchy Online in the summer of 2001. EQ players were thrilled to discover that when you leveled you did a back flip. Now, other people could tell when you leveled, so that besides you shouting ding, you actually SHOWED a ding! Dark Age of Camelot, released shortly thereafter, took it a step further making it a spray of light. This has continued and evolved through the years, with some game companies revamping and enhancing their level-up animation. Lord of the Rings online, which tells everyone in your group for you that you have leveled up, went from a splash of light to an explosion in a pillow factory. Rift has a player being struck with lightning, almost like the Highlander movies, and at several milestones people in the immediate area and your guild are also told of your achievement. While this is neat, it seems not as much fun in games where the leveling is so fast. A ding used to be a truly amazing event. When EQ added 10 levels, the speed grinders would still take almost a week to grind those out, even playing in shifts. Rift, on the other hand, took less than 3 days to have a person hit max level from release (and that was with server downtimes and crushing queues). The ding just doesn’t seem as epic.
Now don’t get me wrong – this is not the standard old person gripe of “I had to suffer, you should too.” No way. Hell levels were not called that because we were out of adjectives. But I do wonder if we have sped up too fast, to give too much fast or instant gratification, and removed that feeling that only a DING! can give. Or perhaps, in a real life world that seems to be out to crush us more and more, the right thing is to give people that nugget of happiness as often as possible so that those who use the game to escape can have that feeling, however fleeting, at least somewhere.