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Home > Business > Special


Gen-Z'ers role-play in virtual cocoon

Moinak Mitra, Outlook Money | January 25, 2007

Sigma can crush with an eyeliner. Alpha is a slave to the system. Their son, we reckon, will happen down the line. With Ragnarok, it's now possible to fall in love, marry and adopt a child - all in a game. And this promise of an in-game virtual family is drawing 14-26-year-olds to kill monsters, earn zenies (online virtual gaming currency), tie the knot, and make a statement before the real world.

As Gen-Z'ers throng cyber cafes, online gaming arcades and even sit in front of their home PCs across metros to freely enter and exit a mythical world with multiple identities, Level-Up managing director Venkat Mallik laughs all the way to the bank.

His visiting card dubs him the 'soothsayer' and his Philippines-based company holds licences from game developer Gravity to hawk the game in the Philippines, Brazil and India.

"There are 25 million registered players of Ragnarok globally, easily making it one of the most popular MMORPGs in the world," claims Mallik. And if you thought the last three letters of that abbreviation would toss up another label from HMV, let's just cast the spell - Massively Multi-Player Online Role-Playing Game, or community-focused interactive games that have taken the world of online gaming by storm.

Ragnarok came into being in 2004 and with the new 'heritage patch' rubbed in to the game last October, let's say, Mallik found new keys to the wedlock.

Typically, in this fully pay-n-play MMORPG, Ragnarokers shell out Rs 25 per day, Rs 100 a week, Rs 300 a month or Rs 750 for six months. Though Mallik remains tightlipped about his Indian ops, going by average log-in time, our guesswork is that Ragnarok has 20,000-25,000 registered players in India. And with a CAGR of 77.8 per cent (in MMORPG, as per Nasscom estimates), we know what the soothsayer is trying to level up to.

To gauge the popularity of the game, we caught up with a Mumbai-based virtual couple - Apurva Sen, 23, and Sanjana Jain, 24. They met on Indian Ragnarok, or Inro, as it's called, about seven months ago, and virtually walked down the altar when the company enabled them to do so in October with the heritage patch.

Both have paid Rs 750 for their six-monthly virtual fix, wherein Apurva's virtual character PonySlayStation is experiencing his third month of marital bliss with Sanjana's Sheeya.

"Ragnarok's like a second life for me, an addiction that makes me feel good as I hang out with my kind of guys and have fun," blurts out Apurva. He's quick to add: "I know a few people who've married in real life after taking online vows in Ragnarok, but my relationship is purely friendship-based."

He plays five characters in the game, and is completely swayed by Inro's community-building activities and action features like the Player Versus Player section, where characters get hacked mercilessly.

Self-proclaimed chatterbox Sanjana, too, claims to be "hooked". Both contend that the in-game multiple chat windows are a steal. Says Apurva: "My friends also play along with me and they are spread across the country. All we do is to meet in the game and its high levels of interactivity only enhance the experience."

The game can even be played over low-bandwidth or low-speed Internet connection. But Ragnarok is the first Indian community building game with a marital twist.

Ragnarok is a term widely used in Mike Mignola's Hellboy comics, and actually hails from Norse myth - it can either mean 'the day of reckoning' or 'the end of the world', depending on the way you look at it.

Game managers are always on the prowl. So think twice before flirt-chatting up female characters. There are specific windows the game throws up where you can attack and kill each other, only to be reborn with lesser power.

Windows also allow you to attack other teams or guilds, as they are called in the game. These guilds hold on to castles at different parts of the in-game map, and every Wednesday and Saturday, between 1800-2000 hours, these castles can be breached if you attack, in what is called the War of Emperium.

In all, there are 99 levels in the game and more are being added, keeping in mind its unrivalled popularity. At Level 45, you have the option to get hitched, and at 70, you can adopt a child.

Cut to the more politically correct real world as we hurtle down the DND Flyway in Delhi to reach the Reliance Webworld in Noida. At its basement, dorks and geeks aged 14-26 years zip, zap, zoom, crash and kaboom across cavernous screens.

Aatish, 17, a Ragnaroker with spiked hair and faded jeans, is sucked into his in-game paradise at 11 in the morning on a chilly Wednesday. Ragnarok loyalists seem to play like maniacs, often bunking school and college. For moms and pops, Ragnarok certainly sounds like doomsday.

In Hellboy, Project Ragna Rok was a plan of a secret team of Nazi scientists and occultists, headed by Rasputin, aiming at creating a doomsday weapon that could end World War II and bring about a victory for Hitler. Drat! We knew it all along. Kids have finally found it. They got a more democratic way of expressing themselves, virtually!


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