The humble autorun. A simple yet effective tool in any MMO's kit, allowing players to automatically walk, run or fly forward without having to hold down any keys. While it's occasionally crept into other games, autorun by and large remains within the MMO bubble.
Having played Final Fantasy 14 almost daily for the last 12 months, autorun has become an integral part of how I navigate across maps. It's a wonderful respite, an opportunity to partake in small side tasks: hydrating, reading messages, eating food—hell, I could even write this article while travelling from A to B (I'm not, promise). The more time passed, the more I came to utterly rely on this feature without ever really noticing how dependent I'd become. It was only once I emerged from the MMO cave to play a different goddamn game for once that it hit home: holy crap, I cannot play games without autorun anymore.
Twice in the last month it's become clear how much autorun has ruined other games for me. The first was when I jumped into the Overwatch 2 beta. I favour heroes like Zenyatta, who are fun as hell but have awful mobility. With a decent stretch of land between spawn and the fight, it's the perfect hands-off moment to have a quick swig of water or reply to that Discord DM I forgot about three hours ago. Except if I do either of those things, I stop moving. I am held hostage by my W key and mouse, forced to manoeuvre my floating robot to the point with my own two hands. Since when did videogames become so darn interactive?
The second time (perhaps the moment I realised I desperately need to touch grass) was when I jumped into a Minecraft server with my pals. I have the building prowess of a soggy bagel, much preferring to palm off the creative work onto someone else and zone out with some strip mining. It soothes my brain smacking ore veins, and there's a lovely serotonin boost every time those experience orbs make the cute twinkly sound. It also requires a lot of walking. Heading down to the depths of the mine and sprinting down my endlessly carved-out corridors is a pain in the ass. It's something I would usually automate so I could free up my hands for other things. Though once again, I realised my favourite feature was sorely missing.
Is this the most non-problem problem ever experienced by a functioning adult, let alone a gamer? Perhaps, yes. Have I become lazy, or am I lamenting a missed opportunity to maximise my precious free time? Honestly, probably both. Yes it's easy for me to hold the W key, but I really love having those brief moments of freedom to do other quick tasks in between. I'm not alone, either. In both incidents I was playing with my fellow MMO pals who shared my lack of autorun pain. It's one of those features you don't realise you miss until you're 3,000 hours deep and venture off to another non-MMO game for a while.
"But Mollie," you type, "why can't you just do these things with your right hand and still hold the W key?" I'm clumsy! Anything within mouse range will quickly fall victim to my reckless forearm movement. I can't help the way I am.
Autorun isn't the type of feature that would work well in every game, but there are many that could benefit from having such a thing. Nothing will beat exploring sweeping deserts, frosty biomes and grand architecture with your own decisive movement inputs, that's for sure. But when it's the 20th, 30th or even 100th time you're traversing these environments, it's nice to have the option to kick back and let the game do it for you.
Of course I'm not saying I'll never play a game without autorun again. But it's shocking how much I take it for granted now I've spent so much time with access to it. Perhaps as I gravitate away from MMOs, my reliance on autorun will fade. For now, I'll just grumble when games I like lack my favourite comfort feature.