Time for more MMO theory crafting! This time, I wanted to expand upon an idea I read in an Extra Punctuation article by Yahtzee Croshaw of Zero Punctuation fame (excellent videos, by the way, though I'm sure most of you reading this are familiar with his work). He posits the idea of leveling backwards as a new form of game play citing the following advantages: 1. no griefing of newbies as they would start out more powerful than you; 2. you start out with every ability and can decide, through use, which you like the best and would like to keep as you level down; 3. it makes more sense from a narrative sense as placing the hero in the losing position, where each victory takes a bit out of you and makes you seem less likely to succeed the next challenge.
As I read through his article, I started thinking that this could work in a different way than he suggests (a series of Pyrrhic victories that leave you weaker for the strain or force you to sacrifice to succeed). What if your character, who started out at the peak of his/her training in his/her 20's got older with each level? One of the things that always bothered me about the game Fable was that my character continued to get stronger and more agile as he got older. And while that may be the case until your 30's-40's, you certainly start to go down hill by the time you're approaching 60, especially if you've led the type of like a video game protagonist lives. It makes more sense to me to have a character get physically weaker as they age. However, that doesn't mean they can't compensate for it in different ways.
The game I envision has you start out as a brutish 20 something. You are physically strong, but that's about it. As you level up, you gain experience in the real sense of learning how the game works, but also (for the character, anyway) you gain life experience. You could also have sliders for influence in your community, political and economic affluence and technical or magical skill. You can focus on one of these (or maybe several) to compensate for your initially high stats dropping. So if you focused on intellect, you might gain an affinity for the arcane arts and learn powerful spells. If you put your focus into technical understanding, you can create long range weaponry so when your strength fails you, your back from the front lines.
The big difference I can see in everyone starting out as a soldier and working there way up to different classes that are not necessarily stronger but require more skill and preparation is that you could raid or go on a dungeon run right out of the gate. Imagine a game where older guilds were always on the look-out to hire newb mercenaries to use as cannon fodder for there raids? You have a group of 10 more advanced players that stand in the back and deal damage/heal while a line of 15 soldiers (all level 1-5) are hired to keep the monsters away from the experienced players. This would, in a sense, mirror real life in that the lower on the totem pole you are, the closer you get to the front lines and vice versa.
I think this idea certainly has merit and gets new players into the game right away, but seeing the older players and the cool things they can do gives immediate incentive while the older players have incentive to help new players since they need them as meat shields. I'd play that game.