Bargain Bin Posts Week: Playing Against The System

I actually liked this article a lot when I rediscovered it.  Basically, I was taken in with this Cracked post that painted MMO systems in a bad — but pretty true — light, and formulated a strategy as to not be taken in by the “unfun” aspects of MMO addiction.

It’s no secret that, above and beyond other video games, MMOs are specifically designed to get you hooked and addicted to their games.  This article over at Cracked.com is both enlightening and disturbing as to how it happens, and even for those of us who have legitimately good reasons to enjoy MMOs should take a pause after reading this to reevaluate what we’re doing in the game and why.

Addiction aside, I agree with their assessment that the very definition of insanity is doing something you hate over and over again expecting different results (in this case, that it’ll suddenly start being “fun” once more).  We all-too-often get sucked into the systems of these games without realizing just how they’re manipulating us, and there grows the danger of doing things that aren’t fun but deluding yourself that either it is fun (and you’re just not seeing it) or that by doing that task, it’ll somehow lead you to fun things in the future.

I wrote an article a while back on how it becomes more and more difficult for veteran MMO players to enjoy their pastime and new games because they’ve long since started to see through the system and lost the joy in playing.  I guess I want to present a counterpart to that article saying that sometimes it’s necessary for us to at least understand the system how how these games pull us in and keep us playing, so that we can take a stand against the unfun aspects and free ourselves to enjoying these titles once more.

Step One: Realize How These Games Work

The above article to Cracked is as succinct as any to opening up the basic skeleton of how MMOs work and why they’re addictive, and no matter how much “meat” you may wrap around it, it’s still the same thing.

Step Two: Give Yourself Permission To Skip “Chores”

You don’t HAVE to do anything in a game.  I repeat, you don’t HAVE to do anything in a game.  Part of the joy of MMOs is that, by and large, you have the freedom to set your own goals and go about attaining them in your own way.  Sure, the game tries to direct you and nudge you in a direction (and sometimes hem you in), but if the reward of a task isn’t worth the dull effort, or if you feel like your activities are merely a chore, then just drop it.  Do something else.

Step Three: Re-Align Your Gaming Worldview From The Destination To The Journey

Here’s the truth behind MMORPGs: You will never, ever “win” the game.  You may master large chunks of it, you may consider yourself lord and master over the virtual universe, but there’s no end credit screen, no final denouement, no final stopping point except that of your own making.  The “end game” is a misnomer, because it’s not an “end” of any sort, except the cessation of leveling.  So I’d recommend getting out of your head the idea that you have to fervently work toward a great destination that, in reality, does not exist.

While some MMO players claim to love the end game and raiding and everything at the max level, I think if they’re truly honest with themselves, they’ll have to admit that the first time leveling up a characters through new zones and new content was the most fun they had in the game.

Step Four: Introduce Variety To Your Diet

There’s a lot to be said for sticking with one MMO — you can level cap characters, establish yourself in a guild, build relationships, and see quite a bit.  But sooner or later burnout will happen, and there won’t be anything new under the sun — unless you spread your gaming love around some.  Even when I have a main MMO, I try to spend an evening or two a week in a different game entirelly, just to add variety to my diet.

Step Five: Take Breaks

You don’t have to play all the time.  In fact, if you feel compelled to play and simply cannot take a break, then you have a serious problem and need to get help.  For the rest of us, it’s a good test of will and self-control to step back from gaming every so often, and just do something else.  I’ve gotten burned out on MMOs too many times, and now I will gladly put one down for a while — a week, a month, several months — until that feeling goes away and the excitement returns.  I think it’s quite healthy to not focus all of your spare leisure time on just one activity anyway, no matter what that might be.

2 thoughts on “Bargain Bin Posts Week: Playing Against The System

  1. Syl September 28, 2010 / 9:05 am

    “the very definition of insanity is doing something you hate over and over again expecting different results (in this case, that it’ll suddenly start being “fun” once more)” –

    to be honest, that sounds an awful lot like working to me, or what daily work is to a majority of people at least. 😉 so if gaming like that is insane, so is working – only with work it’s actually more depressing, because you cannot even hope for different results there aside of receiving your usual salary at the end of the month.
    doesn’t sound very fulfilling but then work isnt fulfilling to a lot of people, it’s a privilege if you enjoy it for more than the money.

    so maybe gaming like that resembles work? it’s been called that frequently in topics about the monotony of the grind.

  2. Tesh September 29, 2010 / 12:15 pm

    These games bank on teasing players to keep playing just that little more for the next bit of the reward drip feed. Most big games do that to some degree, but I’ve always had less philosophical trouble with “one more turn” in a Civ game than “one more hour” in an MMO, largely because of the subscription model. A real ending to the game would cap the revenue stream.

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