Why MMOs kicking your butt isn’t always bad


When a whiny carebear needs some tough love

I’m sure that I come off as a whiny carebear at times here on Bio Break (“Your words, Syp, not mine!”), especially when it comes to combat situations. I hate the feeling of being roadblocked in MMOs when I can’t progress due to an encounter or particular mob being far too difficult — and not having any other workaround. I dislike mobs that are overly annoying (stop running away! Fight like a man… er, kobold!). I don’t want to be in a battle that lasts for more than 45 seconds. I’m apparently a hard person to please.

But today I’m going to step out of my comfort zone to admit that, yeah, it isn’t always bad when an MMO kicks my butt. In fact, sometimes it’s a very good thing, even if I resent it at the time.

If I can talk about my faith for a second, my worldview is such that I believe that life is hard. Sometimes very much so. And that instead of creating easy-peasy paths for us to travel down in comfort (I’m not a prosperity gospel kind of pastor, let’s just say), God strengthens us to deal with the challenges of life by trials and other at-the-time painful growth. Life doesn’t always get easier, we do suffer, but with His help we become better and more capable of dealing with it properly.

Because I’m used to this in real life, perhaps that’s why I resent it when I get challenged in MMOs. Part of me whines that I just want a relaxing, comfortable gaming experience for my unwinding time. Games are an escape from real life in a way, so why bring real life into it?

As much as I might resent how life has thrown me through the wringer and set challenge upon challenge upon me, I have to admit that today, I am a better person for it. I couldn’t have been the dad I am today 15 years ago, for example — I was far more self-centered, undisciplined, and inexperienced. So might MMOs be like that too?

An immovable force in LOTRO

Let me share a recent story. So I was finishing up Volume III of the epic in LOTRO the other night at level 91, and this particular mission sent me into an underground area of Isengard to kill six mobs. No problem, right? I haven’t really had any difficulty killing things on my LM, that’s for sure. But here it was different: The level 95 signature mobs had a host of tough, hard-hitting buffs that made them difficult to down and extremely dangerous to my level 91 person when they burned through my pet and started slapping me around. I started dying left and right, first perplexed and then angry at what was happening. I just wanted to finish this dumb “kill 6 orcs” quest! Why must it be so haaaaaaard?

However grudgingly, the game got me to respond by shifting my tactics. I tried different pets. I paid attention to the fight and figured out that staying out of melee range — even if the mob was only attacking my pet — was preferable, since the mob had AOE melee attacks. This was better, but not good enough to get the job done.

That’s when I cracked open my toolbox and got to work. I want to clarify how I feel about challenging encounters in MMOs: I only really start throwing a tantrum when there is no way past them with what I have on me. But if I can progress if I try different tactics and skills, then the encounter becomes a sort of “combat puzzle” to be solved — and my toolbox is my array of skills.

Like probably most players, I get into a fixed rotation for my battle and more or less ignore all of the rest of my skills. In some games where you only have a few skills, that’s no problem, but for others, like LOTRO, you might have dozens of possible skills waiting in the wings. If the game stops you hard with your routine rotation and makes you rethink how you fight, it can be a revelation to look at these ignored skills. I’ve had this happen many times in The Secret World, but I can’t recall LOTRO doing it to me before (in this case, part of the difficulty is the level disparity).

The mob had tons of strong buffs? I realized I was a Lore-master — and one of my specialties is debuffing. It’s not something I usually do, because fights with a pet and some burning embers are usually over fast enough not to need them. In this case, I went through my list of skills and pulled out a half-dozen debuff abilities, then gave them their own special section on the toolbar. In my searches, I also found an overlooked healing skill that threw a pretty nice heal-over-time spell on me and my pet which I didn’t even know existed. That discovery alone was worth the frustration that this quest caused.

With my revised strategy and toolbar, I started laying into these mobs. I hit them hard, throwing debuff after debuff and then attacking fast from range. This new approach worked, and my pet wasn’t even 1/4th of the way depleted before the mob went down. Victory! I went from frustration to being flushed with pride at overcoming an obstacle. And I walked out of that area with a better understanding of my class, a new healing skill, and a revised perspective. It was worthwhile.

So yeah, I might complain from time to time. It’s a blog, it’s my outlet, that’s what happens. But I need to admit that having my butt kicked out of complacency is something that needs to be done from time to time — whether it’s the game doing it or me doing it to myself.

7 thoughts on “Why MMOs kicking your butt isn’t always bad

  1. Asmiroth January 25, 2017 / 10:15 am

    There’s an older study on trees that grew in a biodome and the effects of stress. Each of those trees fell and died at a very young age, because there was no stress (wind mostly), as compared to outside. Some stress is good, it helps us grow. I don’t mean tornadoes. And I share the minsdet that life doesn’t get any easier, we just get stronger.

    I like a challenging game, but only in respect that the challenge is surmountable. I want to learn and grow and apply it again. Your LOTRO example is a good one. You’ve mentioned it in quite a few of your TSW posts as well. Growth is good, even in fantasy land.

  2. Syp January 25, 2017 / 11:11 am

    “Surmountable,” yes.

  3. bhagpuss January 25, 2017 / 1:13 pm

    Not sure about this. I’m particularly unsure whether these comparisons are meaningful. A video game is entertainment not a life lesson, in my view at least. If you want to challenge yourself and learn there I would contend there are about a gazillion more impactful and meaningful ways to set about it than by playing a video game.

    I also feel the sense of satisfaction that many people, myself included, feel after overcoming obstacles such as you describe is merely the same sense of satisfaction I would have felt a lot sooner had the activity been much easier. I get that feeling pretty much non-stop in MMOs; I get it running through hugely outleveled quests while reading each step from a wiki, for example. It’s one of the reasons I play these games so much in the first place – immediate access to an automatic, guaranteed “feel good” button.

    Yes, it’s true that after a long period of frustration a final breakthrough can feel particularly strongly satisfying, but you need to offset the intensity of that feeling against the number of lesser, yet still significant, similar feelings you could have been experiencing doing more, easier activities during the time you were frustrated and experiencing no satisfying (or enjoyable) experiences at all.

    I’m not saying these experiences don’t happen or aren’t valid but I am saying that, for me at least, it’s not a clever trade-off compared with similar but easier ones. Then again, what one person finds “easy” someone else finds “frustrating” or “difficult” and vice versa so it’s not always clear even what falls on which side of the line.

  4. Tyler F.M. Edwards January 25, 2017 / 2:22 pm

    I very much enjoy challenging myself like this in games, at least in situations where the challenge is fair and not just the result of cheap or broken mechanics. It’s one of the things I love about TSW: That game often throws brutal challenges your way, but it also always gives you the tools you need to overcome them. You just need to be clever and skilled enough to use them.

    I remember back in pre-Cata WoW I spent a couple days just soloing the elite giants in Azshara. There wasn’t any particularly good reason to do so. The loot and XP they offered was nothing special. It was just for the sheer joy of challenging myself.

    This is also why I’ve spent so much time in StarCraft II’s campaign, pushing the highest difficulties and earning achievements. That’s probably the purest example of this kind of gameplay there is. You can’t grind your way past anything. You can’t outlevel the missions. You can’t get lucky with RNG. You can’t bring in more players to help you. It’s just you and your wits against the worst the computer can throw at you.

    I do somewhat agree with Bhagpuss that I don’t see any comparison between gaming challenges and real life challenges, but still, that doesn’t mean virtual challenges can’t be fun.

  5. Sylow January 26, 2017 / 5:27 am

    A very excellent posting, it’s very much how i also see my gaming. Sure i don’t want impossible odds, but i also don’t want to be bored. (That’s why i for example at the moment in Vermintide still avoid nightmare difficulty, i am not “there yet” in terms of player ability, but i will get there in some time. )

    If a game is on training wheels from start to end, it’s just boring. If there’s no challenge, then why play? In terms of the story being told, even TSW can’t match the combination of quantity plus quality of a good movie, not to even speak about books. And as TSW is by far the best MMO in this aspect, there’s absolutly no point for other MMOs.

    Mind you, i also see the aspect of playing with other people. But even there, at least according to my experience, the real bonding happens when you also do stuff together. But as long as everything is so easy that you can do it in your sleep, there’s little reason to do things together with people you don’t know yet. That would just be logistical overhead and trouble for no real benefit.

    But when you want to tackle more challenging content and need a few more people, you have to arrange with them. Crews form out of that, as you’re better off doing new hard stuff with people who you know how they work and how to work with them, than again starting with random strangers. And friendships again form out of that. (Any hey, three and a half years ago my girl was “a fellow dungeon player, in need of help”. Now we live together since over two years. )

    I agree so far, as there could really be more meaningful ways to challenge myself than hard content in video games. But when i include the criteria “and has to also fit into my work schedule and my budget”, most of the other challenges suddenly go out of reach. Gaming is cost efficient, and while it can be a serious waste of time, it can also be timed flexibly.

    Next to that, it also has the big advantage of challenges being there, but also being possible to overcome in reasonable time. This also is a contrast to my job. I mean, nobody forced me to become an engineer and nobody forced me to go for a job in aviation, but thanks to several years long project plans there’s often enough the feeling of a too big mountain and being too small and stupid to climb it. In the end we manage, but interestingly enough the feeling of overcoming a challenge in something as trivial as a computer game is more rewarding. You can still emotionally get the challenge of a computer game, while a years long work project is beyond emotion. (If it wasn’t, the emotions after completing such a project would need therapy. 😀 )

    So i see a lot of positive in challenges in a computer game, and at least for me don’t really see a point of playing “on auto pilot”. If a game is (too) easy, my time is better invested in a book or movie.

    @Tyler F.M. Edwards:
    Yea, TSW is the perfect example.(*) The game likes to present new challenges to the player, but they always can be overcome. One of the most important thing any new player has to understand there is that if a fight is too hard, it’s not a problem of equipment, but of the skill setup. There were very few exceptions before the games difficulty was reworked, there is not one exception left now.

    But i guess i am preaching to the choir here… 🙂

    *: Or for me at least it was. By now i am a bit at “been there, done that” status, but for somebody playing since launch, that’s somehow to be expected. I still return to it for the people, but wouldn’t mind new and hard content. But i can’t complain, any other MMO would be at the same status if i’d spent as much time in it. 🙂

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