Engagement, to me, isn’t just number of hours spent in a game but the attitude and feelings toward that game. I can spend a lot of time in games that I’m not hugely excited about that moment, after all. There’ve been times that I haven’t had a lot of space to game but I’ve been really revved up about a particular title.
So I was thinking about four tiers of gaming engagement that I’ve seen in myself and others — and how it relates to how we are sucked into the gravity well of a game and drift from it. These are all for titles you can play at present, not attitudes toward games-to-come.
At the highest tier is when you’re absolutely excited about a particular MMO or game. It’s just clicking with you on every level. When you’re not playing it, you may be thinking about it or looking forward to getting some more time with it again. It’s at this level that you can envision yourself with the game for a long, long time. Often the words “addicted” or “hooked” come into play.
This may be one of the more ephemeral tiers, too. While we may find games that are exciting for a short duration, sustaining that is a rare trick indeed. This tier is most common in brand-new games to us, as the newness factors into the sense of discovery, but it can also happen when you come back to a game after a long break, have your perspective refreshed, or experience something new (patch, class, expansion) within the title. Sometimes you simply find yourself ascending to this tier for no discernable reason.
Chasing this feeling is why I often find myself jumping around to different MMOs, because at this tier I have the most fun, period.
You may not be totally on fire for a game, but you know what? You’re having a pretty good time, all around. You play regularly, you’re feel very comfortable, you have social connections, and you’re stuck on the game to a degree. It might well be a title that’s passed the test of examination and time to be a mainstay in your rotation. If you need to take a break, it’s no big deal, because you’re secure enough in your relationship with this game that you know you’ll be coming back before long.
A whole lot of MMOs that I’ve played over the years sit in this tier for me. They’re no longer a feast, but they’re a filling meal. When I’m content with a title, I’m in a groove with it and usually play them for lengthy stretches.
In this tier are all the games that you don’t necessarily mind playing — when you play them. There’s nothing that compels you to log in, nothing that has you buzzing with anticipation for your next session, and nothing that’s really “sticking” you to the game’s features, social scene, or progression. But you know what? It’s still a decent enough time when you do play it. You don’t regret spending an evening in its confines… you just wish that it would jive with you better, somehow.
There are plenty of games that hit this tier for me, and those are the ones I’ll play for a day, two days, a week… but rarely longer than that. I bounce right off of them with no hard feelings involved. Maybe the next time I come back, it’ll place higher.
Now when I used this word “repulsed,” I don’t mean that the game is abhorrent and gross. I simply mean that it’s a title you come to and it pushes you away. It’s not the right time for you to be playing it, because you’re burned out on it, you don’t see anything that’s really that engaging, or it doesn’t click with your playstyle. It is the title that you know, almost instantly, that it’s not for you. Not now, maybe not ever. It’s shoving you away, and you have no problems going elsewhere.
For me, games at this tier are the easiest to make a judgment call to leave in the dust and look elsewhere. If only all gaming decisions could be so clear-cut.