I have a couple of recent posts on game elements that seem unnecessary. But I wonder sometimes. To what extent can intentionally impeding gameplay improve the overall experience? Or do we really demand perpetual orgasm?
Consider the case of forced grouping. Solo MMO PvE is convenient, filled with steady progression, and not terribly intellectually stimulating. By definition, the lowest common denominator works for pretty much everyone, but it provides few truly great experiences. The inconvenience and downtime of forced grouping trades off with a better potential experience, and we perhaps find stronger social bonds where grouping is forced. You will get more out of an MMO if you socially interact, but it is easy to stay safe and solo. Do we get similar benefits from going back to town more often? It gives us a designated place for social interaction and a reason to be there. I do not know how much that is in use or how the effect shrinks as you move away from capital cities to smaller quest hubs.
Downtime itself presumably affects our perception of the experience. It would be nice if we could value a high emotional plateau properly, but human psychology does not seem to work that way. Huge increases in the standard of living lead to only moderate increases in happiness, because we develop a new standard. Humans could very well prefer (on a scale of 1 to 10) the experience sequence 5 5 10 5 10 5 1 5 10 10 5 10 to 10 10 10 10 10 10 10 10 10 10 10 10. I cannot see anything in our evolutionary environment that would have selected for properly enjoying a steady stream of perfect experiences; how often would that have happened in the ancestral wilderness?
Assume for argument that our species is economically rational enough to value the string of 10s at least as much as the mixed series, although perhaps not as much as all those 10s might imply. The string of 10s is inefficient. It is hard to make a 10, and you are not going to get it right every time even if you are really good. If you can get 90% of the value with 4 or 5 10s in a mixed series, you can get two great series for the cost of one perfect series (plus your recycled failures, half-assed attempts, and projects from interns), nearly doubling the perceived value of your content by mixing in lower quality content to spread it out. That worries me about our species. If you said I could improve my food by adding pebbles, because the lows spread and help us appreciate the highs, I would smack you.
But you can plausibly say that rich or spicy food can dull the palate through superstimulus. Quiet moments are often underappreciated, and they are when we can appreciate things we have experienced. But there are better and worse ways to have downtime, and it always chafes to be forced into it rather than finding your own level.