Epicurus on the Level Grind

Epicurus teaches us that desire is suffering. The nature of any desire is a sort of pain that we seek to resolve. We are conscious of lacking something, whether that be air, food, or a level-capped character. In filling that need, we receive pleasure. We can also achieve pleasure by contemplating past pleasures, notably being pleased about the desires that are fulfilled.

When you buy a new game/level-treadmill, you are buying both a new desire and a way to fulfill it. Before you started playing, you had no need of a level 60 Shaman. Once you started playing, you felt the need to level. Now you have a level-capped character with perfect raiding gear, and you can contemplate how leet you are. When that contemplation loses its satisfaction, you can always create a new level 1, a new source of desire to level, a new pool to fill.

If you have heard Epicurus’ name, it was probably as a synonym for a hedonistic gourmand. This is a sort of historical irony, since Epicurus taught that the way to achieve happiness was through asceticism. Your desires will multiply faster than your ability to fulfill them, so the only way you can reduce your pain is to reduce your desires. If you desire nothing more than lentil soup, your needs are certainly within your reach. You can easily live a moral life because you have no temptations; you will never be unhappy because you want for nothing.

Epicurus does teach us, though, that every pleasure is genuinely a pleasure. It really does feel good to fulfill a desire, even if you might be better off without that desire, and the more desires you fulfill the more joys of contemplation are available to you from contemplating your various contented spheres. The down side is that you cannot get the pleasure if you do not open yourself to the suffering, because you must have the desire before you fulfill it. I receive no pleasure from my lack of desire for whatever the coolest item in EQ2 is.

I took an unorthodox interpretation of Epicurus, that you should have a benefit-cost analysis of your desires. If you can safely and consistently fulfill a desire, it is good to have it, because you get all the pleasures at minimal risk. Unreasonable desire, then, is the root of suffering, while reasonable desire is a source of continuous fulfillment and pleasure. Ayn Rand meets Buddha.

When you buy a new game, you are buying a new desire. Even if the game is not good, there is always the compulsion to beat it. In the case of MMOs, that usually means hitting the level cap. Conveniently, you can fulfill this need at your own pace for just $15/month.

Which game you pick is arbitrary in this sense. Epicurus had no aesthetics, so you will need to talk to Raph for a theory of fun. Any game will do in terms of presenting a goal to reach and a way to reach it. You just want to avoid games that make it unnecessarily unpleasant; do not lose your other pleasures that you are currently enjoying.

This perhaps explains the felt need to level. You have a gaping pit of desire in front of you. Every time you level, that little bar empties out. You can fill it again! You ding, and you have fulfilled your desire, and life is good. But the bar is empty now – a new desire! Here we go again, gaining pleasure by relieving the new pain until – ding! Your own self-restoring Skinner box. Many games have this down to a fine science: fill that bar to fill the bubble to fill ten bubbles to – ding! – next level, bar, and bubbles. You get a constant stream of your pleasures of fulfilling and fulfillment.

This perhaps explains the felt need to strut. You have reached max level, and you need to harvest your joys of contemplation. You could log off meditate on your Real Ultimate Power, but if you were that sort, you would have just meditated on your full stomach or empty bladder. People in real life will sap your pleasure if you try to tell them how cool your Paladin is. No, the place to contemplate this is in front of the newbies. Go to the low-level area and strut about like a god. Ooh, fulfill your desire for status, honor, and glory!

Of course, Epicurus would tell you that the desire for honor is one of those dangerous ones that is never complete and often confounded. Some guy tells you that he has three level-capped characters, and your armor sucks. Not so cool now, are you? Maybe you should have just bragged in /gu. I guess you need to start over again to get a level-capped character of what is now the coolest class. Or maybe you need to start raiding, a new treadmill of its own.

Raid! Every monster could drop the loot you need to be cooler to fight the next monster to get even better loot to fight the next monster. Another succession of desires to fulfill!

Epicurus might tell you to avoid it altogether. The first rule of holes is, once you are inside, stop digging. Don’t desire to move forward. At most, desire to enjoy what you are doing right now. You can like that, and what you are doing right now is obviously something you can do. Let the levels come, without worry.

No one ever dropped 200g at the auction house because he was content with his current armor.

: Zubon

By the way, The Epicurus Reader is my main source for the philosophy. Not a bad little read.

3 thoughts on “Epicurus on the Level Grind”

  1. Remember folks:

    No matter how many kittens you kill, you’ll always desire to slay more!

    Great post. I find myself in the revolving door of MMOs. I can’t seem to turn down the next greatest thing. What is going to happen when new shinies appear? I’m not quite sure. Playstation 3 anyone?

    I recently moved servers in WOW. I brought along some close friends and we are using the “Level-cap” system. We don’t want any member to get too far ahead, so they cannot pass the current level cap. We actually have a few players (with more time on their hands no doubt) with more than 1 player at the level cap. I did this to attempt to remind us that we are playing for fun and not for the final ding at 60. We’ll eventually get there. What I have noticed is that the new friends that have joined us and are quite a few levels below us are playing their hearts out to catch up to us. At this point, having a level cap only seems to work on those who are at it. What are these players going to do when they hit it? All this time they are leveling and leveling. What happens when they have to hit the breaks?

    I’m trying to figure out a solution to this problem, but I cannot. Eventually the orginal group of gamers will be 60 and some will not be there with us. We started at a new server because we wanted to keep the levels close together… isn’t it now counter productive? I’m not sure what we’ll do when we hit 60. We could start over again and do the level cap thing again, but if we have players that have not hit the original level cap yet, will they want to roll a new char just to be with us?

    More questions then answers really. I’m sorry I moved away from the point of your post. Not sorry enough to ask one more question…

    We currently have more than 5 regular players that have joined us. When we only had 5 core players, grouping and leveling wasn’t a problem. When we start over, how do we all play together when you can only have 5 man groups? If we are low level and raid, we can’t go to instances. We can’t complete quests. We’d only fight harder mobs and farm items. Any suggestions?

    Thanks for letting me ramble. Keep up the great posts Zubon. We Pirates appreciate it!



  2. Great post – I have nothing meaningful to add. Just had to comment…

  3. For me the level grind is all about getting shiny new powers. 12 slots in CoH/V, 2 at 50 (Hero side) and 1 at 40 (cap raised today, have work to do…).

    With the Exemplar/Malefactor system I can easily run my high levels with low level teams. I have one Group Flyer on each side for the pre-travel blues (Note: Do not click Exemp while 300 feet up…). Playing an “acting” level 8 with a full load of HOs is just plain fun.

    For me the shiny new powers are a long-term goal, today’s goal is clearing that tough room, finishing this mission. And sometimes there is just the smug satisfaction of being able to ask “XP or Zerg?”

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