I am reading Douglas Hofstadter, and I am to his chapter “The Location of Meaning.” He argues that messages have three levels of meaning: frame, outer, and inner. The frame meaning is “this is a message”: you must recognize that there is something to decode here. The outer meaning is how to decode the message, to get from marks on a page to what the writer was trying to express. The inner meaning is what the writer was trying to express. To read a message in Japanese, you must (1) realize that it is writing, not a bunch of little pictures; (2) realize that it is Japanese (and be able to translate it); and (3) read it.
There are many puzzles yet to be solved because the fact that they are puzzles is not explicit. Games Magazine hides a puzzle in each issue, perhaps in the page layout or the structure of another puzzle. At least they tell you that there is a game afoot, if only you can find it. The titular Da Vinci Code is hidden in plain sight because nothing says, “This is a code!”
So I wonder about something like notpron. Finding the outer meaning is the point. The frame message is nested: the explicit frame is that each page is a puzzle to be solved, and then you must find the part of the page that is a puzzle. Then you have some little bit of puzzle, and you must figure out how to solve it. The inner meaning is just the way to the next puzzle.
You are explicitly forbidden to Google for spoilers, which seems like the obvious way to solve it. It defeats the whole point of notpron, but then part of the point is to learn to use Google. The most efficient way to get the inner meaning removes all meaning. You might as well skip to the last page, or just not do it at all. (Or to heck with that, you will notpron as you wish?) Most puzzle games feel this way, that using efficient outside techniques takes away the point of it all. It would be like declaring victory because you reached across the chessboard to knock over your opponent’s king.
In any game, cheating does that. Even knowing that there are cheat codes can make games less fun for me, because I feel like a sap working for x, y, and z when they are available in a few keystrokes.
It pierces the veil. Civilization is not fun because you have an empire or control the world; it is fun because you build an empire or conquer the world. The goal is to win, but hitting the “I win” button makes it rather hollow. The goal is to win, but the point is to play.
How far are you willing to take that? Do you refuse twinking, easy xp, and other ways of skipping parts of your MMO? Is it more fun to be powerful or to become powerful? Does it matter if this is your first character, or first character of that class?
I feel free to skip parts of games that are not fun. Bugs and lousy design are everywhere, and some of them hide fun things just behind them. If your “puzzle” comes down to learning a sequence through trial and error, to heck with that, we’ll see if the next puzzle is better. Is this one of those adventure games that kills you for entering the monster’s chamber without a flowerpot on your head? Just look that randomness up.
Would you feel bad about violating The Vision of your MMO by experiencing its content in an unintended fashion? You pass equipment or gold to your lower level characters, or buy it from farmers. You have friends help you level, and is that okay just because you don’t really like level x or really want power y? If you have a trick that gets you through an instance half an hour faster, is that a pro’s skill or a cheater’s exploit? What out-of-game information collection can you do before you are cheating yourself?
Note to developers: RMT is probably a problem with your game rather than the farmers. If people are paying not to play your game, they may soon not be paying to play your game.