Rarefied to Extinction

Gordon wonders to what extent MMOs are fun versus habit-forming. We have addressed this before, but I find it always a healthy question. For anything you do often, pause and ask yourself how much you are really enjoying it. A favorite book applies that to spending your money: was that worth it?

When I was experimenting with social media games, I found them immediately absorbing. It was an entirely new area to Explore, and it obviously appeals to the Achiever without all that messy “gameplay” getting in the way of watching bars fill up. Quite a few of them are very good at that structure encouraging habitual play. So one day my wife asks, “Are you enjoying that?” Huh. Good point. “That’s all it took?”

The core gameplay of many things is, quite frankly, poor. We cover it with distraction and decoration, but when anything reduces a game to its purest mechanics, you laugh for a bit then ponder how much an entire genre sucks. Progress Quest and Cow Clicker are important thought experiments. It is very easy to be busy with things to do, a digitally refined archetype of the unexamined life. You have your daily quests to do, some things to gather now that the timer is up, maybe a bit of grinding or a few scheduled and structured activities, maybe repeat that on a few alts, and oh goodness it’s past bedtime. Busy busy busy.

There are many games that get the crap out of the way and let you play. They remove the inconveniences and streamline everything. Some of those are some of the best gaming experiences around, minute-for-minute unbeatable. Some of them are just horrible, as you realize just how many fig leaves the genre needs to be presentable. And either way, its purity limits its ability to be habit-forming, so you find yourself back amidst the distractions, “getting your dollar’s worth” from a game where the content is dragged out. And that is where the dollars are, so that is where the industry trends.

: Zubon

10 thoughts on “Rarefied to Extinction”

  1. Are you enjoying that?

    That exact question drove me from MMO gaming back to my personal renaissance of single-player gaming. I found I love to plan MOO gaming and my game of choice was built for it – Eve .. face it, I didn’t play Eve much but was terrible busy with plans, market analysis, etc. Then the clarifying question ..

    So I’m back playing Thief, which despite some horrific graphics, is an absolute blast .. no work, just play :-D

  2. As I posted on Gordon’s thread, I have a problem with this concept of doing things to have fun. That’s not much of a motivator for me. Ditto “enjoyment”.

    I think you hit the nail on the head with your paragraph about having things to do. I’d much rather be busy than have fun. Being busy gives a sense of deep and lasting satisfaction that having fun just can’t match.

    MMOs are superb at keeping me busy while requiring very little physical effort from me. In theory I would prefer to be cleaning, cooking, doing repairs and gardening than playing computer games, but those all have the major drawback of being physically arduous. MMOs allow me to have the very same sense of time well-spent without feeling dog-tired and filthy dirty at the end of it.

      1. Yeah, but I’d have to actually join Facebook for that.

        Not going to happen :)

  3. Please share some of titles of those minute for minute unbeatable gaming experiences. My title selection as of late has come up short.

    1. Portal is the first that comes to mind. Torchlight is the more rarefied example of its type, although it could be refined a little further. On the MMO front, I found City of Heroes to have the highest quality of living quotient in the way it makes things convenient, down to giving you a cell phone for your quest contacts.

      Flash games often show the rarefied mechanics. Frantic is a nice, clean bullet hell game. Desktop Tower Defense (in its earlier incarnations) had an unembellished take on its genre.

  4. Well said.

    A prime motivation is just to have something to do. That’s kind of how I feel about MMOs as a whole right now. My friend is currently playing FF14 pretty hardcore, and from what he tells me about it, it’s just a massive hoop-jumping festival.

    Every detail of the game seems to be designed to make you jump through every other hoop in order to reach further hoops that all seem to be inter-dependant on each other. In short, it constantly makes you dissatisfied with your current situation, and drives you to achieve thousands of little micro-goals that slow your progress down.

    Not the game for me. And he’ll even admit that it’s not so much for fun, but more to fill empty time with something… anything.

    But what’s the alternative? Will anyone continue to pay month to month if it’s not habit forming? I really hope so.

  5. Just to point it out, there are also cases where streamlining the everliving crap out of something not only doesn’t improve it anymore, but also makes it worse.

    Example from current events: Civilization V.

    You gotta be careful as you start stripping all those nasty layers of complication. Gotta be careful to stop before you start hitting the underlying layers of complexity, because if you take those away, you take the depth away too.

    1. Make a post about that if you can, the Civ V thing. I feel it has been highly steamlined, but I actually thing that ADDS to the games depth. Less chasing of tiny details, more grand strategy planning.

      (Unless you are just referring to the fact that the AI kinda sucks at the new combat? Or that the game shipped without the level of polish needed?)

  6. I knew I was done with LOTRO when I announced that I’d reached level 22 on my latest character, my husband asked if I had had any fun getting there, and I realized I hadn’t even been attempting to have any.

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