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.

: Zubon

4 thoughts on “Matting”

  1. From an evolutionary point of view, the feeling of pleasure is our body’s way of congratulating us for avoiding a predator or eating nutritious food or contributing to the spread of our genes. The successful animals who became our ancestors were the ones who were determined to hit that button as much as possible, as often as possible.

    The fact that a human can get the same sort of satisfaction from games (an energy-wasting activity from the point of view of your DNA) or from ingesting certain non-food substances is the real anomaly here.

  2. I agree with the gist of what you are saying (5 5 10 vs 10 10 10 etc.), but I have to take issue with your assessment of solo vs grouping; I consider it to be far from the lowest common denominator.

    Intellectually it can be far more stimulating than some group content; multiplayer games are often found to be profoundly less taxing the more players are involved, whether to incentivise grouping or simply because the limitations of creativity & AI are exposed further in mass combat.
    At the high end of the solo problem-solving spectrum you have content like Guild Wars missions, and at the low end of the group problem-solving spectrum you have vanilla 50 player raids where 45+ of the participants are simple DPS/HPS output devices while a few players repeat the other crucial motions by rote.

    Which kind of leads in to the next point: group content is designed just as much (if not more) for the been-there done-that veteran as it is for players experiencing it for the first time.
    When was the last time any of us played a game (outside of beta & first month after launch) where we joined a group with expectations other than: everyone knows what they’re doing, everyone skips the sequences, no lagging behind?
    The very best multiplayer experiences are akin to strolling through the Louvre with like-minded friends, but the base level MMO multiplayer experience is rather more like being propelled through in a throng of tourists – checking items off a list rather than appreciating them.

    There’s also the long shadow of Guild Wars 2 & The Old Republic looming over us; storytelling, un-social (the mild-mannered cousin of anti-social ^_^) MMO gameplay taken to unprecendented heights.
    Yes we’re all excited about the dynamic events (/whatever TOR offers), but it’s fairly secondary to immersive, branching, non-linear, personalized, sky-high production-values storytelling like the genre has never seen.
    Contrasting those anticipation/hype behemoths with Rifts player-driven rift mechanic, and it’s pretty much “looking forward to a night on the town with my mates” vs “omg final Harry Potter/The Hobbit/Star Trek II coming soon!” – one experience is a lot of fun, but the other is art.

    N.B. I still want to see more optional down-time in games though, because playing recent MMOs with non-combat activities stripped back to near-nothing is giving me “Hulk smash!” fatigue; a good hobby activity needs to provide some middle-ground between full-throttle action and turning off.

    1. Solo vs group PvE: Something I’ve enjoyed in both GW and Eve PvE is “finding” friends. I basically play the games solo, but over time I meet people and when they’re on we join up. I enjoy this much more than (original) DDO grouping where I’d need to budget +1/2 hour on my play-time just to form a party.

      That said, one thing that DDO and Eve do “right” and GW does “wrong” is the ability to join a group after a mission starts, either because I’ve bit off more than I can chew or a friend comes online after we’ve started. It’s really annoying to be 10-15 minutes into a 2 hour GW mission and then have a friend turn up.

      On pressure to “rush”: one of my most enjoyable GW experiences was born of this conflict. Me, two friends, two associates, and 3 NPCs set out to vanquish a zone (kill all mobs in hard mode) with a party slightly under-equipped in healing/protection. Two associates insist on doing it their way and party dies and respawns twice. They get fed up and leave about 20% of the way in. The remaining 3 of us with our three NPCs (an under-strength, poorly balanced party – remember that you can’t reconfigure in GW unless you abort and restart) manage to complete the rest of the zone, at our own pace, and without any more deaths.

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