Compelling But Not Entertaining

The flip side of intentional gaming is that many things are compelling but not entertaining. You feel driven to complete the level, get the achievement, do the thing. You do not actually like the game (anymore?), but it appeals to your brain chemistry in a way that keeps you going, keeps you coming back.

That was my experience with social media games. The gameplay is usually crap, although you can create your own interesting time management game out of juggling a half-dozen of them. During college, my wife did not really enjoy Civilization II but played many late nights of it because its “just… one… more… turn” gameplay is that compelling. You can get remarkably engrossed and engaged without stopping to think, “But do I really like this?”

I approach this from an Achiever point of view, because treadmills and achievements are often how games keeps people hooked, but it applies to all approaches. In my Explorer guise, I have frequently given games, books, and shows another few hours to “get good” even after recognizing I was not enjoying myself. There is always a steady stream of Killer content to keep you fighting for the top of the hill even after you stopped caring about that hill, and few things activate your brain’s instinctual programming like the illusion of mortal danger mixed with status competitions. Of course, since we come from a species of social primates, huge swaths of society are effectively traps for Socializers, engaging our socializing brain modules while providing no real content, emotional satisfaction, or other recompense.

Our brains evolved in a physical environment. In a digital environment, we are still executing all the adaptations that got us here, even if they no longer provide value or even make much sense.

: Zubon

2 thoughts on “Compelling But Not Entertaining”

  1. Define “real content” though, or for that matter, “emotional satisfaction”. Can you accurately and reliably differentiate a notional feeling of “emotional satisfaction” from the sensation you experience when undergoing “compelling” gameplay that makes you feel “remarkably engrossed and engaged”? In that context is the question “do I really like this?” semantically valid? Is there a discernible difference between “remarkably engrossed and engaged” and “emotionally satisfied” or are they nuanced versions of approximately the same state of being?

    Equally, allowing they are different states, is this dissonance proper only to the physical/virtual divide? If I spend six hours sorting my comics alphabetically, reaching a state of almost zen-like calm and relaxation, only to look back on that six hours the following day as time wasted since I no longer read comics and therefore no longer have any need to be able to find any given issue, those could fairly be described as actions in the physical world that were both remarkably engrossing and engaging and yet still emotionally unsatisfying. (Example drawn from actual personal experience by the way).

    I suspect that, rather like the loot issue of a few days back (on which I posted a reply that the internet appears to have eaten) that there’s an element of reductio ad absurdum in this approach. If you look at anything too closely it ceases to have meaning and if we break things down into what is needful (taking here “real content” and “emotional satisfaction” to stand for “needs”) then everything other than food, water, air and the opportunity to reproduce fails the test. In the end, if you’re enjoying something you’re enjoying it. Live in the moment and never look back. A life lesson from Buddhist monks and sociopaths the world over.

  2. For me, almost any game contains ‘not that fun’ bits, but if the game is good overall I accept them as “working towards the good stuff”, which in turn makes the good stuff that much better. Different games are different levels of this, with EVE likely being the most extreme (90% not fun, 10% best-fun-ever).

    I’ve also noticed that if I play a game that is 90% fun stuff (GTA V most recently), the pull the game has is rather short-lived. Fun overload maybe?

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