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Tuesday
Aug252009

MMO Madness

Time and time again I have demonstrated to myself quite thoroughly that I have neither the patience nor the dedication to stick with an MMO for longer than a period of about one month.

My problem is not so much figuring out why I quit MMOs. That is simple enough.

It is because once the shiny coat of newness has worn off I find them repetitive and boring. Doing the same quests and killing the same enemies over and over again, grinding and fetching into eternity all for virtual shiny things is something that I can put of with only for so long, it would seem.

What I’m finding harder and harder to quantify, however, is why I keep coming back.

Why, after repeated attempts at staying with MMOs, after putting them down again and again, and with my trials now spanning two separate games, do I keep wanting so badly to be interested in this stagnant, repetitive genre that I keep telling myself I should have no interest in?

What is it about these games that keeps drawing me back despite all rationality pointing me firmly in the other direction?

I think it’s a combination of things, but the simplest way to put it is that MMOs are an addiction. They are the modern variant on the old arcade machine. They are built to keep you playing for as long as possible and to suck your virtual quarters into the endless black hole that is the publisher’s wallet.

And they’re good at that.

That’s why they’re so hard to put down. Just like the arcade machines of yore, they do a great job of keeping you hooked, only this time it’s not “one more quarter, Mommy, please!” it’s “one more month, Mr. Visa, please!”.

They’re an addiction.

I can understand why people spend half their lives playing these games. I can understand why people get obsessed with them. I can understand why people ruin relationships over them.

Luckily I get bored really easily, which is probably the only thing saving me from that exact same fate.

I never thought being easily bored would work in my favor, but there you have it.

I do think MMOs have their high points. Most notably, they offer a sense of scale and magnitude that no other more traditional single player game can match. The sheer scope and size of these games is only possible when you have a continuous stream of subscriptions pouring in to finance the operation.

Mind you, most of this massive space is repetitive wasteland of some sort or another filled with laughable amounts of the same creatures over and over again, but even so there is an appeal to this setup for me. The size of these worlds makes them feel more real, more epic, and more fun when you finally reach a high enough level to move on and see what wonders await you in a new area.

I wish exploration were featured more prominently as a part of the quests these worlds provide. Instead, the old mantra of necessary addiction keeps coming back to gum up the game design gears.

They can’t let you focus on exploring because they need to keep you in one place as long as they possibly can. If they let you explore, you would see all there is to see far too quickly. You might get bored of seeing the sights and you would stop paying them money.

Therefore the focus is not on this aspect, but on killing as much crap as possible and on the “experience” it grants you and the shiny things you find along the way which, notably, are good primarily for acquiring more “experience”.

This need to keep you stuck in one place for as long as they can manage is one of my eternal frustrations with the genre. It’s why I’ve put these stupid games down so many times. Sooner or later, this tricky balance between trickling out progress to the player to distract them from the fact that the developers are tying their shoelaces together to make progress more difficult becomes tilted; it begins to lean too far to the side of repetition and backfires for a less patient player such as myself, causing me to get bored and leave.

But I keep getting drawn back in.

I see trailers and teases of new areas being added and new races to play and new quests to go on. I see new high level stuff that is tantalizing and more exciting than what I ever got to play.

What if I was able to reach this stuff? Wouldn’t the game be more fun? Wouldn’t the game be worth sticking with then? Shouldn’t I just give it one more try to see if I can finally reach that high level zenith and see what all the fuss is about?

After reluctantly picking one of the things back up, I quickly remember that I have to slog through the low level stuff first and since that takes seemingly hundreds of hours of doing the same thing over and over again, the likelihood of me reaching that level is low. The shiny cool stuff is shimmering off in the distance like a mirage of a vending machine in a desert while I’m stuck in a corner of Nowheresville killing spiders for hours, nary a drop of tasty soda refreshment in sight.

It doesn’t stop me from being reeled back in and giving it another go, though.

Perhaps the most reasonable theory to explain the mysterious hook these games have on me is their easily accessible nature. The gameplay is far from deep, but it is easy to pick up and perfectly fun, in a mindless sort of way. Combine this with the lure of virtual shiny things, the occasional adventure with a friend, and cool places to explore, and maybe the draw isn’t so hard to figure out after all.

MMOs are the gaming equivalent of a cheesy television cop drama. They’re mindless entertainment at best and they don’t even try to push the boundaries of the medium, but sometimes you don’t need to push the boundaries. Cheesy cop dramas have their place and I think MMOs can too, even for someone like myself.

As long as they don’t take over and become all that you do.

Maybe that’s the key to retaining my interest in these games. Maybe the focus shouldn’t be on slogging through the crap just to get to the end. Maybe my outlook is all wrong.

Perhaps I should instead embrace the mindless fun of killing things and leveling up and worry less about the end game. I’ll get there when I get there and hopefully it’ll be worth the wait when I do.

In the meantime, I need to learn to enjoy the ride more. MMOs are far from perfect, but even amongst the tedium there is fun to be had, and maybe in my impatient race to the end I’ve lost sight of this.

Or maybe all MMOs are tedious grind-a-thons with nothing new to offer and little lasting appeal except to obsessed weirdos.

I’ll let you know in a month.

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Reader Comments (2)

I think one thing you leave out is the social aspect. This is highly situational of course, but if you get in a guild full of active people that are fun to be around, so to speak, and talk to you will be much more inclined to put up with the repetitive nature of some of the quests.

For myself, I tend to find that the minute I get bored with an mmo is roughly the same minute when I find that the people I enjoyed talking to haven't been logging on so much, or logging on at the same times I have.

My own personal opinion is that it's easy to become addicted to an mmo for many people because an mmo is a much easier space to feel valued than RL. I could go into more about this, but I think you get the gist =)

August 25, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterWendi

I definitely get the gist and I completely agree with you on all of your points. There's a reason I leave it out, however, and that's because traditionally I haven't had much success with MMOs on this level. I've found it hard to integrate with a group or guild for any length of time (I especially had this problem in WoW) and thus I think I'm largely missing one of the greatest aspects of these games.

I think this is partially due to the fact that, again, I was late to the game and have yet to make it to the higher levels, which is when I think that stuff might kick in more. You're more useful to more people the higher level you are. Maybe that's not entirely true. I don't really know.

Anyway, I need to find a way to improve my virtual social life I guess. :) I think that would help my enjoyment of MMOs tremendously. Lord of the Rings Online is working out a little better for me in this respect (thanks almost exclusively to my former roommate playing it), but not by leaps and bounds.

August 25, 2009 | Registered CommenterBrendan T. Smith

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