Aug 20, 2011

The Daily Grind

I've run some test, I've looked carefully at the results, and I've got some bad news;

Your MMO of choice is probably a terrible game.

And I want to be clear here – I don't mean that I don't personally enjoy your MMO of choice. I mean that it's simply not a good game in any sense. If you've been on the site for a while, you probably know that I tend to not state my opinions as facts, to be open to the idea that just because I don't like something, that doesn't mean it lacks merit. If you're not new to the site, welcome! Statistically speaking, you're probably about to hate me!

Much of what I'm going to talk about here is based on having played WoW. But I've also played Lord of the Rings: Online. And I've played Everquest 2. And I've played EvE Online, and APB, both of which I find much more interesting (for very different reasons). I guess to be very clear – What I'm talking about here is the slew of same-y fantasy MMORPGs, most of which these days take the majority of their cues from WoW, which is... really, just a more accessible spin on the forumlas established in earlier MMORPGS.

Anyway, I'm going to go right out there and say it; I don't care about the wild commercial success, although it is impressive. I don't care about the phenomenal level of polish and detail put into the title. It's an impressive technical achievement (or it was when it was released). But World at Warcraft is not a good game. It was never a good game. It will never be a good game. And nor will its imitators.

There are a lot of reasons people keep playing the game. Most people that I ask that are current players stay around for the social aspect. Some people really seem to see some depth to the end-game raiding content, although, as far as I can tell, the real challenge with this content comes from finding enough people that aren't completely braindead, not from the nuances of strategy required to bring down the bosses. Some people enjoy the PvP. This, of all of these reasons, I find the most understandable. But what is it that got these people hooked? Why did they start forming social groups around this game? Why did they play long enough to get to the end-game? Well, it all comes down to the grind.

And so, we come to what I really want to say with this post.

Grinding is the antithesis of good gameplay.

Good gameplay challenges us to think carefully to overcome scenarios. It might strain our technical skill, requiring extreme accuracy and timing. It surprises us through variation. It rewards our time and effort with the satisfaction of having overcome a genuine challenge. It gives us a measure of freedom to find out own solutions to problems by way of having deep, nuanced mechanics.

Grinding, on the other hand, challenges us to not get bored. It might strain our endurance, requiring absurd numbers of hours infront of the screen to get anywhere. It surprises us by never ending. It rewards our time and effort with the satisfaction of a virtual helmet that increase our ePeen by +4. It gives us a measure of freedom by way of letting us choose to kill the red dragons 500 000 times or the green dragons 500 000 times.

Now, when you look at those last two paragraphs, there's an immediate flaw in my argument you're probably stammering to point out. “But if grinding is really that terrible, why do people like it? Why does ANYONE like it?”
There's a simple answer. People like the feeling of progress every time they level up, or every time they get a new piece of gear. They like getting the virtual rewards and trinkets, even if they didn't actually overcome any substantial challenge (aside from the challenge of a hefty time comittment) to get those things. It's a kind of a little high that you get addicted to. Early on, progress is very fast, and there are a lot of rewards, and you're feeling good, and having a lot of fun. Later, when progress is very slow, and the rewards are spread out, the developers are relying on you being addicted to those rewards from earlier to keep you playing, to keep you working for that next hit.

But at the end of the day, nothing's actually learned. You haven't actually achieved anything. A good game challenges us to think in new ways, to stretch our mental muscles through strategy, or problem solving. You can gain something from this. You can actually learn a lot.

What did you learn from pressing the same sequence of hotkeys ten thousand times, one for each monster inbetween you and your ePeen Helm?


I want to be clear; playing games like this because of the social aspect also makes no freaking sense.

I understand liking playing dem vidya games with your buddies. Oh how I understand it!

So get those same buddies together and go play a game with a little depth, a game that rewards teamwork that is clever and inventive instead of just rewarding you for getting as far having somebody else in your party who isn't totally braindead.

What about the end-game content?

To be honest, I never quite got there. Maybe it really does have a lot of strategic depth. Maybe it really is worthwhile. But what about all that shit before the end-game? Why couldn't that have been good, too?

And let's get real here - you didn't figure out how to beat that boss battle. You looked it up on a wiki or a guide or similar.

What about PvP?

Fair call. If you're playing against other people, there's probably a lot more depth, a lot more thinking and strategy involved. Probably. I wouldn't know, because there's still that godawful fucking grind that you have to engage in to get the things you need to be effective in PvP. 

1 comment:

  1. I agree with you about grinding in general, although i enjoy mining in EvE online, it's nice to have it going in the background while i get actual work done, but consciously sitting and repeating the same task over and over for hours is another matter.