That MMO “Feeling” – What’s Missing? A Purpose? What’s My Motivation?

Destiny's Edge + 1

Ever had a thought that just refuses to lay down and die?

It rattles around in your brain, tossing and turning, gnawing and worrying while you spend days trying to pin it down and articulate it to some degree.

It began with Syl’s post about a lack of purpose in our MMOs of today.

There was something to it, especially in regards to Landmark needing to link some kind of functionality and give reasons to do their various activities (for certain subsets of players anyway, who don’t seem to find the existing framework motivating enough), but it sounded… off. Not quite right. Especially when extrapolated in a general sense.

Further questioning in the comments revealed that Syl meant something like a “shared purpose.” A united vision, a commonality of purpose across players, to work hand-in-hand towards… something.

Be it taking down a raid boss together, or perhaps contributing towards building a project in Glitch (RIP Glitch :( ) or a monument in a Tale in the Desert, or maybe even Tarnished Coast and Jade Quarry’s dastardly goal of making sure Blackgate doesn’t just easy mode cruise into a WvW Season 2 win. :P

Then it continued on across various Reddit and forum posts trying to express why some players really want to like GW2 but can’t seem to deal with the leveling process.

There’s no reason for it, they say. No purpose. Something’s missing, and it’s just not lack of direction or guidance. They’re running from one point of interest to another, connecting the dots, but somehow feeling disconnected with the world. Like there’s no story for the players to be the center of and our characters just wind up around the periphery clearing wasps and helping groups of NPCs do something or other.

Personally, I never had that problem when the game first launched. Everything was new and shiny and unfamiliar. There was something AWESOME to see around every corner, and something novel and cool to discover. Even after hitting level 80, I held back on 100% world completion for a long time because I was terrified by the thought of officially consuming all the content and making the world familiar. Known. Habitual. Boring.

In the lull between Living Story seasons, I have been taking my time and leveling a charr engineer the old fashioned way. While I’m still having no problems keeping apace with levels, probably because I kill everything and am not above popping a food and wrench (20%), and occasionally a 50% XP booster to go with the 18% account bonus from achievements, I started feeling…

…what’s the word… Bored, maybe.

Like something was missing.

In my case, I suspected that I was meta-gaming way too much. I’ve seen all these maps before, several times. I know their schtick and what the NPCs are up to in each of them. I could probably find each jumping puzzle entrance unaided by a wiki, going from memory alone. The personal story from the orders on is SO SO DONE before.

Always on my mind is the possibility that I could log in on one of five other level 80s to do something -else-, and by god, are there a lot of something -elses- to do in GW2 – world bosses, TTS runs, WvW, a dungeon, gather or farm stuff, etc.

Except that I’ve also repeated a bunch of these activities… if they’re not quite to the point of being nauseating, they’re at least to the point of “having been done before.”

Strangely enough, a temporary cure for this malaise was serendipitously found when I saw the “Fear Not This Night” video and decided to watch a series of all its Youtube variants in the other screen while I went around leveling.

Between the stirring music and watching all the fantastical cutscenes and incredible art and rekindling that sense of potential GW2 had when it was new, I think I recreated some of that sense of wonder and awe that I personally CRAVE like a thirsting man needs water.

theworldisjustawesome

I started feeling more like a hero, more immersed into the world again, rather than my character acting as Tool #6 for Future Experimentation with AoE Spam in WvW and Condi Builds in PvP.

There was still one more thing missing though.

And this was where I really started missing the Living Story. It was -hard- to find a story, a linear narrative that my character could get involved in.

In GW1, this was front and center. Every story mission you went on, there was this one big overarcing story that we traced.

In GW2, the stories are fractured and scattered. Yes, I could chase the Personal Story. It’s the most linear narrative we have. It’s spread out geographically though, and with level gaps that enforce pauses and breaks in between.

I could do dungeons and follow Destiny’s Edges’ story – assuming I don’t get kicked out of impatient PUGs for daring to watch cutscenes – but again, the story is broken up by dungeons and levels. Anyway, we know the story. They squabble a lot. Our character tells them they’re being idiots. They eventually wise up, kiss and make up.

The open world itself has teeny tiny storylets that are unfortunately caught in time. They’re interesting, no doubt. I enjoy the Fields of Ruin for instance, the tension between the charr and the humans and the peace treaty and the characters that are still clinging on or struggling to get rid of old prejudices. But we can’t progress those stories in any meaningful fashion.

A narrative needs a beginning, middle and end. A line. Not a closed circle that continuously loops.

So I end up stuck waiting for the Living Story – our last, best hope for narrative in GW2.

Thing is, what’s missing for me, may not what’s be missing for you.

Which led to a fevered attempt to brainstorm motivations and reasons for why people play MMOs.

(Which has, of course, been attempted multiple times by others – some far more scientifically than me.)

In no particular order:

  • To feel like a hero – to be at the center of a story, or to be unique or stand out in some fashion, via prestigious cool-looking armor perhaps?
  • To feel like one is improving oneself, eg. via increasing stats or levels, or demonstrating competency via overcoming challenges
  • To be validated or acknowledged by one’s peers, eg. earning social respect via leadership or game skill, defeating others in a competition, etc.
  • To experience a shared purpose, commonality of goal, ‘teamwork’
  • For self-expression – customisation of a character and its looks, or to tell a story or build a home or express creativity in some other form
  • To experience a microcosm of life – MMO as a ‘flight simulator’ of life, test running and learning life lessons about social relationships and interacting with people within the game (a role also fulfilled by reading fiction or otherwise experiencing stories)
  • To feel like one is in a world – interconnectedness, have real people be doing stuff all around you or roleplaying, playing someone you’re not
  • To experience constant change and bursts of novelty, “new content”
  • To discover and learn new things
  • To master mechanics and optimize for efficiency
  • To experience a story – which segues nicely into the dev-created narrative or player-created narrative debate
  • To experience emotions, such as awe and wonder from seeing fantastic landscapes or large-scaled monsters in comparison to yourself (see WoW raid bosses and Shadow of the Colossus), or triumph and victory from defeating a difficult challenge, or a sense of belonging via falling in with a community of like-minded people

I’m sure there’s more.

And of course I noticed that a bunch of these were overlapping, so to speak, and I struggled to try and categorize them in some fashion.

We could fall back on Nick Yee’s main categories of Achievement, Social and Immersion.

Things to do with advancement, power, ambition, improving of self, mechanics and efficiency, perhaps competition might fall under Achievement.

Anything to do with belonging, relationships, player interaction, shared goals, teamwork and cooperation, perhaps even competition might fall under Social.

Immersion being the grab bag that then covers things like escapism, wonder, awe, curiosity, discovery, story-seeking.

Though we end up with a last hanging thread that I might end up terming as Self-Expression – being creative, enjoying customisation, being unique, storytelling and roleplaying (which overlaps onto Immersion), standing out (which overlaps back onto Achievement)

But then I noticed that maybe, just maybe… there was something even more universal at play here.

Note the many repeats of words like “feel” or “experience” or the various emotions that get named.

We say we play a game “for fun.”

We know that this “fun” means different things to different people, and we keep struggling to neatly delineate even more and more subcategories of “fun” in an attempt to get at what we’re really after.

Perhaps we’re really playing a game to feel -something.-

Preferably not boredom.

Many don’t like to feel anger or frustration in their games, but a few others do crave some of those negative emotions, if only to make the opposite emotion the sweeter when it finally arrives after a long struggle.

Different people crave certain feelings over others.

Different games feed certain feelings over others.

(GW2, as is, is pretty good in the Achievement and Social and Self-Expression categories – they keep pushing those agendas anyway, with a stress on cooperation and community organization rather than competition or elitist domination – but they’re kind of dropping the ball on the Immersion one and I think we’re seeing some of the repercussions in the recurring complaints about stories, lore, new zones, lack of caring about roleplaying, etc.)

If we end up feeling nothing or an overall lack of excitement in a game, that apathy becomes a problem which seems to eventually lead to the game being dropped.

Thing is, who’s in control here of our own emotions?

Do developers have a responsibility to entertain and feed us some of these emotions via their game design, since we’re choosing to play their game, after all?

Will it work if we ourselves are determined to not feel anything, having already been there and done that?

Perhaps an awareness that these things are in play is what we need to cross that divide of feeling and not-feeling.

At any time, perhaps we should be picking and choosing to play games (and do activities within a game) that do reward us with the feelings we’re craving.

It’s not a one-time life choice, after all.

We can swap them in and out like watching a comedy movie when we want to laugh and watching a horror movie when we want to be scared and thrilled.

We just need to remember to do it.

Isn’t That What You Do in Every MMO? Have Fun?

Happy Holidays... from not-so-spikey charr...

Back when I was a serious [insert game here] player, [...] I played to be the best.  I can look back and say from experience that the mindset exists and people fall into it without even realizing what they’re doing.  One day you wake up and have this epiphany that what you’re doing isn’t fun.

- Keen [editing in brackets, mine]

Some days you just want to laugh. And chuckle. And grin a lot.

Keen might be someone who gets immensely hyped for the next big thing and then just as promptly deflates in three months because it wasn’t the dream sandbox MMO he was looking for, who then proceeds to do it all over again without learning from the last time – but I guess even the young grow old some day.

He’s closing in on 30, he says. Me, I’m kinda past that mark quite a while ago.

The story and the epiphany is the same. It’s not the MMO per se. It’s the mindset.

Yes, some MMOs have a design that skews you towards this “win” “be the best” “be prestigious” mindset a lot more swiftly than others. True, in some games, it’s the one main road, the linear flow that channels everyone towards to it and it’s much harder to step back or away from such things.

Yes, your very first MMO (or online game), the one you walk into wide-eyed with a blank slate, ready to absorb the majority way of thinking about what’s the “right” (efficiency optimal) thing to do is the one where you’re most prone to tumbling down that pit of gradually-becoming-not-fun-but-endure-to-be-the-best.

The irony of it is that Keen holds up Everquest as the game where he had the most casual, sandbox fun. From his previous posts, it seemed he even indulged in a bit of roleplaying as halflings there.

Me, I avoided Everquest like the plague because it was looking to be a carbon copy clone of a MUD I had already burned out on, just in graphics form. A world at the beginning, which gradually narrowed again at the top to be all about gear and raids and being the prestigious first to drop a big mob and drop RNG loot.

I’m dead certain you can find players out there who did play EQ as their serious raid game and then subsequently burned out of raiding and gave WoW a miss.

It’s not -solely- the fault of the game.

It’s also about where we as players were at that point in our gaming lives.

I, too, used to think it was down to me to save everybody else’s souls. Lemme tell you, being the minority burned-out cynical voice in a sea of awestruck WoW newbies often meant being drowned out in the face of fanboy fanaticism.

Eventually, I learned the value of patience and letting folks arrive at their own wisdom in their own time.

For some, raiding was something they would never burn out of. It suited their personalities and their preferences to a T. Little wonder they would be perfectly fine with a game that holds up that minigame as the ideal to always strive toward.

For others, their epiphanies would hit them years down the road. But it was a road they had to travel to learn it. Just as we did.

I’m not much of a list maker, so I won’t be posting long numerical lists this holiday season.

But on this Christmas eve, I’d like to ask all of you to spare a thought for your inner child.

When you play a game, what exactly is it that you find fun?

Playing with others? Playing against others? Playing with your friends or family? Playing by yourself?

Learning something new by discovering it yourself? Learning something new by reading up about it? Learning something new by being taught by someone else? Or preferring the comfort of the old and familiar rather than the new and unknown?

Being the best? In what way? Richest, most powerful, most pretty, most well-known, most well-liked or hated, most eccentric, most OCD? Or “mosts” and “bests” don’t interest you at all?

There are games out there that match better to your preferences than others. Go find them, and have fun – your special brand of fun – rather than be stuck in a game where you’re unhappy because it’s the only one you know.

Let’s Play: Sleuth (Who Murdered Gypsy Syl?)

So you wanna be a detective...

(Continued from Part 1.)

Upstairs, the first door on the left leads into a sparsely decorated guest room.

A pair of legs poke out from underneath the bed. Another murder?

Then I see them shift. Nope, a live one.

s12

I cough discretely and introduce myself once more to the owner of the legs. “I don’t want to interrupt your search of whatever is under there, but I’m just verifying the whereabouts of everyone last evening.”

s13

Wow. Touchy.

“I’m afraid it is, if we want the murderer caught. So I have to ask you again.”

s14

“Thank you,” I say. “You’ve been very helpful.”

He’s wrong. I’m afraid someone -did- see him.

I try not to let any of my growing suspicion show on my face as I continue the investigation. I still need to find the murder weapon and the location of the crime. Extra corroboration couldn’t hurt either.

s15

It’s all I can do to not screech to an immediate halt and reverse out of the room. I try to act nonchalant and check out the bottle of vitamins with my magnifying glass as if nothing is wrong. Then step out again just as quickly and wordlessly.

Is he following me?

s16

The bedroom is deserted. A massive canopied bed is the centerpiece of the room. The bedsheets are rumpled and an emptied bottle of champagne protrudes from under the bed. Was someone having a party in here last night?

Then the speckled cream label of the bottle catches my eye.

I whip out my trusty magnifying glass.

s17

I leave it where it is.

I have visions of stepping out the bedroom holding the bloodied weapon and looking right into the eyes of the person coming out of the bathroom.

They don’t end well for me.

s18

In the study I find another guest. “Just the person I wanted to see,” I say, smiling broadly. “I need your help to confirm someone else’s story. They say they spent last evening with you, so both of you are innocent and could be each other’s alibis.”

At the same time, I check out the area of floor that has caught her attention. Not blood, alas. I was hoping to get this solved quickly.

Another coffee stain. Perhaps from the empty mug atop the desk.

s19

Yep, -he’s- the one.

And he may just have seen me walk into the room and talk to the lady too.

s20

I try to swallow, my mouth uncomfortably dry. I can’t shake off the unnerving sensation of eyes boring into the back of my neck. The shadows are watching me.

I need to find the murder scene, fast!

I scramble downstairs in a hurry, hoping a sharp-eyed guest may have spotted something untoward.

I can’t exactly comb every square inch of flooring with one dinky magnifying glass. Not without getting bashed on the head from behind.

s21

Fortunately, not the murderer.

Unfortunately, just inclined to marveling at the beauty of small details.

No blood on this floor.

s22

Third time’s the charm.

s23

“You’ve been -very- helpful, indeed,” I say. “Stay here a sec, won’t you?”

I race back upstairs to fetch the murder weapon.

s24

I want to scream.

I really do.

I don’t think he’s seen me yet.

I stealthily duck to a crouch, using the canopied bed as cover, and slide out the bottle of champagne ever so silently…. moving slow enough to not make a sound, and swiftly as I dared so as to get out of here unseen.

Don’t turn around. Don’t turn around.

s25

I book it downstairs.

Fully expecting an unfriendly face waiting for me at the crime scene to make it a double murder.

s26

I’m saved.

“THANK you for staying,” I say fervently, fighting the urge to keep looking over my shoulder. “It’s time to gather everyone.”

s27

I lay out my case.

Here, the scene of the murder. Here, the murder weapon. And here, the stories of those I questioned, who all point to…

s28

Some things still remain unanswered, though, and I’d appreciate the help of any other sleuths in the audience.

  • The motive of the killing is still unknown. And what exactly happened last evening in the living room?
  • How did the murder weapon end up where it was, unseen by other guests?
  • For that matter, what exactly was going on in the bedroom?!

I never did see that one last elusive guest… did I?

A big thank you goes out to everyone who unwittingly took part in this murder mystery. :)

Turn-about is fair play. And I’d love for all of you to give the game a shot. There’s another mansion layout too.

It’s simple, but the fun comes in trying to fill in the blanks with your own narrative.

Can you beat my score? It’s possible to solve it in less moves and be a Holmesian Sleuth.

Or you could progress from just being suspected by the murderer, to being stalked… then killed.

Instructions for Running Sleuth:

1) Download Sleuth from the Norland Software site. Unzip it to an easy to find folder, like c:\dosgames\sleuth.

2) Download DOSBox, install and run it.

3) Type the following into DOSBox (change c:\dosgames to whatever your directory structure is)

howtostartsleuth

4) Once in the directory, type sleuth to run. (Hooray, old DOS commands)

Option A will start you with the game’s pre-provided name list. Option B is personalized sleuth for you to type in your own names.

If you should get tired of all that typing per game, it is quite simple to edit the files DESCR.V1 and DESCR.V2 to use your own names for option A.

descredit

Like so. Scroll down to the end of the file.

The first line is first name. Next line, last name. Final line in capitals is however you want to refer to them when typing in commands in sleuth.

There’s room for seven guests.

Hope y’all enjoy.