Digital Wanderlust, or You Can Never Go Home Again

So, what happened during “Top priority – Rest my wrist” week?

Well, there was the mildly amusing and somewhat painful observation that as the wrist in question healed, other parts of my body started to take turns aching.

Apparently, this is quite normal and to be expected, as one overworks the other muscles and tendons in compensation for the nonfunctional one.

First it was the other wrist (too much button pressing and door opening presumably), then the lower back protested, and yesterday the neck decided it hated life, committed suicide and went into rigor mortis for 24 hours.

I can only conclude that I’m getting old(er) and my posture is fucked.

The good news is that amidst this tag team symphony of minor strains, I ate healthily, slept earlier, stretched -very- carefully and whatever was bothering me that day seemed to heal itself up by the next day or two.

I imagine that within my body is a little ragtag cartoon group of muscle-repairing cells in an ambulance racing from locale to locate, going “Can things STOP breaking here for just a day, please? Sheesh…”

Or maybe that image just comes from Ghostbusters: The Video Game, one of the many games I’ve been sampling over the last 2-3 weeks.

As I was telling Syl in the comments over at MMO Gypsy, I think I’m done with MMOs for the time being.

GW2 has been becoming less and less of a home, beyond the obligatory raid night with friendly, understanding but not-my-generation people, and the lack of new and novel content is killing my interest slowly but surely.

Most of the achiever content that I cling to as a lifeline when the explorer isn’t sated is either done, or is SO long term that the anticipated grindiness stops me from even contemplating it. I -could- do it, but when faced with the question of whether to spend 12 hours incrementing tiny degrees of progress in GW2 or use those 12 hours to play other games, read and watch Netflix, well, the decision is a no-brainer. There’s no one I want to impress with herculean feats of treadmilling in a constructed game anyway.

See, the more I think about it, the more I think the allure of the MMO comes from two things. The first is the idea of a home and a community, a place you want to spend your virtual ‘second life’ in, surrounded by people you’re happy to live amongst. Hence the themes of longevity, of “I could stay here forever!” being an important consideration when people evaluate MMOs.

The second is the feeling of expanse, of openness, of discovery over a new horizon that a vast and deep virtual world that you don’t understand well yet and want to learn more about. Hence why people lament when any MMO world feels small, constricted, not open and go chasing after procedural sandboxes.

The tragedy of the second is that everything closes up and becomes smaller over the passage of time. GW2 was an immense bounty of new discoveries when it first launched, but now my perception of its world has shrunk to waypoints whose surroundings I can readily recall at will. Don’t get me wrong, the convenience is great for revisiting, but the point is that it was a lot bigger in my imagination when unexplored than after the fog of war disappears.

A mapped world is smaller, no two ways about it. A mapped world is great for everything that comes after, exploitation of its resources in fulfillment of goals and so on. But a mapped world means you already know what is coming up over the horizon as you get closer.

The more I think about it, the more I think the age of MMOs is past. An MMO cannot fulfill both themes at once these days.

How can it? A handcrafted world is finite, limited by the number of developers that can work on it effectively. The number of developers is limited by the number of customers and revenue it can generate. The age of the one single MMO where everyone congregates to is past, everyone is spread out to a million smaller online games now.

Even if we hypothetically assume a mythical game that attracts even more numbers than World of Warcraft pulled in its prime, there must be a limit to how many teams of developers can work effectively on its world without it becoming a Frankenstein mess that turns away players, dropping revenue, which drops number of devs.

A finite world will eventually feel small. It’s just a matter of time.

So then, let’s go for the infinite world. Let’s go for procedural generation on a way more refined and fantastical scale than any singleplayer game currently existing and do it well. Online. Massively multiplayer.

Assuming such a hypothetical behemoth works magically and perfectly, and we have a virtual world on the scale of Earth to explore and colonize and exploit… isn’t it likely we’re going to run into the problem of “Where IS everybody?” “Halp! I can’t find players to play with.”

Given limitless lebensraum, people are going to spread out. Sure, there’s probably going to be clusters of people forming towns and villagers because people are social creatures and like to be near each other, but how far are these towns and villages going to be from one another?

I think of A Tale in the Desert as a good small-scale experiment as to what this mythical MMO is going to look like.

At first, it’s going to look very nice. People will cluster in their towns and villages, forming little metropolises of trade and civilization, while the more adventurous wander out into the wilderness and start the exploration and mapping process.

But then everything around the civilized centers will be known, and the explorers will either venture even further away or grow bored and leave. People attrition from real life all the time in games, so these villages will wind up with abandoned house lots, imitating a form of urban decay. Other players look around, realize their community is breaking up and will either leave the game or accrete to another community in-game, preferably the largest and most populated one.

It will take an act of God for the most social and rooted to their homes to pack up and move from what-is-known and move to lands unknown. (In other words, not bloody likely. Even a dragon invasion on the scale of the Cataclysm is more likely to just chase the homemakers from the game when they’ve had enough of large scale change, or make them more stubborn to rebuild where they’ve decided to live.)

So at most, the ideal MMO of tomorrow is a small known world of established communities with some kind of connected interrelation with the more nomadic explorers that venture into the always-shrinking-once-mapped unknown.

There are so many things that could wrong in this MMO. If the communities don’t need anything from the explorers, there will be no reason to explore. If the explorers don’t need anything from the communities, there will be no reason to have social dealings with them.

Maybe -everybody- wants to explore, and so there will be towns but no one’s in them because everybody’s out in the wilderness. Maybe the balance of self-sufficiency is such that everybody just trundles out to find a nice spot of wilderness for themselves – RIP towns and social communities. Maybe there is too much inter-dependency and reliance on others for today’s players to accept, so few people want to play anyway – RIP MMO.

Anyway, such an ideal hypothetical MMO is years from coming into existence. Much less ambitious fare will come into the picture first, and I’m not at all sure I have any interest in those.

Anything with Fed-Ex fetch quests and collect 10 bodyparts after killling 99 mobs is right out of the equation. So done with those.

Tropes like holy trinity combat, raids, dungeons are pretty likely to show up in MMOs because that’s what most players are familiar with and used to. They do absolutely nothing for me.

To add a little insult to injury, region-locking for most smaller F2P MMOs is a thing. It becomes a principle not to pay any money to companies who are content with smaller pieces of pie in today’s globalized internet-linked world.

Innovation is expensive and dangerously risky. Not innovating produces stale MMOs that enough people will play to keep a small company alive.

Personally, I’m done with stale MMOs.

So over the last 2-3 weeks, this was what I did instead:

Games Played

  • Endless Legend – up to turn 85 of a Broken Lords campaign
  • Deathless: The City’s Thirst – finished a playthrough
  • Learn Japanese to Survive – Hiragana Battle – got up to 15 Hiragana word/letters?
  • Crusaders of the Lost Souls – lost count of the resets, idols in the 100-200+ range
  • Defender’s Quest: Valley of the Forgotten – in some spooky cave levels
  • Human Resource Machine – got to puzzle level 17 or so
  • Minecraft: Story Mode – playing on mobile, finished episodes 1 and 2
  • Reigns – also on mobile, finished a playthrough, didn’t manage to trick the devil, but not for lack of trying, gonna restart and try again
  • Minecraft: Simply Magic modpack – was doing good fulfilling my nomadic urge to wander and explore, until the last update crashed the client and I couldn’t move back a version. RIP.
  • Minecraft: BeeHappy modpack – so now I’m growing bees in a skyblock map!

 

Books Read

  • Two Serpents Rise by Max Gladstone (Book 2 of the Craft Sequence)

 

Netflix Watched

  • Van Helsing – binge-watched the entire season 1, the zombie apocalypse with vampires instead of brainless zombies
  • Bitten – got up to season 2, episode 3, based on Kelley Armstrong’s Otherworld books, the books are way better, but it’s interesting to see the casting decisions and how like or unlike one’s image of the characters they are
  • Minority Report – watched again for fun, looks so dated now
  • Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency – made it through episode 1, which was like floating through a drug-haze of surrealism. I am convinced it will all tie together in the end, but it’s such a hard slog at the beginning that it’s hard to continue.
  • Trollhunters – binge-watching like crazy, up to episode 17. I am totally going to buy a ton of troll toys / collectibles when they finally come out. Got so many 80s cartoon and Amblin movie nostalgia flashbacks while watching – intelligent not-just-for-kids plotlines, what madness is this?

 

endleg-brokenlords

In other words, I expanded inexorably through a fantasy landscape as a faction of fallen spirits encased in suits of knightly armor; juggled politics and morality as a necromancer lawyer negotiating water deals to prevent the desert city Dresediel Lex from drying up; and fought shadowy Hiragana warriors whose only weakness is enunciating the sounds they represent.

hiragana
Perhaps the most entertaining Spaced Repetition System ever created. This is ‘a’ – aka a man standing upright with two arms outstretched and a swirl of magic about him, going “Ahh!” Or maybe that’s just how I’ll ever remember what this word/character sounds like.

crusaders4

Earned 7.79 tredecillion gold; summoned barbarians and rangers and knights to fend off a rampaging army of undead revenants;

defenders
(while avoiding being traumatized by a ghostly barbarian’s manhood)

wrote spaghetti code to struggle to the next floor of a soulless office building;

hrm

went on a Minecraftian animated adventure to assemble the heroes of the Order of the Stone in order to save the world; lived and died as a lineage of 63 cursed kings making tradeoff decisions to keep church, people, army and the treasury neither too low nor too high; wandered the wilderness, made a cave in the side of a mountain and started learning magic; and bred bees.

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Lots of bees.
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Industrial apiaries filled with bees. (The ugly yellow block things.)

Feels like the journey’s just beginning.

 

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The Repetitive Nature of Games and Why Endgame is Elusive

Here we go round the mulberry bush...

Scree’s back! And the criticism this time is repetition.

Here’s the dirty little secret: games -are- repetitive.

One of the points of a game is that it lays out a set of rules and you repeat and iterate on the scenarios it presents you with till you get better at it and “beat it” or “win.” Games have a learning curve.

The nirvana that everyone is seeking is that perfect state of flow, where one’s skill level perfectly matches the level of challenge so that one is deeply engaged.

(Image from Wikipedia.)
(Image from Wikipedia)

Problem is, everyone is different.

One game’s level of challenge may match one player perfectly, while another may find the challenge too difficult and thus end up worried and anxious.

I’m not sure that graph is accurate on the lower scale, where relaxation is graphed at a higher skill level than boredom.

For some, it could be the other way around, where high skill level and low challenge leads to boredom, while a medium skill level and low challenge leads to finding the activity relaxing.

Then again, for others, it’s a lot easier to be bored than it is to really relax – one may need l33t Zen monk skills in meditation to achieve proper relaxation, while nearly anyone can be bored outta their effing mind on a regular basis.

It’s in the eye of the beholder, I suppose.

It really comes down to what kind of repetition you find fun (or will put up with) in order to do something that you feel is enjoyable.

Different people reach different answers.

Scree finds that PvP produces a new situation every time it occurs. Those who prefer PvP tend to claim that they are drawn to this because the skills used can be the same, but the opponents are different, creating sufficient variety for them.

I’m especially tickled because I somehow managed to find that WvW was too repetitive and burned myself out from the game format some time ago.

You see, personality-wise, I’m very low on the competitive Killer Bartle scale. I’m just not really interested in the whole metagame of guess and second-guess your opponent in order to get one-up on them and win. So my tolerance for repetition on things PvP tend to be rather low, a couple rounds played for fun and variety… done.

Even in that eden of PvP, Eve Online, the blogosphere has been exchanging a little quote of the day highlighting a core repetitive aspect of the game.

Getting from one place to another apparently involves a lot of the same steps repeated over and over – turn off and on autopilot, manually warp to zero per jump gate. The only variety is what manner of shark awaits you at each step.

For some, that’s enough to consist of quite an adventure, and they willingly acclimatize themselves to the game’s little repetitive quirks to get the bigger experience.

I’ve been playing Don’t Starve quite a bit over the last few days. I easily get to my second winter and often get to days in the 100+ range. But then, I turtle.

homesweetbase

I turtle A LOT. I don’t play RTS games on a competitive basis because I tend to derive more pleasure spending two hours teching up to EVERYTHING and then creeping in the equivalent of siege tanks or battlecruisers to slowly demolish the computer’s bases one building at a time over outsmarting a real life person, who can turn out to be exceedingly obnoxious, win or lose.

I get that a lot of clever people have discovered they can shortcut this process and created dozens upon dozens of other strategies they can use to win against another party trying to turtle, which leads to more counter-strategies to defend against this, which leads to more counter-counter strategies to get the upper hand, unsoweiter.

I get that this is a delightfully deep metagame for some.

I admire it from afar with videos and commentators to help me understand it, but I choose not to spend a good part of my life learning one game to such a high degree of focus.

Back to Don’t Starve. I build a base. Preferably near 5-6 rabbit holes.

I expand it. I make a little tooth trap alley to the side to fend off hounds.

icallitthehoundnommer

I engage in tons and tons of repetition, including chopping wood for a day or two, gathering grass and twigs for another day, checking on my nearby spider den with pigs (aka silk farm) to make sure it won’t ever overgrow into a Spider Queen, catch and cook meals for another day or two, spend another day or two figuring out and reaching the next source of rocks and flint – just to prep for an expedition that may extend me into unexplored territory and necessitate a secondary base/firepit or an overnight stay not-at-home-base with a campfire.

When Winter comes, I run back to civilization central and my tooth traps and spend a good half my time just chopping wood and keeping the food supply going. Because I don’t want to starve, thank you. (Or freeze.)

NOT FREEZING.
NOT FREEZING. FIRE LEVEL ABOVE DESIGN PARAMETERS.

On the other hand, Azuriel would probably stab his eyes out from the repetition I engage in with the same game. He prefers forward adventuring progress.

Me, I haven’t even seen Maxwell’s door in many of my worlds, and never stepped once through it. I prefer a slow and steady stable state with some incremental creep.

My guess is that each person’s preference for how much excitement and adrenaline rush and thrill versus relaxation they want in their games is different.

(The old hard fun vs easy fun war again. There’s actually two more types if you follow the link.)

For those who find they enjoy a game that is short and linear but continually ramps up the challenge till the content is all done (like Portal and Portal 2), MMOs are going to be an inherently disappointing affair. Once they’ve mastered every challenge they care to, that’s it, done. Finite content is finite.

Time to go on to another game or another MMO, at least until the devs have enough time to produce more content to devour.

An endless endgame?

Whatever it is, it’s going to repeat -somehow-.

WoW raids are a delaying tactic. Kindly repeat the same fight but with the variation and difficulty of cat herding a lot of players with different schedules and skill levels for an RNG chance of desirable loot. Hopefully, this takes you long enough so that the devs can produce the next raid for you to do something similar till the next patch.

If you think that in Everquest Next, there won’t be players who will be searching for and making a point of repeatedly killing the most desirable mobs… I think that you’re sorely mistaken.

One hope that it has of stretching gameplay is the possibility of player-created content, which provides supplementary content to dev-created content, just like how mods can extend the lifespan of a single-player game.

Clarity of preference is important, rather than just dismissing a game as “too repetitive.”

I suspect that Scree prefers “impactful” games. A game where player actions can mean a great deal. Where player actions form the meat of the content via emergence. Where hopefully the NPCs have enough AI to form meaningful, discernable patterns that can be exploited but not TOO exploited.

Well, we’ll all be watching upcoming PvE sandbox games to see if they manage to achieve this elusive holy grail.

A lot of this stuff tends to break the moment you throw the “massively multiplayer” part of the equation in.

We’ve learned that player-created content tends to give rise to “xp farms” where players design, create and run repetitively an optimized encounter so that they can reach max level (and level alts) at the best possible speed. (Thank you, City of Heroes and Neverwinter. Possibly Everquest 2 too.)

We’ll see how fast ingenious players can map the world sufficiently to determine node spawning patterns (must farm crafting materials, y’know!) or provide trackers for mob movement or spawns to determine the most probable places to head to for xp/loot/combat action.

Case in point: observe niche game A Tale in the Desert – randomly spawning mushroom locations produced a shroomdar. This game barely attracts 1000 players at the best of times.

Do you think the combined brainpower of a popular MMO cannot crack what a single team of developers code? Or at least harness the power of massive crowds via  individual player reports? e.g. see GW2 dragon timers before the API was made available.

If you have xp in a game, players will figure out the best way to get xp fast. Even (and especially) if it means repetition.

Skills-based, not levels, you say? I point you to Darkfall and its stories of skill grind, where at least some players will macro it, or engage in the equivalent of leaving a weight on one’s keyboard a la Morrowind or other Elder Scrolls games.

If you have loot in a game, rest assured players will repeatedly do whatever it is to gather it.

Ideally, they are enjoying the activity they repeat. (Note: level of enjoyment varies based on player personality and preference.)

Whether that activity is combat (versus mobs or against other players), or gathering some form of resource (xp, gold, shiny loot for stats or looking pretty, craftables, luxury collectibles), or exploration and discovery or yes, even travel and commuting from point A to point B.

Eventually though, a player is bound to get bored of whatever repetition they were engaged in and wander off. Or burn out if they weren’t careful enough. Part of the gaming life cycle.

The real questions are:

  • Do they wander off to another activity in the same game?
  • If they wandered off to another game, do they ever come back to the one they left? (Check things out or pick up where they left off?)
  • And how frequently do they do it?
  • (Oh, and do they give the devs any money for providing such experiences in the meantime, of course. 🙂 )

The Study of Choice in the Face of Scarcity – Disk Space Edition

Rowan Blaze has been musing about economics in relation to MMOs in his last post:

Though much of economic theory revolves around money, I had one college professor eloquently refer to it as the Study of Choice in the face of Scarcity. This is what fascinates me about it, why do we make the choices we do? It doesn’t have to be choice involving money. For instance, do I spend all morning researching and writing a blog post, or exploring the town and country I am sojourning in, or play a video game?

And that has gotten my mind down a similar track. Opportunity cost is just as fascinating to me.

I have just spent most of this Saturday forgoing the opportunity to rabidly play Guild Wars 2 (and thereby make further choices over what I actually do in-game:

  • spend an hour on invasions earning gold
  • use that same hour to run a dungeon instead which might produce cores/lodestones
  • meander around the world harvesting resources to sell and hoard

most of which slooowly works towards my first legendary…)

…and instead spent it with a file folder/disk space management utility open in one screen and web browsing on the other monitor, struggling to tidy up my hard disks and pondering deep economic and emotional decisions about games to keep and games to get rid of.

This dire disk space emergency was prompted by me trying to start up Guild Wars 1 in the morning and having it stall at the Connecting to ArenaNet server window.

After some Googling, it turns out my .dat file may have been corrupted, the solution for which was to delete and re-download.

Got past the stall point, got to character screen, logged in or tried to- as the computer began downloading the whole of Marhan’s Grotto again (you pretty much download each zone bit by bit in GW1, something that usually makes the wait time less annoying) and the whole system kind. of. slowed. down. and. was. like. wading. in. molasses…

Then I realized that there were only 746MB free space left on the C:\ drive and the download was barely 25% done.

Ruh roh.

Plans to peek back in GW1 rapidly went out the window and I started looking for stuff to delete instead.

This just as quickly escalated down an entire afternoon and evening of Adventures in Freeing Disk Space and musing about my gaming habits, economy and psychology all rolled into one.

discspace2

For instance, the biggest hog of my disk space is The Secret World.

I usually try to leave MMOs that I -might- have an urge to go back to installed, since it’s highly unlikely I’ll ever casually pop in again if I have to sit through a whole day’s download to do so.

You may note that the other two space-hogging culprits are also MMOs, also not being currently played, and all now using a free-to-log-in-and-play-casually model.

Subscription MMOs? Gone.

I simply have TOO MANY other games I could be spending my time and disk space on, to say nothing of having to specially log in to a website, re-enable my account and resubscribe for a month, just to check on what has changed.

Economically, if I had to pick just one of those three MMOs, I’d probably keep LOTRO since I’m still in love in the lore and landscapes, and do check back once a year for Weatherstock. Even if I don’t think I could ever bear to level again, be it a new character or try to push out of Moria.

I was tempted to kill off The Secret World, if only to reclaim the most space back and rationally knowing my toaster struggles to handle it graphically and memory-wise. But the way it presents its quests, and the flexible AP/SP skill system promises an intriguing basic solo leveling experience if I ever felt the urge for modern conspiracy again.

RIFT would be the loser if I really needed one to go. Despite the flexible roles each class can take, I was left uncomfortable with how cookie cutter it ended up as there were distinctly mathematically optimal ways of speccing talent trees for different purposes, and I felt I had no future in an MMO with raids as a primary focus. Still, I can’t shake off the clingy feeling that maaybe one day I might want to log in just to look around.

Which is neither probable nor sensible, to be brutally honest.

Dawn of War 1 and expansions takes up the next 11 gb. Terribly old game now. Have I ever gone back to it after finishing a campaign or two or three with some races? No. But nothing matches it (not even its sequel) in terms of being able to put out so many visually awesome Warhammer 40k models in all their racial variety, and I just can’t get rid of it.

KOTOR2 and the GoG directories (containing Arcanum, Stonekeep and Beneath a Steel Sky among others) naggily remind me that there were some old games I wanted to get around to playing. *sigh*

Doom 3? I’m positive I was almost 3/4 of the way through or nearly to the end, but those levels just kept going and going and I got tired. But the sunk cost fallacy induced me to keep it around. I really should just dedicate an hour or two and FINISH it, just to put closure on it after… (checks the folder date) 6 years. Dayum.

City of Heroes got a massive trimming some time back since I saw no reason to keep the client to a defunct game around. I wasn’t going to reverse engineer anything anytime soon. Most of the folder went into an external hard disk backup. That one gigabyte left is mostly screenshots. Thanks to this blog, I love having a whole bundle of screenshots available on demand.

It’s kinda sad that my Adobe and Microsoft Office folders barely compare.

I ended up nabbing the disk space from other folders, temporary downloads, music/videos that I won’t bother you with.

Though it did come as a bit of a shock to realize that iTunes was hogging 15 gb of space just from backing up my iPad. (Yes, that ancient 16gb device is just as crammed.)

On a bit of a curiosity roll now, I checked out my other drive:

discspace1

Uhhh. Yeah.

There’s ~2.7 gb worth of screenshots in the GW2 folder (and I’ve been moving them periodically out to backup) if you’re wondering why my GW2 directory is bigger than yours.

(That PSA about moving out your GW2 screenshots before they hit 1000 on Reddit a couple days ago? Knew about it MONTHS ago.)

The next 9.3 gb are reminding me that I should continue the 10/10 project for at least one more day and so get rid of Runes of Magic that way. I really need to stop being one MMO obsessed for a while.

Black Isle and BaldursGateTutu? Because Baldur’s Gate, Baldur’s Gate II and Planescape: Torment are classics. I did intend to play them again some day, but even if I never do, they can be enshrined forever for all I care.

Yes, I have two copies of A Tale in the Desert. I dual-accounted it. Some games you dual account for a better experience. I am given to understand Eve Online swings that way too. (Though in both games, this can be offset through being massively good at socializing and joining player organizations. Extroverts network. Introverts multi-box.)

Restaurant Empire 2 is part of the cheesy cooking games collection. Just because.

The elephant in the room that we are trying not to talk about is naturally, the Steam folder…

steamspace

There’s more but I wouldn’t want to scare you all. Or have my account stolen.

Suffice to say, of the 44 games shown here, 6 have not been tried yet (Nuclear Dawn, The Walking Dead, Psychonauts, Forge, Sacred Gold, Sol Exodus demo) and the remaining 38 have been at least been sampled.

Of the sampled games:

  • 3 had a very surface sampling before I put the game down, unable to go on for one reason or another – steep learning curve or didn’t like the setting or never found the time to go on.

(X3, SWKOTOR, Divinity 2 respectively)

  • 25 were played 1/4 – 1/2 of the way through or played lightly but not a game you can complete

(Left 4 Dead 2, Team Fortress 2, The Last Remnant, Civ 5, Borderlands 2, Dungeon Defenders, DOTA 2, Morrowind, LEGO Lord of the Rings, Killing Floor, Men of War Assault Squad, Overlord, Culpa Innata, Worms Reloaded, Tropico 3, Titan Quest, Silent Hunter 3, Mark of the Ninja, Amnesia, Mafia, Sins of a Solar Empire, Frozen Synapse, From Dust, Civ 4, Sanctum.)

  • 6 were played 3/4 of the way through or played heavily but not a game you can complete

(Left 4 Dead, Dawn of War 2, Skyrim, Blood Bowl, Orcs Must Die, Vampire The Masquerade Bloodlines,)

  • 4 were played “and completed” at least to one’s satisfaction, but usually with holes in DLC/expansion content

(Portal 2, Indigo Prophecy, Alien Swarm, Defense Grid)

I dunno. I’ve been staring at it all trying to see if there were any patterns as to why I chose to play some games but not others, and for longer periods.

There’s no real relation as to whether they’re GOOD games or not (as considered by either me or the community at large.)

I’ll tell you right now that I enjoyed most of the lightly played games just as much. Left 4 Dead 2, TF2, Civ 4 and 5, Borderlands 2, DOTA 2, Morrowind, Mark of the Ninja, and Frozen Synapse are all excellent games in my book, and very highly polished. The poorer games are From Dust and Culpa Innata, and I consider the rest decently good in their own way.

The only thing I can vaguely think of is that the more completed ones were short enough that one can get to the end in a very reasonable amount of time, or had a compelling narrative that I wanted to see the end of, or had interesting game mechanics at an easy enough to progress but steadily ramping up difficulty level or some combination thereof.

I do want to get to the end of Mark of the Ninja, Frozen Synapse and The Last Remnant – I may get around to the first as it’s a very recently bought game but I’m not terribly good at stealth, the second is -very- compelling tactically but time-consuming, and the third is a Japanese RPG, you know how long those things take?!)

For many of the others, I seem to have played them long enough to get the hang of the mechanics but got bored with the repetition or grew disinterested in the story and then got distracted by a new shiny.

Well, it was worth a reminder of all the other things I could be doing instead of playing just one game out of habit.

(And yes, I am aware Psychonauts and The Walking Dead come highly recommended. They’re now on the to-do list.)

P.S. If you’re interested in doing something similar with your own system, the program I was using to scan directory sizes is TreeSize Free.

MBTI and MMO Gaming

A perfect storm of stuff got me thinking along these lines lately:

Some folks in the blogosphere have been commenting about the difference between feelings of “fun” and feelings of “accomplishment.”

It seems one subset of people are searching for a game that gives them that accomplishment (or hard fun or whatever you want to call it) feeling, where it’s okay to “work” or put in a hefty amount of effort overcoming an obstacle so that you can feel this sense of satisfaction or triumph at the end when you achieve the final rewards. It’s okay if through parts of this process, they have to endure occasional not-fun stuff or frustration or grind as long as they reach their desired reward in the end.

“It’s character-building,” they claim.

Still others are looking for more immediate fun (or easy fun or what-have-you) where the moment-to-moment stop-and-smell-the-roses stuff is fun and enjoyable and relaxing and either easy to coast along or seeking that one true moment of perfect meditative flow. Not-fun or frustrating stuff wrecks this right in its tracks and yanks people out into gripe city.

“Whiners who need to L2P,” say the other subset. “Or learn some commitment. Pandering to these guys is what ruined MMOs. I miss the good old days.”

Let us disregard the obvious – that game designers will aim to put both types of gameplay into their game so as to suit the greatest number of people. (The first is more suited for long-term content and the latter short-term experiences, so they are relatively complementary and not always necessarily at odds with each other.)

Let us also disregard that people may not only be one subset or the other – they might enjoy both kinds of gameplay at different times.

Is there some kind of explanation or analysis that can help to explain why certain people prefer certain kinds of gaming styles?

Immediately, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) comes to mind as a helpful tool.

Of course it is over-simplification to classify all the varied people in the world into merely 16 personality types, but as these things go, the MBTI is pretty accurate and useful in being able to discern the preferences of groups of people.

Do bear in mind, no one preference is “better” than another, they’re just different. The main goal of the MBTI, as I see it, is more to allow people to understand that folks around them can have very different, but equally valid, preferences.

It’s beyond the scope of this post to cover the MBTI in detail. If you want one of those quick quizes that will approximate your MBTI, you can try out the Humanmetrics one here.

If you want to just read all the options and pick the one that best fits you, the Personality Pathways page explains what all those funky I, E, S, N, T, F, J, P letters mean.

Doing the Humanmetrics one for myself, I score this result:

INTP
Introvert(100%)  iNtuitive(50%)  iNtuitive  Thinking(62%)  Perceiving(44)%
  • You have strong preference of Introversion over Extraversion (100%)
  • You have moderate preference of Intuition over Sensing (50%)
  • You have distinctive preference of Thinking over Feeling (62%)
  • You have moderate preference of Perceiving over Judging (44%)

Typelogic explains the INTP personality in a lot more detail. I’m heartily amused by their turn of phrase, “A major concern for INTPs is the haunting sense of impending failure.” I’m sure regular readers of this blog are quite aware that I can sit around a lot obsessing about being seen as incompetent.

We’re “pensive, analytical folks,” “relatively easy-going and amenable to almost anything until their principles are violated”, but “prefer to return, however, to a reserved albeit benign ambiance, not wishing to make spectacles of themselves.”

That’s pretty much me to a T.

“So what does this have to do with gaming? “INTPs thrive on systems. Understanding, exploring, mastering, and manipulating systems can overtake the INTP’s conscious thought.”

Like I mentioned before, I play all this shit in my sidebar to grok things out. I may find one or two games that seem worthwhile to play around in for the long-term, but you bet I am dabbling with lots of other games on the side as well. I need my novelty fix or I will go crazy. I’ve learned not to expect that one single game will ever sate me entirely, so I game-hop tons, but keep one or two primary games to focus on. (It’s perhaps telling that I have to quantify and say two games, I don’t think I can ever just focus on one, period.)

INTPs are, however, not a big part of the population. Various sources peg us at about 1-3% representation, which makes us fairly un-average. We easily baffle other people who don’t share our same preferences. We’re quite easily misunderstood. The only thing we really have going for us is people stop and blink when we make one of our insightful or creative comments from time to time. 🙂

We can’t help ourselves though. We can’t help but wonder about stuff.

Like, has anyone else thought about the MBTI in relation to gaming? Or MBTI and MMOs specifically?

Google to the rescue. Sometime back in 2008, a guy made a blog post about it and made a few predictions for where you might find the various types. I think he’s a little off, and making guesses that veer toward horoscope-y, but at least he’s thought about it some.

What we really need though, is data. (Or so says the Thinking preference in me.)

In 2004, at the MUD Developers Conference, Kevin Saunders wrote a paper titled Applying Myers-Briggs Type Indicators (MBTI®) to Massively Multiplayer Online Game (MMOG) Design (I can’t seem to link the Quick View version – please google “MBTI and gaming” to get the link if you can’t FTP.)

One of the most interesting discoveries he made was that compared to the general population, we see a much stronger representation of introverts, intuitives, and/or feelers online. He goes on to surmise what kinds of game features would best appeal to this potential customer base. (This was way back in 2004 though, it’ll be interesting to see if populations have shifted any, what with WoW bringing in more mainstream game players.)

For example, introverts recover energy by spending time alone. Speaking for myself, I score extremely highly on the introversion scale, I’d be an 11 on a scale of 10 if they had one. I -need- solo time to myself. I find it very relaxing, especially if I’ve had to face people all day in real life while at work. The last thing I want to do is spend all of my game time feeling forced to socialize with others.

Add on irregular gaming hours and I become quite leery of committing myself anywhere.  Add on a preference for Perceiving, ie. unstructured activities, not being chained to a schedule, going with the flow and a Thinking preference that leaves me more interested in objective facts than what other people think and consensus-building (aka no drama, kthxbai) and I’m not your regular guild attendee. I’m quite thankful Guild Wars 2 allows multiple guilds and that a solo personal guild is quite viable if you’re patient and don’t mind spending some gold from time to time.

I’m not all people though. I suspect those with a Feeling preference would be much more inclined to seek out other people and socialize, introvert or not. And hey, Feelers are apparently the majority online, so there’s lots of potential guild members right there.

Extraverts would probably go crazy or get utterly bored of the game if they had to be by themselves for a while, so guilds and being able to party with whoever and whenever they wish is a game feature right up their alley.

I’ve no real idea how Sensing/Intuition relates to MMO gaming as yet, except maybe Sensers might need more guided step-by-step instructions and tutorials, while Intuitives may be more comfortable just feeling their way through and figuring out new concepts? That’s just a wild guess, though.

The Judging preference might be more telling. I’m guessing that Judgers really like a sense of structure to their gaming. They need to be able to make plans, to see the next goal ahead of them, and are probably the most likely to enjoy making lots of to-do lists and checking them off. They probably make good hardcore raider types. Scheduled activities, regular repetition, sense of progression, and what-have-you. Discipline is their watchword. I wonder if these are the folks that tend to seek that refined sense of accomplishment over just simple ordinary everyday fun?

If you ask me, Guild Wars 2 does a fantastic job catering to all types of preferences. There’s stuff for soloers, stuff for groups, most of it optional or do it at your own pace. You can run through the world going from heart to heart, POI to waypoint like a laundry list of things to get done to accomplish 100% world completion and get a shiny gold star, or you can wander around aimlessly to check out the hill over yonder, ignoring anything that doesn’t interest you (Bhagpuss is the epitome of this style of play, eh?)

You can play WvW or sPvP or dungeons in a hardcore fashion, with schedules, guild organization, alarm clocks, practice sessions and more, for high stakes. Or you can dabble in the same activities in a more leisurely, PUG or hotjoin manner at a lower level of intensity – just accept you’ll be steamrolled by those playing at a higher intensity level. The cost of high intensity is faster burnout, so it all balances out in the end.

Perhaps the only thing that the panacea of Guild Wars 2 hasn’t solved yet is how to help different gaming preferences find like souls.

I did some jumping with a 25% speed thief and somehow squeezed past some geometry into this little private section of Sparkfly Fen. This little illicit thrill of breaking the boundaries exploring and being in a place few ever get to gives me a helluva lot more ‘hee-hee’ laughs and satisfaction than, for example, out-playing someone and getting to do a finishing move on them.

I’m a lot less dedicated than these guys to the art or sport of walljumping, but it’s nice knowing a few like-minded souls are out there. (I learned just by watching someone a little secret climbing spot in the Lunatic Inquisition map, fer example, though it got fixed and blocked later on.)

Maybe some day, an MMO will figure out how to help players with similar preferences and playstyles find each other. Timezones, alas, do not help. (More than once, I’ve seen an NA guild or two that looks it might match me, but yeaaaah… 12 hours difference is hard to work around.)

Until then, I guess we just have to play our MMOs and enjoy them our way, while recognizing they’re populated with a whole host of people with varying preferences and priorities.

Why You Game – Think About It

Today, I’m going to advocate the unthinkable, I’m going to suggest that more people should emulate griefers.

WHAT?

In one important aspect at least: to have examined your own motives for play, and be clear about your own objectives.

We get angry with griefers because they spoil our fun. They’re not playing the way they’re supposed to. They’re not “following the rules” of the game, and their objective is often diametrically opposed to most other peoples’ goals in the game. They’re out to make people angry, frustrated, ragequit, or get some manner of reaction in some way, because they find it fun to mess with people like that.

But one of the things they subconciously (or purposefully, if they’re the type to think through and articulate their reasons) do  is become very clear about what they want to get out of “playing” the game (their way,) and defined their own victory conditions (number of people getting angry or ragequitting or comment threads or attention paid to them or whatever.)

Of course I morally disapprove of griefers for two main reasons – I don’t think their chosen behavior is healthy for themselves, and certainly not for other people either. It doesn’t seem like a long term strategy for getting along, just a short term “one-upping” that has to be constantly repeated for kicks, and turn into a bad habit or addiction. For me, it’s a real world philosophy seeping in – I think it’s dysfunctional and small minded for people to be happy when they are making other people unhappy. I meet some people in the real world like this – they need to put others down in order to make themselves feel better, they demand attention and get loud and strident when ignored – and it just leaves a nasty taste in my mouth.

Essentially, they’re playing a very zero sum game. I win, you lose. In their minds, they can only get ahead of others if you’ve lost. If they lose and you win, then they just get more furious and pissed off and try even harder to shift the balance to the other side of the slider.

Thing is, the world isn’t so two-dimensional. There’s another side of the matrix. Too much of the above kind of fighting and it all becomes “I lose you lose.” In which case, no one wins, no one had fun or a good time, and the net misery level of the world went up (which is all very well if that’s specifically your goal, but I’m not that nihilistic, even if it’s 2012 and the Mayans tell us we’re doomed.)

The old prisoner’s dilemma thing – which we will touch on more in ATITD related posts – and the trust factor.

There’s also “I win you win,” the last corner of the matrix,  and “I get by, you get by” which is sort of the middle path, an emergent property from the win/lose matrix.

Griefers are an extreme case. If we dial back several notches from chaos (from not respecting other players or the game’s rules) and into lawfulness, we land in the territory of competition.

Now competition is a necessary and healthy counterpart to cooperation. Without that drive to be the tiniest bit better, to improve one’s self, we’d probably be back in the Stone Ages or likely dead as a species. The force of evolution works by only keeping those that are a bit better than the rest, so it’s no wonder it’s ingrained in us to not be the last guy that gets eaten by the sabre tooth cat.

Looking at the amounts of Achieving going on in MMOs, of  in-groups of raiders or PvPers, matches and tournaments and leaderboards, suffice to say that competition is well and alive in MMOs, reflects much of our real world competitive psyche, and is a source of fun for many people.

But I’d like to ask everyone to pause here and reflect for themselves if this really is the case for them specifically.

Why am I so obsessed with this? It has to do with my prior history in games.

When I first began playing online games in the form of a MUD, I fell hook line and sinker into the stated premise of the game. Get more levels and hit max level. The faster you can do this, the more “pro” and hardcore you are. The more characters you have at max level, the more respected you are, you must apparently know so much about the game and have so many tools you can use to overcome game challenges. Join newbie guilds to get to know people, and you might get invited to a more elite guild type known as an “Order” if you are a promising young padawan. At max level, and with groups of people, you can go on “runs” to defeat big bosses (essentially raids in simplified form) for better gear, which would help you to kill bigger mobs until you get to the (current) ultimate big bads of Seth and Merlin.

In addition, the MUD had ‘quests’ which were human-created, they were essentially competitions run by volunteer player staff known as “immortals.” These often comprised of answering trivia knowledge questions about the MUD and its areas and mobs and lore, or running around the world killing special quest mobs or picking up special items – whose locations you would put together from given clues and also tested MUD knowledge. Again, I fell into this by chance. It so happens that I type quite a bit faster than most people, and maybe pay a bit more attention to the words on a screen that formed MUD ‘rooms.”

As a newbie, I started winning these competitions, and started gaining a reputation to the point that some people would see my name appear and go, “Dang, there goes my chances of winning.” As I got into more runs and joined an elite Order, my gear got better and better, making quest mob kills easier. I learned from my idols and heroes at the time, veterans of the game who were better than I, and strove to emulate them. I started leading runs for newer players, then leading quests, and even leading a guild (while maintaining my connection to the elite Order so that we could feed in the promising players into the Order.)

Our Order in turn took off from the ground up to become pretty much the ultimate (or penultimate, there was one more secret Order that never let on what they were up to, and contained a lot of old immortal player alts – they kept themselves to themselves, and stayed out of the MUD grapevine, possibly because they didn’t want accusations of cheating with their immortal characters) guild. We had our own ‘server first’ by being the only guild that could get to and kill Merlin for quite a long period of time.

I basically bought into the fame and the image that others had and expected of me. I had responsibilities, and expectations to live up to. And winning has its dark side.

This article in particular – How to Lose at Golden Demon – spawned my post today because it resonated so much with me.

After you win, and have a series of wins under your belt, comes the fear. The fear of one day losing. Of not being good anymore. No one wins forever. One day, some new and younger person turns up to upstage you. Your limelight is gone. Your self-image, which you constructed from the surface impressions of other people, shatters or at least takes a heavy beating.

Every loss makes you more focused to win once again. And danger of dangers, you end up focusing on the goal and the end results, rather than the means or the present activity. Therein lies “grind.” Therein lies the threat of not respecting anything or anyone other than the altar of first prize. I turned pretty ugly in those days when a guy showed up who managed to upstage me a few times. Though I tried to control it, I have been guilty of lashing out once or twice at fellow guildmates whom I thought “slowed me down” at the time and let the other guys win. Temper and obsession do not a pretty picture make.

My ruthlessness even shocked a fellow guildmate when we were having a friendly in-guild PvP tournament, and when there were three of us left, I concocted an alliance with the other person to defeat him first because we knew he had the best gear of us all. He never quite got over the revelation of how calculating I was and focused on “playing to win.”

Competition can change you. Take a look at these Neptune’s Pride epic diaries from Rock, Paper Shotgun and Electron Dance. It’s interesting to see how different people react to competition. One or two simply shut down and become avoidant (Me, I don’t think that’s a fair way to go about it, because I would respect the rules of a game if I decide to play it, but hey, it worked for them.) Some just do their best but balance their real world and game time. And a few gamers (and I empathize with them because I have those tendencies) get really deadly obsessive and they can even frighten themselves in retrospect.

There are positive aspects to competition, don’t get me wrong. It makes for high drama, and good memories and a grand story to be told at the end. There is an adrenaline rush that can never be replaced. It makes you push yourself further than you would go on your own, left to your own devices. It offers a good challenge, the opportunity to test one skills, etc.

But it’s also easy to glorify competition in our society. Which then leads to getting carried away by competition – it’s the nature of the beast. There’s a very male monkey hierarchy thing going on.

And in the end, it behooves us to take a step back and examine ourselves to see if that’s really the way we want to keep going.

We don’t have to go to extremes either way. I’m not saying that oh, all competition is bad, and we should become communists and hold hands and sing “Kumbaya” together. That way doesn’t work either, not all of us are cut out for hippy commune living.

But we aren’t -just- monkeys all the time. Life works on a balance of competition and cooperation. Human society succeeds with a fair share of altruism, connected groups may get ahead better. (In later posts about ATITD, we’ll touch more on this, ATITD reflects life in microcosm really well.)

Brian Campbell from the Escapist Magazine suggests we might be able to let up once in a while and be a little altruistic even in our competitions (as long as it’s not a professional tournament where folks have to be serious and such.)

Even Sirlin quantifies that playing to win doesn’t have to be ALL THE TIME, ALL-OR-NOTHING. There’s also putzing around for nonproductive fun or experimentation with strategies that can be a balance point to being competitive.

And he also acknowledges that for many people, playing to win isn’t everything in life. He writes his stuff for those who have decided and articulated the goal they are striving for, to improve themselves and win tournaments, which to me is fantastic – all power to them, and it gave me insight into a way of thinking that is personally quite alien for me.

I finally realized this, based on examining my experiences. When I bought into the goals of the masses on the MUD, I became another person. It was someone with all the trappings of success and had reached the top, but secretly, inside, I was not happy. I was proud, fearful, and most of all, lonely. There’s awfully rarefied air at the top. You push away connections or they push away from you. They put you on a pedestal to be admired and become distant. Your in-group becomes very small, as you stomp on others to get up there, and everyone else is out-group to be despised or feared or hated or looked upon as a threat. And in turn, they don’t like you much either.

For some, while I’ve been saying is probably unthinkable. “Why -wouldn’t- you be happy when you win? -I- love winning!”

Possibly it’s like winning the lottery, you won’t know until you’ve been there. Turns out we’re poor estimaters of our own future happiness as hedonistic adaptation kicks in.

Or maybe you really are different from me, and your brain is structured in a way that really enjoys those kicks of winning and you love the spotlight of fame and it would never make you lonely or miserable or sad. In which case, all power to you, if you’ve examined that for yourself. There are games out there that really suit you.

But please, do take time to examine your motives and goals to see if they are your own, or someone else’s or what society (in-game or real world) thinks you should be doing.

It’s too easy to get caught up in what the game says you’re supposed to achieve, or what other people expect of you, and end up striving to match those expectations. Ultimately even if you achieved them, they may end up feeling quite hollow if they don’t match with your internal compass.

For myself, I feel happier when I’m helping others, teaching them, expressing understanding and loving-kindness and patience. I feel happier when I’m improving my own skills and learning at my own pace, rather than feeling obliged to keep up or match some standard of achievement. I feel happier when I’m playing for the sake of play, to experiment, to wander, to wonder, to discover and marvel.

Striving against obstacles (people or computer controlled or inanimate) to achieve a victory state is core to many games. But I treat this Achievement or rather the act of achieving (we too often focus on the end result these days, and that leads to “grind”)  as just a subset of my play. Now and then, I indulge it, because that’s also a part of myself that I must acknowledge. I enjoy the dings and the progress bar increments and even team-based PvP match “wins” from time to time. The sense of fiero as a reward is fun, but I remain aware of it and am careful to avoid jumping down the pit of the dark side. Been there, done that, really didn’t like it.