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. 😛

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.

Blogging Cowboys of the Modern Age

Lately, the MMO “blogosphere” (if it actually exists) has been asking one question.

Where have all the blogging cowboys gone?

The answer’s obvious, isn’t it?

Some grew up and got older and prioritized other things to do with their time than write blog posts – like start a family, begin a new job, play non-MMO games, continue playing MMOs but not bother to chronicle or document it.

The others, well, they haven’t gone anywhere.

But as both the genre and the blog authors get older, interests have diverged, with a myriad variety of games to sate them.

Take a look at the sidebars of the two blogs I check out (MMO Gypsy and Inventory Full)  in lieu of Google Reader to see recent updates of other blogs (I’d love to do the same but default WordPress is crummy) and just scan the subject matter.

Bloggers are talking about WoW, TSW, GW2, Eve, SWTOR, Rift, LOTRO, Firefall, World of Tanks, Civilization, Minecraft, Sims 3, Planescape: Torment, etc.

I scan a good number of these because I’m an inveterate and totally unchoosy game sampler. I own or have played a good number of these, thus understanding the specific jargon used and have a moderate amount of interest in checking out how others are getting along in them.

But to be honest, my greatest attention and most in-depth read throughs are of my immediate game of choice, which firmly ensconces me in a teeny tiny community of three “regulars” – Ravious and Bhagpuss my other partners in wall-of-text-crime, and I’m beginning to worry that Bhagpuss is losing interest in GW2, which is going to leave Ravious and me in a lonely little echo chamber.

Semi-periodic updates and comments by Syp, Syl, Paeroka, Kichwas, J3w3l, Rakuno, Tremayne, Valourborn, Lothirieth, João Carlos, Ursan, and any others I unfortunately missed, let me know there is a mini-community of irregulars who still dabble with GW2 and/or are interested in reading about other people writing about it.

As part of a wider MMO blog community, I lurk around and read and idly comment on a whole bunch of other blogs from time to time: in no particular order, Rowan Blaze, Stubborn, Klepsacovic, Telwyn, Liore, Azuriel, MMOgamerchick, TeshRohanPsychochild, Tobold, Spinks, Saylah, and of course, Wilhelm Arcturus, who got this round’s topic discussion ball rolling.

And if you look at any of the latter blogs, you will see that they too have their own mini game specific communities of TSW people, or Eve Online players, or WoW stalwarts with whom they interact and whose paths I would rarely cross, being not a current player of any of those games.

In the so-called previous heyday, there was mostly only one game to talk about. World of Warcraft. Then later, the “generally understood” peak was the hype surrounding Warhammer when everyone leapt on the blog bandwagon.

Nowadays, you might say that MMO blogs have lost focus, or diversified, depending on how kindly or unkindly you wish to term it.

Personally, I think it’s just an unavoidable symptom of the genre maturing and more games being developed for different niches of MMO players. Progression raiders and sandbox PvPers and themepark achiever tourists all move in separate circles.

As the genre matures, commercialization takes over. News sites like Massively aggregate content and develop their own community. MMOs themselves create forum boards and form their own community nuclei.

And as the younger generation muscles in on older veterans’ territory, they bring with them their Youtube videos and their social media like Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, et. al. all of which form different communities to compete with the blogging one for audience attention.

The community I frequent right now  (GW2 Reddit, GW2 forums, Tarnished Coast forums) will not be the same one as an Eve player, or a lost soul looking for the next MMO to satisfy them (Massively’s full of those.)

And that’s as it should be.

Blogging is only one niche of many. But it has a function that is hard to replace by other competitors. It serves as a repository of independent voices – subjective opinion and editorial, personal feedback and reaction, game design analysis, pretty screenshots and commentary.

A post takes less time to consume than a video, there’ll always be room for blogs, if people care to visit and write them.

In short, if you want a blogging community, it behooves you to form your own. Go visit and bookmark your favorite sites to read and leave a comment here and there. Develop your own circle and fellowship.

Some blogging cowboys have settled down, perhaps started families, and become townsmen and farmers and merchants and businessmen.

A few others have hung up their hats, having gotten tired of the existing trail, but still are itching to become pioneers, looking forward to the next gold rush.

Others have become spacemen or conspiracy theorists.

But they all still have interesting stories to tell, if you care to stop by and listen.