Sunday, October 11, 2009

Massively Meditative Online Games

Longasc tells me that I don’t “get” Aion. If you examine my last post in isolation, it’s easy to shrug off my criticism of Aion as coming from someone who doesn’t understand the appeal of the game. My comments might appear to be similar to the kind of comments a sports-indifferent person would make towards a Madden game.

I do “get” Aion. And I “get” theme-park and grind-fest MMOs. I know what the appeal is and I have enjoyed the style of gameplay in the past. I’ve been playing DDO and genuinely enjoying the game—DDO typifies the theme-park style of play as well as any game. I’ve played and genuinely enjoyed first-generation MMOs that rely on grinds. I didn’t stop playing Aion because I didn’t understand the point of playing the game, I stopped playing because I don’t think it’s a fun game to play. If a game’s not fun, it’s not worth my time.

There are four reasons why people play games past where they’re having fun:

  1. Completionism. Some players enjoy finishing games and achieving all there is to achieve, regardless of grinds, frustration, and a general lack of fun.
  2. Meditation. When a game is sufficiently easy and grants a constant, pleasant stream of ego-ticklers, you can fall into a meditative state of relaxed play where you’re not having fun, but you are mechanically engaged in a way that allows your mind to rest. In the movie Layer Cake, one character tells another that he enjoys disassembling and reassembling his pistol without looking—he claims the mechanical activity allows his body to be occupied so that his mind can be freed. This is meditation.
  3. It’s better to play a game that occupies you than to be bored otherwise. Some players play because otherwise they wouldn’t know what to do with their time—they’d be bored otherwise, so they chose to do something that at least will occupy their time. The minor social and mechanical rewards are enough of a prod that they don’t forget about the game, so they keep logging in.
  4. It’s better to play a game with friends, even if it’s not fun, than to play any game alone. Social and casual players will play where their friends are because playing the game is secondary to sharing an experience with their friends.

Although, in the past, I’ve tried (and sometimes enjoyed briefly) playing games because of the first two reasons, I currently fit none of these descriptions. I don’t play games past the point at which they’ve stopped being fun. I get far less satisfaction from having finished a game than from enjoying the game’s content; I have other meditative hobbies (I play drums and write); I have other activities to occupy my time while not gaming and not working; I don’t tend to make friends that share my taste in games—I haven’t been able to find an MMO that has been enough fun to keep me around so long that I could find a guild with which to fall in love.

I play games to reach a flow state and have an enjoyable and memorable experience.

Challenge_vs_skill[1] 

Most MMOs are at best in the “Control” section of this skill vs. challenge graph. In the “control” state, I have relatively high skill and the game is built for moderately-skilled players, so I can experiment with impunity and have some fun. Aion is in the “Relaxation” state for most of its players, but for me it sits firmly in the “Boredom” state. It’s not because I’m mediocre, but because the game doesn’t allow me to be much better than some arbitrary point that happens to fall within the boredom octant of my personal state graph.

I play games to get into the “Flow” state. When I started playing MMOs, I found it easy to get into the flow state because the challenge was high compared to my skill and knowledge of the games—I was innocent and the game worlds were full of magnificent mysteries that intrigued me. Now I see straight through every challenge presented in a typical play session of an MMO, so games like Aion have sunk from Flow or Arousal down to Boredom, Relaxation, and, ultimately, Apathy. If I don’t see myself having a chance at reaching the flow state in a game, I will not waste my time with it. There are always better games out there waiting to be found; there’s no reason to squander my time with mediocrity.

8 comments:

Dblade said...

So you pretty much want a high challenge game so you can work towards developing high skill and reach a flow state. Problem with Aion is that you've done it before so much that it goes straight to easy and mindless.

Maybe something like an MMOFPS? It's hard to think of a game both hard enough and alien enough to current MMO models to attract you.

Longasc said...

I wonder which MMO actually ever reaches the FLOW state of high challenge and requiring high player skill. EVE comes quite close, but only for a while. Once you understood the mechanics and got some practice, it can become a VERY boring game. Unless you somehow get into this meta-gaming thing in EVE, which I apparently did not.

I think you picked the idea from the game design blog, and I think there is something that is quite hard to describe, it is called immersion. The sense of wonder. At the moment I am exploring LOTRO, I just found a dragon cave in the Misty Mountains. This makes one forget that I killed dozens of not really challenging Wargs on my way there. Then I am also progressing because I want to see Moria.

In contrast to games, I think MMOs, even if many players nowadays "solo play", have a strong social and "world" component that is also very important to consider while designing the game.

evizaer said...

Notice that the flow state doesn't necessarily have to occur in only high challenge, high skill scenarios. It occurs on entirely half of the graph where challenge meets skill evenly.

DDO has gotten me into a flow state several times. The dungeon delving on hard and elite with just me and a friend can be just on the verge of doable if we communicate well and play at our best. That's exactly what I'm looking for. DDO does tend to be a little samey in tilesets and monsters through the first four levels: lots of kobolds. But that doesn't prevent me from reaching a flow state if the kobolds are require my attention and sufficiently occupy my tactical processes.

Anonymous said...

I just wanted to say this post is an incredible breakdown of every driving force behind what I have ever experienced while playing an MMO. Heck you can apply those 4 reasons to life in general. These are what is behind all the WoW hate IMO, whereas 11 million people are happy playing it. From one persons perspective, maybe an EVE player, WoW is not complex enough. But its FUN, and there is no denying that.

Regarding Aion, NCsoft is quadrupling the exp from quests in the next patch, so I don't believe the grindyness has gone unnoticed. I play mainly for the RvR aspect, which is reminiscent of DAOC - my fave MMO ever. Aion draws the same sort of faction pride that DAOC did, something that WoW discourages IMO.

Crimson Starfire said...

Great article! I definitely fall under the meditation category of players while playing Aion. I don't really like the game, but playing it relaxes me... weird huh?

online games said...

I am also crazy about online gams. I have seen some of the people didn’t understand the point of playing the game, they stopped playing. But I think this is not the only way to analyze video games.

Filipe said...

High challenge comes from human competition, aka Player Vs Player.
The PvE's should be the tutorials of the games (and the only "RPG" style of any game) with the option of skipping it later.

I think a good game design idea for games with character progression (leveling, getting gear, etc) is the way DOTA is designed - everyone starts from scratch at the same time.

Basically, this could be just 2 gamemodes of the same game - one where you are at the max level with your weapons of choice, and the other where you start at level 1 with everyone else in a sort of "instance".

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