The MMORPG phenomenon has been the focus of much discussion and debate when discussing unhealthy trends in internet and gaming activity. Since World of Warcraft showed just how popular MMORPG’s could get, other game developer’s rushed to create their own persistent online worlds where gamers could log and begin a new adventure of discovery. The success of the Blizzard business model has been a watershed event for the MMORPG. Perceptually it has moved from a niche market to a mainstream game genre. The MMORPG has also taken the blunt of anti-video game organizations who state that these games are highly addictive and dangerous. Determining why people play and why they play so much should help to uncover the truth or falsity of such panic.
Let us begin with a spectrum:
Determined by Skill-------------------------------------------------Determined by Chance
This spectrum makes one assumption of all games and that is as follows: all games have two fundamental aspects that determine their outcome. One is an element of skill, the other an element of chance, or random occurrence. The Element of chance can be divided into two categories. The first is elements of chance that are built into a game. For example, one element built into baseball that affects both teams but that neither control, is the umpires. Sometimes they will call a pitch that looks good a ball and can sometimes do the opposite. This often affects both sides, which is to say if 2 opponents, or 2 teams are playing each other, the random variable affects both equally. However in the case of the bad call, it can often turn the game in favor of one team, so it can “break” the impartiality of pure competition. Your pitch is only as good as the call the umpire gives it, unless of course the batter swings at it. To give an example related to computer games, in Guild Wars, your character’s damage dealt is random, you cannot control exactly how much damage your character deals, nor can you ‘will’ your character to swing harder or focus more on this next fireball. The second manifestation of chance occurs externally to the rules of the game; for example when a star athlete underperforms, it could be due to fatigue or stress that has nothing to do with the mechanics or rules of the game he is playing.
The next assumption is that if there are 2 elements that make up how a game turns out (skill and chance) then these 2 elements will exist in varying degrees in different games. The left hand of the spectrum refers to games whose outcome is overwhelmingly determined by skill, and the right hand side refers to games that are determined almost entirely by chance. There are no absolutes however, no game can be determined without both factors.
To prove this lets take a game like chess. The end objective of the game, stated as simply as possible, is to defeat your opponent. Both players begin with the same 16 pieces placed on opposite sides of the board; both adhere to the exact same rules. The only internal element of chance in chess is that white makes the first move. To offset this random variable, chess matches will often consist of an even number of games, say 8, where each player will play both colors 4 times. The rules are simple enough, and the internal variables are kept to an absolute minimum. This is why chess depends so much on skill, because all other factors have been isolated to put as much focus of the game on each player’s ability to plan and coordinate their pieces throughout the course of the game. External elements such as stress and fatigue can have significant impact on chess because it requires a high level of concentration to play well, however within the structure of the game itself, skill is isolated as the determinant variable.
To get a clearer idea of the opposite side of the spectrum, let us take a game of chance that behaves in opposite proportions. The slot machine requires little to no skill beyond having the manual dexterity to enter a coin and pull the lever, and the ability to recognize when you have won some money. The mechanics of the game operate purely on chance; there is no way to alter the odds of winning other than by putting in more and more coins. External random elements, such as stress or concentration or fatigue, have very little impact on the end result, no matter how tired you are, you can still put a quarter in a slot and pull a lever, you might do it a little slower, but it is basically the same. Internal random elements make up the entire process of the slot machine, without the hard coded probabilities for winning, you have no game. People gamble to win just like they play chess to win, the difference being that there is no opponent and there is no concrete victory, unless the gambler sets one of his or her own.
Now if the slot machine example makes you uncomfortable, there is another game we can use that fits of the extreme chance end of the spectrum, it is a card game called ‘war’. You want to read the rules, check out this site: http://www.pagat.com/war/war.html
The internal variables structured into war completely remove all elements of skill from the game. You just reveal the top card and either collect or lose over and over until someone has all the cards.
To give you an indication of the differences in skill level required, a few lines of code would provide you with a computer program that would play war perfectly. In order to play chess at a high level, IBM used a computer system so sophisticated in the Deep Blue design that it is also used to help forecast the weather and develop new drug therapies.
What we have just distinguished are two spectrums where one end depends largely on the skill of the person playing the game, and the other end depends largely on the random elements built into the game. Notice that the skill end requires an intelligent calculating opponent (or a super computer), and the other end requires someone to keep revealing the top card of their library over and over, or in the example of the slot machine, no one has to be there at all. In fact, you could just play war by yourself and the game would play itself out exactly the same way, unless the human opponent you would have faced was a cheater.
Also note that the proportions of internal and external chance vary greatly from one end to the other. On the skill end, internal random elements must be kept to a strict minimum so that the skill of the two players can be isolated as much as possible, just like a science experiment. The external random elements on the skill end dwarf the internal ones. On the chance end, it is the reverse. Internal random elements are much more influential than external ones. In the slot machine randomness determines whether you win or lose, in war your victory is determined entirely by chance, that is to say, how good your cards were, and the luck of what cards were revealed at what time.
Analyzing the MMO, breaking down where the skill comes in
Based on the assumptions built into the skill/chance spectrum, in order to determine the extent to which skill determines the outcome of the objective of an MMORPG, we need to determine to what extent internal random variables affect the gameplay.
First however, I think it would be a good time to determine exactly what the outcome, or objective of an MMORPG is. In this regard, the best source of statistical data on MMORPG players is found on the internet under the title of the Daedalus project (see www.nickyee.com/daedalus for all the census and interview data). One particular graph suites our purposes of determining player objectives when playing MMORPG’s. A survey performed on the website tried to determine what player’s primary motivation was for playing. Due to the multi-dimensional responses of many respondents, only 57% of the respondents could clearly be given a primary motivation. Of this 57% it was determined that 20% play primarily for achievement, 20% play primarily for immersion, and 17% play primarily for social reasons. What the study also stressed was that primary motivations do not conflict with other motivations, which means that someone who claims their primary motivation is to socialize can also enjoy the feeling of advancement in the game etc. Yee’s analysis claims that all players’ can have their motivations mapped out on a graph with these three components as the axes of the graph. Here is an example of a player who puts less emphasis on immersion and achievement and more on socializing, notice how cleanly the motivations can be determined just by looking at the graph:
For our purposes, it is clear that the MMORPG community plays for many different reasons, yet the end result of their character vis-ŕ-vis the game world is in essence the same. If someone spends a lot of time leveling their character just to chat with friends, and someone else spends a lot of time leveling their character because they want to be the best, while their reasons may have been different, the end is the same: a higher level character with more abilities and better items. Notice also that regardless of the motivation of the player, the game in and of itself ends at the same time, when there are no more dungeons or areas left to explore and no more items to obtain. Therefore, the process of playing the game in and of itself is relatively unaffected by a player’s motivation. By one method or another, be it dungeon crawling or stealing from other players, be it grinding for XP or leeching XP, be it figuring it out yourself or reading a walkthrough, people will level up, get items and hone specific skills.
The end result in such games, regardless of the reason for playing them, is very similar. Therefore, we have a loosely defined objective, which is to level up a character and make that character powerful so that more areas of the game can be explored. The competitive player would do this to keep getting better, the social player would do this to increase the potential arena for socializing (that is to say that the more of the world the social player can visit, the more people he or she can socialize with). The player who focuses on immersion would inevitably want to see more content as the content he is currently experiencing gets old.
The Internal Variables Involved
We have an objective: to make a powerful character so that all or most of what the game has to offer can be experienced. How do we reach this objective? We reach it by leveling up and doing quests in the game world. Now let us determine how much of the leveling and questing process is determined by internal variables built into the game structure.
The first, and it would seem the last, and damning fundamental variable of an MMORPG type game is that your character is only as powerful as the structure of the game. You the player, no matter how hard you try, no matter how much thought you put into it, cannot fundamentally alter the power of your character in relation to the game world. If you look at the forums for many popular MMO’s, you will often find many people complaining about this or that character class being too good, or their character class being underpowered. The reason for this is that a class is only as good as the game developers allow it to be. As the balances are altered and more patches are put in, more and more people complain that some classes are too weak and that other classes are too strong due to an ability that is ‘broken’ or imbalanced. This in effect reveals a fundamental flaw of MMO game design. A character is only as powerful as the game design allows. This means that two players, one of average skill and one of excellent skill, both controlling the same characters, due to the stringent limitations of the game design, will both be relatively equal in terms of effectiveness.
In essence because these types of games are utterly dominated by their internal structure, and knowledge of these variables is what leads to experiencing more of the game (i.e.: seeing more internal variables), an MMORPG ends up being a game that plays itself and the player is simply a spectator in many varying and pretty things that he is actually completely unable to fundamentally change or dynamically control. His joy originates from convincing himself that he is actually employing skill in what he is doing, or perhaps from something entirely alien to the actual structure of the game.
Let us look at combat conceptually to explain this. Each character has a damage output and a capacity to resist damage taken. Here is the fundamental rule of all combat in such games: If through the use of abilities and limited use items, your character’s damage output can proportionately outpace the damage output of your opponent(s), then you will win the battle, if not, then you will lose. What this means is that if by using all the options available to you, you take off 5% of your opponents’ total health every hit and he takes 3% off of yours, then you will win. But if you deal 5% per hit and he deals 7% then you will lose. This scales itself to the number of opponents; if there are 2 opponents then your damage output must be more than double of one of theirs in order to survive.
Mathematically, it means that if you come across two enemies each with a big “3” on his head, than you have to come up with at least “7”. If it is three enemies of the same then you have to come up with at least “10”. Getting a bigger number is a function of knowing where to go to learn more abilities and obtain better items. I will say it again; fundamentally, your character already has a ceiling on how good he or she can be, limited by the game mechanics, and getting a character to that ceiling is generally a function of willingness to invest time and a determination to grind through all the repetitive activities.
The Inherent circularity of such activity
MMO’s are typically dominated by combat. A character’s progress is often determined by damage output potential and damage absorption potential. As your character gets bigger, the monsters get bigger as well, and as you kill the bigger monsters and get bigger yourself, the monsters are scaled again and again. What is maintained in this proportion is that no matter how high a damage output or damage absorption, the basic dynamics of the combat will always be the same. Stated simply, you kill monsters and get bigger, so you can *keep killing more monsters and getting bigger, so you can (loop sentence at *). The end comes when there are no more monsters you cannot kill, and so game developers, who have perfected the design of their never-ending games will re-design the end game so that individual characters will never be powerful enough to kill the biggest monsters alone. Having achieved such things, the combat oriented player would be satiated and would probably play a lot less. But if you never give him the final taste of satisfaction and victory over the mightiest foe, you can keep dangling that in front of him.
This design element is actually brilliant on the part of game developers. It forces players to become part of groups or guilds and make a lot of friends online so that they can all go after the biggest monsters that cannot be faced alone. Such activities reinforce group dependence, and suppress independence and a players’ focus on their individual skill or achievements, because if and when they realize little skill and no personal achievements really exist, they might leave. This design is meant to make players dependant on the gaming community and group activity, to make friends and attachments so that quitting becomes harder.
Achievement, is it still a game?
Many players of such games are already familiar with what I have said above. They may even agree with some, if not all of what I have argued. And yet, when it comes right down to it, even if they recognize that what they are doing is pointless or self destructive, they keep playing.
We have determined that skill has a very low impact on obtaining a powerful character. What you need more of is blind determination and willingness to invest lots of time. Now that this distinction has been made, and it is clear that the player cannot fundamentally alter the game mechanics. Let us revise the player motivations above and assess what this means in terms of what they believe they are doing.
Take the players whose primary motivation is achievement. If achievement in such games can be proven to be about time and grinding, then this player wants to invest lots of time and engage in mind numbing repetition to move up in the power hierarchy amongst other people online. The whole point is to be one of the big dogs, yet being a big dog isn’t really about skill or talent, just knowledge of game mechanics and a slight learning curve. Is this teaching the right kind of lessons to people? Is this kind of behavior healthy? Is this more a reflection of someone’s desire to reach the top of the totem pole than it is a reflection of someone’s desire to have fun and play a game? More importantly, if a game is reinforcing this type of behavior as fun, is it moral? I will let the reader decide.
Immersion or something else?
Then let us take the player who is primarily concerned with immersion in the game world. If a game does not leave much room for skill, then it must be reinforced by its immersive qualities. Players like this would be more interested in the skills and quests and little secrets the game has to offer.
Unfortunately, typical MMORPG’s have a very transparent and simplistic, almost infantile story. What this means is that the player cannot really change the story because it is designed to be static and unchanging. The most fundamental evidence of this is that your character throughout the entire story has no dialogue options when speaking to NPC’s beyond being able to say yes I will do the quest or no I will not. What this is telling you is that the story goes in one direction. You can either choose to follow the one direction the story goes in, or you can play the game for other reasons entirely.
The narratives are often disconnected and have no cohesion to them. They are structured more in the way Governments would feed propaganda to its masses: “We want you! Join the army and kill the nation’s enemies!” Incidentally, no matter how many dungeons are cleared and monsters are killed; there will always be more spawning around you, or some old ancient evil suddenly appearing that requires some smiting. Another clear indication that these stories are weak is that the PC can only relate to the world very superficially, PC’s will often only be differentiated by race or class selected. You are another soldier of fortune in the world of X, or an adventurer seeking fame and fortune in this or that fantasy setting.
If you are still not satisfied, here is another clear example of poor storytelling. You find an NPC who has an exclamation point on his head (this is to indicate he has a quest to give you). From a narrative perspective, this exclamation point is an indication that games like these are meant to appeal to lesser minds. Someone who is truly after immersion and exploration would want to talk to the NPC’s without any help and would want to find out by himself who wants him to do a quest. Putting the exclamation point does two things, first it says “we know you’re just power gaming”, and “we know you’re not that smart anyway”. Then the NPC says he lost his necklace in the lonely woods. You can either accept or decline. If you accept, a flashing arrow on the map indicates the general direction of where you have to go to get to the lonely woods. As you walk in the general direction, the map keeps telling you where it is. Often it is a long walk. When you get close enough, a flashing marker appears on the map indicating exactly where you are supposed to go. Here is yet another example of lack of immersion and simplifying role playing to cater to simpler playing styles. Suppose the NPC had said the woods were southeast of the village. You would look at your map, you would take the southern road out of the village and you would then walk south east. If there was no marker on the map you would actually have to put effort into discovering the map and advancing. And on the way, if you want to be sure of where to go, you could find other NPC’s on the road and ask them where the lonely woods are, of course in order to do this you would have to be able to use dialogue options, which most of these games do not have.
And here’s where it really fails. When you get to the lonely woods, there are 15 other players looting the same tree trunk for a magical necklace that keeps re-spawning no matter how many times it is picked up. You bring it back, and the NPC says thanks! Then you see 15 other players do the same thing and they are all thanked as well. Then new people who haven’t done the quest yet show up and the NPC asks them to go get the necklace as well. A person who actually cared about story and immersion and (dare I say it...) role playing, would try to talk to the NPC and would try to say: “Hey I just got you your missing necklace, why do you keep asking everyone else to get it, what’s going on here?”
Let’s illustrate a traditional role-playing situation; a cowboy walks into a saloon. The bartender recognizes him, pulls out his shotgun, points it at the cowboy and says “Don’t you move!” You the player control the cowboy, and you now have to choose one of several options on how to react to the situation. You could A. jump to the side and pull out your gun and take a shot. B. Say: “Do I know you?” C. Say: “Hey bud I just want a drink” D. Run out of the bar. Now in a table top RPG with a dungeon master sitting across from you, your options are infinite, and the DM will respond accordingly. In a CRPG, a limited number of responses will be coded into the game so that you can still select from a variety of choices, but unfortunately due to game mechanic limitations, you cannot do whatever pops into your head. The whole point of this situation is that you have several options, each of which forces you to decide how your character would react in the situation. Is my cowboy a sissy or on a death wish, or is he a joker? What kind of cowboy is he? In short, from this simple example we see role playing options because this is a role playing situation.
Suppose instead you saw this: a cowboy walks into a saloon. The bartender recognizes him and says “Hey you! I need someone to go down into the cellar and clear out the rats; can you do that for me?” Your options are the following, yes or no. Now of the two examples, which game do you think a player who is concerned with immersion would gravitate to? If the player’s concern is the complexity of the game world and the interactivity available, option 2 would seem pretty out of place, wouldn’t it?
One cannot help but conclude, that a player claiming they want to play the second type of game for the immersion, should be suspect in his or her supposed motivations. I would argue that what they are really seeking is escapism much more than immersion. In fact, someone who seeks to escape the real world would be opposed to experiencing a good story, and would tend to gravitate towards the second type of story, the simple one that doesn’t actually require you to do any thinking. A simple almost superfluous storyline can be engaged in without having to make any calculations, judgments or any role playing decisions at all, you can just grind through it to let the time pass. Again I ask you, does this sound like a healthy gaming experience?
But Social Gaming is healthy, right?
One of the most interesting statistics I read on the Daedalus site was that 60% of female players played with a romantic partner.
It should be noted that a significantly higher proportion of women play to socialize than men do. Men tend to play much more to compete, learn the structure of the game and gain levels. If MMO game structures are built around simple combat and simple story, then without the multiplayer aspect, would the majority of these people still play? The achiever plays to increase the power of his character, but would he be as inclined to do so if no one else was there to witness his growth? The escapist gamer plays to get away from reality. Now would he escape to the game world if he was as alone on the server as he felt he was in the real world? What this is telling you is that all of these players play for social reasons, and that their primary reason for playing is inherently tied to the fact that a bunch of other people are logged onto the game and engaged in a similar activity to theirs. There is a feeling of community, togetherness, cohesion.
Hence when we think of the social gamer, we may find that this style of play is the healthiest of the three main segments. And when we discover that the social gamer tends to put a lot less importance on achievement and immersion in the game, and that socializing is the whole point of playing, shouldn’t we ask the obvious? Why not just move to an internet chat room or go out and meet people in real life? The obvious answer is that the game structure allows people to socialize without feeling constrained by the rules of society, by the clichés of the real world. In the virtual world, you don’t have to worry about bad hygiene, a bad fashion sense, an unattractive physical appearance. In short, it is very easy to hide behind physical shortcomings and become a more idealized visual representation of yourself. You can be the tall elegant elven warrior with the sleek and sexy sword and the cool tattoos across his chest.
It should be mentioned, that like any social environment, the virtual one is home to racism, sexism, elitism, thieving, cruelty, ganking (killing lower level characters for fun), and griefing (scamming or stealing from other players purposely to hurt them). In short, the dangers of socializing in the virtual world are equal to those of the real world, with some differences. In the virtual world, no real harm can come to your physical body, with the exception of playing for a psychotic amount of consecutive hours so that your heart fails or neglecting the fact that you need to eat. But in the virtual world you can kill someone and be insanely cruel without there being any real consequences. In the real world these people hold back because there are real consequences. In the virtual world you can exhibit altruism and generosity towards lower level characters because wealth is not difficult to obtain at the higher levels. You can give some lower level character some gold that may seem like a lot to him but isn’t much to you, or you could give him a weapon that isn’t useful to you but is very useful to them. In the real world, altruism like this is harder because resources are much more scarce and valuable. If you strip a mine of its minerals and wait a half hour and come back, the minerals have not re-spawned.
Are There Healthy Motivations?
Suffice it to say that an MMORPG does not behave like a game per se, but rather like a reconstituted and specifically designed reality substitute; an online virtual world where people can log on and behave however they want to for an unspecified amount of time. Is this a game? Not really. Is this role-playing? It can be, but it is in no way related to the game itself. People do not role-play in relation to the game, since the story elements are so trite. They role-play in relation to each other. Once again, we are dealing with a reality substitute, a social arena where people can pretend to be someone else, or just be themselves, be as cruel or as kind as they want to, be as social or as anti-social as they want to, and be as constructive or destructive as they want to.
It is the recognition of this that leads us finally to understand why the game mechanics and narrative elements of MMORPG’s are both so simple and easy to pick up, the whole point of such games is the online aspect. In fact, without the online aspect, the game’s content in and of itself would not be sufficient to get these people to play nearly as much as they do. A good RPG usually stands or falls based on its content alone, that is to say how much a player can enjoy the game, alone. If the player can enjoy the RPG alone, and then a multiplayer aspect is added to the game, it’s like a cherry added to the top of a sundae that is already tasty. If the game mechanics are simple and the narrative elements are superficial, then the RPG would not work on its own. For example in some of the most popular MMORPG’s, the best dungeons cannot be done alone. This by itself would kill the single player campaign aspect, because it cannot be done in single player. Therefore the multiplayer aspect does not reinforce a game that is already enjoyable, but rather makes the game playable; like adding a cherry to a pretty bland sundae.
In light of this, I think a renaming process is in order, MMO’s are neither RP (role playing), nor G (games). A more suitable name would be MMOPW; Massive multiplayer online persistent world. The most fundamental and damning aspect of the MMOPW, and why they are not games is located in their fundamental philosophy behind how rewards are distributed. Invest lots of time and be determined and you will be rewarded. I am not saying that working for your rewards is bad. Earning your keep is a good lesson, as long as it takes into account that rewards are not obtained solely on effort, but also thanks to ability. Also, the whole philosophy of rewarding effort or ability for that matter exists in the real world. A game should not try to mimic the real world in such a fundamental manner. Players should find playing the game fun to begin with, whether or not they are rewarded should be irrelevant. If the game ceases to be fun, and you are still plugging away just for rewards, then it isn’t a game anymore, and you should stop, no matter your motivations. A game should be enjoyable in and of itself, engaged in for its own sake, like that which is intrinsically good according to Aristotle. According to Aristotle, doing something for the sake of something else is base. Now while working your ass off at a job you hate just to pay the bills may be bad, unfortunately you have to pay your bills and put food on the table, so your choice is limited. Why then, when you can choose a form of leisure, would you engage in an activity that mirrors the dissatisfaction you generate from your work??
Furthermore, if something is structured to resemble one thing (a game) but eventually causes the user to exhibit the behavioral factors of another activity entirely (grind for rewards), it should come with a warning label on the box, and should have an age limit. Log onto the internet and look at the services available for some MMORPG’s. You can pay someone for gold, for items, for leveling your character. In short, people make a living off of playing these games for other people, which should be a clear indication of the lack of fun involved. Would anyone pay for a saved game of a single player RPG? Would anyone pay to have someone else level up their character in a game they thought was fun? These reality substitutions are not designed to be fun; they are designed to be a grind, promising greatness and significance in the distant future. People pay for to be one of the big boys online. You can pay the dough, get the super character, and be amongst the self-proclaimed elite with other people on the internet. I cannot stress to you enough how psychotically unhealthy this is for a human brain in terms of being able to discern between what is real and what isn’t.
Who is the target audience?
If a game has a very simple learning curve, and the story is simplified so as to be approachable by anyone, then it is a mass appeal game. This means it is designed to cater to all sorts of audiences. Not only does this indicate that skill is not particularly necessary, but it also indicates that these games are targeted towards young kids. Why then, is the average age of the MMO player 26 according to the Daedalus project data? Could it be that they use the online environment as a means of interacting with others in the way they see fit, and that they have grown to depend on this online environment, as a crutch?
Furthermore do we want to expose our youth to games like these? The most sensitive time in a person’s social growth is during their teens. Do we want them to get used to the idea of living out their desires in a virtual world where individual ability and independence is de-emphasized in favor of group dependency? Do we want to raise our youth as critical thinkers or as conformists? Just like television, gaming hours need to be monitored and limited closely. You have a problem if you have to force your teen to go out and flirt with other teens.
As for other types of games:
An important question to ask oneself is how MMORPG's compare to other computer games. In this analysis we find something rather interesting. Real time strategy games would be excluded from this entirely since they operate a lot like chess and are mostly about skill. First person shooter games would also be excluded because they also involve a higher level of skill and their game structures are typically not nearly as long as MMORPG's. Adventure games would be excluded from this discussion since their focus is on narrative continuity and strength, a story that has an end and you explore its possibilities. MMORPG's have proven to have a virtually non existent story, whose narrative elements are both infantile and insanely trite.
Then we come to the real role playing game. My definition of a CRPG will limit itself to things like Knights of the old Republic, Planescape: Torment, and the Baldur's Gate series. These games typically sell okay, are typically heavy on actual role playing and narrative strength and continuity, their game worlds are much smaller, and they have a concrete end to them. They appeal to a niche market, the intellectual margin of video gamers. MMORPG's do not fit the proper definition of a CRPG. While the combat systems are similar in structure and composing elements, the two things are completely different.
Since the narrative aspects of games like these are so weak, and the mechanics of these types of games are powerfully influenced by chance and very little by skill, then one cannot help but place MMORPG's on the right hand side of the spectrum, close to the slot machine and the game ‘war’. Our analysis has determined that a competitive gamer would find little real incentive from MMORPG’s because of the lack of individual skill necessary, and the blatant de-emphasis from individual skill to team conformity. Our analysis has also shown that gamers seeking a strong narrative should also go elsewhere to get what they want.
Yet we find is that these games are played by achievers, social gamers and immersion gamers for the same reason, because achievement in the game requires little to no skill and allows people to act out their own social needs. The social gamer can then play without having to concentrate on the game too much and can have fun chatting with others. The escapist can feel like he is a part of a community and can advance within that community, live through his character. The power gamer can achieve his goal of standing tall amongst the puny masses. Grind and grind and grind and get the big shiny stuff and claim your place in a community fed by greed and need; is this a lesson we want to teach our youth?
What we have is a contagious social environment where progress and growth is encouraged on all players, very cleverly disguised as requiring skill or ability, allowing for tons of escapism, advancement, exploration and socializing. The most fundamentally enforced ideal of these types of games is co-dependence. That is why one of the most unsatisfied portions of the MMORPG gaming community is the segment that seeks individual achievement and a casual style of play. They want to use skill and thought in a game that is designed as a giant online rat race where brute will and time invested will always be the primary defining factors in who gets far and who doesn’t. As yourself if there is a point to gambling. Can it be fun? Sure. Is there a point beyond gambling once in a while? Does gambling require anything other than brute determination and a large supply of money? (And then ask yourself what is more valuable, time or money…) If you look at gambling, you will notice that the skill required is low, the technical aspects are simple, and people play to feed their sense of upward social mobility. I’ll win the big jackpot and be part of high society…
Fundamentally we need to ask ourselves why as a collective we would want to spend so much time engaged in a monotonous repetitive activity convincing ourselves that what were doing is worthwhile for the end goal. Anyone remember what the Catholic Church would spew to the masses in the Middle Ages? Suffer and toil in life and you shall go to heaven. I for one like my games to have a point, and don’t enjoy getting conned by smoke and mirrors. Apparently, after all this time, we are still looking for a distraction from reality promising some great reward in the distant future, oblivious to the fact that life is lived in the moment. The past is gone, the future isn’t here yet, all you have are the few seconds that are passing by right now. If you don’t enjoy what you are doing, right this moment, then go do something else, especially if you are engaged in an activity that you consider leisurely. Games are supposed to be fun and interactive, not work.