Wirehead

I have obviously been posting a lot about Guild Wars 2, mainly because that is what I have been doing for the last few weeks. There are some additional such posts in the pipeline. But behind all this seeming enthusiasm lies the similar feeling of… offness that Spinks talked about.

While playing, I feel an irrational need to hit every resource node I come across. It feels good. Which is… good. Fine. But when I think about the game as a whole, I see no future in it for me. So many people online and in-game mention that the lack of endgame progression is not an issue because you are not paying a subscription. “Just stop playing.”

…but this is an MMO.

An MMO, to me, makes no sense to play sporadically. If you are not committed to the idea of playing often (or everyday), what are you doing? Why am I hitting resource nodes and selling things and hoarding gems if I will be uninstalling in a few months? Doing something only tangentially fun for weeks (e.g. dailies) makes sense to me if your final reward is something you can reasonably use for X amount of time. If you immediately stop after achieving the goal, my time retroactively feels wasted.

Nevermind how the “community” aspect is supposed to develop without player continuity.

Think about Tiny Tower, or 10000000, or any number of “time-management” iOS games. I bought 10000000 off of a Penny Arcade recommendation, and it is basically Bejeweled with RPG elements. I got really into it, maximizing resource gains, plotting out upgrades, “grinding,” and so on. Then I won. And felt empty.

I get post-game depression fairly often, a vague feeling of loss. Even if I had fun along the way, the post-game mood usually makes me question why I bothered in the first place. What mitigates such feelings is usually the sense that I still accumulated something, be it twitch-skills from FPS games (pro skills from Counter-Strike carry over into Battlefield 3, etc) or the experience of a story in the case of many RPGs or proper books. I played Xenogears over a decade ago for 80 hours one time, and I still think about it occasionally.

I will not think about Tiny Tower or 10000000 a decade from now. Nor, potentially, Guild Wars 2. Those games were/have been/are fun to play, respectively. But I am not looking for opportunities to kill time with amusing diversions. I do not have enough time, in fact. What I am looking for are opportunities to “invest” my time, or at least a simulation thereof, while having fun too.

Scott Adams once quipped that the last invention humanity will ever make is a Holodeck. As soon as that was built and marketed, humanity would collectively starve to death inside a Holodeck two weeks later. The future is actually much simpler than Holodecks or realistic VR headsets and such – the future is a wire in your brain that stimulates your nucleus accumbens directly. Watching college sports or playing MMOs or contemplating the vastness of the universe are all primitive methods of manually fondling your glands. The dark secret of The Matrix is that the overlay was completely unnecessary – a little bit of electricity in the right spot removes the inefficient middleman of reality.

The above may seem a non sequitur, but here is the connection: I feel Guild Wars 2 is simply a wire in my head. It generates good feelings, but doesn’t mean anything. It is a personal problem, of course. But all problems are ultimately personal problems. And I grow increasingly weary of doing fun things while simultaneously waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Playing Guild Wars 2 feels like going to Disneyland ahead of the apocalypse.

“So stop playing.” I’m sorry, I cannot hear you over the humming of this wire in my head.

Posted on September 13, 2012, in Guild Wars 2, Philosophy and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 27 Comments.

  1. Weird (and interesting), a completely different “vision”.
    I felt the “expect something later” when I started in MMO, but was short-lived, probably due to the help of a veteran who was playing with me and pointed out that any investment in leveling/gearing up NOW will be worthless as soon as the next expansion comes out. Or maybe I already was on the way when, playing a F2P game, I decided that my expense in the game was “reward to the developers for the fun I had” and now “investment to make my character more powerful”.
    Whatever the reason, I find that the “fun right now” is the motivating factor while playing. If I log in and start to press buttons, it’s because I have fun doing it. The fact that one day all this will be lost does not really bother me….. every time I joined an MMO I knew I’ll be quitting, the only question being “when”.
    Side note: have you read “Reality is Broken” by Jane McGonigal?

    • It actually doesn’t bother me to know that expansions (etc) will make prior work “worthless,” because it was worthwhile for X amount of time. Even twinking leveling characters a bit in WoW (buying blue gear pre-heirlooms) felt like a decent return on investment, because you knew that such a massive upgrade would make the next few levels a breeze. Remember the drive to complete dungeon quests like Deadmines for the blue rewards? I seem to remember certain gear like the level 19 Spidersilk Boots being useful until you could purchase the Arathi Basin PvP boots at level 29.

      Twinking in GW2 is mostly pointless because you are automatically scaled downward in the majority of the content. Even if you seek out the level+2 content or otherwise find more efficient leveling paths, ultimately you just hasten your way to a level cap at which… nothing happens. Progression ends, grinding for cosmetic items begin.

  2. > the future is a wire in your brain that stimulates your nucleus
    > accumbens directly.

    Chemistry already solved that problem a long time ago. Didn’t work out that good.

    I doubt your cable in the future will be any better then what chemistry can create in the future.

    • Well, the idea would be to achieve the same goal without the side-effects of blocking neurotransmitters, constricting blood vessels, and whatever else the base chemicals themselves do beyond stimulate those neurons. There is a certain element of science fiction, obviously, as I am taking for granted that stimulating said region of the brain (or the limbic system overall) doesn’t require the same level of interference that drugs naturally exhibit.

      The deleterious behavioral changes would likely be the same, of course.

  3. If holodecks could destroy humanity, then heroin had done it a long, long time ago. We are surprisingly resistent to such things, it seems.

    Otherwise I agree: I play(ed) MMOs for the same reason a CEO continues to work after he has earned his first few millions. And that’s why, for me, it’s ok if a game ends up being work.

  4. I felt exactly the same way about Tiny Tower, one moment I was perfectly fine re-stocking shelves, building new levels and getting new tenants until I realised that I was doing these things in order to get more money to re-stock shelves, build new levels and get more tenants…

  5. I think any hobby/mmo/game can be looked at in the same perspective. Raids are finished, dungeon completed, gear obtained, titles achieved, players killed…

    The crux comes from looking at any one of these goals as a final destination – in the end you ask yourself “is this fun?”. If it is, you keep playing, if not you quit and move on.

    “Playing Guild Wars 2 feels like going to Disneyland ahead of the apocalypse.”

    I understand the feeling completely – but in the context of GW2.

  6. I think I have the opposite problem, which is that any game eventually wears out its welcome for me. I just finished Fallout 3 recently, and it was a relief–I was totally sick of it and had to force myself through the last bits. I had fun exploring at first, but at a point I realized that the only things I could find through more exploring were more ammo and health to use to explore more. The gear grind in WoW has the same problem–shinies for use to get more shinies.

    But a game really isn’t a good place to invest in with an eye to the future. They really are just time wasters, despite the importance they are vested with by fans. A real world pursuit like family is more apt. Or I guess you could drink the kool-aid and play EVE.

  7. So basically, GW2 is making you feel that whole ‘uselessness’ much sooner….the illusion is shattered faster. correct me if I misunderstood you. well, MMOs/videogames are not a waste of time to me. I don’t ask them to be productive outside of the actual experience. it’s my goddamn “hobby” ;) it’s you who gives things meaning.

    I enjoy GW2 right now, I enjoy the journey. I’ll see about tomorrow when we get there (as for that, I actually expect ANet to deliver a lot of expansions). I prefer eating a juicy apple, rather than staring at it sceptically asking “…but what will I do once it’s been eaten?”. ALL things end sometime, somewhere – that’s the culmination of the journey and it’s why it’s all about (!) the journey. the loss you feel later only bespeaks how great it truly was. “Disneyland ahead of the apocalypse.” – but you can only have the good with the bad.

    • …oh and in a way, what you wrote reminded me a lot of my topic a while ago on paying the ‘MMO tribute’; that sometimes we feel anxious to even go there anymore, only to be disappointed eventually. asking ourselves if we have anything left in us for another go….alas, I think on that front I may never get wise. :)

    • The illusion technically never existed to begin with. I “knew” going in that this was a fling, nothing serious. Yet here I am having fun doing the things that only really make sense with a game you plan to be playing for months/years. And the whole time there is a piece of me filling with increasing dread at the inevitable Tiny Tower-esque crash.

      I dunno, the whole thing is weird. I do not have this problem with single-player games.

  8. I find that while playing GW2, I’m really really aware of the mechanics and game design. It’s like “oh this is cool.” *beat* “Clever of them to put that in to draw players over here.”

    I find this particularly with the economy side of things. I don’t think it’s just that I’ve played a lot of MMOs and am burned out, there’s something very gamified about this game in particular.

  9. Azuriel, I think this is one of my favorite posts of yours. I empathize completely with thinking of games as “investing” your time, and I feel similar. I’m going to have to ponder that in relation to my own game playing.

    At some point during one of the GW2 betas I had this flash of insight — I’m just running around doing stuff so I can run around and do bigger stuff so eventually I’ll do all the stuff and can stop playing. I figured I could just save time and stop playing now. And I’m not sure why I had it or why I haven’t had it in all games (because there’s nothing super unique to GW2 in that insight I think), but it totally put me off the whole experience. But generally, that’s all games are I suppose.

  10. Your issue resonates with me. I cannot play a game whose final objective I cannot see ahead of me, because then I see it as a waste of time, a distraction without an ultimate goal. I guess it depends on the kind of person you are. I am goal-driven, but not immune to the wire that you are talking about, and thus I can feel that impulsion towards mindlessly gratifying games, even to their end, at the same time that I feel guilty for losing my time in such a way. Again, it depends on your personal stance, and that is something nobody can force upon you. No amount of “but games are for fun!” is going to change the way you feel about your time-investment.

    In the case of MMOs, that investment pays off in the endgame for me. I do enjoy the journey, as long as I can see the end of the road, and its end compels me much more than the path itself. The endgame is where you form the longer-lasting social ties, where you are challenged to your best skill. Yes, in the end there is also exhaustion, but that burnout is no more than the apprehension that endgame is just another goalless path.

  11. Great post.

    Strangely enough, GW2 has left me feeling so conflicted that I haven’t blogged for weeks. Whenever I sit down to write something about how I feel about the game, I have to stop and reflect for a while.

    I like to see my abilities kill enemies. I get the kick from seeing an event give me experience.

    But something doesn’t feel right. And I don’t feel as excited as the bloggers I read.

    Last night I logged in and there was no one in my zone. I went to a nearby event and found it broken (NPCs didn’t spawn) so started on a heart. I killed 2 enemies and couldn’t bring myself to continue, so logged out.

    At the end of the day, I do not feel like I am a hero on an adventure. Instead I am just another person running around a maze ‘doing stuff’ which gives me yellow bars.

  12. While technically true, I find this view a bit too one-sided and pessimistic. If you paid attention to the last, say 3 or 4 big MMO releases, its always the same…people rush in and 1-2 weeks later complain about endgame and such or wonder why not to just quit now already.
    Thing is, if you play an MMO and your key goal is hitting the “end”, you will always be disappointed sooner rather than later.

    Now I’m all over GW2, very excited and you know what I’m looking forward to the most today/everday? To come home, log into teamspeak…chat to all the great guys and girls there. To say hi in guildchat and ask if anyone needs help etc. I don’t care on what character, heck, I roll a new one just to team up with some new guys so they dont feel neglected.

    The nice thing about this and also why personally I feel my point of view confirmed is that I am not re-connecting with a lot of online friends from years back, some I only knew from GW1, others played in my guild in Lotro years go.

    Without the social part to be your main motive, any MMO will feel like any singleplayer game (which I mostly stopped playing) – you play, love it, finish it and maybe wonder why you “wasted” so much time in the first place, now that its all over.

    • *now re-connecting

    • My goal is not to hit the end per se – getting to level cap is a natural result of the goal of (character) progression. The problem is knowing there is no meaningful (to me) progression at said end point. You spend 1-79 unlocking Skills/Traits and upgrading your gear to face bigger challenges… and then at 80 you focus on cosmetic items?

      WoW raiding and gear-based PvP was enough to last four years. I could spend 2-3 hours playing and say “I am 2-3 hours closer to being stronger than I was when I started.” Can I say that with GW2? Right now, yes. But in 35 levels, no.

      • That is the core difference of how you approach such games compared to me (Im not judging your style here). I do not care about progression too much, never cared for raids much aside of the teamplay aspect and generally do not run the same instance/dungeon/flashpoint over and over for gear. I mean in GW1 you hit cap with max stats within 2 days or so and beyond that it was mostly cosmetical.

  13. “opportunities to kill time with amusing diversions”

    That’s what life is. You have a certain amount of time on this planet, and (once you have satisfied the basic need to eat and drink) you fill it as best you can with things that amuse and divert you – career, family, travel, hobbies, games, and so on. Call it killing time, call it investing time, it’s makes no difference – the time is gone and experiences live on in your memory. Let me neutrally call it “spending time”. You spend time on these things because they amuse and divert you. You appear to be spoiling your fun in Guild Wars 2 now by looking forward to the time when it will no longer amuse you. Live in the now.

    “when I think about the game as a whole, I see no future in it for me.” “Why am I hitting resource nodes and selling things and hoarding gems if I will be uninstalling in a few months?”

    Replace months with years, and this is a recipe for doing nothing with your life because it will be ended in a few years. Enjoy your life now. Enjoy your game now.

    By the way, proclaiming that you see no future in this game after only spending two weeks playing it reminds me of teenagers proclaiming that they see no future in life. You just can’t imagine what’s to come, yet.

  14. I can totally see where you are coming from, and it’s a valid concern. I on the other hand feel differently about this. One factor would be that I was not “WoW-trained” to expect an end game; most of the games I played did not have an end game and I was fine with that. I quit WoW shortly after I joined. To me WoW end game felt grindy and pointless… It made me feel like I had wasted my time putting effort into reaching level cap only to feel useless unless I keep grinding the same raids over and over again. It could be the lack or WoW training or a personality flaw, but I feel content and grateful when I reach a goal, after which I get to enjoy “all the little things” at my own pace like discovering new things, crafting, helping my guild and pushing it forward, etc…

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