Remembering How Games are Played

Another epiphany in my battle against City of Heroes alt-a-holicism (an inability to stick with a single character). Today, I basically realized I’ve been playing the game the wrong way all along.

Recently, I thought that alt-a-holicism may be caused by a desire for both fun and functionality. Fun is largely subjective, but the functionality referring to a character’s capacity to meaningfully influence the game world in the ways I desired.

Now, I’m beginning to think the functionality aspect of it was only an excuse: it was always about the fun. What is the fun of playing games? Overcoming challenges; Learning; Basically playing the game to play the game and not out of some kind of artificial achievement bent.

The funny thing is, I think it’s the traditional MMORPGs that have taught me to play games the wrong way.

In your average Diku-Mud clone, the gameplay mechanic is easily mastered, and the difference between success and failure in gaining levels comes down to a simple matter of patience. Do this repetitive task over and over again and, in time, you tune everything out and simply start spitting out patterns of successful attacks.

In your average Diku-Mud clone, you stop playing well because playing well does not matter. You keep playing because you’re getting bombarded with rewards or perhaps have friends encouraging you to play with them. In time, you learn this wrong way of playing games.

We don’t consider this often, but games are basically learning tools in that they condition players to find the shortest path to success. However, there’s an inherent danger in that they’re artificial environments, and what paths to success we learn may be ineffective or even counterproductive in life.

By accident, my latest City of Heroes character provided an excellent working example. As a Trick Arrow/Archery Defender, he’s basically a weakling. I started him without caring that, as far as the spreadsheets are concerned, he’s not a great character. That was the first good step: I was now playing for fun alone.

Once I started playing him, I soon realized that the only way I was going to succeed with this character was to do my best. I couldn’t heal myself, I didn’t have an effective offense, and my defense was somewhat sketchy as well. I devised tactics such as rooting the target and attacking it at maximum range, outside of the opponent’s range. I integrated existing tactics, like fitting the maximum number of foes into my firing cones and using the terrain to force foes to move or get a shot in at me.

Suddenly, I noticed I was having a lot of fun. What was responsible for this sudden change? It wasn’t the game itself – I’d burned out from many a hero already, well after the latest major Issue roll out. No, what changed was the way I was playing the game.

I was not playing it the way I had been trained to play MMORPGs: “find mob, execute good hotkey combination repeat to fill experience bar.” Instead, I was playing it in the moment, paying attention and genuinely trying to do my best. I had rediscovered the game that I did not realize I had lost.

In the end, while I may not have cured my alt-a-holicism, I have identified a better way to play the game. Perhaps instead of rolling another alt, I should try to playing my existing one better. If I’m already doing well, find ways to play even better.

It’s not supposed to be about filling my leveling bar with pixels. Only by removing the focus from the artificial achievement constructs and onto improving my own personal capacity to play the game is it truly entertaining. If a game cannot offer this kind of challenge, it simply isn’t worth playing, no matter how many MMORPG-like exterior incentives are being dangled before the player.

4 Responses

  1. In my few months with City of Villains, I think I’ve made a lot of alts in almost all the servers. I had lots of fun creating and experimenting with new characters.

  2. I have to admit, City of Heroes/Villains creating and living all sorts of superhero/villain concepts is a great game in its own.

    I would like to unlock the Kheldian archetype eventually, though, so it’s been a longstanding goal of mind to find that one hero I’m willing to slog through 50 levels with.

  3. Not to be rude, but if you’re having to work so hard to find fun in this game, mightn’t it be worth doing something different with your time? Like getting back to your NWN mod? Or doing some school work? Or getting out and trying to meet the future Mrs. Geldonyetich? 🙂

  4. Hey Baldrake, long time no read.

    That’s a philosophically sound question and one I’ve put some thought into. I’ve determined it really comes down to a matter of worth.

    What it is you’re trying to get out of life? Will finishing my NWN mod, doing some school work, or meeting the future Mrs. Geldonyetich help me get there?

    It’s really hard to say. I can mentally rationalize that producing a NWN/NWN2 mod that others can enjoy, improving my mind, or getting into a (hopefully) loving relationship that (incidentally) helps continue the lineage of the human race are worthwhile endeavors.

    But, will they really make me happy? Will they really produce contentment in the long run?

    That seems to be up to me and my perception of life alone. If I seek to be content with life, it’s less what I do and more how I perceive life.

    I’m not intending to be a destitute drag on society, addicted to digital opiates, though I don’t blame you for thinking that might be my plan considering I only talk about gaming on this Blog. Nor do I really have no desire to one day find Mrs. Geldonyetich. It’s just the time hasn’t been right for it.

    I’m still in school, but I’ve just been on Summer vacation lately. It’s hard to find somebody willing to hire you when you’ve only a month off before it’s back to full time schooling, so I’ve been relaxing, de-stressing out of a recent silent altercation with my previous employer.

    With this time, I’ve decided I would like to hit level 50 in City of Heroes. Not just to unlock a Kheldian slot, but to prove I can demonstrate this level of commitment. The only problem is that trying to commit to a single character who bores is directly conflicting with the reason why I should be playing City of Heroes in the first place: to relax and have fun!

    So, with that (rather lengthy) frame of focus in mind, I hope that I’ve explained the method to my madness that has me blogging extensively over my latest City of Heroes mountain-out-of-molehole making.

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