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A Problem with Temperance

October 23, 2012

Dear Reader,

We discuss at great lengths what is good and bad about the gaming world around us.  Different players put certain mechanics on a pedestal and denigrate others.  At times, we can even mostly agree on what’s good or bad about a particular game.  Rarely, though, do we stop and ask whether these games’ successes or failures lay more with us, the players, than the design.

We have of course been discussing the use of repetition in video games, particularly as an end-game incentive to keep playing.  Some love end game repetition, some defend it, some dislike it, and others hate it.  We’ve taken the time already to look at some different player motivations and talk about the problems and solutions available from the developers.  What about us, though?  How do we contribute to the problem in the first place?

Rohan answered this question years ago, and again recently in his post Optional, Redux.  I’ll quote the quote he chose from his original post, but I recommend you go and read both the new and old post on his blog.

He says

Sometimes it seems like this genre has no concept of the term “optional.” Something is either absolutely necessary, or it is useless. There doesn’t seem to be any in-between.

I believe he’s talking from both sides; that developers and players alike have a hard time finding a middle ground, but I’ll be focusing on what we as players do (or do not do) to exacerbate that problem.

Temperance is all about balance, and our lack of temperance seems to me to be the greatest problem with MMOs these days.  This isn’t a problem from a development standpoint, but solely from the players.  Above is the temperance tarot card.  In it, we see several symbolic images regarding balance: the equilateral triangle, equal on all sides and angles.  We see cups pouring liquids to become equal.  We see the character in the image with one foot in and one foot out of the water.  All of these symbols communicate seeking equality in all aspects of our life, moderation in thought, emotion, and action.  Each of these three qualities can affect our enjoyment of an MMO.

I’ve written before, even recently, about not wanting to research.  I’m past the times when doing a lot of reading, thinking, and strategizing has been something that drew me to MMOs.  Like Rohan says, though, there seemed to be no middle ground.  To be successful in “real” raiding (not LFR, sorry), you have to put forth a lot of intellectual theory and practice to perform your role as perfectly as possible.  The same is mostly true in PvP.  However, to just level, you can do basically anything.  We’ve had a successful level 85 ironman challenge – a player who never wore better than white gear and – if I remember correctly – never trained any abilities beyond the starters.  Leveling has become mindlessly easy, and that adverb – mindlessly – reveals a lack of temperance.  Perhaps finding a better balance between research and fun, between learning by reading up and thinking and actually experiencing the game, would improve our feelings towards these activities.  I’ve learned to prefer fighting a boss “cold” the first time.  I like learning the mechanics and figuring out how to deal with them myself – a highly intellectual activity – rather than just looking up what others have said to do.  Sure, it’s more efficient to just do as your told, but too much focus on efficiency doesn’t maintain a healthy balance in game play.

We see the emotions flare in discussions about how to play, too.  Players seem to enjoy belittling other play styles instead of assuming that there are multiple ways to play the game.  Using temperance in how we feel about other players can open us up to new ideas about how to experience the game.  I assumed I’d find the pet battles pointless, but since I kept an open mind, when I saw so many bloggers talking about how much fun they were having with them, I decided to give it a try, too.

Most importantly, temperance in action can help benefit our game play.  If we do more than a single activity, we slow down the onset of burnout.  WoW’s provided more and more activities to pursue, but often people zealously pursue one after the other instead of sampling from several of them.  I’ve written about my buddy before who seems incapable of taking time in a game.  If he can’t play it to death immediately, he loses interest, as he did when we could only play The Secret World once a week.  If he can play it to death immediately, he does, then loses interest.  No game can keep his attention for more than a few weeks, and he has no interest in returning to them later to see what’s changed.  His lack of temperance has made it almost impossible for him to find happiness.  Instead, he finds a zealous purpose: to finish a game, regardless of enjoyment.  A lot of us exhibit similar behaviors to varying degrees, which is precisely what Rohan meant in his posts.  We need to find moderation in what’s necessary and for fun.

I’m trying to practice temperance in a couple ways.  For one, I’m playing several games instead of focusing on a single one.  Within those games, I’m trying separate activities, too, from leveling and pet battles in WoW to exploring and crafting in Guild Wars 2.  I suggest you try the same, and if a game doesn’t allow you to, you really examine what role that game plays in your life, for better or worse.

Sincerely,

Stubborn (and seeking balance)

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11 Comments leave one →
  1. Gorbag permalink
    October 23, 2012 9:48 am

    This post really hit home for me. I’ve been obsessively preparing for raiding, grinding out every rep and vp, impatient with the limits the game and my life impose. Meanwhile, there are people in my core raid group who aren’t even 90 yet! I’m sick of self-satisfied pandas saying “slow down!”, but maybe they have a point.

    • October 23, 2012 11:25 am

      Well, to each their own. If you’re enjoying yourself, then there’s no reason to second guess your play. On the other hand, if yuo feel like you’re really grinding and pushing, maybe it is time to ask yourself: to what end? Are there things you’d rather be doing? If not, then no worries. If so, go do them; your buddies and the raids will be there when everyone’s ready.

      Thanks for the comment!

  2. Talarian permalink
    October 23, 2012 12:19 pm

    I certainly agree with you about players lacking temperance, but as a software developer I can say that the Blizzard devs aren’t off the hook for this either. There are ways that Blizzard can enforce, or at least push for, temperance in the player base. It’s often possible to codify expectations and social rules into the game, by setting up the game in a way that rewards taking a balanced approach. They’ve managed to tweak expectations around LFR and LFD with respect to loot, and in the past they made the daily dungeon a 7 per week dungeon (and reverted it in MoP, bleh).

    On the other hand, I’ve had no problems with approaching things from a balanced perspective personally, and am enjoying the fact that I will have PvE endgame content for quite some time. I’d rather have too much to do than too little. It’s clear to me that not only is the player base fragmented as to who wants what, but that most people don’t know what they want.

    Heroics were too easy in Wrath! Naxx was too easy! People in LFD are too GoGoGo!
    Heroics and raiding was too hard in Cata! There wasn’t enough to do at endgame! People in LFD are too GoGoGo!
    There’s too much to do at endgame in Mists! People in LFD are GoGoGo!

    So yeah, I think the problem definitely lies on both sides. But in the end, Blizzard can only control what Blizzard does, and Blizzard can put the appropriate sticks and carrots in the game to help bring order to the chaos. They’ve traditionally been ahead of the MMO curve as far as applying software engineering to social engineering, and I’m interested to see how else they handle this.

    Great post! I think a lot of players could learn a thing or two from it!

    • October 23, 2012 4:38 pm

      Thank you, and I’m glad you liked it.
      I certainly agree that the problem lies on both sides, but I think often we look at what the devs do and less at how we respond to it. You’re quite right that Blizz encourages quasi-obsessive behavior through a variety of means, but I just felt it’d been covered. If the player base were less gogogo about so many things, I think a lot of people would be happier.

      That word in particular sticks with me: happier. I wonder how many people are actually “happy” about their game play. I suspect the less zealous they pursue something, the happier they probably are. The goal-driven, focused players seem to be after something other than entertainment, satisfaction, or happiness. There’s nothing wrong with that approach, it’s just not what I really want any more, and I feel like as a result I’ve less and less to do. Sure, I can catch pets or farm, but that’s a poor substitution for the quality that rated BGs or raids provide.

      Thanks for the comment!

    • October 29, 2012 5:31 pm

      I fully agree that the developer shares responsibility, but I think we too often look at what the devs do and don’t often enough look at how we do it to ourselves. I think all your examples are pretty spot on, too, but if the playerbase simply refused to engage in that level of behavior or engage in that type of content, the game world would respond – either by adapting or going bankrupt. It’s a corrupt cycle of two partners, but I think too often we only look at one.

      Thanks for the comment!

  3. Samus permalink
    October 23, 2012 1:52 pm

    I think if you use WoW as an example, most things are NOT optional for an end game character. You MUST do crafting to get those associated bonuses, you MUST grind heroics for valor points, you MUST grind rep, etc. You do not have the option of obtaining these bonuses through alternative means, your character would simply be suboptimal without them (and possibly a raid guild would refuse to bring you on their raid). So I do have some sympathy for someone that says crafting sucks.

    I would also say that WoW has been developed to have one exact developer intended strategy for every boss. If you found an easier strategy, Blizzard would label it an “exploit,” apply a hotfix to prevent it, and quite possibly ban you for using it. This severely hampers the “figuring it out” angle. These are not puzzles to be solved. There is one way of doing it and you either succeed or fail at it. It would be like trying to cook something without looking at the recipe.

    • October 23, 2012 4:43 pm

      Well, people cook things without recipes all the time. I get your point, though; Blizzard is certainly not in the business of encouraging creative thinking. I agree on that point, but the plethora of info sources on bosses actively discourages it. I like the middle ground – figuring out what Blizzard intended. Sure, I’d prefer a more open-ended “puzzle” (I don’t know that I agree with that word, as it suggests “easy if handled properly” as opposed to “multiple possible solutions, but close enough).

      And I agree with your other point, too, that Blizz is largely at fault for creating the community within the game. Still, the very word “suboptimal” and the suggestion that people would choose not to bring someone as a result goes to show my point, too. People are behind the decisions about how to approach the game. Maybe optimization shouldn’t be the only choice for end game activities. I’d argue, in fact, that LFR and even normal mode raiding prove that it need not be; though of course in hardcore raiding it is. It’s just that we as raiders can’t be temperant enough to step away from that idea long enough for WoW to become a game again instead of job with performance reviews.

      Thanks for the comment!

  4. Eki permalink
    October 24, 2012 5:00 am

    Excellent post stubborn! I really like how you look into how we as players can improve our own gaming time, instead of demanding improvements from Blizzard. We are all responsible for our own fun after all.

    I absolutely agree with the fact that we have lost the sense of optional content and temperance, I see it with my own gaming habits. I automatically assumed that the dailies are mandatory, because they were there and they netted some nice gear for my raiding. Optimization is the deal, right? Well, kind of yes. But I came to realize that this was just too much for my time and that I was no longer enjoying it. And now I’m trying to seperate myself from the “must have gear”-thought and learn to accept that it is ok to not have it, that I still can be a good tank and raidlead for my guild without those items. I’m still torn though, because I feel like being not really prepared for raiding, not doing my best.

    But how can Blizzard help us getting out of this mindset? Because let’s face it, very few players will realize this just naturally. Thanks to them actually, I get to make suggestions and think about game philosophy – yay! :D

    I think it would be best if they just marginalized the item lvl difference between “easy to obtain” gear and “grind your head off” gear. Let’s say 5 itemlvls. This way the really hardcore who want to have the best gear available will still be on it for a long time – and you can even make this grind more brutal. And the people who don’t want to do this still get nearly equal gear that really doesn’t hinder their progression. What do you think?

  5. Rosencrantz permalink
    October 25, 2012 4:28 am

    Interesting post and your conclusion regarding player temperance certainly rings true to me. However, on a personal level, I feel that the way WoW has developed over the years (I started playing in February 2006), each new expansion has made it harder and harder to employ temperance within the game itself. This is of course my personal opinion, based on my experiences, so YMMV.

    That said, it is my experience that each new expansion has added even more stuff to do at level cap than the last, and by opening up new ways to consume that content – LFD, LFR, and the move to “7 heroics a week” for example – Blizzard have made it more and more of a personal responsibility to not become overly obsessed with WoW than it was earlier. And by the way they announce and talk about this added content, I at least get the distinct feeling that your given the choice of the colloquial “be there or the square”.

    Furthermore, I think you must also take into account the sort of negative peer pressure that is exhibited by the “community” today. Getting ridiculed and scoffed at in PUGs, LFR, and even just standing in the bank in a major city can break even the strongest resolve not to grind optimal gear, enchants, etc. With all of the tools provided both by Blizzard and third party add-ons, it is very easy for other players to evaluate your character itself and your perceived performance, which gives them the opportunity to make fun of your “less-than-stellar dedication” to the game if you haven’t optimised your character.

    So, in conclusion, I would like to claim that you are right in that temperance lies firmly with the player her-/himself, but the way that the game and the accompanying community is developing, it is getting harder and harder to establish a health level of engagement to WoW, at least for some of us. For me personally, it feels as if the only path left to temperance soon will be to quit the game altogether.

    • Rosencrantz permalink
      October 25, 2012 4:37 am

      Why is it that I spot the last grammatical and spelling mistakes just after hitting the “Post Comment” button? To anyone that cares, yes, I know I have made at least one spelling mistake, and one grammatical mistake. As I can find no “edit” button, I guess you have to live with them. :-)

    • October 29, 2012 5:29 pm

      Yes, you’re quite right, the game’s community has really turned to crap. I read a good blog post recently (whose escapes me) on the fact that too much focus on “required” content also inadvertently creates “forbidden” content, and I think that’s precisely what’s happened in WoW. Because so much is expected of a raider, because the idea of “raiding is a game of slim margins” has been so greatly pushed, we’ve ended up with two combatative communities: people who want to play and people who want to achieve. Neither is playing more correctly than the other, but many people in both segments think they are, so we’re left with two miniature warring nation-states, which further devolves the game’s atmosphere. It’s sad it’s gone that way.

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