No, this doesn’t have anything to do with the absolutely excellent charity run by Penny Arcade, nor does it have to do with the series of horror films from the 80s and 90s. No, indeed, it has to do with the literal meaning, the playing of children, and the implications of that play.
Do you remember, dear reader, from your science class, what the definition of a mammal was? Warm blooded, sure. Has live birth and takes care of children, yes. Has fur (for the most part – damn you dolphins and whales), okay. During my school years, that was it. Now, though, they’ve found another unique quality of mammals that is not replicated in any other class of animals.
Mammals are the only class of animal that plays.
Lizards don’t play. Fish don’t play. Frogs don’t play. Birds don’t play. Squid, spiders, crabs, earthworms, mollusks don’t play. We’re it.
A lot, far more than there needed to be, of discussion on what it means to play has been going on recently. Some of it was dead on. Some of it was dead wrong. Some of it was right, but used for the wrong reasons. Some of it was wrong, but came to th… you get the point.
Research shows that mammals play to learn, plain and simple. The arguments out there that we play to “improve our skills,” are actually correct, from an animalistic sense. Baby tigers play rough so that when they grow up they can kill prey and defend their own. However, humans have gone further with play, learning, as it was, to make play “fun.” We enjoy the “games” we play because not only do we learn, we do so in a way that’s engaging and exploratory. When you take either one of those away, learning, or playing, becomes un-fun. Think of school; very few “fun” classes allow for exploration. The “boring” teachers may offer engaging material, stories of battle, real world uses of math, poems about young love, but without the opportunity for exploration, to go off in unexpected directions, to see how the learning can be individually experienced, it becomes boring or chore-like.
I have, in fact, heard many different raiders tell me that raiding became for them, eventually, like a job, something that might be both disengaging and non-exploratory. I, too, have felt this, though only as a raid leader, never as a raider (I’ve led more than I’ve raided, counter-intuitively). The comparison between something that’s supposed to be a game – something played – and a job – something worked – is no coincidence. That this thought is pervasive through the game and the community lends credence, in fact, to Gevlon’s or Rohan’s approach and thoughts.
Dailies and heroics have frequently been called “chores,” as well. The repetitive, disengaging, non-exploratory material that is necessary to be able to raid is, unsurprisingly, just as unappealing as long-term glass-chewing against raid bosses. In fact, it could be viewed as a kind of training for it.
Why, then, do we say WoW is a game? Perhaps it’s not. It has many aspects of gaming. You take on a role of a fantastic (used in the “fantasy” sense) hero overcoming challenges through repetition and skill. That’s akin to many other games out there. However, work also shares many of these qualities. People who don’t enjoy their jobs often have to take on a “role” of a dutiful worker and overcome challenges through repetition and skill. Is the fantastic an element to games? Not really; there are many games that have no fantasy in them at all.
The early experiences with WoW can be game-like; you certainly play them. You explore new zones, test new abilities, occasionally (depending on your play style) you become engaged in the quest stories. Perhaps your second, third, or tenth alt makes leveling seem to be a job, but the first experiences don’t. There, then is the shift. Somewhere between rolling your first toon and stepping into heroics and doing dailies, WoW morphs for some from a game to a job.
Why isn’t everyone affected by this metamorphosis? How can some people come out the other end without feeling like WoW’s work? I honestly don’t know; perhaps that’s an idea for a future blog. Some people are immune to the pressures of raiding, I’m sure for many, many reasons, be they good qualities like holistic perspective (realizing that it’s just supposed to be a game) or bad qualities like selfishness (not caring if they’re imposing on others by their poor play).
I think the final conclusion that we’re heading towards here is that for some players, WoW is a game, where as for some workers, WoW is a job. That’s not meant to disparage WoW at all; jobs certainly can be enjoyable. It’s just to more clearly define why so many of us are arguing how to play WoW. It’s simple; some of us aren’t playing.
I think I still play WoW. There was a time – a few of them – when WoW became a job, but I backed away until it turned back into a game. Gevlon and Rohan clearly work at WoW. They practice and repeat and struggle and push through to be better. Others are still exploring, being engaged in the story, and just seeing how their personal WoW experience can be different.
Here’s the catch. Playing leads to imagination. Imagination leads to creativity. Creativity leads to invention. If everyone in WoW stopped playing and only worked, then there could be no real new insights into the game. I guarantee you that the players in Paragon are, in fact, players. Even if they do work at it and succeed, they start by exploring and seeing what works. They, like the game, transition seamlessly between playing and working. Many of the rest of us apparently can not.
A child learning about the world around them, playing in the yard with their dog, examining a bug never seen before, is playing. No one would tell them that what they were doing was wrong. No one would tell them it would be more efficient to either play with the dog or examine the bug, not both. Of course, no one would recruit them for a professional basketball (to use others’ metaphors – not my own) team, either.
Both sides are right. WoW is a game. Wow is a job. There is no wrong/dumb/stupid/moronic/slack way to play as long as you’re not affecting others. Some people shouldn’t raid or do heroics. The problem doesn’t lie in either of those philosophies, it lies in the way we’re talking to each other about them.
The novel The Power of One (as well as most of history) teaches us that “Inclusion, not exclusion, is the key to survival.” We shouldn’t wish any philosophy to be gone from the community as that would only weaken it. Here’s another quote, from the head of the American Library Association; “Tolerance is meaningless without tolerance of the intolerable.” We need to accept the other views and acknowledge that some of them are as rational as our own, then we can start to have real discussions here instead of fights.
Then we can get back to playing this game we call blogging.
Then we can keep learning from each other and having fun.
It really is child’s play, dear reader.
Stubborn (but no so much I can’t admit when other views have merit)