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The Blizzagio

June 28, 2011

Dear Reader,

I’ll be, I’m sorry, once again taking from a comment and developing a post around it.  This time, though, it’s my own.  A few days ago, Syl at Raging Monkeys had an excellent post on how what used to make game worlds places to live and explore and experience is all too frequently being cut out to “streamline” the game.

As I was commenting, it struck me how much like a casino WoW is and how each of us share a little bit of a gambler’s addiction. I thought I’d expand on that idea somewhat today.

You’ll have to take some of what I say on faith, but I assure you that everything I know I learned in Radio Lab.  If you wish to listen in, I’ll be making references to the Choice and Stochasticity episodes.

Essentially, our brains are designed to find patterns.  As apes, we wanted to recognize the patterns of behavior that helped us find bananas, mate, and survive fights.  As we evolved, this habit didn’t change much, and we still look for patterns, which we call learning.  Casinos take advantage of this in that the games of chance frequently have a large set of “bells and whistles” attached which have nothing to do with one’s success.  Our brains, though, can’t accept this, so we’re constantly looking for ways to learn the system.  We focus on the bells and whistles, looking for the pattern that indicates success.  Of course, there isn’t one, but we keep at it anyway.

To prevent people from eventually giving up, casinos now monitor game play and learn just how much tolerance for failure a person has.  They then dispatch someone with a small token – a gift card or the like, which functions as a reward, setting the person back to playing.  They may lose twenty dollars on the gift card, but they’ll make another eighty bucks on your continued attempts to learn the system.

WoW functions on essentially the same system.  There’s both the chance for direct reward, like with a slot machine, as well as consolation rewards, such as the gift card.  Since Syl was lamenting the removal of everything in the game world that made it, in fact, a world, such as having to travel, exploration, side quests, and the like, I pointed out that a casino that forced its players to do menial tasks before getting to gamble would lose some of its customers, so it takes away as many “time sinks” and “detours” (Syl’s aptly chosen words) as it can to maximize gambling time.  Drinks are brought to you, levers are removed from slot machines and replaced with push buttons, cards are used instead of clunky cash that has to be inserted into the machine (which is how they track your play).

WoW’s doing the same thing.  Opening events are gone, even in light of the Firelands dailies.  I saw people today comparing it to the opening of AQ40, which suggests to me that they weren’t there at the opening of AQ40, which was a massive collaboration of war efforts to prepare for the gates to open, which only one person got to do (and got a very special mount for it).  This is just the Argent Tourney mechanic recycled; it’s nowhere near AQ40.

Attunements are gone.  Key quests are gone.  Reputation requirements for heroics are gone.  Quests to summon bosses are gone (except the archaeology boss in ZG, though he replaced a former boss that needed alchemy, so it’s not really something they did new as much as just didn’t take out).  Everything is as efficient and streamlined as possible so that you can keep hitting that “quest complete” button, keep seeing that bright light and ding sound, which makes your brain associate the good feeling of the chemicals with that process, making you want to do the process more.  They want you to keep looting bosses, running heroics, getting into raids, and so on, because each time you do it, it cements the habit in your head so you’ll do it again.  Old habits die hard, and playing WoW is a habit, perhaps a habit akin to cocaine.  They work on the same manipulation of brain chemicals.

When you don’t win, WoW provides you with plenty of consolation gifts.  Valor points are one example, but, really, so are achievements, mini-pets, mounts, titles, and the like.  Each one provides you with some feeling of success to prevent the constant failure to get, say, your pally bracers to drop (sorry, Rohan).

What, then, can we do, dear reader?  Well, honestly, what do we need to do?  If WoW isn’t a true addiction, making trouble in your life, then probably we don’t need to do anything.  If you, like me, can play a bit now and again, enjoy what you enjoy and QQ about what you don’t, and still go on about your daily business, then that’s fine.  Enjoy the game, like a visitor at a casino can.  See the shows, enjoy the free drinks, and spend time with your friends.  Nothing needs to be done.

If it’s a problem, though, then help should be sought.  Internet Addiction Disorder is a real thing, with various sub-types including MMO addiction.  It will likely be added to the DSM V, the next addition of the bible of mental disorders.  Be cautious; my buddy jokes that he has a gambling problem, “It’s that I’m not gambling right now” (an old joke, I know, but still relevant).  Some people may feel that way about WoW, too.

Speaking of my buddy, I talked about this with him after I wrote the comment but before I wrote this post to get his input.  You see, he is a gambler, a real one.  He goes to Foxwoods every chance he gets (not as often any more since he doesn’t have a car, but that’s not related to gambling) and plays the poker tables (usually) or a little of the games of chance.  In a WoW sense, he kills Anzu every day (that’st he only mount drop he can now get alone that he doesn’t already have; he has both old ZG mounts, the Skadi blue drake, the white hawkstrider, all of the AQ mounts (minus the black one, of course), and… well… all of them.  I can’t remember then all here) and does his dailies religiously.  “Yup,” he said (paraphrasing, for the record), “you’re dead right.  Doing these bosses and achievements is very much a gambling habit.”

“So,” I said, “Then you should be happy; you don’t have to go to Foxwoods any more.  You have a Foxwoods in your house.”

“No,” he said, “Not even close.”

“Why?”

“Because Foxwoods…,” I could hear the grin in his voice, “…Foxwoods is fun.”

You see, dear reader, the house always wins.

Sincerely,

Stubborn (undoubtedly, happily (for the moment) hooked, and not looking to cash in my chips just yet)

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. June 29, 2011 8:43 pm

    It makes me happy to know that there’s at least one other person as cynical about WoW as me, but who still enjoys the game for what it is.

    • June 30, 2011 4:20 pm

      Yeah, I’m struggling with it, but I’m still enjoying it for now. By consciously avoiding the parts of the game I know I dislike and ignoring my “should be” brain, I feel like I’m gaining ground on just “playing.” I have the best hopes for WoW, but I’m also worried that it’s becoming more and more casino and less and less fun. It might simply have to do with the amount of time I’ve been playing, though, so who knows. Only time will tell.

  2. July 1, 2011 7:32 am

    An interesting comparison to gambling. I’m sure many sworn daily- and reward grinders would cry out now and oppose you, because they can quit WoW anytime etc. but I remember plenty of bloggers talking about how they feel forced to do dailies and go through the grind everyday when it isn’t even fun – and yet they keep doing it. so while it might not be quite as grave as a real life gambling addiction which has very fatal consequences on your real life, there’s still something similar going on in terms of compulsive behaviour and reward addiction. maybe something to look into more closely, sometime – if you so dare. 😉 it’s a touchy subject.

    • July 6, 2011 11:59 am

      I tend to agree that it’s a touchy subject, and I’m also more and more skeptically looking at Blizz’s design decisions that promote that kind of game to pleasure connection (the visual and audio level up change from a while back, for example, is classic behavior modification stuff).

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  1. Ain’t no shame where there’s fun | MMO Gypsy – Wandering online Worlds

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