A Problem with Temperance
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.
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.
Stubborn (and seeking balance)