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April 9, 2014

Dear Reader,

Despite the connotation of the title, gutting something isn’t always bad.  Sure, it implies a level of viscera, off cutting, splitting, and taking away.  But when you rebuild something, when you renovate, for example, a house, the first thing you do is gut the place.  Gutting can be, after its tonal unpleasantness, a start to something new.

I was gutted a little the other day, or at least delivered a bit of a gut-shot.  Reading Penny Arcade, as I’m apt to do a few times a week, I came across this comic.  I don’t often read the posts that go along with them, I’ll be honest about that, but I do, occasionally, when something resonates.  This comic did.  In reading the post, I came across this text:

World of Warcraft ate the core out of the experience, gutted it, so no matter what the shell is, eventually I arrive at a place where the spine of it is so fucking bare – its manipulations so transparent – that I sit back in my chair, and push the keyboard away.  I sit like this for awhile.

And that was that.  These few lines have captured the feeling of malaise, the very reasons behind it, perfectly.  I can play all the way through Star Wars: the Old Republic.  I can play all of Rift, Lord of the Rings Online, and likely, in the future, Wildstar and ESO.  But the experience has been gutted by WoW.  I see all the viscera in there.  I can see the rapid beating of the crafting system, the slow digestion of the currency grinds, the pulsing of the gearing cycle.  I see the bare spine, there, the thread that connects it to every other MMO I’ve ever played – and quit – and I suddenly just don’t really see the point of continuing the game.

I’m not down on WoW or other MMOs, to be fair.  They’re great.  The work they’ve done, the new heights they’ve reached in just about a decade, were unthinkable when they first appeared.  What’s been made in the past and what’s currently being made now are technological feats amazing to the mind and spirit.

But I’ve seen the inside of them.  I can’t stop thinking about those pieces, those little inner workings.

It’s not them, you see; it’s me.

And none of this is to say I’m done with them.  I’m sure I’m not.  I’m sure there’s many more 3-monthers in front of me, 3 months being the time it really takes to dissect a game, to find the hidden valves in the heart of the talents system, the subtle manipulations of the players by the game’s nervous system.

I just wish there was a new organism out there, one I hadn’t encountered yet, as I hadn’t encountered MMOs prior to their arrival.  The money involved makes it increasingly unlikely that innovation’s around the corner.  There’s not much reason to evolve away from a system that’s spurting cash from every pore.


Stubborn (and hoping to renovate)

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Samus permalink
    April 9, 2014 7:40 pm

    I feel the same, and I feel like such a huge part of it is that everything has been turned into a grind. Leveling used to be the main game, even in WoW. Now it is considered a boring grind to get to the “real” game, a grind that players would pay real money to avoid. Even at max level, the grind doesn’t stop. Doing a dungeon used to be an accomplishment, with meaningful loot rewards. Now, you expect to blow through several of them a day, and only for the dungeon finder rewards.

    Maybe we are partly to blame for “looking behind the curtain,” but I honestly feel developers have gotten worse about this in MMORPGs. These games are already so expensive to make, and developers need something to keep players from running out of content. And it is what everyone else is doing too! It is very hard to be the one game that eliminates the grind…and hundreds of gameplay hours, for seemingly no return to the game company. I have to give credit to Tobold for pointing out that the subscription model pushes developers into “toxic” game design just as the Free2Play model does.

    • April 10, 2014 11:40 am

      I am undoubtedly partly to blame; this is certainly an “ignorance is bliss” situation. That said, I can’t just turn off the analytical part of me, the part that wants to look behind the curtain to see those inner workings. I’ve made a writing hobby out of doing so, and if that damaged the hobby itself, well, so be it.

      Thanks for the comment!

  2. April 15, 2014 3:03 pm

    I come from a programming background so while I’m not at the peak of insiderness when it comes to things like behind-the-scenes MMO machinations, I’m certainly aware of some of what goes on back there (for instance, I actually understand the concept of “random” compared to the average forum poster) but I can generally wipe my own internal memory, at least temporarily, when playing games, I try to actually play them as games and not focus too much on the mechanical details. I suspect those who actually work for the company, and also play the game, can also do that to greater or lesser degrees to maintain some level of gameplay enjoyment.

    I also submit that there are people who simply can’t or aren’t willing to do that… once the veil has dropped, it’s gone; they can’t play in the moment, they can’t be in the game (I’m not talking RP in the strict sense), they can only “raid” or “quest” or “PvP” or “do dailies”… they’re either in the mood for or are done with “grinding”. They play (or don’t play) the mechanics as mechanics, not as gameplay elements.

    So yeah, I think you have a very valid viewpoint there and I don’t think you’re alone in your reaction to it. I don’t think it’s optimal for an MMO player to be that way but it is what it is, you seem to be aware and work with or around it as the case may be.

    (note – I wrote that before I read Samus’s comment, he seems to be solidly in that latter camp… when I do dailies, to some degree I’m absolutely doing dailies but I’m also aware of the fact that I’m helping a faction… I’m actually more likely to do one set of faction dailies than another because I support them more… although with better loot in play, I might well follow the loot instead… when deciding which toon to run old-world raids on for mats, I’ll actually factor in something like a thematic match between instance and toon, maybe taking one created in that era or one for whom the faction would be more personally relevant… that isn’t my sole criteria and it isn’t really a conscious thing, it just is)

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