We humans love to establish rules and boundaries. Many of us need rules and boundaries or we don't know what to do with ourselves. We like to achieve goals, and some of us are obsessed with surpassing those goals. Have you ever stopped to wonder how we got to the point that a standard work day is eight hours and how the weekend is set on the days it is? This is all due to our ability to fall in line, to give into the demands that we place on ourselves, to give into a set of rules and guidelines. One only need attend an average wedding to see how ridiculously far we accept certain guidelines in the name of tradition. Funerals can be equally silly.
What does this have to do with free-to-play gaming? Well, click past the cut and we'll chat about it.
Notice how we have crafted open social activities into expected behaviors: the handshaking and the give-and-take introductions. Even sworn enemies are dependent on social structure to communicate. If you think about it, it's almost amusing when you see someone arguing with someone else. The two combatants take turns speaking -- even in war there is this strange tradition of give and take.
This penchant for making rules disturbs me when I see it happening in gaming. The further away I get from established rules or expectations and the more I explore my own playstyles, the more I notice how infrequently other players stray far from them. In one of the most disturbing (and admittedly infuriating) blog posts I have read, a top-tier World of Warcraft raider admitted to working a full-time job, playing the game for 10 hours a night, and living on just four hours of sleep per night. The worst part was when I noticed how little the readers commented about the dangers and stereotype-building behavior in the various comments sections that the blog was reposted to.
Before comparisons to world-class athletes or obsessed geniuses pop up in the comments section, notice something: The player is talking about sacrificing his health, possibly mental health, in the pursuit of this goal. Whether it's being undertaken by an athlete, lawyer, or world-class debater, obsessive and destructive behavior is the same. The specific occupation or hobby is irrelevant. The key here is that we are talking about destructive behavior, not "dedication."
"For once, free-to-play games make me fear for the future of humanity -- at least the portion of it that plays for 36 hours straight while trying to hit max-level."
Free-to-play games come in all varieties, shapes and sizes, but one thing is for sure: The grind is in many of them. Of course, the example of the raider above shows just how common the grind is in almost any MMO, but this article is about free-to-play gaming. For once, free-to-play games make me fear for the future of humanity -- at least the portion of it that plays for 36 hours straight while trying to hit max-level. It's a dangerous culture, period. I truly believe that this single-minded pursuit of a goal (hit max-level, get that piece of loot) can potentially suck creativity and harm the body. The scariest part is that, from my point of view, it is becoming more "normal" all the time.
There is a certain expectation by many gamers that "achieving" something is the goal in these MMO games we play. While I will admit that it is one goal, there are countless others -- a number only limited by the physical confines of the computer and the imagination of the player. Like I said, however, it's less common to see players experimenting with play these days. Yes, some players experiment, but not nearly as many as those who think that doing anything but pursuing one of the standard goals is literally a waste of time.
When we take masses of people and apply a set of guidelines and structured goals for them to follow, we set up what is essentially a religion. The people in the group believe what they are told, they follow the rules set out before them, they pursue perfection in the eyes of the rules -- even if that means sacrificing their own health. While this might read like I am taking one or two examples of extreme gaming and applying it to all of MMO gaming culture, that's because I am. While it might not be smart to insult or disturb the very people I am writing for, that's not what I am trying to do. I am bringing up these points to raise a question: Are those extreme examples that far off from common reality?
"These type of players (and there are many) will not shrug off any suggestions for new games. New and excited players feed an evolving market. An evolving market means more money and more games."
It is in my best interest to know and participate in conversations with players who want to play anything and everything they can get their hands on. These type of players (and there are many) will not shrug off any suggestions for new games. New and excited players feed an evolving market. An evolving market means more money and more games. This all hinges on players who are exactly the opposite of the raider or hard-core grinder I mentioned above. Players like those wouldn't mind if every single human played only their one game. At least that way they have more players to be better than.
I have seen free-to-play evolve over the last few years, and this is exciting. At the same time, free-to-play has got to get past the mega-grind and 300-level goals in order to evolve more. Yes, it is still common to find stereotypical grinds in free-to-play. Fortunately it looks like that's changing, but players need to change as well. If you feel like grinding away an evening, go for it. Just don't do it at the expense of your health or at the expense of the rest of the game.
Each week, Free for All brings you ideas, news, and reviews from the world of free-to-play, indie, and import games -- a world that is often overlooked by gamers. Leave it to Beau Hindman to talk about the games you didn't know you wanted! Have an idea for a subject or a killer new game that no one has heard of? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org!