It’s time for the semi-annual “done with MMOs” post!
Feelings transpire in cycles for me. Sometimes I’ll want to play game type X, and sometimes I want nothing to do with game type X, and the reasons behind each state are, quite frankly, a black box to me.
Usually when I claim to have sworn off a game type, I’ll ascribe it to of one of two reasons:
The “good thing” I’ve come to understand about past malaise has been that I know deep down that at some point I’ll get nostalgic, or that the swell on social media will overwhelm me and cause me to turn around and return, and in all honesty I both welcome that and look forward to those times; I would only consider the nail to be in the coffin if I could pinpoint something very specific about a game type as the reason why I stopped playing in the first place.
Right now, that nail is “ultra-grind”, which is something I consider to be above and beyond the idea of “standard grind”. Here’s the thing: RPGs are games where you move around a lot, make decisions, solve puzzles, fight enemies, and these activities simulating a learning curve for your character. This is represented (traditionally) as “experience points” which you use to make your character(s) better by raising stats, selecting skills and abilities, earning money and improving gear. The main impetus for this is so that you can get more experience by visiting increasingly difficult areas that your piles of experience-earning improve your chances of surviving. These days, everything is an RPG because, I don’t know…it’s meant to foster a sense of investment in your character, the story, and the world at large?
I tried Blade and Soul recently, and while I’m extremely tepid on the Eastern aesthetic (mechanics, presentation, and philosophy of design), it wasn’t until I looked at the way characters progressed, considered what I’d need to do in order to progress, and understood that as an MMO, this would need to happen for another several dozen levels that I snapped. I couldn’t do this any more. The go-here, talk to this person, perform this task, receive the reward cycle made my eyes glaze over so fast I thought I got smacked with cataracts. It wasn’t just BnS‘s exploitative Eastern gameplay that shut me down, it was the idea that underpins pretty much every single MMO on the market today: the whole soup-to-nuts process of building the character by repeating the same tasks over and over, assigning points, dealing with progression trees, upgrading gear, hunting for achievements. The ultra-grind: when every task you are asked to engage in is seen as a grind.
Maybe I’ve just reached the RPG saturation point in general and am unfairly taking it out on MMOs. I’ve always considered RPGs to be my “go-to genre” in the gaming sphere because of the progressive opportunities. I’ve played so many MMOs over the years, so many RPGs stretching back to the early 80’s, that it’s entirely possible I’ve finally just gotten tired of moving numbers around, calculating the cost/benefit ratio of assignments, and the lengthy periods where I’m doing nothing but running from point A to point B in order to do the things that the game was designed to allow me to do. The ultra-grind isn’t just limited to one game, but is acknowledging that we’re being asked to do the exact same thing over several games over the course of decades. Since I’ve been neck-deep in RPGs during that time, it’s the genre and the mechanics that lend themselves to this feeling that I’ve done all of this so many times that I might be finally done with it in the traditional RPG sense.
While I’ve been contemplating my position on RPGs and MMOs in particular, I’ve been gravitating towards quicker games, or games where I’m allowed to really forge my own path. I’ve gone back to Elite: Dangerous in part because I still love it, but also because it doesn’t ask me to do anything other than what I want, when I want. It’s limited in scope to free-trading, taking missions, exploring, mining, or hunting, but there’s not a “!” in sight as my sole and best way of progressing. There’s no attributes to assign, and progress is entirely a factor of one’s own decisions, not a factor of how much time you spend in the game. I’ve also been darting in and out of Mechwarrior Online, a lobby shooter which allows me to mix and match my death machine according to the way the wind blows (and the size of my in-game wallet), jump into a quick match, and receive that visceral thrill of seeing my beam weapons carve into an enemy mech (or more likely the side of a hill in my case). The next big game I’m looking forward to is The Division, a post-apocalyptic modern day semi-narrative shooter in the Destiny vein. The idea of being able to just go out and ramble around and get paid for it appeals to me as much now as it did when I was regularly playing Destiny. Hell, I’ve even been considering returning to racing games on the console because a race is a race and I can participate as many times or as few times as I like. Drop in, drop out, move on.
My current taste seems to be trending more towards the instant gratification compared to the long-haul that RPGs require. I don’t know where that comes from, but maybe it’s not a case of being unnaturally attracted to these other styles of gameplay as much as it is simply feeling “done” with the long-tail investment being asked of me in RPGs. Like I said, I suspect it might just be that I’ve been playing RPGs for so long that I’ve finally reached a point where I need to move on to something else. I suspect that, like most cases in the past, this will be temporary, although temporary is just a way of saying “not forever”, and is not an indication of how “temporary” temporary will be.