I get told that I am more interested in social experiments than in gameplay all the time. Frankly, I am a bit sick of it. So I want to rant.
I said this in the comments to another post.
A game where the only productive activity is to kill things is the social experiment. A game where people can dance at a bar is more like normal humanity. 🙂
Earlier today I saw a comment that World of Warcraft might be the last “general” game, because from now on most games will tackle niches. To which my response was, I don’t understand this definition of “general” game. The reply was
I think his definition of “general” is the tried and true…
First off, let’s think about what an incredibly narrow range of human activity that is. It’s also a set of human activity that by and large we don’t like very much if it happens in real life. Are these games intended mostly as vicarious chances to let loose with antisocial behavior in a setting where it doesn’t matter? (Call it the GTA theory of videogaming!) I hope not.
Second, let’s realize that when we describe our MMOs that way, we’re blinkering ourselves dramatically. Up to 50% of the time you spend in an MMO today is likely chatting. Why isn’t it on the list? Hell, why isn’t even questing on the list, instead of the generic “dungeons”? At least questing offers the chance to provide a wider array of stories!
Third, let’s remember that even the presence of crafting on there is evidence that johnny-come-lately features can become important. Never mind that this almost certainly means a bowdlerized version of crafting, because that’s what most of the games have. Crafting is a major major mainstream activity in the real world: just look at all those folks who have woodshops in their garages, or who keep the craft stores alive, or who do a little watercolor painting on the weekends.
The fact is that the abnormal picture, the social experiment, the weird mangling of human nature, is shoehorning the amazing variety of human activity into the pathetically narrow array of activities that are present in most MMOs, and then calling anything that doesn’t fit “ghey.”
And oddly, the “visionary” “pie in the sky” “social experiment” “out there” thing to do is to try to have a vague semblance of normalcy. Making games with more activities isn’t a social experiment — it’s trying to give scope to normal parts of human behavior that these games stunt the growth of or even refuse to acknowledge.
People will read this and say “but normal isn’t fun” and bluntly, they’re wrong. Some of the classic games of all time have involved doing dishes, picking up your room, planning a sewage system, driving a car, raising a dog, and even tending bar. Fun is as fun does, and fun games can be made out of darn near anything.
The reason to look forward to the niche games is because maybe filling each of these familiarly narrow niches (that were mostly done better in NetHack, fer crissake) will force us to explore the rest of the human experience for some gameplay. After all, I am pretty much done killing orcs, pretty much forever.
Yesterday in the comments, Nyght said
I hope you are trying to be funny here Raph, but I suspect you are not. Bescause we can also say, at least in regards to MMORPGs:
A game where the only productive activity is to kill things has a chance at success. A game where people can dance at a bar is likely a niche game.
I don’t understand the why of this. But not understanding why doesn’t make it less true. We are surrounded by an anecdotal evidence.
and really, that’s a sign of how distorted our perspective is. Almost the games we make are currently niche-sized in terms of the totality of popular culture. We get fooled by the fact that the industry pulls in a fair amount of money, when in fact our market penetration as a percentage of population sucks. And I don’t mean MMORPGs, either, I mean all games.
But if we look at MMOs in particular, consider that even assuming that every person who ever bought WoW in the US logs in every week, that would still give WoW an audience share comparable to the lowest-rated programs on network television. The mass market is a world where 2 million means “flop that must be cancelled in 2 weeks.”
It also means that Nyght forgot you can dance in WoW. 🙂
Darniaq has said that the difference in mindset is one between “being” and “getting,” and that the issue is that “being” is too much work, too much investment. And yet, near as I can tell, it’s the “getting” games that have the high time commitments — yes, even the casual WoW seems to rack up the same weekly hours of playtime that the other hack n slash MMOs do. It’s the getting games that offer only a handful of things to do over and over as you chase largely illusory rewards in a mad consumerist scramble through identical challenges with minor cosmetic variations.
This is what I was trying to say when I said “the grind is a state of mind.” Yes, of course there can be repetitive boring mechanics in any sort of game, and yes of course the designer should take them out. All too often, though, what we seem to hear is that the grind goes away if there’s enough pretty pictures mounted on the hamster wheel.
Slow down, you move too fast.
You got to make the morning last.
Just kicking down the cobble stones.
Looking for fun and feelin’ groovy.
What does it take to change that mindset? Is it inborn? Is it human nature? Are we congenitally incapable of stopping to smell the roses?
I’ve got no deeds to do,
No promises to keep.
To me that couplet defines summer vacations, and some of the most fun times in my life. Why is that the social experiment now?