I find myself bumbling around in City of Heroes and World of Warcraft at the moment, playing neither of them with any real passion but enjoying the short stints of play that I do embark upon. I’m surprised by this newfound ability to play in ever smaller slices of my daily time pie; although in truth these can’t really be seen as a slices, but more as the simple pleasure of scraping out of the filling and eating that alone, leaving the overly thick and unpalatably burnt crust of housework and chores until later. The arcade-like accessibility of CoH allows for this brief gorging, with its lack of loot and, more importantly, a community that seems not quite so hell-bent on turning the game into a bizarre new TV ‘talent’ show called Loot Idol, the game’s society does not present that cognitive dissonance that can be found in the more time-intensive MMOs where a considerable investment is required for any real return in gaming satisfaction.
Curiously though, I am also currently experiencing that same feeling in World of Warcraft, and the reason is an interesting one. Well, interesting like the ingredients on the back of a packet of crisps are interesting when you’re waiting for a train and have nothing else to read, but I’m bored, you’re here, so let’s just pretend that it’s full of fascinating e numbers and calorie counts, shall we? The reason that I can play in such short periods of time and gain satisfaction at the end of it is due to a couple of factors. For one, I’m playing one of my level seventy characters and therefore, level wise, there’s nowhere for me to go, nothing to crave and no new abilities to desire. No level based restrictions whatsoever. Now this is interesting in itself because there are plenty of other artificially introduced restrictions and ‘levels’ in the form of reputation and raid attunement and such, but they don’t register with me as being The Game. What I mean by The Game is that when I sit down and play an MMO for the first time the simple challenge that is presented front and centre is that you are level one and have something like two abilities that you can use to advance in the game; advancement, and hence The Game, is that you will gain in level and with each of those levels you will gain new or improved abilities that will allow you to continue further in your player experience.
A quick aside: those two new abilities you get will allow you to stab innocent folk in the mediastinum, set innocent folk alight or explode innocent folk into a fine cherry vapour mist. A character never starts out with abilities that allow them to help innocent folk across the road, sell Tupperware or build housing for innocent folk to hide in so that they don’t get stabbed in the medulla oblongata. Ok, those are crap abilities, but perhaps starting out with skills in diplomacy or crafting might be an interesting change from starting out with the ability to effortlessly slice and dice an orc into fillets suitable for a Gob Kebob.
Raiding and other past times are not The Game to my way of thinking because they are clearly an artificially tagged-on treadmill for people who have completed The Game. Specifically, raiding is based on loot progression not character progression. If I returned my character to earlier areas and gave him the same gear as he had back then, he would not only be able to defeat those encounters more easily, but could also take on harder content that he wouldn’t have been able to when he was the appropriate level. The character improvement is the intrinsic part. So anyway, tenuous as that argument may seem, it’s how I feel about current MMOs and therefore, because there’s no XP bar silently staring at me from the top of the screen projecting a contorted face of anger and derision that says “You don’t do enough to fulfil me, I’m leaving you for another hero who has a bigger sword with which he can satisfy my needs”, I can play for as little time as I want and then log-out without feeling as though I should be doing more for my bunny boiler of a progress meter.
Another factor that allows for brief spurts of WoWgasm is that travel time is short. Outlands – where most of the quests that I can undertake are to be found – is pretty small as it is, add on top of this fact that I can now fly and therefore not only travel in a straight line to my destination but do so without drawing aggro from crap animals along the way, and travelling becomes a minor break between having fun rather than a major expedition that would make Sir Ranulph Fiennes blanch. This again makes sense within the context of The Game: I’m done, I’ve hit the level cap, I’ll either re-roll, leave or repeatedly hit my head against the reinforced glass wall of raid content; so because The Game is over, there’s no need to keep things like artificially slow travel in the way of play any more since there’s no levelling progress to restrict and obstruct in order to keep people in the bulk of the content.
Finally the other joy that immediately springs to mind is that I can pick the quests that look and sound interesting, rather than feeling the need to complete any quest I can lay my hands on so that the Experience Mistress won’t release the Hounds of Achievement to hunt me down and deliver their own special brand of frothing, tooth-laden guilt. Thus, I have the freedom to say:
“I’m sorry Farmer Bob, but stuff you. Stuff you, and stuff your crops that are being overwhelmed by rats. Perhaps if you hadn’t built your farm in The Valley of Rats on Plague Island, next to that giant rat hole where Gorgonra the terrible red-eyed queen of rodents lives; perhaps if you hadn’t decided to grow a specific crop that can only be considered the crack cocaine of the rat world; perhaps if you had developed some form of basic hygiene rather than just defecating where you stand through a flap in the back of your dungarees; perhaps if you had built something, anything that might be considered a defence against a rampage of rodents, rather than a picket fence and a scare crow that wouldn’t bother Terrified Tim the Timid of Treenton, who is scared of absolutely everything, including the thought that someone might cure him of being scared. Then I might just find it in myself to be bothered to waste my time chasing ten of the little bastards around and bringing you their measly little hides so that you can reward me with a piece of moss and half a button.
It’s deliciously refreshing. Although that might just be the air I’m breathing now that I’ve moved on from Farmer Bob’s rat infested poo pile.
The main problem I have with these brief but enjoyable sojourns from the real world is that this style of play does not provide a lot of material for a blog: “I logged on. I did a couple of quests. I fed Farmer Bob to Gorgonra. I logged out” is hardly compelling reading and I don’t have the inclination to make it sound more dynamic or epic, it’s just not my thing, and I’m certainly not experiencing anything new and irritating that would inspire a tirade of biting satire or comedy situations.
I’m afraid that I’m not one to talk just for the sake of it, so if it’s a bit quiet here then it’s simply because I’m waiting for more fuel to fire the Inferno.