Wednesday 22 April 2009

MMO Enantiodromia.

Enantiodromia. Literally, “running counter to,” referring to the emergence of the unconscious opposite in the course of time. This characteristic phenomenon practically always occurs when an extreme, one-sided tendency dominates conscious life; in time an equally powerful counter-position is built up, which first inhibits the conscious performance and subsequently breaks through the conscious control.

A theory expounded upon by Carl Jung, Enantiodromia is generally suggested to be a precursor to a major change in the personality of the sufferer. It’s a fascinating theory, one which has been prominent enough to have been noted by Heraclitus some two and a half thousand years ago. It’s a theory which resonates with me at the moment, it causes light to pour forth from my eyes as the neurons in my mind all light up simultaneously, gorging themselves on this most delicious of theoretical morsels. And as the boiler of my mind is stoked so abundantly, synapses firing desperately fast, it’s like a steam train with too much pressure in the system, travelling faster than its design ever intended – I need to release this pressure. Therefore I allow the head of steam – my head full of steam – to drive the pistons of my arms and the valve gear of my fingers to write a post; it is a runaway, but by allowing the train of thought to run free I hope to keep the idea from disintegrating, albeit at the risk of the whole thing derailing and ending up as a smoking wreck.

This characteristic phenomenon practically always occurs when an extreme, one-sided tendency dominates conscious life

Most people who have ever counted themselves as a regular player of MMOs should be able to feel this sentence resonate within them, the words practically vibrate on the page, and cause the mind to gently hum as it takes on the role of transformer to this current of thought. MMOs, for some unknown reason, are rarely sampled in moderation and many players verge on the extreme side with regards to time divested in playing MMOs, in reading about MMOs, in writing lengthy blog posts about MMOs… I’m not going to attempt to offer up an explanation as to why MMOs magnify the skinner box mentality in so many of us, but it is a well accepted phenomenon – rigorous scientific methods of observation could be applied and formulas generated, I’m sure. So we have a somewhat extreme – as viewed by an impartial outsider – and very focussed, one might say one-sided, tendency that dominates the conscious life of many people who play MMOs.

And we see so many of those people reach a state of utter disillusionment with MMOs.

in time an equally powerful counter-position is built up, which first inhibits the conscious performance

First it is a general sense of unrest when a player logs in. There’re things to do, places to see, people to interact with, but underlying it all there is a subtle feeling of weariness. The same game is there as it was yesterday and the day before when the player was happy and enthusiastic, and absorbed in this virtual world. Now, however, those things no longer spark the mind or spirit, the player picks at quests and achievements like a person picks at the leftovers of a plate of their favourite food in a restaurant: they’ve paid for it and enjoyed it tremendously thus far, and they don’t want the experience to end even though all the indicators point to the fact that they have had their fill. Many will continue on, they will carry on picking away at their plate, at their MMO, trying not to let the experience end, and they will make themselves feel ill in the process.

There’s a form of restlessness that develops, the player cannot find a place to call home in their current MMO, so they move on to new grounds in the hope that they can revitalise their enthusiasm. The more they try to maintain the one-sided tendency to absorb themselves in MMOs, however, the more the resistance within them builds, the counter-position grows like a drift of snow, gradually, silently, unobserved until too often it becomes an insurmountable obstacle to progress. The disquiet with one MMO becomes a general malaise with all MMOs, and because the player’s reaction is to bury themselves deeper into the genre in an attempt to revitalise their lost enthusiasm, the greater the counter-position becomes, and the more the player grasps around trying every new thing in an attempt to force a return to the blissful state of experience that they had known previously.

This continues, until it is no longer their enthusiasm for the MMO genre that drives their desire to play, it is the battle to overcome the counter-position that dominates them.

and subsequently breaks through the conscious control.

Certainly this has happened to me. If you’ve followed my posts on the Inferno and then through to here, you will have noticed, as I have, that although I’ve always tried to look at the humorous and ludicrous nature of MMOs my view of the genre and industry has darkened, I look at it now through a window covered with the grime of a magnitude of undelivered promises and formulaic content delivered to satisfy the deadlines of venture capital committees and to fill out the progress bar graphs and bubble charts of upper management.

MMOs are no longer a cottage industry, a row of hand-crafted thatched-roof dwellings that are homely, comfortable, relaxing and familiar. MMOs are big business, they are a street of Nevada hotels, each trying to tempt in customers by presenting a fancy façade on the ground floor that promises a world of wonder inside, but as soon as you look up a level you realise that on top of this sits the same regimented grey concrete tower as all the others on the street. The further you look up, the more you realise just how little changes from level to level. The fancy façades are gimmicks and nothing more, they are there to entice in customers, to attempt to differentiate this lump of bland uniformity from the identical one next door, but as soon as you leave the ground level, leave the flashing lights and gimmicks behind, the experience is exactly the same.

I feel that it is because we feel so passionately about our MMOs – that for some unknown reason they develop such loyalty and devotion – that our eventual rejection of them is so excessive in its intensity. We continue to participate in the games long after our subconscious has started to tell us that we are done, and therefore when the subconscious counter-position eventually takes hold, as it will inevitably do all the while we continue to feed it, it is easily a negative force equal to the positive enthusiasm that it has been balanced against.

So if my criticism of MMOs riles or frustrates you, if you think that boundless enthusiasm is the only way to improve the way these games are viewed, that if we think positively enough about them then they well Become Good, understand that I have been there and travelled that road and it lead only to the town of Disappointment, full of rows of identical hotels with gaudy receptions.

There is a positive side, however: my current one-sided tendency of pessimism and cynicism has been evident for a while now, and therefore by the theory stated above there should be a counter-position to this building in the subconscious, and I do feel it there on occasion, when I dip into an MMO and a design feature or engaging piece of content creates a spark of enthusiasm which briefly lights-up the jaded darkness. It’s there in the quiet of my mind, slowly building and gaining momentum, it just needs to the right fuel to ignite the passion once more.

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