Psychology of the gamer mind and Syncaine

I’ve spoken recently about my restlessness and my vacillations in which MMOs I play. I still play WoW, but in the Spring I played EVE seriously for about two months, and again stopped by to teach a friend a thing or two and to continue training. In the Fall I gave WAR another go, but found I liked it no better than I did at its initial release, and I tried out AION which was quite visually appealing, but had little other hold on me. Particularly as I found out more and more about the game. I’m extremely happy that I wasted as little time on it as I did now, because by many accounts things are beginning to look grim for the game and I would have hated to have invested a lot of time and effort into character development only to see it virtually wasted as the game all but died. And finally, lately I have been following two up and coming games–Star Trek Online, and The Old Republic. Both of which have just entered Beta, or in the case of the Old Republic, may be conducting limited closed testing.

In years past I was not even tempted to play other games. Despite being a rabid Tolkien fan there was nothing in LotRO that tempted me from WoW. And despite growing up on Conan; having read every Conan book ever written, and the fact that Conan the Barbarian was the first movie I ever purchased and owned, AOC did not tempt me away from WoW either. Neither of which did I track during their development or beta phases either. So why have I been so restless this year when in years past I have not? Simple, and it has lessons that Syncaine needs to learn.

When you listen to people talk about Politics, or games as an example, they very often talk about “this”, or “that” as if it was a black and white example. Take the casual vs. hardcore debate for instance. What is casual? What is hardcore? Some people believe that the difference between hardcore and casual is in the number of hours they play, yet I can tell you of numerous examples of people that play 30+ hours per week and would by no means ever be considered a hardcore player. Other people believe that the difference relates to the tenacity by which the player pursues a goal, or by a level of ruthlessness. Yet I can again tell you of numerous players that I know who are quite laid back, but whom I would consider to be very hardcore. Instead I think it better if people would understand that nothing in this world is truly black and white. Often distinctions are representative from points of view, making things truly grey. Things are more a spectrum than linear comparisons.

Any discussion such as this would not be complete without also dipping into the Bartle test of Gamer Psychology. There is debate regarding how accurate Bartle’s test truly is, but I think it accurate enough as long as one thing is understood. The test predicts the gamers’ psychology as a point in time. Others would say that the test accounts for that, offering a glimpse at the predilection of the individual taking it, but I believe people’s predilections change over time, and also believe that no test can accurately account for people’s conscious desires over their subconscious desires. In other words, someone saying they are “hardcore” does not make one so. Take me for example. For hours, or days, or even weeks I may be keenly interested in something specific, and I will most likely doggedly pursue it. Achievements for example, either in general or specifically. Or I might be interested in raising a particular reputation, or perhaps several. Either for the achievement in and of itself, or for some reward. That might seem on the face of it to fit into the Bartle Psychology Achiever’s category as my major trait. But I invariably change and will forgo that entire line of game play and will instead pursue something in the Killer category. Depending on how I answer questions and during which period I answer them I can get different predictions of my predilections. I am but an example of what I believe is truly in the heart of most people.

People are invariably driven by a need for challenge and that challenge differs from person to person. The “social” player challenges him or herself to create networks of friends, though that hardly looks like a challenge at all to someone that is more driven to a directly confrontational play style that a “killer” would represent. Yet it’s a distinction that is very real. I have been restless this year because the challenge I most often seek is lacking. I’m not driven to the utmost of lengths to complete every achievement, but I do like to achieve goals. I like to raid, though I lose little sleep if I am not able to complete all hard mode encounters in a raid dungeon. Despite my lack of getting into hard modes because of my guild, I personally find the raid encounters in WotLK to be very easy comparatably to what we’ve seen previously. It’s a mantra that a lot of “hardcore” raiders have put forth over the year. It lead to the resurgence of my alt-a-holism, but the restlessness has only increased as I got more and more achievements completed under my alts. I was dissatisfied with some of my alts and moved onto a next one, until finally I think I have a mix of characters that I am fairly happy with – that being my DK, my Druid, and my Paladin. At the moment I have things I want to accomplish on these toons, but they’re achievements that I would term as the low, or lower hanging fruit. Once I get all or most of those done I’m aware I’m likely to start feeling restless again. Not because I do not like the characters, but rather because of other content in the game that I can participate in isn’t challenging enough for me.

Games like WoW that are termed as “theme-parks” are popular in the market place, but over the long term I think they individually have to find a level of difficulty that caters to their players. Remember when you used to play regular PC games back in the day? And you used to use cheat codes to breeze through content? Same concept here. I would bang my head against some encounter, then eventually grow tired of it and use a cheat code to breeze through. That was the beginning of the end right there because things became simply too easy. Despite my own lack of discipline, the game received the “punishment” by my abandonment of it. WoW, and other theme-parks could suffer the same fate if they go too far along the spectrum that leads to content becoming too easy. On the other hand people like Syncaine are of the mind that we need to be on the other side of the spectrum where MMOs are brutally impartial. He desires an MMO where he can impose his sense of fun onto you, regardless of your own desires. But that type of game often has mechanics that are far removed from what I think most people find acceptable these days. If it were not the case, would not the market had answered? Would not the market have decided that Darkfall is “better” than Wow? The people are speaking, though Syncaine does not want to listen.

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