25 Mar 2010

Battling the Burnout

Last night’s raiding was fantastic. We had a bit of silliness and fun, but we cleared up to (and including) Festergut, leaving the rest of the week clear for progression work. I also picked up Abracadaver, with the additional hit and haste making that transition to a Fire spec more possible if the numbers stack up. I’m not sure if the guild will go for it though – they’re already hooked on the Arcane Empowerment change.

My raiding schedule is pretty light though – I might spend two or three nights a week in a raid. I’m also pretty much exclusive to 10-man stuff – while I might pick up a 25-man VoA or ICC rep run, it’s not essential to me. It means my time is free to do other things like work on alts, roleplay, work on crafting or whatever else I fancy. I like to mix up my game like this – it means I’ve always got stuff to do.

It’s strange in a way. Back when I was hardcore I used to log in, raid, log off. I’d then repeat this cycle six or seven times a week with raiding being the only thing I’d play for. I had other people farming materials for flasks or other buffs for me. For those five hours a night, I’d focus on the screen and nothing else. Dinner would go cold on the plate next to me. The only thing that mattered was the next server first, the next boss, the next raid.

In the end, I burnt out. Raiding was impacting every aspect of my life. I would go to sleep at 2am, only to get up again at 6am and shuffle to work for nine hours. I’d snatch tokens of sleep on the train to work, running on coffee day and night. In all, it wasn’t a great way to live and I called time on it. I ended up quitting completely for a while and going cold turkey. I think Protflashes brings out a great example in this post. It’s well worth reading because it really shows what burnout feels like – you want to change  what you’re doing, but you feel you can’t because others are relying on you. There’s this sense of moral obligation that hangs there.

Anyhow, after a while I realised what I liked about the game – what kept me playing. I’ve already touched on the people side in previous posts – the strong team spirit we had as a raidguild was something that spurred me on. But more than that, I also realised that there’s about five or six different games that I play within Warcraft. Each of these smaller games like questing, gathering and crafting, duelling or PvP, dungeoneering etc. all work together to make this overall meta-game. It’s one of the things missed by other MMOs that I’ve played, which is why people tend to play them for a short time after release but then end up cancelling once they’ve finished with the few micro-games they like.

Larisa’s got a further point about it in her post about making our own Cataclysm. She suggests trying something completely new, like trying out PvP or experimenting with roleplay. It’s solid advice because it encourages mixing things up. Similar recommendations came back on Twitter, with taking a break, playing a different game, switching focus to a different game aspect or even just rerolling a new character.

The thing that gnaws away for me is inevitability, like we’re destined to go through this cycle of play-burnout-break-play. And even though we can mix things up by introducing new elements to our game, I’m not sure if it’ll help eliminate burnout completely – it feels like it’ll just extend that time between trying something new and growing weary of it. Then again, I can’t exatly talk from experience – I don’t know of anyone that’s avoided burnout or how they managed to do it.

I’m also beginning to feel that although we each have a personal responsibility for keeping our game fresh, there’s some responsibility to the guild or raidgroup to help keep their players interested in logging in. After all, we want people to feel motivated and wanting to play, not that they feel obliged to out of some kind of moral responsibility. How that should work, I’m not so sure. It’s like I can feel the shape of it, but not the detail. Maybe I’m too distant from guild leadership these days.

I hate leaving on a low note, but it’s something I see happening all around me and I can’t help but think that there’s something broken about it. If we can understand how to avoid burnout it’ll mean we feel happier about playing the games we love. If we don’t, I can’t help but think that this cycle is going to continue. Not just for Warcraft, but for every future MMO we choose to play.

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