20 Jul 2010

Games Within Games Within Games

I used to exclusively play single-player games, drifting from title to title from month to month. After I’d finished eating through the content that the developers had created, the game was finished for me. Achievements or multiplayer modes didn’t exist nearly as much back then, so there wasn’t really anything else left to play for.

Singe I started playing Warcraft, I’ve bought what, maybe a handful of games? All of them titles that I’ve wanted to try out, that have looked cool, that have felt right.

Know how many I’ve completed? Zip. Nada. Zilch.

I must suck as a gamer or something.

So how comes I’m still logging in day after day, week after week? Isn’t there something else that’d be more entertaining to play? Something that’ll actually feel satisfying to do? Shouldn’t I be busy finishing Brutal Legend or Red Dead Redemption or Guitar Hero: Metallica?

Let me put aside the whole social side. Yeah, I have some good friends in Warcraft and it’s cool to play games with them. But I’ve done most of the content, and the content I’ve not done is so damned samey. Raiding. Questing, Instancing. Battlegrounds.

Wash, Spin, Rinse, Repeat.

I was thinking of this while looking at the BlogAzeroth shared topic this week, about what the game has taught me. I could have gone on about the things I’ve learned about the behaviour of groups, social dynamics and so on. I could have even talked about how it’s taught me to like being bored. But that’s not me.

It got me thinking about what Blizzard’s brought to the game design table. I wanted to write about how I’ve learned a lot about game design and game theory from analysing the game we all play. But then I realised I’d look like an overweight sports commentator, expounding the virtues of this tactic or that one even though I’d never coached a team or run a club.

The joke is, none of this really matters any more. Larísa says that we’re in the twilight of Wrath. Going on from this,  we’re not even playing Blizzard’s game any more. Yes, we might still be raiding, we might be doing the odd arena match. But who can say they’re doing much more than just marking time till the next expansion?

Achloryn can. He’s been soloing the heroics of Burning Crusade. Not because of the loot but because he wanted to see if he could, if it was possible. Gnomergeddon’s doing it, torching up the old places for a little bit of fun and adventure.

I’ve been doing it as well by having an achievement war with a few friends. We’re constantly battling it out to get more points than anyone else. I’m currently leading, but a few old world raids by my friends will put me back in last place again.

So what game are we playing, if it’s not Blizzard’s? Truth is, it’s whatever game we want it to be. Warcraft is becoming a bit of a school playground with small groups of us running off to do do our own thing, to play our own game. We’re tired of the swings and slides.

I think it’s an achievement to have built a world that’s still fun to be in, even when parts of it become repetitive and boring. It’s why I don’t think that the “theme park” description  fits – would you still go to the funfair every week if you were bored of all the rides?

I’m curious though – what other games are people inventing? What else are people doing in this world that they’ve built? What are you doing with the swings and the slides to make them fun again?

I know that Cataclysm’s going to arrive sooner than I think, and it’s going to be back to business. But for a while, just a while, it’s fun to goof off.

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