19 Nov 2010

The Machine Behind The Curtain

I’m going to start this off with a question.

Does the amount of fun you have with Warcraft decrease as the amount you know about the game increases?

I’ve been thinking about this question ever since I read an article by Larísa of Pink Pigtail Inn about someone who’d burned out on Warcraft, developing the belief that ultimately the game boils down to pressing a button on a random number generator and getting rewarded no matter the result.

This makes me nervous because of my own quest to improve my knowledge of the game. I want to improve my own ability and I like being able to share what I find with others. But should I be fearful of poisoning my enjoyment of it by finding out too much? Am I destined to become a bitter, grumpy old mage who snaps his staff in disgust?

As I was discussing this with a few people, it became apparent to me that by and large there are two groups of knowledge seekers: Born Again Cynics and Perpetual Puzzlers.

The Born Again Cynic starts off enjoying a game. They immerse themselves in the storyline, the content, the atmosphere of the game. Sooner or later something creeps in to jar that vision, like a grey cloud sweeping in from the horizon. The game develops a mundane patina, becoming a dreary drudge where the Cynic becomes fixated on every frustrating flaw they find. To them the game that was once beautiful is now just the same as every other one they’ve played.

Of course, the Born Again Cynic will repeat this with release after release, going from joyful to jaded at every time. It’s a rut that can end up being fuelled by nostalgia, of how older games were somehow “better”, as if placing it on the shelf to mature for ten years mystically made it better.

The other type is the Perpetual Puzzler. To them, the game initially feels confusing – so many options, so many choices! What to pick, what to pick, I can’t pick them all so I must work out which is best! They develop spreadsheets and strategies, continually digging away at the game in order to see how the cogs spin underneath the fire and lava and spells and swords. To them, working out the game is the challenge.

For the Perpetual Puzzler the reward is in winning – their theories, analysis and calculations pay off in improved performance. Their foes lie vanquished on the battlefield, a testament to their mind powering their might.

There’s a risk to the Puzzler, and that’s boredom. If the game becomes unchanging or unevolving, they’re likely to turn their attention elsewhere. They need fresh content like a calculator needs fresh numbers to feast on, the digits being digested like fine cuisine.

I think there’s a bit of Born again Cynic and Perpetual Puzzler in all of us, and we probably all fall on a sliding scale from one end to the other.

For some of us knowing every single detail about the game just shows its beauty, like an autostereogram or fractal. For others, new information just serves to remind us how similar all games are, just like all films descend from a handful of plots. The key thing is to be mindful of where we are and not to veer close to either extreme. At the end of the day, games exist for one single purpose only.


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6 Responses to The Machine Behind The Curtain

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  2. Prelimar says:

    so…. which one (or which mix) are you? i can’t decide which one i am. probably more of a puzzler than a cynic, but i’m of a cynical generation, too, so there’s always that danger. then i get a gasp from how gorgeous the night sky is in stormwind, or nagrand, and i love the game all over again. : )

  3. Larísa says:

    What a lovely post! I’m proud if I somehow helped to inspire it.
    For my own part I must admit that I’m not a theorycrafter. I rely on whatever optimal spec someone else finds out for me. I’ve never ever put together a WoW spreadsheat. Or wait, that was a lie. I might have done it when I was calculating on what badge gear to pick back in TBC. But not once ever since then. However I still count myself as a puzzler. There’s always more to learn, new classes to play, new aspects to explore and conquer. Tired of PvE? Try PvP or RP! The game feels almost as endless as it did as I started.
    Larísa recently posted..On the issue of celebrating an anniversaryMy Profile

  4. I think I’m a Puzzler, even though I am NOT a number cruncher. Continually improving my performance has made the game a blast for me, and once my main was the best she could be with little content left to explore, I still had alts to master.
    It’s all cyclical, though. I’ve gotten bored before, usually because a) I’ve run out of challenges I’m interested in pursuing, or b) because I’ve been working on something that’s frustrating me. At these times I take a break and usually come back ready to conquer new puzzles.
    Which one are YOU, Gaz?
    battlechicken recently posted..Behind the Chicken- IRL &amp the BattlechickenMy Profile

  5. Fobok says:

    I’m definitely a Puzzler. How do I know this? Because the attitude of the Born Again Cynic annoys me to no end. They’re adding all new cool conent, features, and so on, and all they want is a return to Vanilla.

    Worse are the ones who, once they become cynics, can’t let it go. They leave the game that made them cynical but also complain about every new game that comes along.

    I do get bored of games every now and then, especially when there’s no new stuff to do. But I just take a break, play something else until there’s new content, then come back.
    Fobok recently posted..Posting Schedule and Elemental InvasionMy Profile

  6. Gazimoff says:

    Prelimar, Battlechicken et al.

    I like to think I’m a puzzler continually chipping away at the secrets of the game. My wife (who also plays) thinks that I’m more of a cynic. Mainly because I get frustrated when the game isn’t going my way and I start looking at the numbers to try and work out why. Either way, I wouldn’t say I’m at either extreme, but somewhere in the middle-ish.