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.

Fun.

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