There is a game released a few years back. It was intended to parody the style of games that it represented, but I actually took it seriously because it triggered the small part of my brain next to my pleasure center. That “game” was Progress Quest: a self-running program that did nothing but have various bars fill up at various speeds, with pseudo-RPG labels festooned about the stark gray menu.
Progress Quest was the epitome of how I played role-playing games. Story? Who needs it. Friends? They just slow me down. Endless rote killing broken up only by periodic trips back to town to sell off needless gear and equip myself to better slaughter hundreds of creatures in a mindless daze? Sign me up! This is the “one more” syndrome. I’ll kill one more monster. I’ll gain one more level. I’ll gather one more stack of fabric. I can, and have, and will probably continue to do this sort of zen-like, “progression-oriented” gameplay for the rest of my life, and happily.
There are whole genres of games dedicated to the “one more” mentality. Commonly, those are called “Diablo-clones,” action adventure games like the eponymous Diablo, Titan Quest, Baulder’s Gate: Dark Alliance 1 & 2, Everquest: Champions of Norrath, Sacred, Torchlight. These games have stories, but all I remember is that there was an evil something or other, and I had to take my level 1 scrub, wade through hundreds of monsters that exploded into gold and gear upon death, and punch it in the face. And by the time evil face-punching came about, I was usually wearing all sorts of awesome-looking gear with awesome-sounding names, casting awesome spells while swinging my awesome acid/bleeding dual greatswords around like a fricking Scottish Highlander on meth, and so the final boss would literally just explode from my character’s sheer awesomeness.
Anything that gets between me and this conclusion is extraneous and distracting. Side-quests that can’t be completed upon immediately gaining them or parallel to the main storyline are usually left fallow, never to be attempted. Multiplayer activities that require me to stand around for long periods of time without killing something (such as RP) are an irritant. Cutscenes are skipped. Dialog is fast-forwarded. Fishing- well, I’ll always have time to drop everything and fish if a game allows me to do so. I love fishing. But for the most part I drive myself to the endgame with all the inevitable determination of a progress bar, filling its way toward its destiny of fullness.
And it’s at this point, in these types of games, the following occurs once you’ve beaten the final bad guy: you unlock a harder difficulty and can take your character through again to get even more awesome gear. For me, however, I chucked the game somewhere and usually forgot about it. What happened to my one more mentality? If I enjoy leveling so much, why don’t I want to continue leveling?
The reason is this: I find it difficult to replay a game once my little inner flag marks the game “completed.” I’ve experienced the story (or what little I’ll recall of the story), the credits have rolled, I have gear- perhaps not the best gear- but I have pretty swanky gear. The game holds no further appeal unless I want to invest more time into it, and- oh ho, what’s this? Shiny Level-Grinding Game II was just released, with twice the shininess! Huzzah!
MMORPGs are all about the grinding game. This more or less contributed in part to my six years of playing very little except World of Warcraft. I made a character. I leveled the crap out of that character to max level in various zones. I rolled a new character. I leveled the crap out of the new character in various, but different, zones. I rolled a third character. I leveled the crap in even more different- you get the idea. Between these bouts of quest-completing, I’d make smaller, easily attainable goals for myself: my second character, an elf, filled her Stormwind faction bar to get a horse by level 42. My third character, a mage, AoE-leveled to 68 back when that strategy was viable. When max level was achieved on a character, I would role-play with my friends on the now “retired” character, because the drive to level was gone and so I wasn’t impatient to be off doing something else.
With the release of Cataclysm, five new zones were released. My level 80 paladin reached 85 by completing every single quest available in four of them. That’s roughly four hundred quests completed in the span of a month, possibly less. To get my level 80 warrior to 85 would mean re-doing at least some of those quests in at least three of those already “completed” zones in order to get her to the required level of the fifth zone I hadn’t touched.
My brain was having none of that. The fifth zone, by virtue of not being required to get my paladin to 85, was shunted into the “Bonus Content” category. My inner completion flag checked off “Cataclysm.” And I immediately quit WoW.
RIFT, therefore, has the dubious “honor” of being my new MMORPG. When I last posted, I was level 8. One night later, and I’m already level 15. Who knows what level I’ll be when I start officially playing with my friends, especially- as evidenced by the above- I probably won’t attempt to play with them until I’ve hit max level. And if I’ve hit max level, my inner completion flag will more than likely tick off, and I will promptly quit RIFT. The presence of my friends will be a background noise- a white noise of chatter that I admit I have sorely missed since I left WoW, but white-noise all the same.
What, then, am I playing the game for, if not to play with my friends? That is honestly a question I’ve asked myself, and has played in part my resistance to jump on the RIFT wagon.
It all depends on what we’re all playing for, I suppose.