A Thought On Being Goal-Driven

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scenery 3I’ve been playing a lot of Neverwinter recently; it’s a free to play MMO, so it’s designed to be addictive. Each task is small and achievable in a just-one-more-before-bed kind of way, and each level gain comes with skill points and feat points so it’s a really tangible achievement. Every aspect is designed to draw people in, and to keep them playing once they’re ensnared. All of this crap works on me. I powered through to the level cap in a couple of weeks, partly driven by the thought that I’d be able to finish once I got there. Now I spend my time in Neverwinter trying to get my gear score high enough to get into those “Epic Dungeons,” which means more dungeons and PVP and all kinds of crap. The point of an MMO is that no matter how quickly you are able to “finish” or hit the level cap, you’re never done.

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From a business standpoint, that’s all great; get players in, keep them in, and they never leave. If they want to go that extra mile, and they end up paying real money: perfect. While good business practices tend to make an effective and entertaining MMO, a player shouldn’t forget that it is still a game. This is something that you should be doing for fun. Mostly when playing, I didn’t enjoy it. I was being driven, and whatever satisfaction I derived was from achieving each checkpoint before being introduced to the next. They were driving me, but also giving me gorgeous scenery and immersive stories; and yet at no point was I enjoying playing the game.

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I realized this when my level was in the mid-50s. I had stopped reading quest tags; go kill a certain number of a certain type of bad guy for a reason that is totally important, go find from 1-5 MacGuffins that are totally super important, move to the next camp deeper in the map and do it all again. Neverwinter has a good story, set in a world that I know and love, and I wasn’t appreciating any of it.

Once I slowed down, the game got a lot better. The story was more interesting, I cared about the random things I was doing, and I really began to appreciate the scenery. I didn’t see any easter eggs or find anything mindblowing, but I started playing the game for the story, not just for the sake of increasing numbers on a sheet somewhere.

scenery 6I’m really just trying to warn you. If you’re anything like me – goal-driven, focused on the task at hand – it’s likely that you’re missing over some really cool stuff. Even mass-produced run-like-a-business MMOs have had enough work put in to try to draw you in; every once in a while, you need to stop and smell the lovingly-rendered roses.