With reference to the Yudkowsky series on ‘fun theory’, which is quite an enjoyable read, and topical since I’ve been reading a lot of Iain M. Banks.
Unlike (commentator whose argument was more or less that games are a waste of time) who is obviously a puritan, I rather enjoy the occasional spot of idleness. For a non-trivial number of people, playing WoW for a couple of hours a day is more fun that playing real life. Rather than make thinly veiled moral judgements about folks for their unproductivity, perhaps he should consider what makes certain games so engaging.
I spent a year playing a lot of WoW, attaining non-trivial sucess in both raiding and competitive PVP, but I gave it away, partly because the time commitment became too great and partly because what passed for progression started to lose its shine.
So, being suitably qualified, I’ll take a stab at a few features that make this virtual social experience psychologically rewarding:
1. Competition with minimised risk. I love fighting. Seriously – nothing beats the adrenaline buzz, time compression and sheer physicality. Unfortunately even controlled fighting in the physical world entails a level of risk that as a father I’m not willing to assume. Simulated violence, while a poor substitute, helps to fill the void.
2. Persistent progress. Sure online FPS is fun, but when you log on you’re always the same guy (more or less). There’s also less risk of losing your shirt in an MMO compared to real life.
3. Social challenges. Much of the game content consists of elaborate logistical and combinatorial problems that require research, problem solving, and team coordination. All of which are fun.
I see a future where billions of uploaded humans exist primarily in a cartoonish sim, working out how to beat the latest uber boss the AI has dreamed up in order to get phat lewt.
An amusing response, reproduced here without permission of any kind:
@ ac: I agree with everything you said except the part about farming a scripted boss for phat lewt in the future. One would think that in the future they could code something more engaging. Have you seen LOTR… PK
And another chunk of discussion:
“The universe has a set of unchanging rules, a game is perpetually balanced by series of patches and crutches in unpredictable places. By being creative you are fighting against game developers, which is pointless because they will actively oppose and get rid of you through their control over the sandbox.”
Yeah, part of what the patch cycle achieves is to bring the world back to equilibrium. I’m not sure it’s as strong as game developers not wanting people to innovate, it’s more that the art of building engaging yet constrained virtual worlds is still in its infancy. Keeping a closed rule set (disallowing innovations like bot writing, scripting new actions etc) makes the problem more manageable.
Patches add new fun, and invariably introduce new imbalances and potential exploits – just when you figured out how to optimize for the old ruleset, along comes the patch and you need to rerun the numbers, do some research, run a few experiments, and possibly change the way you do things.
I don’t think the stereotype of gamers as unfit junk food eating slobs with no girlfriends or ‘real’ hobbies is useful. Assuming adequate nutrition, exercise and social activity (and why wouldn’t you), gaming has roughly the same ‘real world benefit’ as opera, growing roses, reading Iain M. Banks, hiking, photography, watching football or masturbating.