Goals and lack thereof (LOTRO)

Once again, a session of LOTRO has left me thinking about how different people approach these games in different ways. The most frequent complaints I see aimed at LOTRO are that there is too much running around, and too much grinding. I disagree with both of these complaints.

And granted “too much” is a very subjective number, but I felt like there had to be more to it than that. And then I thought about my session this morning, at the same time I was replying to Ysharro’s post about immersion.

I was having coffee, listening to some music and feeling pretty mellow. So I figured I’d take my 33 Champion to Ered Luin to start on some of the deeds there that I’d never done. For the uninitiated, this is the starter zone for Elves and Dwarves, I think the mob level caps out at 13 or so.

I arrived at Celondim and started my task. The next hour or so had me running around in Ered Luin, discovering locations, killing enough wolves, goblin and brigands to get those deeds going, mining lots of ore for my ‘younger cousins’ to practice on (or to sell), also got some good loot off the brigands and goblins for the youngsters. I chased deer around just to watch them run. Admired flocks of birds swirling through the skies. Climbed ruins to see how far I could see. Caught snowflakes on my tongue. Splashed through ponds full of lilly-pads. Picked some berries for cooking later.

At the end of the session, I’d completed a couple of deeds, earned a modicum of coin, and gained about 100 exp (less than I’d get from killing one mob of my level). And I was quite content; I’d had much fun.

And I think that’s pretty significant, particularly when you hook this experience into Ysh’s post. I was *in* Middle Earth. I wasn’t worried about what I was accomplishing…I was immersed. I was role-playing, even if it was only in my head. There’s no “catch snowflake on tongue” action in LOTRO.

At one point, a dwarf asked me if I’d make him some roast pork. I needed yellow onions for that recipe and the vendors were all out. So I switched over to my Captain, who is a farmer, and he grew some onions. While in the midst of this, he struck up a conversation with a minstrel about what a good life the farming life was. The minstrel took a break from his own farming to play a song to help pass the time, and my Captain gave him a round of applause for his efforts before wishing him well, but explaining that he needed to ship off his produce before it spoiled.

And that’s why I play MMORPGs even if I don’t often group; for people like that minstrel. I add this just to head-off the “why play an MMORPG solo” contingent. 🙂

Now if I played LOTRO to watch my experience bar move and get to the next level, today would’ve just been a huge waste of time. And if I played it to be “uber” and have every trait completed, so I felt like I *had* to go back and kill 60 wolves, I can see where that’d be pretty distasteful. And in fact I do sometimes play other games that way. When I played WOW originally, I played it the way I do LOTRO now (back then, people really *did* roleplay, and some nights I’d play for hours and never leave Stormwind), but after a few years of that, when I start a new character on a new server, as I did to join CoW last month, *all* I care about is leveling as fast as possible. So I do get it.

I think there are two significant facts to expose here. First, I grew up on Lord of the Rings. I first read it at 14 or so, and re-read it every few years. It influenced my life in many ways: specifically, it nurtured this sense of imaginative play that led me to become a fan of fantasy in all forms, and to gaming and RPGs in particular. So being in the world is its own reward, in a sense. Also, I have a Lifetime Membership. This means if it takes me 5 years to get to cap, I don’t care. As a solo player, cap is more or less Game Over in MMOs. Time to start a new character. A monthly fee would probably add some sense of urgency to the experience.

For me personally, these times of playing games just to “be in the world” are the best times I have playing, and I actually feel kind of sorry for people (including myself, when I get caught up in it) who are driven to push that experience bar, or accomplish some other explicit goal every time they log in. That to me seems too much like out-of-game life. Rush, rush, rush, push, push, push. Get ahead of the other guy. I have enough of that in real life; in an ideal world, games are about play and imagination and relaxation to me. (At the same time, I recognize that to many people, games are all about competition.)

This is getting long and less and less focused. But I wonder if the people who find LOTRO slow and grindy are more driven, accomplishment oriented players, and those of us who enjoy the game are more about the experience of being in a fantasy world?

4 thoughts on “Goals and lack thereof (LOTRO)

  1. “This is getting long and less and less focused. But I wonder if the people who find LOTRO slow and grindy are more driven, accomplishment oriented players, and those of us who enjoy the game are more about the experience of being in a fantasy world?”

    I think that’s true of all online games these days (and maybe single player but I have no experience there) — there are doers and there are be-ers, so to speak. I think it’s just so much more noticeable now because the last half-decade’s worth of games seems to have been designed primarily for doers. Or maybe they’re just a larger segment of the population.

    Even so, older MMOs weren’t so task oriented. You mentioned UO, but my experience in Asheron’s Call was very similar even if it wasn’t quite as deep in some ways. You didn’t log in to do anything pre-scripted — “given” quests were few and far between, and you had to make your own decisions.

    So maybe we can lay the blame for the current “just give me the damned task already” gamer culture to the arrival of !s above NPC heads — more specifically, to the arrival of quest-driven games.

    Much to ponder. Sadly, I’m supposed to be working. 😛

  2. Even at the 60 cap now in LOTR there is plenty to do albiet deeds, traits, leveling legendary items and session play. I had a session play where I was put into the persona of a dwarf back before Moria was lost and I was a key figure in the dwarves unearthing of the balrog in Moria. Neet stuff for a LOTR fan. Those that tend to ignore the background cannot enjoy the game like those who know middle earth like the back of their hand.

  3. Sounds like a great time to me. Of course, I’m probably a “be-er” rather than a “do-er” as well. I find that especially true for LOTRO because I’ve loved Middle Earth for almost 30 years. Just BEING there is satisfying – everything else is gravy.

  4. I dunno… I think for me at least, LOTRO has so many quests, deeds, titles, etc. plus crafting and PvMP that I have so many choices of what to do.

    Back in SWG I was bored out of my skull most of the time, and did a LOT of aimless wandering trying to find something, ANYTHING, to do.

    I find I’m having the same problem with GTA4. Sometimes I’ll get a “quest” when one of my contacts calls on the cell phone either to have me commit crimes or socialize. But in the downtimes, I am flat bored to death. I have an entire virtual city of a sandbox but no incentive to do anything. Beating up innocent bystanders for no reason whatsoever just isn’t fun for more than ten seconds. I can steal a car but since there’s no car collection mechanic in the game it doesn’t matter if I do it or not. Having some of the all-time worst driving physics (and I use that term loosely) doesn’t exactly make me want to get behind the wheel anyway which is ironic for a game called Grand Theft AUTO…

    But in LOTRO I feel I have enough choices between various directed content and non-directed that I can almost play sandboxy — I get to choose what I do rather than having a single linear task at a time. Also the total lack of pressure to “level up, level up, level up!” that permeates in WoW adds to that feeling of freedom. As I’ve said before, it’s perfectly ok to just “be” in LOTRO, and I can’t say that of many other MMORPGs.

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