Playing just because it is fun

I’m old. We didn’t have video games when I was a kid. Instead we’d play board games. Monopoly, Risk, Mille Bornes. Stuff like that. When I was alone I’d play wargames, the old paper map and cardboard chit kind. (Yes, I’d have to play both sides, but I made do.)

All of this was fun. I loved games then, I still love games today.

Somewhere along the way, though, I started to require something more from games in order to feel satisfied by them. Some reward. Just playing isn’t enough. It might be gaining levels or earning loot. It might be unlocking Achievements.

I don’t like this about myself very much.

A few things have me pondering this aspect of gaming. First is Anthem. Now for me Anthem is kind of the exception. I have SO much fun just flying around the world blowing shit up that I don’t pay attention to levels or loot. I’m just having fun. Many people, however, seem really upset right now because they don’t get enough loot when they play. The general upshot is “If I’m not getting good loot, I’m just wasting my time.” In effect they are saying there is no value in the actual playing of the game, just in the rewards for having played.

Next, I gave the turn-based Battletech a shot over the weekend (there was a free-play weekend on Steam). Started a campaign, played the first mission for 30 minutes or so, and lost. “Damn, what a waste of time!” I thought. That I was having fun for that 30 minutes didn’t figure into my immediate reaction. I didn’t even think about how sad that was until hours later.

I used to play a LOT of strategy games, and if I could beat them the first time I played I would be kind of upset. I played them for the challenge of trying to beat the AI and that was enough. I didn’t need to get a “Legendary Item” when I’d won a battle. My reward was the satisfaction of winning and having had fun playing. (And of course the chance to start another game.) Now apparently losing a mission means the game sucks?

It has gotten so bad with me that even after I got my new PC gaming rig going, I still tend to play on the consoles. There are a few legit reasons for this, but one big stupid reason is “Achievements.” I don’t have a “gamerscore” to track my progress on PC so I am not getting “rewarded” for playing. It’s the same reason I don’t play the Switch much; I’m not getting a pat on the back because I beat a level or whatever.

I would like to “fix” this about myself. (I would like to fix it with regards to the entire gaming community but I realize that’s beyond my abilities.) I would like to go back to playing games just because I’m enjoying playing them, and not because I’m chasing a tiny dopamine hit when I get a good loot drop. I’m not sure how to un-train myself, though.

What makes it even harder is that so many aspects of life are “gamified” these days. Heck the fact that “gamify” just means “bolt on a progression system” feels like a huge part of the problem.

I think the board-gaming community is my only hope. They still play for the enjoyment of playing, and not for phat loot or cheevos. At least, I think that is the case. Maybe I need to break out the paper maps and cardboard counters once again.

7 thoughts on “Playing just because it is fun

  1. I hear ya. I’m a bit of an Achievement hound, and my poison of choice is on Steam. It’s just extra fun to have that little bonus marker of noteworthy progress pop up on an overlay.

    One “cure” that’s been working for me is free game vs paid game with achievements. Played Subnautica, Thimbleweed Park, etc. via the Epic Launcher and doing fine without achievements. Too miserly to pay for the same game, just with bonus popups, that’s for sure.

    Another unpleasant way is to overdo it. Just chase achievements for all they are worth. Eventually it will get tiring. I can’t motivate myself in GW2 achievement-wise any more, it just can’t overrride the ennui of overfamiliarity.

    A less unpleasant way is maybe to create your own mental markers of progress. My current minigame is to spend 15-30mins playing a whole different bunch of games, and I’m finding that replaces the externally set achievements of any single game. (Though if they pop up while I’m doing so, that’s still nice. Ain’t nothing going to erase that, imo.)

  2. I think games in general have gotten better over time at tapping into the reward centres of the human brain. To the point it’s pretty much an expectation now!

    Not only that but the persistence of that achievement matters too. I remember being perfectly happy playing completely static and unchanging from round-to-round FPS’ back in the day like Quake World: Team Fortress and being utterly content with that.

    …Right up until I got my first taste of an MMO. Which for me as Asheron’s Call. Many things about AC blew my young mind, but not the least of it was that I could log out and come back later and carry on building from where I was. What a concept!

    When this started finding its way into FPS like the Battlefield series, a sort of unholy melding of round-to-round play but with persistent ranks and unlocks, I knew I could never go back to a completely static game environment.

    So I wonder whether there is something to this desire for permanence that drives many of the feelings you talk about here. In particular with the BattleTech example, where the game was perfectly fun for those 30 minutes until it became as if you’d never done it. The loss wiped out all sense of permanence of the experience.

    The loot drop thing I think is a slightly different aspect of it though. More simply about the length of time between reward triggers and the remarkably poor way in which we all process random chance.

    The rewards probably were a bit over the top during those 11 hours the bug was in place, but I do also feel that they’ve gone the other way now and become a little too stingy. There will be a better balance in there somewhere, but it’s possible they can’t afford to deliver it to us until a few more updates and a few more items have been added to the game.

  3. @Jeromai — I think for me just playing on PC more will help cure the Achievement bits so I’m going to try doing that. And maybe I need to fire up something like Age of Empires to remind myself that games can be fun without that progression thing.

    @Naithin — Remember when winter would come to Asheron’s Call and there would be snow? How come no other MMO ever did that. Only game I can think that changes the environment based on calendar is Animal Crossing. OK but I’ve side-tracked myself…

    But yeah, spot on. We used to play shooters all day with no progression other than getting better at the game over time. Now we need that RPG factor baked in. Interesting thought about the permanence though. That might be it. Cynical me was thinking about it all more in terms of rewards; of getting something. I like the “building/permanence” angle a lot more!

    1. Yes! I remember the changing of the seasons in AC fondly, along with their approach to rolling out content and story. The monthly cadence of updates to AC was simply amazing in my opinion. The game’s mix of sandbox and directed story quests too… just divine for it’s time. So much that first game got right, and then… AC2 happened. 😉

  4. An interesting topic. It actually came up in a Destiny 2 session last night, as we’ve only just reached the Forsaken expansion content but we’ve been at the cap for that expansion throughout playing the last few expansions so most of the gear rewards have been increasingly behind our current items – since running public events gives you scaled gear. Last night wasn’t the last time we’ve collectively moaned about unexciting gear drops, that we’ve had fun playing the stories together is so easy to forget when you’re in this mentality that you wrote about.

  5. Bit late to the thread I’m afraid…

    I think the reason board games seem to avoid the “reward” issue is very simple: it’s a social activity. Playing board games has a lot more to do with meeting friends, chatting, eating and drinking and generally spending time with people you like than it has to do with the games themselves. It’s pretty much exactly what playing MMORPGs used to be like back in the “forced grouping” days, or at least my experience of that era.

    I used to come home from work, log in, see who was on, have a bit of a chat and a banter and then when we had enough willing people we’d decide on something to do. We’d go and do that for two or three hours, chatting all the while, until people had to leave. The whole thing would wind down and the next evening we’d do it al over again. It was pretty much the same as going to the pub with friends and playing darts or pool, except we killed gnolls and goblins instead.

    While we were indeed leveling our characters, that wasn’t the focus. Hanging out together was. The game was something to do while we did chatted. As time moved on and MMORPGs became more and more solo-oriented, the focus moved from socializing to achieving and that’s where we are now – if you aren’t getting Rewards, what’s the point of being there?

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