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January 2014

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note: I wrote this months ago, God only knows why I failed to post it - rest assured, I'm still in WoW retirement

I play WoW. This much you know, if you know much about me.

Once, a long time ago, I played EverQuest. I quit, and when I did so I created a post on some long forgotten message board explaining the stages of MMORPG fascination, illustrating in great detail the entire process - from the first moments of entering a new virtual world to the last moments before leaving it. I wish I still had that post - it was, in my mind at least, so perfect and so true that it could never be reproduced, the product of some divine inspiration that I could never hope to recapture. Of course, it's highly likely that I would feel very different if I could view the post today - perhaps I'd realize that it was just some undergrad's rambling on a gaming forum...

Anyway, I'll continue to believe in its greatness for the lack of any possible way to disprove it.

When I now think of EQ (and to a lesser extent games like Diablo 2 and Asheron's Call 2), I realize that it doesn't take such a work of greatness to adequately describe the stages of motivation in the player base. It's easily and succintly expressed as follows:

1) Desire to explore, initial fascination
2) Desire to engage in gameplay, to enjoy game elements (such as combat, tradeskills, quests)
3) Desire to progress, to acquire power
4) Desire to master the system, to become the best

Realize, also, that there may be other factors at all stages external to the game itself that impact one's enjoyment of it - by this, I primarilly mean one's playing partners, who can make everything about the game more enjoyable. The 4 steps I describe above, however, are predictable and virtually universal.

The first motivator is vital, and it's why the earliest days of a game will almost always be looked upon most fondly in retrospect. If there's nothing about the world that fuels your imagination from the start, then you'll probably never truly enjoy it.

The second motivator is equally important. If the game is solid enough, this motivation alone can keep people entertained and enjoying themselves for a long time.

The last two motivators, however, are the result of some neuroticism, some psychosis, maybe some deep compulsion.

Once/if 1) and 2) cease functioning, many people will latch onto 3) and 4) as the sole reasons they play the game. They will, in fact, likely stop enjoying most of the game, instead becoming obsessed with mastering it, doing things that are decidedly unfun to achieve their goals.

Blizzard has done a wonderful job with WoW, creating a vibrant world with interesting gameplay mechanics. Combat is done very well and is enough to entertain for a long while, though at some point it will invariably lose its charm. Each new area you explore rekindles your sense of wonder and imagination, and you truly do wonder what's around the next bend - at least, that is, until you go around the last bend.

So WoW kept me thoroughly and genuinely entertained for months by the first two mechanisms alone. That's really saying something, given how much I played.

Now, however, the latter two mechanisms start to sink in. I can't go anywhere new without first becoming more powerful, and I can't become more powerful without doing things that aren't especially fun. Ah, I'm caught in the trap...

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