QOTD: Completionism, No Thanks!

I am blessed as a player of MMOs in that I have not one tiny jot of the Completionist gene. If I’m not enjoying something I can easily stop, leave and never come back. I don’t feel any nagging pressure to finish anything in a video game. If it isn’t entertaining me it can go die in a ditch. [Bhagpuss]

I want to say amen to a sentiment expressed by Bhagpuss yesterday about his relationship with completionism in MMOs. As a fellow explorer and potterer, I have given up such past ambitions after realizing three things about my own completionism-monster back in vanilla WoW:

  • the (rat-) race never ends
  • it’s not actually enjoyable (duh)
  • this is not what I’m here for

I am not much into progressive content nowadays and yet, I am a fairly progression-minded player in the sense that repetitive tasks with foreseeable outcome bore me a great deal. There is a degree of repetition to all the games we’re playing but completionism in today’s MMOs is often defined by collectivism for collectivism’s sake (lots and lots of achievements of no further consequence) and the type of grind that solely exists as timesink and where the balance between journey and reward is broken. There’s no purpose or meaning in 100 of the same daily quests, no challenge and satisfaction in performing the same motions over and over in so many similar bossfights. The underlying narrative to many of our activities has become strangely reductive (as in stripped of all decorum) and circular:

Why do you farm 100 tokens? – To gain an achievement.
What does the achievement say? – That I should farm 100 tokens.

But this is not the time to get back into it all: the different playstyles and player focuses, intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivators, longterm vs. instant gratification, journey vs. reward, themeparks vs. sandbox worlds, the value of randomness, meaningful choices, incentives of cooperative vs. solo content and so many more topics that I’ve written articles about over the years. Instead, I am leaving you with three links, old and new, that discuss this subject in different ways:

  • On MMO Gypsy: Achievement (Hate), Exploration and Mystery

    About the ways questing and exploration have changed in MMOs over the years, why more and more rewards cannot make up for journey and how dominant achievements/achiever mindset have contributed to the current status quo.

  • Tevis Thompson’s Blog: We are Explorers

    The inspiring article for my own post and possibly the greatest and most important read on the subject of mystery and exploration in games I have ever read. Deals with the subject of how the illusion of scale and immersion in virtuality are juxtaposed to completionist mindset.

  • Recently on Eurogamer.net: The man who made a game to change the world

    About Richard Bartle’s dream of virtual worlds as a safe haven, MUDs/MMOs changing society and the ways current games have failed to live up to that potential (thanks Spinks for the link via twitter!).

The true traveler doesn’t know where he’s going. Happy exploring!

11 comments

  1. Thanks for the nod. I think you really get to the meat of it when you expose the sheer, unmitigated, unconcealed, mechanical commercialism of the modern approach to making “content” for MMOs. In the long ago we didn’t feel a particular need for “content” because it took months to raise a single character to the level cap. When I played EQ as my main MMO I never once “completed” an expansion before the next arrived – often I barely got to the point of understanding what the expansion was “about” before it became old news.

    Nowadays the “journey” to max level in a brand new MMO takes maybe 2-3 weeks, after which there has to be some device to keep people playing and paying other than “seeing everything there is to see” because they’ve done that in the first month. Or, more importantly, believe they have because their in-game tickbox list tells them they have. The Title you get for map completion (which means ticking boxes in every map) is “Been There, Done That”. Can you think of anything more snide and cynical?

    And, of course, Map Completion in GW2 shows you only a small fraction of all the wonders there are to see, but without any more boxes to tick few bother to go look. Instead they look for more boxes and the developers happily provide them.

    The ironic thing, though, is that I really, genuinely love doing my dailies in GW2. I do like achievements. I don’t do them for the rewards, which I just bank and rarely use. I simply find them entertaining and satisfying so I do them. And that’s the important part: I do them because it entertains me. When that stops so will I.

    1. I think there’s a tolerance for certain grinds certainly that I have myself, we could probably discuss forever what constitutes ‘good grind’ and it’s always also an individual thing. There are certainly tasks that can be entertaining but generally the longer and more samei-sh, the sooner I’ll have to stop them.

      Btw I just realized that my last QOTD-post on the blog (I don’t do them often) was also one of yours, haha – you are quite the quote-worthy blogger! :D

  2. The only MMOs I’ve reached max-level in are ones with strong story elements that give me a ‘Why do I keep playing?’. (TSW and SWTOR and FFXIV). Otherwise, there’s a point in any game where I stop and say ‘ok wait what am I doing here. Am I just killing things to get xp to get a bigger sword so I can kill things better? Is the process of killing things that fun?’ The process almost never is, and I stop.

    That said, I like a frosting of achievement/completionism on top of my motivations. I’ll keep playing your game because I want to find out what the filth is, but it tickles OCD bits of my brain to pick up achivements along the way. I’ll tolerate minor detours to, say, trigger a map-complete in SWTOR.

    So while games that solely rely on ‘complete this because you want to complete things’ don’t work for me, I’d be sad if all those elements were removed.

    1. I agree that there’s farming and farming, it all depends on the greater purpose, the pacing, the way it might be part of a greater narrative, the drops, the variety of enemies etc. If there’s no variety and only mindless repetition, it gets old very fast – and just ‘for the achievement’ isn’t a good enough purpose for me personally.

  3. Excellent! I agree on everything and thanks for the links to the other amazing postings. I hate mindless achievements too and am a typical explorer. I set up my own goals in a game and I love sandboxes. I will never gank any lowbies just for honor points in ArcheAge for example. i value “true” honor instead, the 1 u get when u dont do it ;)

    Still its very hard to play a game when u cant gear up if u dont grind and u risk being left out cos of that :( They need to shape up!

    1. Np you’re very welcome :) It’s one of the ever-returning topics for me. I do hope we see some change again some day but for the time being, online gaming is firmly in the hand of those who look to make an early and fast buck with gamers that are happy to jump into the hamster wheel.

  4. I’m currently pootling around in RIFT and rediscovering the joys of artifact collecting. While I’m never going to complete my collection without putting in a concerted effort grind hunting them down and paying outrageous auction house prices to fill in the gaps, I love the way the game makes you keep an eye out for stray sparklies in odd places, I chuckle at the description text on many of them, and I have no problems with putting any duplicates on the AH at those same outrageous prices for those more motivated than I am :)

    1. Actually, that’s one of the things I liked too in Rift – it just seemed such a whimsical thing :) The sparkles are small and unobtrusive and more of a side quest than anything. WoW’s archeology felt similar. Am totally okay with side ventures like that.

      I guess the difference for me is if it’s a case of ‘the grind is what you make it’ that’s fine by me because optional. If it’s however the majority of content and forces me to completion, that’s bad.

  5. Years ago I promised myself to never accept any feeling of obligation towards a video game. To the people I raid with, sure, but never to the game itself.

    But my brain is obsessed with solving every situation and solutions compel me to act. It’s funny how distracting a simple puzzle can be; directing you to concentrate on solving the “how” for long enough that you forget that you were supposed to consider why first.

    1. Obligation towards people is tricky – I’ve been there myself. But that too is part of game mechanics designed specifically to hook players. One way or another, they will get you to play. Am not saying it’s all bad, but there’s good and worse ways of facilitating cooperation in MMOs.

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