Tuesday, March 22, 2011

An insult to my readers

Every week I get e-mails from various companies which found my blog via it's Google Pagerank, who want me to promote their wares. Yesterday I got a mail suggesting that my readers would certainly be interested in that company's Farmville guide (not going to give you the link). What an insult! I would most certainly hope that my readers are sufficiently intelligent to play Farmville without a guide, if they play it at all.

But then this got me thinking that a Farmville guide is actually somewhat symptomatic of modern gaming. There is even a Farmville for Dummies book in print, so apparently enough people buy such guides. There are whole publishing companies producing nothing but guides for video games. And that is just the most commercial tip of the iceberg, the internet is a huge repository for game guides, wikis, databases, and even videos explaining you how to play every step of every video game there is.

In general, playing a game consists of two major parts: Figuring out what move to make, and executing the move. With games being played by many thousands, sometimes millions of people, and communication via the internet being so easy, players crowdsource that first part. And there are some good reasons for it: Imagine you bought a game, and got stuck at some point, because you can't figure out how to proceed further. Looking up the solution on the internet is obviously better than never playing the second half of the game.

The obvious danger is using guides all the time, and never even trying to figure out how by yourself how a game works and what to do in it. That reduces playing a game to pure execution. Now obviously there are games in which the execution is the fun part, but that is hardly the case for Farmville. Even MMORPGs, apart from the endgame, are mostly trivial in execution. Figuring out the virtual world is the fun part, and outsourcing that fun to databases and addons leaves us with nothing much.

But not only is there a trend towards game guides, but games more and more incorporate those guides into the game itself. In a way the quest systems of most MMORPGs are nothing more than a big pointer showing people the way towards the next suitable loot pinata. It avoids players exploring the virtual world on their own, and god forbid accidentally stumble into a higher level zone and getting killed.

The most surprising part of this is that the community *wants* all these guides and aids and crutches. You'd be laughed at in your guild if you proposed to do a raid without looking up the boss strategies first, or to try raiding without addons. People would consider it strange if a player would just go out and explore the virtual world, killing monsters without having a quest for them. In a community where the virtual reward for playing is considered more important than the fun you have by playing, it is considered normal to deliberately use tools and aids that diminish the fun to get to the virtual rewards faster. It is the players who write the addons and contribute to the databases and guides that make our games so trivial now. It is hard to blame developers for making games too trivial, if the players then go and further trivialize those games with guides and mods.

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