Rohan mused over the question of “optional” goals in MMOs yesterday, on the basis of how so many things in Pandaria are gated by daily limitations, and the feeling by many progress-focused players that there is too much that they have to do right now to stay competitive. He quotes himself from an earlier post of his:
Sometimes it seems like this genre has no concept of the term “optional”. Something is either absolutely necessary, or it is useless. There doesn’t seem to be any in-between.
This quote is very scary. This is in part because he is right. All too often the focus is on pure numbers and progress, and everything else is subordinate to that. Something that was added to the game either doesn’t help with progression, in which case it is considered useless, or it gives advantages in gear, enchants, consumables, etc., in which case it is considered mandatory to stay competitive. I will call this the “raider’s mindset” (and the people with that mindset “raiders”) because it is short and handy, even though you will only see this in a subset of raiders, and on the other hand also in non-raiders with a highly competitive mindset.
The other reason why it is scary is that the way Rohan puts it is eerily similar to Curzio Malaparte’s definition of Totalitarianism:
Totalitarianism is when everything not compulsory is forbidden.
Of course, it’s harder to flee a totalitarian regime than a raid group, and you (typically) don’t choose to live in a totalitarian state, but choose to play with a certain group, yadda yadda. Let’s discount this for the sake of this discussion (also, because it opens up a completely different can of worms when it comes to official pressure vs. peer pressure and such).
The question, though, is: is there a prevalent mindset in this “raider” group of MMO players that works almost like an internalized totalitarian game regime?
Any means that further the ends of progression, however small, become compulsory, not only to not let down your peers, but also because there’s a feeling that keeping up is necessary for your own sake, to feel like a worthwhile player. On the other hand, every other in-game activity will only be an afterthought, something to do in your “free time”. But, there’s the problem: Pandaria has, like all expansions, brought heaps of new content that contain these mandatory bits and pieces, and it seems Blizzard has upped the ante this time in what there is to do to stay competitive. When it is hard or impossible to complete all the compulsory tasks, everything not compulsory becomes in effect prohibited, because it takes up valuable time that should be used otherwise. Voilà, your internalized totalitarian game mini-regime: the game tells you what to do, and you do exactly that and only that.
The difference to a classic totalitarian regime becomes clear when it comes to the breaking point: I, like many people, at some point burned out and got disillusioned, even uninterested, in the raiding game. You then can say for yourself: “enough”, and stop. That obviously doesn’t work as well when borders are closed and passports hard to come by.
It’s strange, I still look back fondly on my hardcore raiding days. I miss them sometimes. I wonder whether it has something to do with exactly being told what to do, and just doing it, regardless of whether you like it or not; and being proud of that? Let’s hope not, because that would be a somewhat scary thought.