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MMO Mindhack

I was a big fan of WoW for a period of a few months immediately following it's release. Like many players, I became at least mildly addicted to the game. I have tried several MMOs both before and since then but none really stuck the way WoW did. I have recently picked up a copy of Aion, and it seems to have many of the hooks WoW has with even more refinement. Here I am about to be firmly in the grips of an MMO again which brings to the fore an important question: Are these games actually fun?

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Braid developer Jonathan Blow aired his thoughts on the subject in an interview in which he says MMOs are "unethical" because they use false rewards rather than gameplay to trick a player into continuing in the game. " many people spend their lives chasing easy/unearned rewards." It's no doubt that the sense of accomplishment derived from completing a level in Braid or Portal is wholly different from that of gaining a level in an RPG. Most RPGs reward perseverance rather than skill. Anyone can throw enough time at something to eventually hammer through if the task allows for that, but skill is a real divider. Some players will complete a game like Braid while others will not often without regard to the time spent playing.

By carefully spacing out rewards, are MMOs and often RPGs in general tricking us into believing we are having fun? If we, for the sake of argument, assume this is the case, is it not then worth examining whether being tricked into believing you are having fun is any different than actually having fun? If I think I am having fun am I not actually having fun?

This relates closely to what players often refer to as " the grind." Fun is nothing more than a state of mind. If your fun is based on a contrivance like scheduled achievement, it is, in my opinion, real fun but it is a very shallow fun. It won't take very long for your mind to reduce the activity down to what you are actually doing and to realize that the activity isn't fun without the shallow reward system. Even in saying this now, I still think of Aion as a fun game despite the fact it employs this very technique. A conscious examination of the facts is almost futile in overcoming it. It seems that only exposure to the grind over time can truly dispel the pull of these games.