Toldain Talks

Because reading me sure beats working!


Toldain started as an Everquest character. I've played him in EQ2, WoW, Vanguard, LOTRO, and Zork Online. And then EVE Online, where I'm 3 million years old, rather than my usual 3000. Currently I'm mostly playing DDO. But I still have fabulous red hair. In RL, I am a software developer who has worked on networked games, but not MMORPGS.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Fabulous Failure Fun

Today seems to be the day for lots of people to complain about the lack of failure in MMORPG's. Except they didn't really say it that way.

First up, Psychochild links to Tobold who links to an article by Doctor Professor titled "Addicted to Fake Acheivement". Doctor Professor describes the difference between a performance orientation and a mastery orientation:

It turns out there are two different ways people respond to challenges. Some people see them as opportunities to perform - to demonstrate their talent or intellect. Others see them as opportunities to master - to improve their skill or knowledge.

Say you take a person with a performance orientation ("Paul") and a person with a mastery orientation ("Matt"). Give them each an easy puzzle, and they will both do well. Paul will complete it quickly and smile proudly at how well he performed. Matt will complete it quickly and be satisfied that he has mastered the skill involved.

Now give them each a difficult puzzle. Paul will jump in gamely, but it will soon become clear he cannot overcome it as impressively as he did the last one. The opportunity to show off has disappeared, and Paul will lose interest and give up. Matt, on the other hand, when stymied, will push harder. His early failure means there's still something to be learned here, and he will persevere until he does so and solves the puzzle.

The language he uses demonstrates that Doc has a definite preference for mastery orientation, by the way.

The two kinds of players are separated by failure. Someone who is performance oriented - or who might be otherwise described as just looking for a little mindless fun - will walk away from an activity that serves them repeated failures.

Next is Pete Michaud's article "Achievement Porn"

One salient example is our education system. Like a role playing video game, one educational challenge leads to the next, with each challenge being trivial for the people who are at the right level to undertake it. After years on a treadmill that’s too easy to fail at, players—students, in this case—are acclimated to the game of education, rather to real achievement. Their work for those years is not valuable at all, and often doesn’t even simulate what valuable work would be like: they have only managed to repeat patterns they’ve been shown back at the educators. This is the game.

An all-too-common complaint about the educational system. Just keep going and you will move through the system. There's no real failure here. Pete says "The easy part to culling the bullshit is to ask yourself: Is this activity making a positive, tangible difference in my life or anyone else’s life?" I think this misses the point. As Psychochild points out, self-actualization is pretty important.

Finally, Syncaine complains about upcoming changes to Rift:

While the above is not yet live, and hence I have not experienced it myself, it looks like Trion is nerfing expert dungeon difficulty. That’s pretty sad, because honestly right now they are a solid challenge while not being min/max/ubergear hard (some are too long thanks to trash, but that has nothing to do with difficulty).
Casuals: Why MMO players can't have nice things.

Syncaine has some pushback from commenters, claiming that "casuals" are necessary for the financial success of MMO's such as Rift. He holds up EVE Online as a counterexample, but Eve Online was launched with an investment of $2 million, not $100 million. Eve is not different in this one dimension, but in many dimensions. The accomplishment of EVE Online's design is that the game has an easy mode, and you can stay in that easy mode for a long time, or you can choose harder stuff. There is no "leveled progression", but there are lots of invitations to do harder stuff.

Where is the failure? In comments (hat tip to Wilhelm Arcturus, who has several comments there):

At a high level, I don’t think it’s really that difficult; design content so either someone improves, or they don’t progress. The current model is basically “if you play well, you progress 2% faster. If you drool on your keyboard, it will take you a extra day to become a god-slayer”. That’s pretty terrible for long-term player education.

I think this is the same discontent - there's no failure, as such.

I have spent the last 10 years or so learning to love failure, primarily through the vehicle of martial arts, specifically ju-jitsu. If you go to throw someone and they don't fall down, the failure is obvious. It's also pretty darn frustrating and embarrassing. At least, until you learn to remap the meaning of a failure. I now teach ju-jitsu to kids every week, and one of the most valuable experiences I can give them is failure. The normal social meaning of failure is "I'm a loser" - it's shameful. We give them failure in an environment of laughter, affection and fun. I want those kids to lose their fear of simple failure. It's ok to be afraid of getting shot or losing money, but the fear of the shame of failure itself isn't very functional.

There's a reason I post every single time I get podkilled in Eve. Sometimes, the stupid burns, but I want to learn from it, and celebrate it. Because that's how I'll get better. So, I'm kind of there about wanting failure.

I haven't played Everquest II for nearly a year now. There are two reasons for that. The first is social. I ended up being online with pretty much nobody else I knew from my guild, and lonely. Leveling yet another alt, by myself, just stopped being interesting.

The other reason is that I too felt the game was now too easy. When the PUG you are in pulls an entire room and then burns them down in a button-mashing frenzy, then hustles off to do the same thing in the next room and then the next instance, and then...

That's not what appealed to me about these games. I'm more puzzle/strategy/skill oriented. There were a few instances that had puzzles in them, but the groups I was in had someone who had done it before and just did the stuff with little comment in chat. I had no chance to fool with the stuff myself.

There's nothing to keep me engaged. Keeping me engaged may not have meant only failure, but exploration and mystery. But exploration and mystery have that element of failure. This is where failure is truly necessary to enjoyment: Consider a novel or a movie. As it goes along, you form expectations about what's going to happen next. Would the novel be interesting if all those expectations were accurate? If you were never wrong? No, it would be boring. Agatha Christie novels would lose something if she wasn't so good at fooling you. But she is, and it feels good to be fooled. It must, or we wouldn't read the next one, or complain about how other writer's plots are easier to see through.

So I play Eve Online, and DDO and Civiliazation 4. I'm currently trying to win Civ on harder levels, and on different maps. I'm exploring the space, different maps, different sizes, different game speeds. Surprises are fun, but there wouldn't be any if you were never wrong.

What I don't agree with, though, is the idea that MMO's take no skill. They do. I've been developing those skills for more than 10 years. (More than 30 if you count tabletop experience). It should not be surprising that I'm good at them. It's often hard for people to see their own skills.

We've been playing DDO for about a year now. Going back to the starting dungeons on the island, we find that we blow through them now, they seem much easier than they used to be, even with minimal twinking. I think this is an unmistakable sign that we are more skilled. (When I say "we" I mean me and Mrs. Darkwater).

And yet, we keep finding new modules, new instances that can kick our butts. It's glorious. (Vault of Night, I'm looking at you!)



OpenID tagn said...

Failure is always more interesting for me than success.

My instance group posts about us screwing up are always much more fun and interesting to write (and to read as well I suspect) than when we are on a roll, do three instances in a single night, and nobody dies.

I also had a semester long unit in college that basically focused on the need for failure for learning to have meaning. Success returns a right answer and usually little more. Failure tends to define parameters and limits that make future success more likely and more meaningful.

10:30 AM  

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