Completionism and OCD

So an interesting thing happened the other night while running around in Guild Wars 2.  I had just finished the level 50 personal story mission.  (The early level story missions were good, let’s hope the late level missions improve because the mid-tier stuff is terrible!)  Afterwards some guild mates asked what I wanted to do next.  Since I was close enough to a certain level such that I could move to another region of the world and try my hand there, I announced my intention to leave the zone we were in and go on to another.  Some of my guild mates got really weirded out by this decision though, and protested that there was still lots to do in the existing zone we were in.  “Hmm.” I said.  “Sounds like peasant work.”

Aside from proving that I am in fact an egotistical prick, it occurred to me that there were whole sections of the map world that I had dismissed out of hand in a similar fashion.  GW2 makes it easy for you to skip around the world map thanks to it’s auto-level adjusting and free experience they hand out just for logging in.   It was interesting to me how unsettled some of my teammates were that I might be leaving behind valuable secrets and items that “could be” useful later.

That story dovetails nicely into an article I read recently by Holly Green, who wrote at length about playing games with OCD.  The real thing, not the whiny petulant crap we all joke about all the time.  It is interesting to me that the best of the best modern MMO designs seem hardwired to exploit the OCD tendencies in all of us, in order to prolong the game play experience.

It’s something Guild Wars 2 does very smoothly, like Lando Calrissian, right before he makes off with your starship and your significant other.  The map shows you what to do and where to go.  Everything is within reach if you just spend a teeny-tiny bit of time and do it.  And once you do that, oh look, you’re real close to the next one.  And then the next one, until you’re desperately racing around the map, collecting all the stuffs.  I can’t decide if this is good game design or bad.  I like the convenience of it, but it’s impossible to deny that some of the innate exploration and sense of discovery of the game is lost when everything is mapped out for you.

But as I get older I discover that I don’t have the patience to devote to exploration and discovery the way I used to.

Part of the fun for any game for me is taking things that are supposed to be done or used in one way and finding out how many different ways I can use them.  Water buckets are used for putting out fires?  What happens when I douse my teammates with them?  Ouuu, that one dodged my water bucket attack but they had to spend a point of endurance to make the dodge.  Victory is mine!

The really frustrating part is knowing that if GW2 was different in even one or two ways I might dive head first into the game.  I don’t believe as I’ve gotten older that I don’t want to do these kinds of things anymore.  I just know that with my limited time available to do so, I need to know that it won’t feel like a waste to me.  Fantasy isn’t doing it for me right now and that may be a personal problem.  But when I look at the big hits from last year: a Dragon Age sequel, a Dark Souls sequel, a Witcher sequel, Champions of Mordor (was that a sequel), and it’s all fantasy all the time.  Sheesh.

Well E3, maybe this year will  be different.  What have you got for me?

Image from @StephenAtWar on Twitter

Image from @StephenAtWar on Twitter


There are times when I feel like my draw to nostalgia properties like Shovel Knight and Chroma Squad are just an attempt to escape into my past for whatever reasons of the day.  Kids are hard, marriage is hard, etc.  And then I look at the landscape and all I see is fantasy or  shooter.  The supposed best games of the year for the past 7  or 8 (or more ) years are all from 2 genres.  We’ve got modern shooters, dark fantasy, dark shooters, high fantasy, space shooters (sorry Mass Effect, I do love you but still), and fantasy shooters with sprinkles.


The worst part though is that despite my moaning and whining, I like the fantasy and shooter genres (some of them anyway).  But for god’s sakes, after a while McDonalds starts to become toxic and you just can’t put any more into your body.  It is literally making you sick.  Stop eating it.

This was supposed to be a post about OCD and the way modern MMO’s seem to push you towards these completionist activities, and has now devolved into a rant about the homogeneity of the industry.  To tie it all back together, the somewhat predatory practices of modern MMO’s to prey on the OCD tendencies of its fanbases would feel less under-handed, if the industry bothered to put together things worth completing.  As it stands, we get the same things over and over and we fall for it every time.  We have to catch them all.  We have to get to 100% on the map.  We can’t leave, we’ve still got things to do.  Stop your better-than-everyone-else bullshit.  You still have to get to level 80 just like the rest of us.

And while I can’t believe I’m saying this.  No.  No we don’t have to get to 80.  We can do other things.  We can find other ways to have fun.  The view can’t change until we get off the treadmill.  Come with me and let’s find a better trail to run.


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