Friday, January 22, 2016

Free to Play Games. Fun and Torment and a Suspicion

I have a guilty pleasure I need to confess to. I quite enjoy playing Free to Play Games. I say confess to and guilty only because it is frivilous fun and not at all what a serious social critic ought to be indulging in; or so one would think I suppose. The problem, however, is that I can only remain serious for certain lengths of time and then I must be something else entirely.

This does not in any way obviate the need to keep my mind occupied, though. And in that is there a requirement for play with some thought to it. Back when I was working I could afford to keep pace with the latest turn based strategy games (Civilization and Sim City to just name a few), as well as the real time strategy cousins (Command & Conquer: Generals, Supreme Commander: Forged Alliance to name another few). Now that I'm retired and unable to afford much of anything (Kathleen and I share her house and the expenses) free to play is pretty much the only way to go.

In any case, though, as I have been playing World of Warships, World of Tanks, War Thunder, Armored Warfare, and HearthStone, a few things have occurred to me.

First and foremost, of course, is that I pretty much suck at anything requiring close coordination of hand, eye and mind. What can you expect, for the most part, of someone who is 65. Fortunately I do pretty good often enough to keep my interest. As I while away the hours playing practice dummy for those who are good at these games, however, several thoughts have occurred to me.

The first thing is that the people who put these games out there, or at least the ones who know what they are really doing, know the value of practice dummies. If you want the premium people to feel incentivized to fork over real money for more advantages you need cannon fodder for them to put down with a certain ease so that they can not only run up their numbers, but more importantly get the ego boost they need to keep at it. The thing is, though, that you must also not let the cannon fodder get too discouraged.

So this, then, forms the basis for a suspicion I have been nursing for a while now. The smart people in this business set it up so that even dummies like me can have good games on an at least semi regular basis; just as they give the premium people extra advantages that go beyond simply getting more experience points, or in game currency, per battle.

In this, I think, they mimic, to a certain degree, what providers of bowling alleys used to do. That is to make the lanes formed with grooves (hardly perceivable) so that getting strikes would be a good deal more likely. It was a formula that worked quite well for them.

I do feel obliged at this point, though, to point out that I don't really have any problem with this. The server farms these games require are probably not cheap to rent, and as I am not paying with anything but my time, what ground for criticism could I have? The one thing that does bother me, however, is that this form of entertainment inevitably becomes so competitive. And in that do you see so many people getting so prone to game rage.

Let us not forget two connected things here: The combination of being good at something, and then getting credit for it. That simple duality is not an easy thing to come by in this world of commercialized competition. Too many people do not get much recognition for anything that they do, much less for something they might have done well. You can imagine, then, how these sorts of people might react when, in a team interaction where the outcome means either great benefit, or only chump change (at least in their eyes) , they react with such vehement diatribes of anger and resentment (just Google "Angry Gamer Rage" and see what you get).

And so something that ought to be fun, and is still fun for a significant portion of us, becomes a desperate bid for validation for another significant portion of the folks who play these games. It is something that I try, not always being successful, to not respond to in kind.

The important thing to remember here is that play is important; especially as it concentrates on a mindful attempt to find joy in fantasy endeavors that have no actual, hurtful consequences. As well to say that don't keep us from other mindful endeavors that have actual, beneficial consequences; which is where, of course, the whole idea of balance comes in. Something that ought to be a "No Shit Sherlock," but isn't unfortunately.