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When Work Feels Like Play

Steve Watts | 22 Mar 2012 09:00
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Part of that immersion is letting us experience things we never would otherwise. This usually manifests itself as players adopting the role of space marines or bloody swordsmen, but it can be as simple as life on a farm. The long-running Harvest Moon franchise includes more than 20 titles that invite players to experience the thrill of country living. You'll buy seeds, invest in equipment, plant crops, harvest them, and then do it all again. The experience is a charming, simplified look at a quaintly simplelife, and players have sunk countless hours into what would otherwise be a fairly mundane exercise. Animal Crossing dresses a mortgage in a cute wrapper, but your goal is ultimately to pay off an angry landlord.

When it comes to massive social experiences like raids in World of Warcraft or similar MMOs, the satisfaction of teamwork comes into play.

Farmville has built on that concept and added a social element. Rather than planting your crops for the simple satisfaction of advancing the game and being a successful farmer, Zynga's hit gives you the all-important bragging rights of showing off your bustling business. This is another important element of enjoying work in our games: We want something to show for it, but more importantly, we want someone to show it to. Insular experiences can be fun in their own way, but impressing your friends imbues it with a greater sense of accomplishment.

When it comes to massive social experiences like raids in World of Warcraft or similar MMOs, the satisfaction of teamwork comes into play. "I find knowing that 9 or 24 other people are relying on me to let them know what's going on appealing," said 'Seran,' a WoW raid leader. "I'm not just a regular raider - I'm going above and beyond to ensure that boss goes down."

For some, though, the enjoyment of hard work in an RPG is a much more solitary experience. "I grew up playing games in the late 80s and early 90s when most console RPGs required a bit of work to be enjoyable," said one role-playing fan, Calin Grajko. "I enjoy grinding levels in RPGs both to gain currency and stat upgrades. A lot of games can be fussy with level-ups and allocate stats on a range as opposed to giving static increases." Citing classic RPG series like Shining Force and Phantasy Star, Grajko says he's "more than content to stick with random chance and grind out another level or two" if the game makes its stat increases meaningful.

Appropriate feedback is a big part of the joy of raising levels. No one likes to work, in life or in a game, without feeling they're making an impact. "Although I do enjoy the whole 'getting stronger' aspect of level grinding, there needs to be some sort of on-screen feedback as to how I'm doing," said game journalist Pete Davison. "I'll be less inclined to engage in constant combat if I don't have, say, an on-screen XP bar reminding me how close I am to that elusive next level." He also notes that level progress in some games, particularly Facebook titles and first-person shooters, feel "superfluous" to him.

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