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When Work Feels Like Play

Steve Watts | 22 Mar 2012 09:00
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But one series of games built almost entirely around superfluous work, The Sims, has had sustained popularity over the years. Once you've recovered from the naughty thrill of designing elaborate kill rooms for your simulated people -- you sicko -- all that's left are the day-to-day hassles of regular life. You direct your Sims to wake up, go to work, keep fed and bathed, get married, and so on. EA has released several expansion packs for the game with their own focuses, such as medieval knights or throwing parties to spice up your virtual life, but the core of the game remains a Skinner Box of mundanity. We're given a microcosm of real life work, compacted to the point that it speeds a lifetime along in a fraction of the time.

It does seem that enjoying work tasks fades for some with age, as real work and responsibilities take their place.

For those who still enjoy work in games, it pays to be picky. Fans of the tedium only like their particular brand of tedium, and find themselves frustrated with other games that step outside those bounds. "Profession grinding and farming materials is the worst," Seran quipped. "Hours of flying around in a circle mining just so I can make some gold? No thanks."

And even with one's preferred work-task, games with work can get too redundant after you've been doing it too long. "It's gotten a lot more boring," he said. "My main job is calling out timers on abilities that are going to happen during boss fights - a verbal queue in case our raiders missed the timer themselves. However, with the state of WoW raiding, there isn't much to call out. And when there is, it's the same as the previous fight."

Meanwhile, some gamers tend to reject the notion entirely. Downtime is too rare to be wasted on tedium. "When you overly regiment the experience by saying, 'you have to do this X times in order to progress,' you're artificially lengthening the game and delaying the player from doing the genuinely interesting stuff," said Bryan Carr. "The artifice is probably the biggest thing here. Developers are so pressured into making these huge, lengthy experiences that they come up with shorthand to do so."

It does seem that enjoying work tasks fades for some with age, as real work and responsibilities take their place. At that point, our game time is precious and we tend to want to pack as many vibrant experiences into it as possible.

Voluntarily work tasks in a game, especially if unnecessary to game progress, would almost certainly seem like lunacy to those outside the hobby. Games are an interactive medium, and combine storytelling with the enjoyment that comes from accomplishing a goal. Some of us might invest more work than necessary, but it's also a way to unwind. It may not ever catch on among the mainstream crowd that prefers a quick story and some corridors, but for those of us with the time and interest, playtime is nothing without a little work.

Steve Watts is a freelance writer, and firmly believes lunch is the most important meal of the day.

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