In the same vein as ‘slow food’ , ‘slow travel’ etc there is a philosophy of ‘slow gaming’.
This is all about getting out of the rat race, playing at your own pace, and taking time to smell the flowers and enjoy the scenery. And adherents to the slow gaming view of life often claim that playing in this way delays the dreaded burnout.
I’m a big believer that one of the strengths of MMOs is that there are lots of different ways for people to enjoy the same game, and the key to having fun is to either cut a solo swathe or find other people who want to play the game in the same way that you do.
So in theory I’m all in favour of ‘slow gaming’ if that’s what people want to do. In practice, I’ve seen people in game get up on their high horse about how pointless the endgame grind can be and how much better they are for delaying it for as long as possible.
This I find stranger. Yes the endgame grind in any game can be pointless and dull (the clue is in the word ‘grind’). If you find it pointless and dull you can go find something more fun to do. There are other games. There are other hobbies. Although some people do get addicted to MMOs, it’s not actually compulsary.
I do think people find it a wrench to stop playing an MMO when they’re no longer having fun. There are social ties, it’s become a part of your life. In a sense you’re walking away from a social circle and hobby all in one. This is really not a dilemma that anyone faces with single player games. But if you are avoiding the endgame then you’re less likely to be in a tight social circle in the first place since that is where all the scheduling and team play is focussed.
So it’s one thing to take your time, play casually, and enjoy the levelling game at your own pace. It’s quite another to pathologically avoid the endgame by finding increasingly eccentric timesinks and goals for yourself that don’t involve xp. I don’t mean that Big Brother needs you to level up and take your place at the millstone of endgame, comrade. Just that going out of your way to avoid it because ‘omg endgame!!11!!!’ isn’t necessarily better.
Or is it?
This is the game that never ends
If you’re enjoying the game and the virtual world, maybe you just don’t want it to ever end. The real world keeps going until you die, after all (presumably it keeps going afterwards also but that’s more of a philosophical question).
Most MMOs are heavily focussed these days. You start at low level, you explore and quest and meet people and do things and eventually get to high level. Then you do whatever people do at high level.
But if what you really wanted was a sandbox virtual world, this makes no sense. And particularly for games with a strong raiding theme, the chances of having to march to someone else’s schedule at endgame if you want to do all those raiding things are very high. Slow gaming is a rebellion against this, but in a game that’s not really set up to support it.
It’s also a lonely route. The majority of players will tend to go with the flow of the game. They won’t all race to max level, but they also won’t want to go out of their way to avoid levelling. They will not understand the slow gamer, who seems to be playing a different game for no good reason.
So I end up asking myself, is slow gaming just better suited to single player games? The answer may be yes –but it’s not a good answer if what players want is the social contact of an MMO.
So I’m coming around to my actual main point here. Is there any point deliberately delaying burnout? Maybe it’s better to just play at whatever pace best suits you and if you feel bored or burned out … just stop. Go do something else. Take a break or move on.
So if that means you speed through content, run your own guild, spend 6 months being hyperactive and then burn out, then do it. Just when you do burn out, don’t torture yourself. It’s a game, not a job.
But burnout is miserable and frustrating, and we like to avoid those kinds of experiences. And although it may be inevitable in games, MMOs offer the illusion of ‘the game that never ends’ so if you can just avoid burning out, maybe you really could keep playing the same game until the day it closes up shop.
I think the lure of the virtual world that never ends is very strong. And it’s based on the notion that everything we do in game is persistent (even though in practice this may just mean until the next patch, if not sooner) that we invest so much effort into progressing our characters.
So I do wonder if slow playing, and any other methods we use to avoid burnout and find ways to make a game more fun for ourselves and others when deep down we know that we are already bored, are ways to try to make the game we WANT out of the game we HAVE.
There’s such a demand for a good sandbox game. I wonder if we will ever see one again.