I’m not an addict personality. That is, I’m not one who easily falls into addictions like substances or gambling. Nor computer games.
Games that reviewers or my friends have called addictive have always just seemed boring to me. I can only spend so many minutes on an MMO before feeling that staring at a wall is only slightly less entertaining. The moment someone mentions ”grinding” I tune out.
Games have a cost and a reward. Most of the time the cost is time, money, or both. The reward is often a dopamine kick, community, or leaderboards. The balance I require between these aspects is quite strict.
Eve Online held my attention for a short while. I had friends who’d played for a while and invited me to their corporation (kind of like a guild, if you’re unfamiliar with the game). The thing I liked about Eve Online was that my character would train skills passively while I did other things. My interest waned soon, however, when I understood that while I didn’t have to grind to improve I instead had to grind to make the money I needed for equipment that put my skills to use. I stopped playing soon after my friends had become too busy to play.
StarCraft was fun as long as I played against friends (I always lost, but remind me sometime to share the anecdote of the one exception). In single player I always cheated. The game itself wasn’t as interesting as the storyline.
I bought Minecraft back when it was still in beta. I used to play it for about 15 minutes a year. Starting a new world, punching some trees, surviving my first night and then getting bored. My kids love it and this year we’ve decided to have a realm for the whole family. Playing together that way is super fun.
The common denominator in all these is that I find it fun playing with others. The social part of it. I have no winner instinct whatsoever; I much prefer co-op games. Barring that I’m more than willing to be the lowest ranking player as long as I have fun with my friends.
Remove the social aspect and I can no longer be bothered to spend the hours with the game. High cost (time), low reward (social interactions).
I was in fourth or fifth grade when tamagotchis were a big thing. Everyone had one, except I had an off brand tamagotch-like. It was a dinosaur instead of a gooey lump. Entertaining it meant chasing rats when it was young, and cars when it got older.
Tamagotchis became a problem at school. Many of my class ates would stress out over their pet getting hungry or bored during class, and if they were forced to keep it in their backpack in the hallway they would often attempt to go for ”bathroom” breaks. I had no such problems, because my off brand thingy had a slightly drifting internal clock. I assume that was the reason it had a time setting that could be changed at any time. I set the clock to 22:00 as I went to school. My dinosaur slept through the school day.
I had that thing for as long as the e-pets were trendy. Sure the reward in the game was quite low; I fed or played with my pet once in a while and watched it grow, then started a new one. There was no social aspect to speak of. But the cost was next to nothing. I played a few minutes at a time, when I wanted to but not otherwise. That was all there was to it. No competition, no need to grind, nothing else.
It took a long time before I stumbled over a similar situation again. This time it was chess. I have a chess app since May 2015, and have played against an old colleague since then. In each game I have 48 hours to make a move, which in essence means I can play when I want to. As soon as one game is finished we start a new one. This has been going on almost entirely without interruption since we started. The app tells me I’ve won 301 matches, lost 550, and we’ve had 7 draws. Clearly not a stellar record for me! I couldn’t care less. I just try to do as well as I can.
We hardly chat at all in the game, and we have absolutely no contact outside of it since a few years back when we went our separate ways work-wise. There is still a big social reward there, because I know I’m playing a friend and I cherish that contact. And then there’s the reward of winning games and getting to gloat a bit. It doesn’t matter that he gets to gloat more than I. Again very low cost, and I guess I would say high reward.
The latest game I’ve found in this category is Astrobotany. I know I’ve talked about this before, and you can search my site for it if you’re interested. In essence it’s pretty close to an e-pet, except that it’s a plant. I water it every day and watch it grow. Shaking it gives me coins, which I can spend on fertilizer to make it grow faster. When its reached maturity I harvest it and plant a new one.
The real exciting features are the social ones: I can look at others’ plants and water them if they are dry, there’s a message board for the community, and for my coins I can buy postcards to send to other players. It’s also in geminispace, which to me means that I can interact with it automatically. I’ve previously used this to generate statistics for the Garden Gnome Society (which is currently down and awaiting a revamp), and that ability alone has increased my investment in the game. I can actually build tools accompanying the game that are helpful for the community. It’s so engaging that I’ve even contributed code to the game itself, which is a first for me. The cost is as high or low as I want to make it, and the reward is comparatively huge: social community, co-op and fostering generosity and kindness, big opportunities to help other players by contributing tools or features.
I guess you can see where I’m going here. I demand things from games, but I really don’t like it when they demand things from me.
-- CC0 Björn Wärmedal