There are sometimes when something happens during my gameplay time in MMOs that reveals the design of the game. It can be a simple interaction with the enviroment, a feature, the layout of a dungeon, whatever. See, I think a lot of developers try to hide some design concepts in order to offer you an illusion, sometimes the opposite thing of what they want you to experience. I think most of the people in these forums are aware, for example, of the gear carrot most MMOs place in front of us: the idea behind the gear treadmill is that they want you to think that there is still a lot to do (what the developer wants you to think) when actually there is little or nothing to do (you have done that same dungeon or raid many times).
I don't think we as players are actively looking for these events that uncover the design of the game, but when we notice them, they take us aback and makes us wonder what is happening, we ask ourselves, how come I didn't realize this before? Well, that's because some developers are very smart and offers us illusions, they are tricky great mesmers!
So, in one of my many (albeit short) incursions into World of Warcraft, many years ago I came across this spell:
Prayer of Mending.
Nifty little spell for Priest healers. What it does is, you cast it on a target, and the next time she receives damage the spell will heal her and jump to a nearby target.
So, there I was wandering the lands of Azeroth and in a low level zone I came across another player that was struggling to defeat an elite monster (it was in Badlands and the Elite mob was a dragon); The player had been for ages, kiting this mighty adversary in circles draining her life bit by bit, as far as i could tell. When I found this hunter she was about to die so I decided to give her a little hand – fill her health up so she could carry on with the feat, then I threw her a - yes, you guessed it- prayer of mending.
It was after this event (in case anyone was at the edge of their seat – i did manage to help the hunter and she ended up looting the rotting corpse of the dragon) that unveiled a design concept of the game: FORCED GROUPING.
Basically, if I am not grouped with a player, there are some healing spells that will not go off. Probably there are many other spells (seals and stuff) that are based around the same idea (not sure if they still are, since I haven't played WoW for a while).
Why am I forced to group, to actually press some meta-buttons (not part of the game but part of the structure of the game) in order to help someone?
“You are just QQing” you may say “you have many other spells, and didn't you end up helping the hunter?” Yes, yes I did, but many other spells were prohibited if I was not in a group with my target (e.g. shields) and what if the situation was a clutch one? Say I was an experienced healer in Heroic Dungeons (I was at the time, I promise!) and my rotation for extreme situations was something along the lines of: Power Word: Shield, Prayer of Mending, Flash Heal and Divine Hymn. Well, only one of those helpful spells would have landed – Flash Heal. And, in a clutch situation it would just not cut it.
Well, another time when playing some area on Wrath I found a group of three people trying to take down an elite, and the Tank was about to die, I couldn't invite them to my group 'cause they were on another group and they couldn't invite me because I was in one.
You can argue about rotations, about the spells I was using, etc. But my point is: why can't I organically group with people in the world? Why do I have to go through a process of clicking meta-buttons, icons, and waiting for a group acceptance in order for me to be efficient?
This is an MMO, and you are supposed to do things in a group, you say? I agree, but there is a big difference between, being on a game that forces me to group, and being on a game that allows me to do it.
Everything in WoW (and many other MMOs) screams forced grouping. There is very little left in the world that entices me to help strangers (the core of building a community), sure I can help friends, but they are already part of MY community.
Next time, if when I am walking down the street someone trips and all their shopping spills on the floor, I will ask myself, do I already know this person? Is she part of my already existing community? If the answer is negative, should I ask them (while she is falling in slow motion) “would you like me to save you from falling?”
I don't think I would have enough time to both ask AND help.
In the world, we group with strangers organically; I wish I could do that too in my MMOs.