So here it is, that point I knew would eventually come, as it always does: that moment or series of moments when I become aware that I’m disengaging from a game. For the last 5 or 6 years, there hasn’t been a game that’s held my undivided attention for a whole year, though some have come close: my return to EQ2 after the sweeping crafting additions and – surprisingly perhaps – my return to post-NGE SWG, where I diddled about with critter creation for quite some time before the grind got to me. I’ve been back in WoW for 10 months pretty much to the day, but the shine is wearing off and I recently hit that point where I know that sooner or later I’m going to unsubscribe.
It usually starts by not knowing quite what to do with myself when I’m logged in: the plethora of options (especially for an altoholic like me) is still there, but none of them really appeal. So I log in to interact with friends or do a couple of easy things here and there, but not much more. Eventually the desire to log on is replaced by the feeling that I should, even though it’s something of a chore and I’d rather be doing something else. And someday I just won’t log on, after which I’ll eventually let my sub lapse.
My problem is that I’m MMOnogamous: I only play one game at a time. My other problem is that I still expect – or at least hope – that one game can do it for me without hitting that boredom point, even though I know it’s an unrealistic hope. I have a friend who, through her job, is able to maintain half a dozen active game subscriptions, and she moves from game to game every few months, thereby circumventing the tedium that seems to invariably set in for most of us. It works for her, but I’m not sure it would work for me.
The fact is I don’t think any game is capable of holding my attention forever. That’s like expecting to enjoy playing Monopoly every night for several years running. Games are repetitive by nature, most especially MMOs, and even content additions can’t really hide that fact for year after year; sooner or later the entertainment value of doing the same thing wears off, and we (or at least I) start craving something new.
Aside from that, one of the things I enjoy most about games is learning them, so once that learning curve levels off, a game needs to be damn good or I’ll start looking elsewhere. Even so, part of me still thinks there might be the One Game out there, the one that will hold me as long as my first MMO did, even if rationally I know that’s unlikely. When I started playing MMOs there wasn’t a great deal of choice out there and everything was new, so that learning curve lasted me quite a while. But nothing beats one’s first MMO for depth of experience; nothing can, and I know it, even though I still hope.
It’s not a clearly-defined age thing, but a number of my older friends share this experience and the mild angsty-ness of leaving a game. My younger friends, on the other hand, generally seem quite at ease flitting from one game to another and they don’t have this view that a game should be forever. They just happily play something until it gets boring and then move on, without asking themselves any deep existential-MMO questions. There are many ways to approach one’s gaming, and no single way is right. To a certain extent I enjoy asking myself these questions, because I like figuring out what does and doesn’t make a game attractive to me and what does and doesn’t hold my attention; armchair game design at its finest.
I might be writing a different column if I had a new game lined up to play, but I don’t. None of the games I’ve already played appeal to me at the moment, to the point where I’m asking myself if this is game-lassitude or gaming lassitude in general. It happens: work gets busy, real life makes more demands (in my case most recently, moving house; and in the case of a couple of friends this year, additions to the family), and we lose the head-space needed to really give as much attention to a game as we might otherwise.
It’s been a very long time since I played MMOs to escape from real life, at least not in the negative sense, though I’ve been there before: I have in the past immersed myself in a game as a way to avoid thinking about real and pressing life issues, and I’m sure I’m not the only one, but I outgrew that pretty quickly. MMOs are entertainment and social bonding, and while they absolutely do have many positive qualities, in most cases they’re certainly not a solution to real-life issues.
Nevertheless, I do know that if a game has grabbed me, like any other pastime, I will make time for it if I possibly can. So when I stop wanting to make time for a game or when another activity (or another game) seems more attractive, that’s when I know it’s probably time to move on. Even if it’s not easy; there are a bunch of people I won’t see much anymore when I quit WoW, and while we keep in touch via the guild forums, it’s not quite the same. And, loner though I may be when I play, I am still sociable and I’m going to miss those interactions. I don’t hold game or internet friendships as cheaply as some, especially not when I’ve known some of these people for nearly a decade; but I also know that we’ll likely run into each other again at some point.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not pissing and moaning and crying tragedy, but I am aware of the sense of ending I get whenever I start disengaging from a game. And like I said, it’s worse right now because I don’t have another game to look forward to. If I had just received a TSW beta invite, you can bet my column would have been less elegiac and rather more “So long and thanks for all the fish!”
I’d be interested to know whether people’s sentiments regarding game endings do vary visibly by age, or if it’s more of a personality thing. Do you agonize over leaving a game (friends, familiar things) or do you just up and leave with a jaunty wave? Do you only leave once you have another game lined up? Do you try to keep in touch with your friends once they’re gone, or do you actually try to take some of them with you?
And no, you can’t have my stuff.