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A Casual, Cornered: 3 Steps to MMO Happiness

By Beau Hindman on June 09, 2015 | Columns | Comments

3 Steps to MMO Happiness

I think I have always been a happy MMO fan. I have even been accused of being sappy or of wearing rose-colored glasses when covering MMOs because I tend to, well, enjoy them. I will give it to those who make such a suggestion: playing an MMO primarily through its systems (meaning grinding) is one way to find happiness, but I didn’t think that my distaste for the grind should disqualify my particular joy.

In other words, I like to explore in MMOs more than I like to fight in MMOs.

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After enjoying so many of these titles for so long, I think I have a pretty good grasp on what makes for a happy player. Let me know what you do to remain happy in MMOs in the comments section!

1) Do what makes YOU happy: I know, I know, this one is obvious, right? You’d think so, but the fact is that many players still find themselves participating in raids at all hours of the night, grinding out levels to catch up with others, or attending boring roleplay events because all the cute players are there.

MMOs are not jobs and should not be treated as jobs. Well, of course, unless treating them like jobs makes you happy. I know a lot of gamers who prefer to treat their gameplay “seriously” and approach gaming with the same analysis and deep-thinking that many of us reserve for work. That’s OK… this type of play is still falling in line with rule number 1. For many, treating a hobby as seriously as some of us would treat a career does result in happiness. Yes, it might be the type of happiness that actually looks like misery or, at least, like sleepless nights and wrist pain, but all happiness is not created equal, nor does all happiness look the same.

If you want to treat your role in your guild as a job, if you want to take it very, very seriously, good. Enjoy yourself, even if that means facing down stress and disappointment. After all, it does feel good to achieve in a virtual world and, let’s be honest, most MMOs are tuned to a potential “win” scenario, so you might as well try.

The point of rule #1 is that you do not want to wind up on your death bed going “I should have done more dailies.”

2) Find the game that makes you happy: Again, this seems obvious, but I have experienced issues with this one most of my time in MMOs, and especially over the last 5 or so years since I started writing about games in exchange for money. (Some would call it a job, but I call it a hobby that pays for itself.) I have toyed with making a list of only 5-10 MMOs that I have to play with the hopes of forcing me to really concentrate on the backstories, sights and players that deserve real dedication. Every time I mention 5 or 10 MMO lists to others they tend to giggle and say something like “I can barely play two at a time.”

Lately, for example, I have been enjoying TERA for its magnificent sights and massive scale. I hate it every time one of those creepy little-girl characters shows up on my screen, and the chat in game can feel like visiting a men’s rights convention, but if I ignore those things I am swept up in its epicness.

I have also been enjoying taking my time through ArchAge, trying to discover crafting and trade.

And Villagers and Heroes. I can’t wait for the re-launch of that one.

And Wakfu. What a great game, and what a cool company! I really want to get to know the foggernaut class.

And… AGH!

See what I mean?

It’s not that I cannot fall in love with one MMO, it’s that I fall in love with them all. Or do I? Perhaps what I feel is the lovely static of puppy love for each of the games I come across. Maybe it’s not ‘love’ at all, but is a result of my natural curiosity. Real MMO love – surely – could only come from larger stretches of time, through the ups and downs of being obsessed with one title.

I think this is the truth. I noticed that when it started to become my job to look at every title, I lost the ability to stay as focused on one game. Heck, I used to do a podcast for Ryzom years ago and became addicted to Vanguard: Saga of Heroes. Where did that dedication go? It was probably a victim of utility.

As you can see from the public airing of my inner struggle, it is important to know what you like, and to find one or maybe two or three games that you really, really love. MMOs are grand beasts that have unfortunately become victims of player’s need to burn through content, but those massive, deep worlds are still there, lurking behind the noise of daily quests and server firsts.

3) At this point, I am using this as an opportunity to list off what I need to do in order to feel happy in the MMO hobby. For the third step I would say that it’s important to be realistic about how much time you are willing to put into MMOs. When you get to be a little older, say around 25-79 years old, you will start to look at those days of playing games until 6 AM as some sort of amazing. Heck, later on you will get up at 6 AM just to start your day. (After all, that’s how you get the best seat at the local diner for breakfast.)

But, even if you still have the ability to play until the wee hours, you’ll find that you will not be able to sustain the rhythm for long without feeling something in return. By something I mean a gaming hangover, that feeling of burnout or fatigue that leaves you staring blankly at your games list.

You might try to become organized about it, and that’s fine, but give yourself the room to make mistakes. I try to “assign” myself a few hours of gaming per day but if I decided to write a blog instead, I’m cool with it. Playing your favorite MMO should be respected and even treated like a job if that’s what turns you on, but when it gets down to it, the hobby must remain fun and as a source of joy. If not, you’ll burn out, and burn out hard.

I have said this for a while, but I have found it to be even truer when I stop preaching about it: play these games with other people. I have watched over the years as MMOs have become less and less of a social game -- not because of developer greed or player demands – but because of the natural order of things. Developers gave us these great games, and we gobbled up the content… can you blame us?

But even though many MMOs are “easier” than before, we can still play them with other people. I haven’t met a definition-accurate MMO that has given up on multiplayer content. It’s still there.

I have enjoyed myself more than usual over the last year as I have forced myself to find groups and make friends. Maybe it will work for you too.

Beau Hindman / Beau is a writer, artist, PR/CM, game designer and pro moderator, and he's been blogging since 2002. He lives it up in Austin, Texas with his community manager wife. He's also the author of Anna the Powerful, a sci-fi book about the world's only superhero. Buy it here: http://my.bookbaby.com/book/anna-the-powerful