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You Can’t Argue With Add-ons

Victor Barreiro Jr. Posted:
Columns The Devil's Advocate 0

In my life as a computer user, I’ve grown accustomed to slowly getting the hang of using applications or non-essential programs that help me do things in my personal or professional life.

For example, I used to do my note-taking and article writing on OpenOffice Writer or Microsoft Word. These days, I now write on either Evernote or Google Drive due to the ability to see my work show up on my home or work computer. Much like those little applications that are developed to help us, add-ons in MMORPGs are generally seen as good things that are made to help users do certain things better. Today’s Devil’s Advocate is weird. I’m fighting an unarguable point, which is that add-ons are great. I’ll tell you now: I can’t argue against this point, but I can still share some unsettling thoughts on the matter.

What are Add-ons?

For the purposes of this discussion, addons are extra programs or modifications that you add on to your game to give you additional information or functionality without unbalancing or otherwise hacking the game.

In World of Warcraft or Everquest 2, for example, there were simple add-ons like a map marker interface or more complex ones like a damage meter. There were also visual customizations to one’s panels and windows that could also be construed as an add-on because it re-ordered information for better visibility or coolness.

The basic idea behind addons is that they’re there as a quality of life enhancement. In the early days of addon development for a game like WoW, using them was optional, and that’s where the trouble begins.

When Addons Become Must-haves

The main issue I have with addons isn’t actually with addons themselves, but with how game developers and guilds sometimes design mechanics or rules in a way that makes a certain add-on nearly mandatory to maintain sanity or order.

Going back to WoW as an example, there’s an addon called Deadly Boss Mods that I’ve noticed is a staple for nearly every serious raider. Sure, there’s now a Dungeon Journal in WoW, but Deadly Boss Mods was probably one of the reasons why a Dungeon Journal was added in the first place. 

The same goes for other little additions to WoW, such as the quest helping system. Other games also have similar things, such as some modern MMOs having the ability to generally resize or order their user interfaces. That came about through add-ons at the start, but have now become commonplace.

Add-ons: The Unarguable

Here’s the rub with any argument that discusses quality of life enhancements to anything: there are perfectly good and valid reasons for optional add-ons, and arguments against addons are either going to be seen as silly because of seemingly outmoded thinking or because you’re extrapolating convoluted scenarios to justify not using add-ons.

As I sort of explained above, discussing addons from a historical point of view is very difficult, primarily because there are hundreds of thousands of mods, addons, compilations, and additional programs, and some of these have disappeared or become co-opted into the games they’re supposed to help. Because they’re in the games already, the existence of addons back in the day becomes justifiable as a discovery of luxuries people wanted before they wanted them.

My Unsettling Thought

My unsettling thought about addons is when I think of add-ons as tools used to help make a task or the gathering of information easier. I’m reminded of the development of the human race, wherein before the advent of writing, our memories were sharp as all heck, and we could remember whole plays told to us because there was no fallback if we forgot something.

Then we had paper and writing, and we could afford to put thoughts on paper, and while that helped the situation some, it also taxed the mind less. And then the printing press came, then computers, and then cellular phones, and then smartphones, and then tablets... and then the future.

I found through some Googling (another quality of life enhancement) this has been argued a number of times: that technology, or quality of life enhancements, might detract from human potential.

It’s unsettling. We become used to their existence, and then they become necessities, and then we have new problems, and they require new tools based on the old tools to solve them. While we rely on our abilities to solve these new problems, were we to lose these quality of life additions, we’d have a tough time compensating for a period of time.

That’s the distressing bit to me, this paradox of being human in a technological age. We live with many addons in life and in our games, and self-sufficiency becomes difficult when these addons disappear.

Unlike real life, however, whose problems have a fixed difficulty, games can also have their difficulty artificially lowered.  What does that say about games and add-ons, then, if a permutation of quality of life additions and game difficulty scaling occurs?

You can follow Victor Barreiro Jr. on Twitter at @iamstillwater.


Victor Barreiro Jr.

Victor Barreiro Jr. / Victor Barreiro Jr. maintains The Devil’s Advocate and The Secret World columns for MMORPG.com. He also writes for news website Rappler as a technology reporter. You can find more of his writings on Games and Geekery and on Twitter at @vbarreirojr.