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Community Forum Spotlight - Affluenza

Not to be confused with the viral influenzsa, affluena is actually "a state of extreme materialism which is the impetus for accumulating wealth and for overconsumption of goods; also, feelings of guilt and isolation from the dysfunctional pursuit of wealth and goods." In her Forum Spotlight, Laura Genender looks at a thread that tackles this interesting concept in how it relates to MMORPGs.

Affluenza

“Affluenza” is one of those twenty dollar words that you find only in places like Jeopardy or http://www.FreeRice.com (which is, by the way, an awesome little game for a good cause). Never would I expect to find this word explained or even mentioned on the MMORPG.com forums. But oh, how apt it is.

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Affluenza is, according to Dictionary.com, a state of extreme materialism which is the impetus for accumulating wealth and for overconsumption of goods; also, feelings of guilt and isolation from the dysfunctional pursuit of wealth and goods. In her thread “Selfishness of Society Reflected in MMOs?” poster Violette draws a direct comparison from the real life Affluenza to the virtual version which haunts gameplay. How many of us gamers spend hours and days farming gold to buy The One Epic Item, then feel a sense of total letdown once you finally get there? How many of us get The One Epic Item, then suddenly need The Better Epic Item?

Violette’s observation is echoed by return posters, such as user Bane82. “It's interesting that you mention that because I am starting to see a disturbing trend in MMOs of which I myself am becoming a victim of. It does seem like in MMO's today it's no longer about the adventure, or hanging out with buddies in a campfire and telling stories about how you escaped the ring wraiths, it seems like it's no longer about going to an inn with buddies, drink some ale and talk about your biggest bounty of the day… We've basically stopped having fun and made our MMO time into a second job. Makes me wish there was no such things as levels to race to. Just an expansive world with players who have unique skills and characteristics to join up with.”

While Bane82 has identified an issue, Mordacai shares his thoughts on the origin: “I also roleplay in all of the mmorpg games I have played. I find it becoming more and more difficult as time has progressed over the last 5 yrs. In Wow it was neigh inpossible to even roleplay, even on the roleplay servers without ridicule or just plain annoying people breaking my immersive atmosphere with their chuck norris antecdotes etc.

“It really has devolved in my opinion over the last several years especially. I don't know if its the influx of non-mmo players brought in, in huge numbers from the wow phenomenon or just me getting older and crotchety. I have been playing as well since the old EQ, albeit not much there, and really got heavy into it during SWG. By the time EQ2 rolled out I had macros for my spell casting which included Aranic mumblings of lost magic from my wizard, to the brutal bad mouth of a barbarians tongue lashing (in scottish dialect).” Mordacai is not content to simply discuss these issues, either. “I am taking it even further as I now develop these games and hope to help the roleplay community not only through GM'g events, but providing the tools to make for better roleplay within game.”

Indeed, more people have moved into the gaming sphere in the last decade, and a large number of them from the popularity of World of Warcraft. When games like Ultima and EverQuest hit the shelves, our gamer population was comprised mainly of fantasy fiction fans, Dungeons and Dragons players, etc. – people highly dedicated to roleplay and storytelling. As a larger segment of the population moves in, the roleplayers become dispersed. Games don’t have to cater to us in advertising or design…we come anyway. It’s the casual average player that developers have to attract.

Is this necessarily a bad thing? No. As a fellow roleplayer I share Bane82 and Mordacai’s sentiments of frustration at community focuses and responses to storytelling and RP, but the realist side of me knows that the population growth does us a lot of good.

Not all of our users feel that roleplay and community-behavior is at fault here. Following up on Violette’s original question, Barrikor suggests that the developers are to blame. “If you look at how most MMOs work it is obvious that it's always directed toward the individual player, people just run around the map as if the other players don't exist. If anything the other players are a nuisance for being in the way... There's never an advantage to helping other people; this is what creates the environment where the higher players insult "n00bs" instead of taking the time to help them… If the devs create the game right they could make a game world where the players interact more, where players actually help each other instead of doing mindless tasks for every NPC they meet.”

As stated above, I believe that game developers are gearing games more toward an aggressive, casual market. This is the smart move for them, sadly – there are tons of bloodthirsty PvPers out there, rearing and ready to try new games after their introduction to MMOs via WoW. Games heavy in stories, crafting, and roleplay aren’t going to attract this large population’s attention.

And that is where the Affluenza starts. This new generation of gamers want to reach the high end content and start PvPing or raiding ASAP. When I meet new players in MMOs today, and ask them what they’re looking forward to in the game, it’s rarely “exploring” or “progressing.” It’s all about beating up “n00bs” or “joining UberGuild”. We spend hours killing monsters, training skills, farming gold not because it’s fun but because we have to for our Epics.