Our cultural distinction between "work" and "play" traps us in what may be false dichotomies. We are so caught up in thinking that games are for fun that even when some of us toil away for hours in an MMORPG, even when we become extremely frustrated or angry with something in the game, we sometimes forget that "play" can become "work". As the following quotes taken from the "Why We Quit" collection of player narratives show, playing an MMORPG can become like having a second job.
It became a chore to play. I became defacto leader of a guild and it was too much. Being an officer was too much. Pleasing people did not interest me. I wanted to get away from real life and politics and social etiquette followed me in! [EQ, m, 20]
I stopped playing because I just didn't want to commit to the crazy raid times (6+ hours in the evening?) and because I'd kind of stalled out on my interest in my main character. [EQ, f, 27]
Rethinking MMORPGs as something not-quit-game yet not-quite-work frees us to ask a whole host of provoking questions. Could and should the virtual achievements that occur within an MMORPG world be taken seriously? Do these virtual achievements deserve recognition? And how do we compare virtual achievements with real-life achievements? This set of questions is all the more crucial to answer as new MMORPGs bring in more realistic political and economic elements.
Clearly not all virtual achievements are meaningful. Getting a character to level 40 or 50 is really only a matter of time investment and patience, as is the same for camping a rare drop in EverQuest. When an achievement revolves around pure time spent and involves no complex skill, it is hard to justify as a real achievement. But MMORPGs introduce a set of achievements that are based on the social nature of the world. Narratives in "The Rise and Fall of Guilds" highlight the complex management and leadership skills needed to sustain a large guild. From dealing with clique formation, preventing polarization in a guild argument, keeping the guild motivated or deflecting strong personalities, a good leader must understand and deal with these issues as they occur. As the narratives show, these are no trivial tasks.
We might also consider raid leaders who coordinate and then pull off a large scale raid successfully. Managing multiple groups with different tasks composed of disparate personalities while under unpredictable and stressful circumstances is a gargantuan challenge, especially when the only means of communication is a thin typed-chat channel. There are also the leadership challenges of sustaining group morale, having and holding firm to a vision, and dealing with discouraging players. And all this occurs in real-time, not some turn-based tactical game. The question is whether there are certain virtual achievements that we should take seriously. Could we imagine a time when putting "guild leader of a 120-member guild" on your college resume is taken seriously?
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