Play it and find out... On second thought don't
play it. If you're involved in college you really wanna graduate.
EQ will addict you so much you'll forget about work. I don't know
why it is. I really HATE RPG's but EQ is just extremely fun. It's
got a weird aura about it, all I can say. [m, 16]
Almost everyone who has taken an introductory psychology
course in high school or college has heard of B.F. Skinner. Skinner
is an important figure in Behaviorism, and developed a learning
theory known as Operant Conditioning. Skinner claimed that the frequency
of a given behavior is directly linked to whether it is rewarded
or punished. If a behavior is rewarded, it is more likely to be
repeated. If it is punished, it becomes suppressed. This deceptively
simple and straight-forward theory may explain why EverQuest is
The rewards cycle in EverQuest begins with instant
gratifications. When you start a new character, everything you need
to do is close by - finding the guildmaster; finding mobs to kill.
The first few mobs you attack die in several swings and you make
level 2 in about 5 kills. By the time you make level 3 half an hour
later, you are more aware of the underlying skill points, the accumulation
of money, and gain a desire to get better equipment. Gradually,
it takes longer and longer to get to the next level. The simple
tasks that you did to improve trade skills have become trivial,
but the rewards you get - the blue skill points and the metal bits
- drive you to perform tasks more elaborate than before because
trivial tasks are no longer rewarded. The one-click reward disappears,
and is gradually replaced by rewards that take more and more clicks
to get. And suddenly, some of us find ourselves clicking away for
hours in front of a forge or jewellery kit.
This process of guiding an individual to perform
more and more elaborate and complex tasks is known as shaping in
Operant Conditioning. It is usually explained in textbooks in conjunction
with Skinner Boxes. Skinner boxes are small glass or plexi-glass
boxes equipped with a combination of levers, food pellets, and drinking
tubes. Laboratory rats are placed into Skinner boxes and conditioned
to perform elaborate tasks. At first, the rat is rewarded with a
food pellet for facing the lever. Then it is rewarded if it gets
closer to the lever. Eventually, the rat is shaped to press the
lever. Once the rat learns that pressing the lever is rewarded,
a food pellet does not need to be dropped every time and the rat
will still continue pressing the lever. It is in the same way that
EverQuest shapes players to pursue more and more elaborate blacksmithing
or tailoring combinations. Moreover, EverQuest players continue
to attempt elaborate combinations in the face of many costly failures.
There are several schedules of reinforcement that
can be used in Operant Conditioning. The most basic is a fixed interval
schedule, and the rat in the Skinner Box is rewarded every 5 minutes
regardless of whether it presses the lever. Unsurprisingly, this
method is not particularly effective. Another kind of reinforcement
schedule is the fixed ratio schedule, and the rat is rewarded every
time it presses the lever 5 times. This schedule is more effective
than the fixed interval schedule. The most effective method is a
random ratio schedule, and the rat is rewarded after it presses
the lever a random number of times. Because the rat cannot predict
precisely when it will be rewarded even though it knows it has to
press the lever to get food, the rat presses the lever more consistently
than in the other schedules.
A random ratio schedule is also the one that EverQuest
uses. Both melee and trade skill points increase after a random
number of attempts. You know you won't get skill points unless you
practice the skill, but you don't know how many attempts it will
take to get another skill point. Level increases also take a random
number of kills. You know that you won't gain a level by standing
around, but you don't know exactly how many mobs you need to kill.
Because the time it takes to level can be estimated however, one
might argue that level increments follow a fixed ratio rather than
a random ratio schedule. It is the presence of experience penalties
from dying that randomizes this estimation, because it is hard to
estimate deaths. The ability for certain classes to use effective
strategies (druid quad-kiting for example) at certain levels also
means that a higher level may be completed in less time than the
level before it. Veteran players know that just because you can
get a bubble of experience in half an hour today doesn't mean you
can do it again tomorrow, because class demand and grouping conditions
change even in the same zone from day to day.
A completely transparent experience points system
would be a fixed ratio schedule because you have a very good grasp
of how many more solo kills it takes to gain a level. Thus, if EverQuest
exposed the underlying numerical experience points and told you
how many points a mob gave you, and how much more experience you
need to gain a level, it would be less effective as a reinforcement
schedule. A system that can most effectively hint at progress without
sacrificing this opacity maximizes the random ratio schedule, and
this is why the recently implemented blue macro-view line in the
experience bar enhances the schedule already in place. This is particularly
true for mid-level players who would get frustrated by the normal
experience bar that moved too slowly, and thus made them feel that
progress was not being made.
The presence of multi-layered and overlapping goals
in the game allow players to pursue multiple rewards concurrently.
You need more experience to gain levels so you can kill bigger creatures.
Along the way, you need more money to buy better equipment. You
may want to develop trade skills, complete quests, travel across
Norrath, or camp a rare spawn. Most of the time, you'll be doing
several of these at the same time. In fact, the game forces you
to. You can't keep up with mobs if you level but don't buy new gear.
You can't continue blacksmithing if you run out of money. What this
means is that you're always close to a goal - a reward. You are
seldom far away from all possible rewards.
But something more intensely provoking has happened
in EverQuest which makes it addictive. Another frequently encountered
figure in introductory psychology textbooks is Maslow, known for
his proposed hierarchy of needs. Maslow sees human needs in a pyramid
scheme. At the bottom are basic hunger and thirst needs. Then follows
security. At the top of the pyramid are aesthetic needs and personal
achievements, which would only be possible on a strong foundation
of sated hunger and security needs. Thus, even though personal achievements
are more rewarding than filling an empty stomach, these achievements
are only possible once you've filled your stomach. But EverQuest
makes it possible for Joes and Janes to become heroes. EverQuest
makes it so that you can slay Vox in a guild raid on an empty stomach.
What happens when people can feel achievement through continuous
mouse-clicking? What happens when these achievements are more rewarding
than "real life" achievements? And what if it's easier
to click the mouse than to cook dinner?
One important tenet of Operant Conditioning is that
behaviors are not inherently rewarding - they are made rewarding
through reinforcement. It is the shaping process in EverQuest that
makes the in-game "achievements" rewarding. It is the
shaping process that make "achievements" achievements.
People who don't play EQ don't see the appeal in clicking "COMBINE"
in front of a forge for hours. They don't see why players would
camp Quillmane or ice cougars for hours, even days, for an item
that usually doesn't drop. To outsiders, the time players spend
playing the game is mind-boggling. But it's hard for those of us
inside the construct to realize this because the game has conditioned
us to pursue these rewards.
Many things set EverQuest apart from other available
computer games. Unlike other RPG's, there is no story-line or super-ordinate
goal. In fact, there really isn't even any kind of plot, which allows
the player to feel in control. Games like Diablo II give constant
instant gratification, and do not gradually take more and more time
to reach rewards. Game-play at level 25 in Diablo feels just like
game-play at level 10, whereas that is not the case in EverQuest.
No one would play Diablo if you needed to camp a mob that only sometimes
dropped an item. In fact, no one would play Diablo if you had to
wait for a mob to spawn. But what sets EverQuest apart is that it
is multi-layered and complicated in a way that few other games are.
Everything from trade skills to faction, from mobs to their loot,
from zones to planes, is complex and well-textured. Finally, it
is different because it is massively multi-player, but while most
multiplayer games are completely destructive, EverQuest has a decidedly
constructive and cooperative tone to it. There is no blood in the
game. No disemboweled intestines splatter on your screen. Instead,
players often find themselves chatting while waiting for a mob to
spawn. The ranger may be fletching as he recounts a particularly
close battle. The warrior chugs some Dwarven Ale. There may be some
emotes with playful, sexual overtones. In contrast with Quake or
Diablo, this scene feels awfully relaxed and idyllic.
The massively-multiplayer nature of the game takes
the virtual construct one step beyond just an elaborate Skinner
Box. The problem with many people is that you can't have one box
tailored to all of their reinforcement needs. But having them all
in their separate Skinner Boxes is not interesting. The internet
solves this problem by allowing individually tailored Skinner Boxes
interact with others. And in this way, EverQuest has created a system
of inter-connected Skinner Boxes, a Skinner Network even, where
each Skinner Box is tailored to its host's needs and reinforcement
schedule, and where individuals can interact with each other without
sacrificing the integrity of their own construct. It is like the
Matrix where everyone is isolated in their own nutrient vat, but
where they can interact in a digitally-constructed world.
. Click .. click .. Click .. click
recent findings on this issue can be found at the "Ariadne"