WoW: The Junk Food MMO
Note: Flu and work are kickin’ my ass again this week, so I probably won’t be around much for a bit.
In general, I try to lead my life as a mature, intellectual-ish adult. I am in the habit of cooking good healthy dinners every day with lots of vegetables. I gave up on commercial television a few years ago and filled those hours with what I felt were more worthy, engaging pursuits. I like to play video games with interesting narratives or challenging gameplay.
There are some days though when I’m tired and rushed and stressed out, and I just curl up on the couch with a pint of ice cream for dinner and an episode of America’s Next Top Model. These, I have learned, are also the days when I play WoW. World of Warcraft is a junk food MMO.
Certainly part of it is that I’m not in a guild in WoW so I don’t have any overhead of social obligation. But also it’s really undeniable at this point that WoW is much, much easier to pick up than other MMOs. The gameplay is smooth and any bumps in the UI have long been sorted out, but there’s also very little to worry about while playing. If we compare the lowbie leveling experience, which arguably is the least taxing part of modern MMOs, WoW requires the least amount of thought.
When I level in SWTOR, I’m listening to dialog and thinking about which choice best represents the story I want to play. When I level in RIFT, I have an endless number of decisions to make about what soul tree to use and how certain spells and abilities can work together. When I level in The Secret World (as much as one “levels”) the content is quite challenging and often requires a plan. Even single player games require a certain amount of personal involvement and energy expenditure.
I have now leveled from 1-10 as a panda and 85-87 as Shadow Liore, and I am struck by how simple WoW is in comparison. There are no more character builds, only a handful of choices that were designed to be more fun than effective. The new quests are overwhelmingly “kill 10 of x”, and often not even dressed up to be something else. Pick up quest, look at the map to see where the mobs are, hit “12433″ 10-15 times until done. I level in WoW while watching cooking shows (I am a Top Chef fanatic) on the other monitor, and I honestly cannot even fathom how someone could level without an additional distraction.
(Which is probably the point. Seriously playing WoW seems to require adding your own “nutritional value”, to poorly carry on my own metaphor, whether it’s strong social ties or hardcore raiding or guild wrangling or watching TV or whatever. There’s very little to think about in the basic gameplay itself.)
But what about once I hit level 90? I don’t see why it still won’t be junk food. Dailies (if I do them, which I probably won’t because dailies generally irritate me) are just more kill quests. LFR is group content with a bunch of individuals who will never see each other again and don’t really care anyway. I will share the healing or DPS burden with 4-19 other people, and if we wipe we’ll just get a 5% output buff, up to 10 wipes and 50%. 50% output increase! That sounds like a great time to turn on a cooking show.
It probably sounds like I’m insulting WoW, but I really don’t mean it that way. In a market with a myriad of options, there’s nothing wrong with being the simple, comforting game. If you look at my Raptr profile, in fact, you’ll see that I’ve played a great deal of WoW in the last couple of weeks! There are absolutely times for everyone when life is kicking their butt and they just want to sit down and play a game and hit “12433″ a few times without really having to think about anything.
I just think that, much like eating too much junk food, it’s a good idea to get some fibre in your gaming diet, too.