Time as gating mechanic

I have met recently with an opinion that in MMOs, in particular WoW, time equals difficulty, so an activity that takes a lot of time equals challenge, any mechanic that makes something take less time is dumbing down the game, and anyone who thinks that doing the same thing over and again for hours is boring just wants to have everything easy, and also should get their business somewhere else. Well the last part makes sense – I did quit WoW after all. I was running out of new things to learn (all the zones, all the quests, old dungeons and raids, different classes and crafting professions – I didn’t cover 100% of all that, but I was approaching saturation), and the things that seem to constitute the core of the gameplay these days I find either annoying (dungeons with PuGs) or boring (killing trash mobs by hundreds) or both (camping rare spawns). Puny me, shirking away from the challenge of pressing the same buttons in the same sequence for hours in a row. Thinking about this however I realized that I do play (and enjoy!) a game where time is the utmost gating mechanic (it takes years of continuous play to max out), and the grind (doing thousands of repetitions of the same simple thing) does not just “happen”, it is omnipresent.

This game is called RuneScape.

And the difference between the two games that makes WoW “boring” for me and RuneScape “playable” is that RuneScape does not attempt to make the grindy parts “challenging” by demanding the player’s undivided attention. Instead, it is enough to check the game screen every minute or so – dump the items you crafted into the bank and take a fresh batch of raw material, or move to the next tree or fishing spot, or eat a piece of food and attack another mob. I usually do this while reading or writing in another window, for the same reason people fiddle with things or doodle when their brain is working. Another important distinction is that in RuneScape I always have a variety of things to grind (think couple dozen options instead of 2-3), and it takes minimal time to switch to a different activity. So is time spent playing the game a gate to higher level/more gameplay options? Absolutely. Do I feel that time spent doing the grind is a toll I have to pay that has been taken away from my life? No, because the game allowed me to share this time between itself and some other process.

I get the point about an “immersive gameplay” (that’s from a completely different blog post), but for me, according to my personal preferences about a game I want to play, this shouldn’t ever go together with “mindless repetitive gameplay”. And any game has its dynamic parts (PvP; in PvE WoW, quests and group content; in RuneScape, quests, Dungeoneering skill, and minigames about which I am tempted to write another post). It is the love for immersive fully engaging grind that I personally find hard to understand.

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