Modern video game playing and sex are more similar in process than you would think. Both can be loud, messy (thinking of you, Battleborn UI), and action packed. But where I’m going with this bad analogy is playing as means to an end. Which manifests as the general expectation and demand that games include rewards outside of the play: trophies, achievements, and in particular loot. Or playing for the climax, the end, not the journey.
The sense of progression tied to these rewards we know is a false one, albeit a satisfying one, but the system of exchange has become absolutely necessary to game design. It’s a bit of male thinking to play for the climax and prioritize the external or ends results. The act itself and the fun it provides seems like it’s no longer enough to sustain a player.
Including external reward into gameplay is something I’ve read prominent game designers like Jon Blow discuss with great contempt. Much like F2P structures can pervert game design so can the player prioritizing “things” outside of play.
This question of the value of rewards vs. the value of play has come up in relation to Overwatch. One of the criticisms critics have made against the game is the way in which rewards (loot boxes) seem to trickle out. A problematic response in itself, but the defense from some hardcore Overwatch fanboys is even more troublesome: “Why would Blizzard let you get all the good loot in the first week? Then you wouldn’t have any reason to play the game.” Wait, I thought the reason for playing the game was, uh, playing the game?
Hey, I love getting drops in Overwatch or whatever other game as much as the next gamer. And sure loot can be enjoyed within and as part of a whole. But when design like this goes unquestioned you end up with something like The Division: committed to “grinding” (defined as hard dull work) in order to get better gear to grind some more. It’s a strange cycle perpetuated by a mix lizard brain and economic conditioning. In exchange for the time of enjoying ourselves, we await payment. That legendary armor transforms into the proverbial money shot of game playing.