There’s a couple of ideas I’ve been trying to conceptualize in my mind regarding habits in gaming, mine and others’. I’m not sure what the proper term for it is, and my brief searches in the thesaurus are unsuccessful. I’m thinking about one’s propensity for sticking with things they know and like versus their willingness to try new experiences. In psychological personality tests, this is called Openness to Experience.
I, for one, noticed that my opennes to experience new things in gaming has been for the most part fairly low. In fact, there’s no better indicator of this than going back to World of Warcraft, returning to a server I once played on, and making the very same character I leveled up about five years ago. Akin to a strange time loop, I’m repeating or recreating an experience of which I actually don’t have many memories of, maybe some brief, key moments, a couple of screenshots tucked into old folders. It’s like looking at Facebook pictures from high school, buried deeply under the most current posts and recent images representing my current self. But just like certain video games, Facebook now is old enough to remember what I looked like when I was a seventeen-year old and about 50 pounds skinnier. Yuck.
So why would I bother to go through the same motions of trekking across the peaceful (and a little boring) Elwynn Forest, to get started on some early dungeons, to then get the first taste of player-versus-player combat in Stranglethorn Vale, a mid-journey leveling zone?
Maybe there’s a kind of safety to crave in reaching to the same experiences we’ve gone through. There was a time when rewatching some of my favorite movies became a sort of ritual to do once in a while. Between the later half of 2000’s into about 2012, my family and I made it like a yearly ritual to rewatch all the The Lord of the Rings movies. They just had that comforting storytelling feel. I don’t know if this was true with me, but people say that kids like hearing their favorite bed-time story over and over again. They know it, and they know the outcome through-and-through, and yet they want to go through the motions, listen to their favorite parts, re-experience the tale and the precious moments they look forward to.
Maybe that’s what the Harry Potter series was to me, since I read books 1-4 multiple times in my “earlier” youth, reaching the last one, then promptly starting again with book one. It’s strange, but I found it fairly comforting to have a book and story that I truly loved.
Am I doing the same thing with World of Warcraft? Is it the gaming equivalent of comfort food for me? Rather than reaching to new experiences, I’m almost shutting out my brain and succumbing to the grindy queuing system and monotonous tasks that ultimately culminate in repeating the same number presses in smaller or big-picture tasks.
Trying new experiences costs money, however. Without a good income, I can’t throw myself into trying every new game that pops up on Steam. There’s been many smaller story games, such as Oxenfree and Life is Strange, and I’m a little surprised as to why I didn’t really jump on them. Maybe paying is the barrier, but I wonder if the younger me would be quicker to reach for an almost literary experience that’s in video game form. As an aside, I don’t know if I ever truly looked to video games for that.
There is one game that breaks this loose convention, and I played it back in 2009. Planescape: Torment is very much a literary experience in a video game, since it’s a Dungeons & Dragons game where you can deal with most dangers by talking. It’s an incredible read and an unforgettable story, but I’ve purposefully barred myself from replaying it, until I manage to forget as much as I can. At the right time, I’ll play it again.
It’s similar to how we judge our gaming purchases today. We’re less eager to risk our money for something new and unknown rather than trying something completely new. Similarly, we want our games to be content-filled, tended to with patches over longer periods of time. We want innovation in our games, but safe innovation, because how often do really innovative games do well in sales?
Is this not the very trend Hollywood is exploiting right now, by making a load of franchises with the tried-and-true characters?
I wonder if I can start pushing myself to try new things rather than just replaying my favorites. There’s always someone I can introduce to them, too.