The Importance of Distraction in Persistent Online Games

It sounds preposterous, doesn’t it? To have distractions within the very game world that exists purely for the sole purpose of distraction.

And yet, it’s true.

Saving the world time and again can be tiresome business – and the worlds that don’t offer their heroes a chance to take a break and indulge in the finer things of virtual life find themselves with a populace festering with insurmountable burnout.

There are many approaches to the topic of distraction in MMOs – and all work to varying degrees of efficacy.

Most fascinating, however, is how the structure of the base game heavily influences the player’s desire to opt-in for something – anything – different.

Imagine if you were living a life where every single action was merely a repletion of the last.

Your entire being – your purpose – was to continue repeating this task indefinitely. There is no surprise at the end, no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Just sole, predictable, tedium.

That doesn’t sound like much of a life, does it?

That’s precisely the same reason your virtual life is designed to be varied just as much a healthy lifestyle in the “real” world is.

When an MMO’s bread and butter is made up of the same ol’ hum-drum that its players have stomped well and truly into the ground, the need for a Darkmoon Faire or Golden Saucer becomes crucially apparent.

Even having a fully-functioning and rewarding PvP mode or cosmetic-chase metagame is a critical factor. Because the truth holds: no matter how fun something is, at some point, it will cease to be.

And when that happens you’d better have something appealing lined up.

Thankfully, most devs are aware of this and cater to these needs. They realize that a burned-out player is worse than no player at all, and they strive to do right by them.

Yet there is a fascinating dissonance that can occur between the “fun only” portions of the game, and the “super serial tryhard” aspect. Somewhere in between, the line between “fun” and “serious” gets muddled.

Oftentimes both he developers and the playerbase can espouse a sentiment that seems to suggest that one may one have one at the expense of forsaking the other. But this is simply not true.

One could argue – and in fact, we do – that in certain settings fun is only possible when the activity is being taken seriously. Ask anyone who’s ever raided in the endgame of a popular virtual world if they thought watching their merry band of rogues chucklefuck for several hours at the expense of pushing past even the second encounter was fun.

Coordinated play always requires a degree of mutual participation, feedback, and collaboration. Free, uninhabited play – like the sort you might find at a theme park – is typically the last thing that you’ll find in “serious” gaming environments.

Which is a shame, because we can’t help but shake the feeling that the utter necessity for virtual theme parks inside of our virtual theme parks is precipitated by the design systems that have been implemented iteratively over the course of the MMO genre’s development.

Now, if only there was the perfect MMO that balanced both serious and utterly uninhibited fun hand-in-hand…

Hello Kitty Island Adventure it is.

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