Wednesday, 27 March 2013

The View from Inside the Skinner Box - Part 2

This is like, the worst mime act ever.

Yesterday I talked a little about how I got caught in a Skinner Box, one that Path of Exile presented to me. Like I said yesterday I find it difficult to talk on the subject because despite of everything saying that having such a thing done should be bad, I still think that Path of Exile is an enjoyable gaming experience, just not one that I think I'll really be partaking in anymore.

See, on an intellectual level, I can understand why games can and do employ such tactics: the more you play the more likely you are to recommend the game and also think fondly of it. Online games especially want to keep you hooked for as long as they can, whether you have to pay them to keep playing or not. After all, numbers mean everything more often than not; more numbers is more proof that the concept works (at least until the bubble bursts), so sticking you and keeping you is something that everyone longs to do.

It's true that every game has at least some elements of this kind of thing; you need to beat enemies, collect things, do tasks to progress. It's when the progression leads nowhere, effectively becoming stagnation, that it becomes a problem. I'm somewhat curious as to why that is though, and why the Skinner Box is being relied upon.

Certainly there's the aforementioned "keep 'em coming back" approach. However, I would go so far as to say that some of it would come across as actual fear. Not fear from the players, but rather fear of the players by some parties in the industry.

Consider ending a game or a series. With so many game franchises spawning indefinite numbers of sequels, always with more story (no matter how flimsy it might get), with no definitive ending. I think that part of these ongoing stories is not motivated by the want of more money, although certainly that's a central factor. Rather, I think that the industry has a fear of botching an ending so badly that they risk alienating the majority of the fanbase and poisoning any potential future endeavors. It may sound silly, but look at what happened with Mass Effect 3, look about the complaints regarding the Assassin's Creed 3 ending, or the fact that a lot of endings are merely hooks for the inevitable sequel.

They say that it's not the destination, it's the journey. Despite that though, the destination still does mean something. Without it the journey can lose a fair bit of meaning. Yet, I feel that's exactly what is happening in terms of how people are supposed to relate to games. If there is no end to get to, there's no end to be disappointed in or lash out against.

The problem with that is though, that eventually the Skinner Box does fall apart, and when it does, people tend to get really disillusioned about it. I'm surprised that it actually didn't happen to me with Path of Exile, but maybe that's because I caught it so early, so to speak.

I know that my musings aren't really going to change anything, and I'm still quite confused about all of this, but I thought that I should get it out there either way. Hopefully at least some of it was enlightening, if only slightly.

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