Massively Overthinking: Does playing MMORPGs ever stress you out?


“Anyone ever feel stressed out about playing MMOs?” MOP’s Carlo queried our team this week. “This new Black Desert season is stressing me out a tad. It’s got all these prizes for completion, but I feel like I have to rush through it. And on top of that, there’s still a ton of stuff I have to take care of on my other characters. It’s feeling a little overwhelming. I can’t be the only one to feel like this about their MMO of choice before, right?”

He definitely isn’t because several writers chimed in to share their own MMO-induced stressors. How did this happen? Shouldn’t MMOs be relaxing us in the middle of a pretty stressful year – not adding to it? And what do we do about it when we don’t want to just quit outright?

So that’s what we’re talking about in this week’s Overthinking: Do we get stressed out playing MMOs? Is it some MMOs or all of them – or some specific content or mechanic? How do you deal with stress from games?

Andrew Ross (@dengarsw): Any multiplayer game can stress me out. It’s one thing when we have a slew of dailies that just take more time than we want, on top of other gameplay features we want to interact with, but sometimes it’s the human factors as well. PvP games have so much espionage and counter-espionage, not to mention some of us being there for socializing and not sabotaging people’s fun, raiding guilds having people coming in for that “one item” so they can finally theoretically have the DPS to move on to a higher-end raiding guild, and even socializers sometimes just get so catty you change your play schedule to hopefully avoid certain people just so you can get in time to de-stress.

I think for the non-human parts, I eventually cut down on the aspects that stress me out. Like, in Pokemon GO, I used to keep quite a variety of good Pokemon not just for myself but for potential trading, especially for new people. It did make people pretty happy, but between group drama and less playtime from work at the time, I cut back on that. They were taking up too much space in my inventory, so I was literally throwing just about every pokemon I caught instead of constantly catching and battling like I wanted. Sorry in advance if we meet on the street and I don’t have extra Riolo or Mewtwo, but at least I’ve brought balance back to my ability to enjoy the game my way.

Same goes for the human aspect. I have no problem voicing my concerns when people act up, but when it feels like a group has more problems than solutions, and no one is willing to address specific issues stemming from a few people, I know to cut ties and walk away. I know it can hurt, but I’ve realized that if you stop playing a game or with a specific group, your friends will stick with you, and if they don’t, well, they’re not your friends. But you know what’s cool about that? Knowing someone is your actual friend and not just game friend can make that game and other activities a million times more fun, and that really helps fight back against stress.

Andy McAdams: I do sometimes catch myself getting stressed in games for generally around 2 reasons: First, other people’s expectations driving my gameplay. I love dungeons, but I feeling like I have to perform flawlessly every dungeon really stresses me out. Recently, I was doing a random, mid-level dungeon in WoW and the tank started to mock me for my DPS. My reaction was to try to fix it — and stop having fun because I’m stressing myself out performing to someone else’s completely arbitrary expectation of me. I’m pretty good now at recognizing and heading off that kind of stress, but it still happens on occasion. In the aforementioned dungeon, I decided after the second jab from the tank that I would rather be waiting another 20 minutes for a new dungeon than let this guy stress me out, so I dropped group.

Second, mindlessly pursuing my own goals. Sometimes I get really caught up in the idea of how cool/proud I would be doing a thing. The “thing” is almost always some kind of completionist task that would take a huge time commitment. I start towards my goal and gradually realize the pursuit of the goal isn’t all that fun and it starts to feel like a chore because I’m not having fun and that stresses me out. I’ll start treating it like “I have to do this to get X.” Similar to the previous thing that stresses me out, once I realize that X isn’t worth the stress to get there, I bail on it. I’m all for things that take time and dedication to achieve, as long as I can enjoy the time and effort it takes.

Ben Griggs (@braxwolf): Most of the stress I feel with regards to MMOs tends to revolve around social situations. Several months after I had tired, perhaps even “burned out” of LOTRO, I continued to log in solely out of desire to say hi to guildies with whom I had no other contact but through game chat. My stress came from knowing that if I stopped playing the game, those relationships would falter. Sure enough, years later I have lost contact with all but a few of these fine folks, and yet my fondest and most nostalgic memories of LOTRO revolve around my interactions with them. Perhaps I should play on the acronym FOMO and coin a new abbreviation: FOLF: Fear of Losing Friends.

Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): I think MMOs, like most hobbies, can contribute to both the good kinds and bad kinds of stress. SWG Legends definitely stresses me out sometimes, which seems silly for a sleepy sandbox that doesn’t cost a dime, but sometimes when I log in and know I just have a tremendous amount to do – go through a few hundred sales mails, set up a dozen factory schematics, put down a dozen harvesters – that can agitate me. On the other hand, SWG does a good job letting me feel in control of my space, so I feel incredibly organized in a comfortable area even if I know have a lot to do to keep my pretend video game business running. That’s the good kind.

On the flipside of that are MMOs that go out of their way to stress you out in a bad way in order to get you to buy something or stay logged in more than you want to. Games with tiny inventories that intentionally make me lose track of where all my stuff is, daily login rewards that demand I keep logging in or stay logged in, lots of pop-up reminders nagging me to go somewhere or do a thing? No thank you.

All that said, running a goal-oriented rather than friend-oriented guild ages back was probably my number one stressor in gaming.

Carlo Lacsina (@UltraMudkipEX), YouTube): My stress over MMOs is primarily existential. There’s many parts to my identity, built from the 33 years of simply being me. A few of those identities include the professional me, the writer me, and within the context of gaming, the gamer.

MMOs have been a very important part of my life in the last 18 years. When I had more time and energy, I was able to run the raids, complete the titles, grind for 12 hours and see the beauty of playing in a virtual world with real people. It’s different now though. But it’s not that cliche “I’ve got more responsibilities because I’m an oldboi now,” no.

They say time you enjoyed is never wasted. I enjoyed the time MMOs have been in my life and the last 15 years have certainly not been a waste. As someone who couldn’t play play EverQuest because of the subscription fee and his parents being adamant that a 12 year old shouldn’t “play a game that never ends,” I can’t take MMOs and their virtual worlds for granted, despite the industry’s imperfections. But as I get older, the raids, loot, and prestige of being #1 doesn’t matter as much as it used to.

What does matter is how I feel like I’m not contributing to the MMO culture. MMOs stress me out because I feel that I should be doing something more than just playing the game. I was satisfied with playing them when I was a kid. And while simply playing an MMO supports it, as someone with the experience and privilege I enjoy, I know I can do more. And it drives me nuts that all I’m able to do for now is play them!

I need to do more to show that MMOs are still relevant, they are still fun games, and this generation of gamers should pick up at least one while they still have the time.

Of course there’s also the burning desire to make my own MMO because I feel like I could do a better job then some studios! But I think showing the fun in MMOs is a good start.

Chris Neal (@wolfyseyes, blog): I used to feel this way with Final Fantasy XIV for a fair while, and while I still haven’t shaken loose all of the neuroses of being “behind the curve” in terms of experiencing recently released raids, I’ve also found that removing myself from the game for a length of time has thinned out that stress that I used to feel when it comes to keeping item level up and hitting my daily and weekly allowances. It just seems like something I need to do.

It also seems like a personality trait; as I type this, my husband and his friend are rolling through all of their dailies together in a very relaxed and casual manner. I’m kind of jealous of his ability to do that with such ease and without any stress other than PUG stupidity. Maybe I’ll join them one time. But then again, they also do PvP stuff, and I’m not sure I’m mentally ready for that.

…sheesh, I feel like I didn’t totally answer this one, huh?

Justin Olivetti (@Sypster, blog): Toxic or even argumentative global chat can and does stress me out (at which point I usually hide in the calmer waters of guild chat). Failing to pass an obstacle that I need to progress — repeated failure — stresses me out. Feeling pressured to play a certain way or a certain game can be stressful. And not properly balancing my gaming time with my priorities and family can add to stress.

But for the most part? Gaming’s always been stress-relieving. I’m old enough to be comfortable walking away from stress-inducing situations in MMOs without feeling like I need to put myself through hell just to get the next shiny or virtual pat on the back.

Mia DeSanzo (@neschria): I am really enjoying the low level tension of the BDO season server. A little stress can be fun, the way that horror movies and roller coasters are fun. Likewise, hard raid fights that require people to do their job in the right way at the right time are stressful in a good way, as long as things don’t go sideways.

But when those things go wrong and people get angry with each other, it stops being fun and is just stressful. When there are interpersonal issues in the guild, that makes a game less fun and more stressful. I also get stressed out when I have goals that I can’t make progress on, or when I fail spectacularly over and over again. Jumping puzzles frustrate me to a degree that is not fun in the least. Timing puzzles also stress me out. I don’t have the coordination or reflexes for all that.

MJ Guthrie (@MJ_Guthrie, blog): I feel this way about gaming in general now because there are a number of games I have things I want to do in them but no time to actually do many of them. The one that nearly paralyzes me though is EverQuest II; I get in there and have so much I want to/can do that sometimes I can’t even get started on one of them. And I never feel like I get anywhere on that to-do list. I have recently gotten better, however, and am letting things go by and just accept and deal with the fact I’m missing out on things I wanted because it wasn’t humanly possible for me to do <insert task here> this time. Have I always wanted to get all the things done? Yes. Am I accepting bit by bit that I can’t get all the things? Slooooowly. Do I really miss when I can’t acquire the shinies? You betcha. But I think I hit my melting point. Between the move and munchkin, I’ve been able to reprioritize my stress. I mean, I just really don’t even enough room left over for gaming stress at the moment!

Sam Kash (@thesamkash): It is so easy to accidentally stress yourself out playing MMOs. I’m in a good place right now, but often I’ll find myself trying to keep up with all the achievements and events and suddenly not enjoying the game.

It starts out innocent enough. Usually for me the source of the problem begins long before the stress does due to a lull in the game. To explain it better: When there hasn’t been any significant game update in a while, I’ll start to create my own objectives and tasks. Usually that’s to complete some achievements list. But then the content update finally comes, and now I’m trying to complete the new content on top of all the extra tasks I assigned myself.

After a week or so of being stressed I’ll typically realize that I need to reassess and rebalance my game times.

Tyler Edwards, blog): I find if I’m stressing about an MMO, it’s usually because I’ve fallen into some lengthy grind. You know how it is: There’s a reward you want, and the path to get it doesn’t seem so bad, but then it’s three weeks later and you hate yourself and the only thing keeping you going is sunk cost fallacy. I end up stressing to get the grind over with as soon as humanly possible so I don’t have it hanging over my head anymore and I can just go back to playing the game as I want, or playing something else.

It’s worse if the grind is happening in a subscription game. Actually subscription games just stress me out in general. Any day I don’t play, I feel like I wasted money. Any time I’m not putting toward completing my main in-game goals, I feel like I’m wasting money. It’s such an awful model. I’m so glad it’s (mostly) dead.

Every week, join the Massively OP staff for Massively Overthinking column, a multi-writer roundtable in which we discuss the MMO industry topics du jour – and then invite you to join the fray in the comments. Overthinking it is literally the whole point. Your turn!
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