This week, an unusual thing happened to me: I didn’t really want to write this column.
This may not sound all that unusual to you, but I assure you it is unusual. I enjoy my job for the most part (every so often there’s something more depressing to write about and those days are less fun), and I enjoy writing this column on a regular basis. I even had most of a column about bias and examining same all composed and ready to be written. The problem was that the more I thought about it, the more I didn’t want to write it.
And upon further consideration, the reason for that was pretty obvious to me: Because while it was important analysis, and relevant analysis, and probably would be an entertaining column (and likely still will be, I might as well finish writing it at some point), sometimes it’s better to just drop the analysis. Sometimes it’s important to look at the option to analyze things and just… not do that.
We are, at times, experts at making ourselves miserable.
There’s a lot to think about when it comes to MMOs. There are a lot of competing design philosophies and different pressures. There’s a whole lot of stuff to think about when you get into the weeds of stuff like deterministic vs. randomized gear systems, or crafting-focused vs. combat-focused, or gear hierarchies, or… you know, lots of stuff. And literally no matter what issue you find most important, you’re going to find at least one person who thinks that the exact opposite is true.
It’s really easy to get yourself stuck into a cycle of complaining and being angry. To get upset that this game or another isn’t enough of an MMO for your personal standards, or that this game doesn’t feature your preferred loot model or that the designers are screwing this up or… you know. Lots of things. There is plenty of space and opportunity to complain.
My question, then, is why? Why spend all of your time doing it?
Speaking purely for myself, this is literally my job. And yet sometimes it’s easy for me to accidentally fall into the habit of… well, just kvetching and complaining and being annoyed as things happen around me. Of falling into cynical habits and losing sight of the fact that the whole reason I have this job in the first place is that I really, really like this subgenre.
I like MMOs in general. I like MMORPGs. I have games that absolutely delight me. I have things I find fun. So why am I expending so much of my energy to the point that analysis overshadows those flashes of joy?
No, the answer isn’t “because I get paid for it.” Because there’s always good there. There’s stuff that makes me happy. Letting myself lose sight of that or having my sight of these things obscured by other factors shouldn’t change that awareness, and it’s ultimately my responsibility to be in charge of how much time these various elements command of my attention.
But that’s just me. What’s your excuse?
Are you getting paid to think about MMOs on a daily basis? Are you going to be quizzed later on whether or not you have paid enough attention to the industry? Are you making yourself happier? Are you improving your life by arguing about this? Is this really what you want to spend most of your free time?
Because if the answer to those questions is “no,” then occasionally the responsible thing to do is ask yourself why you’re devoting a whole bunch of energy to something that is probably not making you any happier or having any results. Sure, you might dislike a game like Fortnite and think it is, ultimately, a pretty terrible game no one should care about. Does saying that on every post about Fortnite actually change anyone’s mind? Does it improve your life? Does it have any effect other than consuming a lot of your time and effort in a protest with no efficiency?
Ray Bradbury once wrote an article titled The Affluence of Despair in which he posited that one of the problems we suffer from regularly is not simply an epidemic of bad news but rather our willingness to give that news the priority of our attention. Obviously, some of that ties into Bradbury being a bit of an anti-television crank (it’s not that hard to track it down), but there’s a point in there just the same.
Being informed is important. Being analytical is a good thing. But over-indulgence is always a problem. You shouldn’t allow your love of analysis to override your ability to simply enjoy things; you shouldn’t allow your information intake to overwhelm your ability to feel joy. And you need to be willing to tell yourself to just shut up.
Maybe not every day has to be a crusade against one poor design decision after another. It’s all right to just find the games you like playing and just play those. Maybe not every game is for you, and maybe that’s fine; maybe you’ve found the games that are for you, and you can just focus on playing them instead of complaining about how designs have changed or other games don’t feature what you want or whatever else is making you irritated this week.
Should you always do that? I don’t think that’s healthy either, honestly; it’s the equivalent of wrapping yourself in blankets and shutting out the world lest it somehow disturb your sensibilities. But just as you shouldn’t shut out the world, neither should you allow it to dominate your every waking moment. You’re entitled to just spend some time not arguing.
Doesn’t that sound nice? Not arguing with anyone? Not debating? Just logging into your game of choice and just enjoying it for what it is, not for what you think it ought to be? Doesn’t that sound relaxing? Because it does to me.
So this week, it’s another piece on the art of shutting up. But this time it’s about the art of shutting yourself up, and yes, that applies to me too.
That debate will still be there tomorrow, and it’ll probably be just as pointless then. There’s another time and place to analyze this. Put down the calculator you’re using to math out specific pain points. Put away the tabs you have of counter-arguments. Let it go.
Log into a game you enjoy and enjoy it. Shut off general chat if you have to. Take the most cynical and reductive part of your brain and tell it to go to hell. Go have some fun crafting stuff or fighting demons or going and hunting and killing skuls.
Not everything needs to be an existential debate. Sometimes it’s all right to stop analyzing and just be relaxed.
And yes, I’m aware that this column would actually make a pretty good coda for the entire series of columns I’ve written up to this point and be as good a farewell letter as I’m likely to write. But that’s not what’s happening here. Don’t worry, I’m not advocating hanging up analysis forever. Just for a little while.