Allow me to indulge in some retrospection for a moment as I sit back on my rocker, squint into the fading afternoon light, and recall the “good ol’ days.” Well, the “ol’ days” at least. Different days. A different era.
MMORPG gaming prior to 2009’s free-to-play revolution was a question of loyalties. The standard subscription model and generally slower progression resulted in many players picking a single game and sticking with it for long stretches of time. It wasn’t always the case, but I can confidently say that it was far more than it is today.
You’d go all-in on an MMO for as long as your interest and social bonds held out. However, at the end of that road was a horrid moment of burnout and uninstallation – perhaps even a loud declaration to the world entire that you were done playing this game forever (do you hear me? FOREVER!).
I’m not bringing this up as an excuse to debate business models or anything like that, merely to point out that when business models conditioned us to hunker down with a single MMO for lengthy stretches of time, it tended to end badly.
I know this because I experienced it several times. There’s a cycle to being involved with an MMO, and it starts with this giddy head-over-heels involvement, progresses into a maturing affection, gradually descends into stale routine, and then concludes with a terrible day when you can’t stand logging into that game any longer.
I’ll admit that I’m slow to learn sometimes, and it can take a while before I see the problem and take action on a solution. Around 2007 or so, I looked back at all of my spectacular MMO flame-outs — City of Heroes, Guild Wars, World of Warcraft, and so on — and acknowledged the pattern. I allowed myself to get too invested into a single title to the exclusion of all other games, and then I played that title until it was anathema to me.
What I learned was that as much as an MMO tries to convince you, Shining-style, to play with it forever and ever, it’s not a good trend. It can be a weird blow to your mental health and damage your fondness for MMOs as a whole when you burn out on that title that promised to be your “forever game.”
And this end result makes sense if you take the same habits and transpose them into different areas. Too much of any one food makes you sick of it. Too much of any hobby can turn it into this be-all, end-all obsession that can’t hold the weight of your expectations. Too much of reading Twitter will drive you insane.
It’s not just moderation that I realized I needed; I needed diversity as well. And diverse gaming is something I’d been experiencing ever since my parents bought our Atari 2600 back in the day. We were always swapping game cartridges or computer programs to enjoy a wider buffet of titles while not playing one to death. So why not do this with MMOs?
The first step to achieving this was to start ignoring what MMOs were telling me in terms of engagement and priority. I didn’t have to invest hundreds of hours to get to the endgame and become a raider to “start” enjoying a game. I didn’t have to rush to keep up with everyone else as new patches and expansions rolled out. I didn’t have to fall into the traps of daily quests or fruitless grinds. I could engage with the game on my terms, not its demands.
The second step was to identify when my MMO cycle was descending into stale routine and toward burnout — and eject before it got too bad. Giving myself permission to leave was essential and even healthy, as I started to detangle myself from what had become gaming obligations. And I learned that if I didn’t push into burnout, then my interest in a game would regenerate far faster as I was away from it. Taking breaks became a normal part of my gaming strategy.
But the third step, and the one I want to impress upon you, is that I found that diversifying MMO gaming was a most helpful approach. I’m not necessarily talking about juggling 16 MMOs on a weekly basis — although you do you — but being actively involved in more than one game in any given month. Sometimes I only have two, sometimes more. As I write this, I’ve been casually juggling four MMOs and having a great time.
I set goals. I write about my progress. I make friends. I stop and smell the roses instead of dumping dozens of hours weekly into racing to the endgame. And I honestly enjoy it far more than I did back in the day, even when all of these games were fresh and new.
For me, creating a diverse portfolio of MMO gaming has kept me from draining the flavor out of any given title and kept me involved but not obligated for decades now. It’s also encouraged me to get out of my comfort zone and check out interesting titles I might have otherwise ignored. And so I share this encouragement with you: If you’re always getting into a pattern of playing one MMO to the point of loathing, maybe it’s time to diversify.