You might think this an odd question coming from someone who plays a lot of sandboxes, but it’s actually in spite of the guilt that I do so. I frequently feel pressure in MMOs to Always Be Leveling; when I take time to do something else, like gather or craft, I feel like I’m not playing optimally, and I hate that feeling. I mean, I’ll still do the gathering and the crafting (and the decorating and the roleplaying and the auctionhalling and the modding and the spreadsheets and the standing around trying on cosmetics for three hours), but that sense of “why aren’t you leveling, you should be leveling, the real game is measured by that number, it doesn’t matter how much time you put into the game because all people see are numbers” is still there.
I know, academically, that this pressure is not only harmful but wrong, and so I try to power through it, to constantly ask myself, “What do I actually want to be doing right now versus what the game/meta expects?” and then doing that thing. It’s been especially hard in Lord of the Rings Online for me; I keep allowing the social norms of themeparks to invade my thoughts instead of embracing the sandpark. Likewise, while games like Guild Wars 2 make levels trivial (which I am a big fan of), the game’s achievement and mastery systems are actually worse at creating this guilty feeling for me, so I know it’s not just the levels concept; it’s knowing the game wants me on a ladder that is always just at the edge of sight while I’d rather be doing something else. Twenty-five years of MMOs and I still get this feeling!
I’m sure there are plenty of you who never feel this, but I also bet I’m not alone. Do you feel guilty in MMOs when you’re not do the game’s equivalent of leveling or achieving?