April 4, 2012

“A film which followed the code of the Hays Office to the strictest letter might succeed in being a great work of art, but not in a world in which a Hays Office exists.” – Theodor Adorno, Minima Moralia

Far too many pixels have been darkened in MMO literature on the subject of the hamster wheel, that is to say repetitive tasks in expectation of future fun, for me to have any hope of bringing forward anything original. Still, the grind is where I am and therefore what I must write about.

On the surface of the question, grind is good. It is the primary form of content, especially at level cap. It encourages long-term planning and the deferment of gratification, which, we can all agree, are virtuous. The problem arises when the grind becomes a prerequisite to something fundamental, rather than the result of one’s own goals and drive to improve oneself above the baseline. My immediate example of concern: in SW:TOR, to PvP at 50 without Centurion/Champion gear is very painful indeed. It is a very good idea to acquire Valor Rank 50 the moment one hits level 50. It is not unfair to say that at release, grinding warzones from 40 onward was fairly close to a pre-requisite for rewarding PvP at level 50. To do this diligently in any reasonable amount of time meant missing out on a lot of PvE, hitting the warzone/merc comm cap repeatedly and uselessly, and, quite frankly, being put to the yoke.

I enjoy warzones a great deal. I will queue over and over again all evening if I feel that it is my idea to do so. However, I bristle at being compelled to do them solely in order to keep afloat down the road. To rephrase Adorno, with apologies to the great Frankfurter, a sequence of MMO activities that matched the demands of the grind to the strictest letter might succeed in being fun, but not in a world where the grind exists.

The Ilum balancing errors added insult to injury, allowing a small proportion of Imperial players, over the course of a brief window of opportunity, to attain easily something that required a lot of hard work from the rest of us. But never mind.

Never mind, because the greater insult comes knocking against our band-aids with 1.2 and Recruit gear. Recruit gear, like WoW’s crafted entry-level PvP gear, ought to have been in place from the beginning. To add it now, and make it superior to Champ/Cent, along with the change to the warzone/mercenary commendation conversion ratio, does considerably diminish the value of pre-1.2 effort. The sentiment is expressed more vividly and rather without bloodless Jedi detachment in several threads on the official forums.

Had I known this was coming, I may still have played many matches, but I might have felt more free to vary my fare. Sessions of ‘log on, resolve to quest a little or play with an alt, suddenly remember that I need to travel to Carrick to pick up my PvP daily, play warzones, complete daily, stare forlornly at ever-low Valor Rank and play more warzones, log off’ were becoming a little tiresome even to a stalwart aficionado of the game. I am afraid that Bioware, in this instance, managed to usher in the worst of both worlds, until further tweaks are done, the dust settles and only traces of bitterness remain.

I do wish to make clear that I do not begrudge anyone their Recruit gear. In fact, I view gear progression a little differently from most people. I do not experience the gambler’s, collector’s joy at having my piece drop, even as I observe how real and important that aspect is to most. Gear, in my mind, is solely a tool to do the job. I would be happy with egalitarian systems in both PvE and PvP where everyone is equipped similarly and the rewards come from ladder rankings, win ratios, boss kill dates, and so on, though I understand how quixotic that position is.

However, love of gear, when requited, leads to gear inflation. Which impacts one’s ability to do the job in a particular set of gear negatively. Which leads one back to the treadmill. I’d thought about this recently in connection with my short-lived return adventure in WoW. At Cata’s release, a fresh 85 in quest and reputation blues would have been able to heal or tank what is now regarded as a ‘regular’ heroic, if the rest of the group employed patience, care and crowd control. At Cata’s twilight, that same player is a considerable drag on a group which attempts to storm the place Wrath-style. It’s not that solving the problem is too hard – gold flows like water, crafted and BoE pieces are readily available and discounted, and punching the clock in battlegrounds can assist via honour-to-JP conversion. The principle, however, remains: expectations rise, and again, it is the grind to meet a mere baseline that is irksome.

Categories: Mentality, Other MMOs, PvP