Wednesday, January 28, 2009
Why do we play?
As a parent, I'm reading quite a lot of child psychology, especially Alfie Kohn for the interested. The interesting part of it is that a lot of the psychology that turns up there aren't limited to children, or can be easily ported to the rest of the population as well.
One of the most interesting topics I've come across, both with Alfie Kohn and other sources, is motivation. I'd like to take a look at motivation in WoW with the insights I've come across there.
First, some background. While I may not use the exact same words, psychologists speak of internal and external motivation. The internal motivation is the motivation to do something for the it's own sake. The classical school example is a pupil that suddenly realizes a connection in mathematics, and desires or even aches to learn more. Then there's the external motivation. That's when you have some other reason to do something, and you're not nescessarily interested in doing whatever you do for the sake itself. Classic example continued: A teacher stands behind the pupil, watching him, and telling him "Good job" when he does something good, thus the pupil wants to do more math exercises (not nescessarily learn more) to keep hearing the teacher saying "Good job".
According to the theories I've read and what I've experienced, external motivation kills internal motivation. If you do something for fun, and someone starts giving you money to do it, chances are great that you'll now view it as a job rather than an interest. That's not saying you can't have internal motivations towards a job. What matters, in my mind, is your view of the task at hand. Do you do it because you want to do it, and payment is just a nice side effect, or do you do it to get the payment? If you fall into the latter category, you'll easily find yourself hating your job, or at least looking forward to job is done or the weekend.
Now, let's take a look at WoW. Internal motivation could be doing quests because you're curious what will happen or find the story interesting. External motivation is doing quests for the rewards only, to the point where you never really read the quest text. Internal motivation could also be exploring for the sake of itself, while external could be exploring to get an achievement.
WoW has so many ways of external motivations that it's almost silly. XP/Level, reputation, gear upgrades, money, titles, various mounts and pets, and achievements. My theory is that if you focus on these things, WoW will be less entertaining for you, raiding will feel more like a job than entertainment, you're much more likely to suffer burnout and so on. I used to skip every quest text through second half of vanilla WoW. Now I read every quest text, book, readable quest item and dialogue carefully, to absorb as much as possible of the story.
That is not saying you can't have fun with achivements. But if you do an achivement just to get +10 achivement points, that's possibly a bad sign. Do it because you find it entertaining, or just have fun with a random achivement popping up now and then without intentionally hunting them.
Still, there's a big playerbase, and a lot of them *are* motivated by external motivation. What keeps them back? I've got a theory of that as well, though I didn't invent that either. The general idea is that addiction is often caused by the enviroment rather than the thing you're addicted to itself. Translated: Many people who are addicted to WoW feel that their lives are lacking in some way. Thus, the sympthom of that is that they've developed an addiction to WoW, even to the point of playing when it feels like work. The actual cause is in their actual lives. Taking away WoW doesn't solve the problem, only removes a sympthom.