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Fun Versus Functionality

In retrospect, I see the problem with my April 15th blog entry: Given a choice between pain and pleasure, the pain option only applies to the masochists, and they're a niche audience. No, I'm not talking about the quality of my writing so much as the focus I chose (if you can call my writing focused or planned). The problem was that all you non-masochists out there don't need to learn why a game they like sucks on a fundamental level. So, time to focus my twenty-odd years of gaming experience on finding the good parts of games easily overlooked, rather than using my superpowers for evil.

This entry, however, is for another niche audience, perhaps even more masochistic than the masochists: Those armchair game designers who are looking to understand a gamers' state of mind. I'm broaching the topic of Fun versus Functionality, a force of cognitive dissonance that has governed much of my weekend.

Having finished the major project of the quarter, it's been a pretty busy gaming weekend for me. I'm still playing City of Heroes and Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion as though they're the only games that ever were. There's got to be a lot to like about these games for me to play them as long as I have.

Both games turned out to be a wreck of alt-a-holicism (the inability to stick to a single character). In City of Heroes, Max Overkill was playing quite well, but I decided he'd come up lacking functionality in the long run. In Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, I decided that my Spellsword's focus on both the magic and the martial were unnecessary - you can get through the game just fine with a focus on one or the other.

I realized that, in both cases, it was cognitive dissonance between fun and functionality. This is fairly remarkable because I'm fully aware that the reason one plays a game is for the "fun" aspect. However, in a RPG (especially an online, multiplayer one) there's a genuine concern for "functionality", in other words, having an effective character.

Is a gamer's concern for his character lacking in potency merely delusion? After all, games are about having fun, so why am I stressing about my imaginary achievement capability?.

Thinking this over a bit, I realize now that I can blame this virtual achievement complexes on (what else?) MMORPGs. In City of Heroes, one can build their heroes as too weak to solo, rendering them group-dependent - this a legimate need for Max Overkill to have better control capability. Simultaniously, one has to worry that they'll have a difficult time finding a group if you have little to offer them.

Thus, it seems that I've learned from MMORPGs that fun and functionality are interdependent aspects of one's choice of persona in a MMORPG. Without consideration of fun, there's no reason to play. Without consideration of functionality, one will end up not being able to have fun later. Really, it seems like a bit of a design flaw, but not one that exists without the player's cooperation.

So, what the hell is my problem in Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, which is not a MMORPG? There may be some transference going on there. However, I can also see a different problem, I think, and one that's also quite interesting: I can't identify with my virtual persona. None of the ones I've come up with lately seem to have a feeling of being right for me. The problem compounds itself as my previous aborted attempts tug at me from the game loading screen. I'm caught between wanting to branch out into new territory while not particularly identifying with where I haven't been. Quite a sticky wicket, wot?

Perhaps the only solution to that problem is to only play one character and, eventually, one's mental processes get used to it. As a player, I would improve my methods of playing differently as a new kind of character and eventually be able to determine the value inherent in this type of character. If such a mental adaptation takes place, I wonder if there's a potential for personal growth involved?

I think this Blog Entry needs a summary. Submitted for your approval:
  1. The issue of Fun Versus Functionality is real in MMORPGs. A character which lacks functionality has the capacity to undermine your fun later on. How did we ever get into this situation?
  2. Another source (out of many) for alt-a-holicism is simply not 'clicking' with your character. However, the best cure for this is to simply keep playing, and in time you should grow accustomed to them.
    1. If you grow mentally accustomed to virtual persona over time, does that mean that there's a potential for personal growth in which persona you choose?
All crackpot theories, of course. Albeit ones based on observation.

Looking ahead, I can't help but think that Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion is best played in three ways: Combat, Stealth, or Magic. The developers have provided the players the flexibility to mix and match, but certain conflicts occur. Conflicts such as my Spellsword not needing to use all his combat abilities when Destruction seems to get the job done just fine. I've already played Stealth extensively, and so I should probably go pure Combat or pure Magic. Pure Combat isn't exactly pure in this game because I'd be foolish to pass up using my mana bar to heal myself, but this approach of making melee characters with four schools of magic is just painful. I end up with a character who tears himself apart - can't raise magic without stunting his combat abilities, and vice versa. It's little wonder I'm having such a hard time "clicking" with the result. Mentally, a pure Mage seems to suit me. However, I think Oblivion's melee combat is a bit more exciting than just throwing fireballs (and besides, the hotkey system sucks for having so many schools of magic). More cognitive dissonance at work. I'll see what I can do.

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