MMOs – Fun Or Just Habit?

I said habit not hobbit

I said habit not hobbit

It’s been my personal experience that MMOs are hugely habitual things. They provide us with a constant activity and unending goals all of which combine perfectly with our innate human desire to form routines. In many ways they’re like a giant comfort blanket and throughout all of my years of playing MMORPGs I’ve found that I easily (and totally subconsciously) create a routine around my chosen game. Whether that was my core games like Everquest in my hugely free student years, Everquest 2 in my early working years or now games like WoW and EVE in my more busy family man years, I always end up with some sort of scheduled game time that I stick to like clockwork or suffer the consequence of ultimate nerd shame. I am obviously a man of habit but how much of my gaming is actually motivated by fun rather than simply routine?

I guess the reason for this question is that I sometimes find it quite difficult to return to a MMO – any MMO – after a reasonable period of absence. It’s like once the habit is broken there is little else to attract me back or urge me to pick up where I left off and continue playing again. In fact, sometimes even the feeling of freedom from being enslaved to my routine can be quite liberating in itself. Obviously there are clear triggers that will pull me back in such as new games coming out, expansions launching or interesting patches going live. Likewise I can apply my mind and it’s limited capacity for thought to come up with a new alt or roleplaying character to stimulate my latent gaming muscles once more. This simple act alone can be enough reignite my desire for gaming.

I suppose in many ways this habitual form of gameplay almost borders on addiction, a word certainly associated with MMOs and the sway they hold over people. I think there is a clear distinction though because addiction implies inability to cease, regardless of desire, whereas habit is more of a willing capitulation. We could stop playing at any time, we just don’t want to and thus continue with our activities in our daily pattern.

Definitely there is a sense of fun to be had from any MMO when we first play it but I’m curious if it truly continues on a constant basis for every hour we play for every day on end. Doesn’t there just become a point when the fun factor wears of and our actions in game become one of habit and routine rather than a true sense of enjoyment?

For me, I’ll play an offline single player game for a period of time (two weeks or so) and then stop because I’m bored of it. A MMO, however, could last me years. Maybe it’s got something to do with the increased amount of content or the social connections I make or simply my love for the industry but it is also entirely possible that I continue to play somewhat because of the way the game has worked it’s way into my daily schedule. Unlike a single player game, a MMO will never end so it makes for the perfect distraction between 8pm and 10pm every work night. But am I having real fun every night or simply doing it out of habit?

Quite a strange concept, I suppose. What are your thoughts?


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  1. pkudude99 says:

    I’ve been playing EQ2 since launch, and I still love it. I’ve been playing EVE for 2.5 years now and enjoy it immensely as well.

    I bought Civ5 a couple of weeks ago, and according to Steam I’ve played it over 80 hours now . . .and I’m more or less done with it. It’ll be a nice diversion from time to time, I’m sure, but it’ll be a long time before I try to marathon out a complete game again.

    • Gordon says:

      I find I get bored quicker in single player games than MMOs for some reason. I’m pretty sure it’s to do with the lack of social interaction but, whatever it is, there’s a limit of about 40 hours or so before I quit. Dragon Age was a good example of a single player game that I got bored with after about 30 hours but persevered just to complete it. Not sure it was worth it.

  2. “For me, I’ll play an offline single player game for a period of time (two weeks or so) and then stop because I’m bored of it. A MMO, however, could last me years.”

    I’m the same way, but I definitely NEED those couple weeks of single player games away from my MMOs or else I’ll go nuts! MMOs are nice in that they’re like a “comfort blanket” as you’ve put it so nicely, in that I know I’ll always have something to do today, tomorrow, a few months down the road…but sometimes that routine can get more suffocating than it is comforting if you know what I mean!

  3. Stabs says:

    It’s definitely fun for me now but it has been habit, even possibly addiction in the past. Part of the sea change was opening myself to the possibility of being unfaithful to my game. Where once I played WoW and if I ran out of things to do I played more WoW now I have Lotro, AoC, DDO, EQ2, Eve and a few other games on my hard drive and don’t feel beholden to log into any particular one. Except Eve – have to log on to change skills!

  4. Tesh says:

    For me, gaming itself is both fun and a habit. I’m not tied to any one particular game, though. Game design fits in there somewhere, too; I’m always thinking of new games to design and ways to tweak existing games.

    …yes, there are connections between those statements. ;)

  5. Amuntoth says:

    I agree, often times it feels like I’m playing because of some obligation, not because I am particularly excited about what I am doing.

  6. hordemaster says:

    I think there can be a little of both, but the games are mostly fun or else, why play them? Some people like Felicia day have made a living out of justifying their gaming habits, and if you can then its OK, but ultimately, like anything else in life, if it’s worth doing then that’s why we put time into it, a sheer joy of gaming should be the ultimate end, but I realize that it doesn’t always work that way.

    Well, except for WOW that game is just pure evil and will suck your soul if you let it, LOL

    • Gordon says:

      The way MMOs are built there is definitely a sense of grind to them and actions that have to repeated in order to achieve something. That certainly falls into the habitual gaming category but, IMO, so long as it isn’t too dramatic and ends up rewarding the player with a nice dollop of fun at the end then it’s all good :)

  7. Zurbek says:

    You, wise friend, say the truth. Its the same thing about me, after having a break because of holidays or somethin i dont really feel lukę playin anymore. It surely is a kind of habit this way.

  8. Yetian says:

    I still have more fun in MMO’s than other game types. In fact the only other type of game I play is the odd game on my iPhone, lol.

    I find single player games boring now as I miss the lack of interaction and open ended game play that I find in my MMO’s.

  9. Jomu says:

    a fun habit that can turn into addiction/obsession which is bad ;)

  10. Bhagpuss says:

    Can’t say I have been concerned about having “fun” since I was about 10 years old.

    I think what I want from most activities is a sense of satisfaction and/or achievement. I get that equally from cleaning my kitchen or sorting my inventory. Only sorting my inventory doesn’t make my back ache.

  11. [...] Gordon wonders to what extent MMOs are fun versus habit-forming. We have addressed this before, but I find it always a healthy question. For anything you do often, pause and ask yourself how much you are really enjoying it. A favorite book applies that to spending your money: was that worth it? [...]

  12. Rebecca says:

    MMO’s are definitely fun for me. Although I go through phases where I will play a *lot*, I haven’t had difficulties turning off the game and doing something else for a few hours, days, weeks, or even months.

    Everything I do in an MMO isn’t always fun though, but overall goals do typically outweigh the smaller annoyances.

    I prefer the MMO’s where my characters are exactly the way they were when I left them. After I’d left EQ2 for a few months, I was happy to come back and my characters and all of their houses were still there. I wasn’t tempted to go back to UO because everything I had would have been deleted since I’d been gone for so long.

  13. [...] trying to rush to level 80 before December 7th and at worst they’re playing on auto pilot, just out of habit (check it out – continuity, I rock) until [...]

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