I greatly enjoy playing volleyball. I’m passingly good at it, though less because of sheer physical prowess and more because of good reflexes and situational awareness… and no small amount of tactical guile. I’ve reached an odd plateau in the game, though.
I used to play with others who were better at the game than I am. They inspired and taught me how to play better, and the most fun that I had playing was when I was learning new tricks. Lately, just because of life’s various circumstances, I am almost always the best player in the groups I find myself in. I’ve almost stopped learning… and the game simply isn’t as much fun any more.
Indeed, sometimes it’s flatly painful. I see players making bad mistakes and flagrantly ignoring rules of the game. I think of myself when I was starting, and remember that I learned to mold myself to the rules and improve my abilities within their parameters. When I learned how to play, you could only touch the ball with parts of your body above your waist. Period. These days, pretty much anything goes, and you can hit the ball with any part of your body. Many players consequently wind up with lazy footwork and presence of mind, and simply kick the ball if it moves low, leading to weaker ball control. Similarly, serves once were faults if they touched the net. These days, if the ball hits the net on the way over, it’s still legal. The game is much sloppier as a result, and that’s the official play (college rules). If it’s sloppy at higher levels, it’s perfectly natural to see sloppy play at lower levels. Core rules like carrying and double hits are routinely ignored. It’s… disheartening.
Sure, players are still having fun, but it’s just not the same game that I grew to love.
I miss seeing players who want to get better and really exert themselves to do so. Too many are content to just play as an excuse to socialize instead of really strive for excellence.
…sound familiar, grumpy MMO veterans?
Of course, I find myself on the lower end of the skill curve in MMOs, especially running dungeons with groups. I’m still learning the best way to approach things. Thing is… I am still learning, still making the effort. (At least, when I feel like playing an MMO with other people.) That’s why I’ve started tanking a little bit in the F2P WoW, and will try a tank in RIFT. I’m expanding my skillset, exploring the game mechanics. I’m simply not content to just sit back and do the same old thing all the time. My aspirations are higher than just getting by. This is simply part of my psychological makeup. I can’t coast for long, I have to keep trying to be better.
Sometimes my simple lack of skill can come across as a bad attitude, but they are not the same thing. I’m not looking to coast or be carried, I’m looking to pull my own weight and then some. The numbers don’t always tell the whole story, though, especially when situational awareness is important. (Say, when I’m playing as a Hunter or Mage with enemy control/disruption tactics… my damage dealing can fall off as I attend to tactical problems, but if I don’t pay attention, well, bad things happen.)
I wonder if this sort of systemic gradual decay of skill is expected in any long-running endeavor. …but then, I see the three point line extended in the NBA, and I think there’s some push for skill at higher levels, at least in that game. I don’t think that descent into a morass of lazy play is inevitable, at least not institutionally. Socially, however, in order to appeal to an ever-widening playerbase, some “wussification” of the ruleset is going to happen.
So it’s not really all that surprising to see the tension in MMO design; they want to be supremely social games, living or dying on their communities… but there will always be those who want to push the envelope and actually excel at something. The two impulses are strongly opposed… and I don’t think we’ll ever really reconcile the two. I actually don’t think we should try, either, because that lukewarm water in the middle just doesn’t make anyone happy. Those who just want to coast don’t function on the same wavelength as those who want to push themselves. Whether or not that’s healthy is perhaps a sociological debate, but in the meantime, I’m convinced that a game simply can’t cater to both groups with the same content or mechanics, and there need to be better ways to get people together based on playstyle and aspiration, rather than by level, loot or some other extrinsic motivation.