Thursday, April 15, 2010

Do you feel the way you hate, do you hate the way you feel?

Once upon a time there was a happy elf named Glamdring. He chatted with players from all walks of life. He gladly fought to raise his skills and powers in hopes that one day he would be able to return the favors of help he had received from other players, and carry newer players to the end-game content he himself had striven so hard to achieve. He laughed at the deaths he suffered along the way for doing things his way, not the established “cookie cutter” approaches to play. He thought hard about ways for people to pass challenges when they didn’t have the required jobs or gear. He always pushed the envelope of what could be achieved through determination, hard work and a lack of fear of losing.

An announcement-long dreaded but not unexpected-put an end to the simple enjoyment this fellow once had. The successor to his beloved FFXI was on the horizon and the warning signs were already here. Long-time players were cutting back on playing time if not quitting altogether. Parties were impossible to find unless you are willing to hurt your character or have already achieved high-level mastery. The game economy is rendered wildly unstable. Groups banding together to beat difficult tasks requiring larger groups out of friendship and pleasure in eachother’s company are replaced by dictatorial bands that require all your efforts be focused on advancing the leaders’ agendas, and all your free time be focused on funding those efforts. The bragging rights of saying you have beaten a certain challenge are becoming more important than the building of newer abilities in the character you have taken so long to develop.

Then an announcement of a massive amount of new content in FFXI throws everything into a cocked hat as this elf tries to advance himself in another field prior to the introduction of all the new content. He tries to balance his passtime with his real world needs. There are just so many demands… An illness makes game play difficult. Real-world job searches bearing no fruit rob the ability to take happiness from pleasures in the game because tomorrow is so uncertain. The game itself is becoming work…

Most players have achieved end-game stats in at least one job, generally more than one, and often in jobs that are more sought after than the elf’s beastmaster and bard. He seeks to raise a thief now, a job the game is already saturated with in hopes of expanding his utility in end-game scenarios where fear of death or loss makes others reluctant to fill certain roles. He is forced to solo for most of his advancement, because he refuses to follow the conventional path of “sync down to raise your level, then go back with skill-up groups to raise your skills”, wanting to be able to work with groups his own level when he achieves the high 60’s where people start playing at their own level again.

Soloing is a slow and painful method of advancement for a thief because their damage output is so low without a group to work within. Short of going through prohibitively expensive quantities of ammunition, gear, reraise items and tools to allow himself to use a 2nd weapon and fight higher level enemies, our elf is forced to fight enemies of a lower yield simply to survive while raising his level methodically. Those who could assist him are primarily focused on synced parties or acquiring trophies and bragging rights. So he drives forward alone.

His goal of helping others through the CoP storyline will also take its toll. Committed to 3 days a week if those in need show up for runs, he is unable to advance his thief level, excepting those few battles where his thief may be the job most useful for him to play. This was his commitment, the inconveniences voluntarily assumed, but it still has a cost. Our elf is not happy in himself anymore. He can only take pleasure in what he helps others to achieve, seeming to achieve nothing himself any longer.

In the real world he is aging, but without those achievements once so important to him. He has just stopped smoking, but he has doubts about his ability to stay off them, the substances meant to aid in this being a great source of displeasure. In the game his friends seem focused on goals that are incompatible with those of the elf, not a new development, as the elf has spent most of his gaming life on the road lest traveled. Frustrations mount and the elf feels the pressures from within and without taking their toll. Can he still grind his way to success one more time? The elf has doubts…

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