23 June 2010

Farming & Grinding


It's been interesting playing LotRO this summer, as it's given me a different perspective on the game than I'd had as a working man and student. Since I really have a lot of time, I've been spending a lot of time in Middle-earth, pounding out the levels as my Burglar (probably the coolest class in any RPG I've played) and moving along in the "endgame" content. Essentially this is a set of dungeons in Moria and later in Mirkwood that are fun, thoughtful encounters that require you to work as a fellowship of 6 to overcome particular enemies and challenges. These challenges reward you with tokens you can turn in for the best and coolest looking gear in the game.

I hadn't had much success in this regard with my other characters; pick up groups (or PUGs as they're called) never quite worked out and left me frustrated or worse. Somehow I've had great luck with the Burglar with only one really annoyingly irritating group to my record thus far. I am so conquering the evil that plagues us here in the Third Age of the Sun. I couldn't do this during the school year. There's just too much to it.


In addition, proper context serves one well with regard to this endgame stuff. Without it one is left in a rat race without seeing the walls until every out is tried and there is no hole with cheese in it; you realize you've been chasing your tail this whole time, burning through hours of your life in an imaginary world for imaginary stuff with imaginary properties. Understanding that it's just a game and that you're supposed to be having fun is a big part of it and I don't think everyone gets that.

This is true of all games.

Everyone, or most everyone, has been off their rockers over the latest mainstream console release, Red Dead Redemption. I've not played enough of this game to give a proper opinion. It seems very cinematic and cinematic games tend to irk me; if I want to watch a movie, I will. If I want to play a game, I'll do it. Barring that, from what I have tried and what I've read/heard about the game it is a very open world (like the GTA games that came before it) and it draws a lot from the MMO formula. Side tasks, reputation, gear acquisition, exploration, the works. Saddle up your orc and you have Red Dead Warcraft. All of that is to say that even games like this, popular, single player experiences, require the same perspective as an MMO. You should be enjoying yourself or you're really wasting your time, regardless of how many achievements you get or virtual pats on the back you feel.

Now let us contrast this another fun thing in LotRO: farming.

You can literally farm in Middle-earth. It's not terribly involved and feels like Harvest Moon, if it were more immediate. Let's not call it anything Tom Joad would be overly impressed with. This is probably why it's so much fun: you hang out in the Shire, toss out some seeds, up pops a crop of barley. You then sort the seeds and immediately process it for brewing virtual beer to get you virtually hammered (the drunk effect in LotRO is quite good). It's probably as opposite as can be from the endgame: you're not gaining levels, you're not getting cool gear, there is no reward that directly improves your character (unless you fight orcs better drunk), it is not dangerous or terribly exciting. And yet, I'm stuck on it. It's really very enjoyable to watch my little Hobbit grow this stuff and continue on his path to being a renowned brewer. Vicarious dreams aside, this should not be fun. I mean, there isn't even a proper brewing animation!

But I love it; God help me, I do love it so.

What is it about repetition that is appealing and comforting? If it's repeating dungeons to get rewards or repeating the same farming scenario over and over again, there is an odd and blissful mindlessness to it all. While there is an element of skill and competition, it's largely the same with Modern Warfare or any other online shooter. You're running around the same maps, shooting the same people with the same guns. And yet, we can't get enough. There's room enough in this can of worms for a lot of discussion, but suffice it to say that, yes, farming is as fun as adventuring in the most damned places on earth.

It's a strange conundrum and it's one I'm still thinking about.

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