Mr. Golumbia, I believe many of the points in your article, “Games Without Play,” to be valid. The actions and requirements of an MMORPG can be repetitive and rote and many of them can feel like a job. “Ah. This time I need to collect 12 bear skins instead of 8 ram horns.” It is true that the engrossing story of a single-player game is hard to keep up on with an MMORPG. Too many quests, too many activities. It all gets muddled in the pursuit of, whatever it is the player is pursuing. There are, however, certain aspects of playing an MMO game I think you missed.
In your article, you state, “To nonplayers, this phenomenon can seem strange: what is so attractive about learning that the wizard I am playing has moved from level fourteen to level fifteen?” By looking at the game as an insulated unit, separate from the people behind the monitors aren’t you missing the human factor in the game? To non-players the idea of leveling a digital character may indeed be strange, but is it not the same gratification received by a triathlete beating a previous time, or receiving a promotion in a real world job? The truth of the matter is that these online games are a way for human beings to remove themselves from the rigors of their personal real life, but they cannot become anything else but human no matter the skin they have equipped. By denying that the act of leveling up isn’t just the human instinct to set and complete goals and stating that it is entirely a lust for power disregards the activities in a game that are just not kill kill murder murder.
There are certainly games out there designed to specifically be about killing the other team or the environment, the end. But if you’re going to talk about an MMO and then disregard the massively-multiplayer aspect of it with a quick dismissal saying, “The descriptive word “multiplayer” can be radically misleading. Despite the term, most WoW gaming is performed by and most especially for the individual, and many parts of the game are played on one’s own,” without even discussing HOW the game is “massively-multiplayer” you are missing the point of an MMO entirely. Yes, you can level by yourself and you could choose to spend all your time as a dark loner in a game of (in the year 2015) 10 million other people. However, even if you level alone there are bosses that require more than one person to defeat, achievements one can’t complete alone, guilds to join filled with people you can talk to, receive help from, help out and even actually befriend. There are auction houses with gear and items being sold by real people to real people, trolls who can make global chat hilarious or aggravating. None of this exists in a single-player game. I believe a large part of the “play” in a game like WoW that has so many aspects of work in it is the social interaction that you so boldly shrugged off. Without the other real people behind so many screens, the MMO would be far more boring than a single-player game, specifically because it is so repetitive and so akin to “work”. If nothing else, human beings love to complete set goals and then they love to receive praise for completing them. Without the people the praise is gone.
MMO games are in essence a digital game of “playing house.” As a child you pretended to be an adult (or a robot/cowboy/astronaut/dragon) to work out social niceties and learn how to interact with others. Many adults hide behind the guise of an elf or a dwarf or a giant cow-person because they are still in the act of figuring out how to function in society. Whether or not they are successful isn’t the point. It is the act of pretending to be that which you are and are not, and then assimilating the responses of those around you to become a better or worse human being. That, to me, is why people “play.”