It's 6:14 p.m. on a Monday. I have a fully stocked freezer, a bag of Doritos and a wide open evening ahead of me. Settling down in front of my computer, I log into Lineage II, a massively multiplayer online game (MMOG).
I play a level 64 Elven Elder, a healing-centric class in Lineage II. My job is to watch the health bars on the right side of my screen. When one drops below 3/4 full, I hit F12 to stand up, F8 to heal and F12 to sit back down. I have no reason to ever look past the user interface to the actual game, with its breathtaking graphics and scenery.
I can't just play an MMOG anymore. It is imperative that I multitask; watching television or surfing the web. The only challenge left is staying awake through hours and hours of leveling. We call it "The Grind." It is the signature of MMOGs, the uphill battle against boredom. But why do we suffer through this? Why play an MMOG instead of a single-player game?
It's all about the people. Players are driven to progress via competition with their peers. Flashy swords and high-level skills are the sports cars and penthouses of the online world. Success is measured in skill and assets, and just like in real life, we are driven to show that we can attain more than our neighbors. These drives for progression make The Grind more tolerable: It becomes a necessary evil on the path to success.
Yet, this still doesn't explain why MMOGs are fun, only why we play them. After all, many players will continue playing an MMOG for months after they've tired of it, only so that they do not fall behind. MMOGs enable players to create and participate in a political layer in their worlds. Single-player games may have commanders and kings, but even in the most open-ended of worlds, the entire environment lacks dynamism. Adding hundreds - if not thousands - more variables, MMOG political systems are vastly complicated, whether or not they are built into the world. Friendships and alliances form, bitter enemies will exchange words, and wars - PvP, verbal, griefing or otherwise - will be declared.
It is entirely impossible to create a competition-free MMOG. Even creating a non-PvP game is difficult - players will find ways to exploit NPCs to kill each other, training monsters with quick run speeds, charm spells and fake death. Even if players are trying to unlock something for the good of the community, there is a race to see who unlocks it first. The recently opened EverQuest progression servers are good examples of this: When a new expansion is unlocked, everyone reaps the benefits, yet players are competing and racing to see who can get there before everyone else. Similarly, A Tale in the Desert's technologies are unlocked by donations of players. One would expect the most rewarding behavior to be to wait for other guilds or regions to unlock the technology, to avoid spending your own resources, but there are constant competitions among various regions between people trying to get ahead in the technology fight.