Thursday, January 28, 2010

Some like it Easy, Some like it Hard

And some like it in the pot, nine days old.

I was thinking today about how people tend to take two basic approaches to doing things.  The first approach is to just take the easiest route possible to what they want.  The second approach is choose the absolute hardest possible route to what they want.  It seems to me that people generally take these two approaches and ignore the middle road.

As an example, take recreation.  If you are choosing a golf course to visit, generally you choose the closest one. Rarely will people drive an extra two hours to the next town to go to a different golf course, mostly they would just go to the nearest one.  However, you still see people doing wild things like climbing Mount Everest, skiing off trail over cliffs and going on safari in Africa.  It is common to see someone going on a long vacation to a beach in a far off country, yet they don't bother to go to a beach just a few hours drive away when they have the opportunity.

Why do we see this behaviour?  My personal theory is that there are two basic rewards you can get for doing something.  The first is the obvious benefit directly associated with the activity, like being on a beach, playing a game of golf, earning money at a normal job or getting better magical equipment in an online video game.  The other benefit that drives this behaviour is the desire to set ourselves apart from everyone else.  We like the beach, and we like knowing and having everyone else know that we flew to Barbados to lay on a beach.  Other people aren't likely to be impressed by simply driving two hours to the next town so there isn't any significant secondary benefit to doing that.  In that case we simply go for the maximum basic benefit for minimum hassle:  We go to the local beach/golf course/whatever.

I see this very clearly when playing WOW.  In fact the developers of the game have specifically commented on the fact that whenever they add new ways for players to advance their character's power those players will take the easiest and fastest route regardless of what that route is or how boring it is.  People seem quite willing to play any sort of game at all as long as it makes their character more powerful.  This was very true of PVP (Player Vs. Player) combat at the start of the first WOW expansion and then PVE (Player Vs. Environment) combat in the second expansion.  In both cases players flocked to the type of play that allowed them to suck and still be rewarded.  Everyone really wanted to be able to just lose their way to victory.

We see the second type of reward just as clearly coming into play.  Whenever there is something extremely difficult to do that requires preparation, coordination and a lot of practice we see people desperately throwing themselves against it to try to be the first to get it down.  As an example early last year there was one really brutal challenge fight in the game that my guild was trying to defeat.  (Satharion 10 Man +3 for those who know what that means) It took us roughly 75 tries to succeed, which amounts to something like 15 hours of playtime.  There were plenty of other interesting things to do but our priority was to do the absolute hardest thing.  The reason for doing this was simple:  Challenge and prestige.  Prior to completing that encounter I was known as


And after completing the encounter I earned the title

Redcape Of the Nightfall

Now everyone who looks at me in the game including myself is reminded that I did the hardest thing, defeated the greatest challenge.  Throwing ourselves at the most challenging tasks is what my particular group of friends is dedicated to doing and it is what has driven me to excel for so long.  Whether your thing is winning a Olympic medal, climbing Everest or getting the WOW achievement Alone in the Darkness it is a tremendous thrill to complete a task very few ever have or ever will complete.

Also just in, my guild got Alone in the Darkness.  Finally.  Now we are in the top 20 worldwide in progression.  Smash!

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