Does everything have to be fun?

Matthew Rossi
M. Rossi|01.06.13

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Does everything have to be fun?
When I was talking about reforging recently, one of the talking points for the discussion was that reforging isn't fun. This got me thinking: does it have to be fun? Reforging, enchanting and gemming my gear isn't something I do because I find those activities to be fun, it's something I do to be better at doing the things I do find to be fun (which is to say, killing monsters in Azeroth's various locales) and I'm okay with not especially enjoying everything.

This doesn't mean I want them to be painful or tedious. But while I am endlessly delighted by transmogrification, I don't think I need to feel the same obsessive joy in arrange my stats that I do in picking out new looks. In fact, I think it might actually detract from the game and the parts I do enjoy if reforging was compelling gameplay instead of a means to an end. That's because the name of the game, having a lot of options to gameplay, can only sustain so much interest before it becomes overwhelming. Everyone has a threshold of interest they can sustain. Some of us can do enough content in a week that valor caps seem restrictive, while others of us can barely even cap valor in a week. Some of us love alts, others can barely manage to keep one character going. These differences are what has led World of Warcraft to become a game with the dichotomy of enormous choice in terms of what content we can choose yet restrictions on how much benefit you can get from it, to make it more optional.

Into this mixture, elements of the game that are neither astonishingly enjoyable nor game-breakingly tedious serve an important function. They provide leavening. They create breaks between the peaks and valleys of the game experience - the crushing disappointments of nights spent wiping, or bosses who refuse to drop your desired item and the dizzy elation of a close arena match swinging in your favor, a first boss kill for your guild. There's an old saying that if everything is special, then nothing is, and one could argue that if the entire game strives to be fun at all times you'll soon come to lose out that sense of fun.
This might sound like I'm endorsing the idea that things should be boring, but that's not it - tedium will get you to log off faster than anything. No, my point is just that the pursuit of universally fun gameplay would be as destructive as any other monomania, and furthermore, it's doomed in a game with so much variety anyway. A short list of things I personally don't find fun in World of Warcraft would include the following:
  • Achievements
  • Pet collecting
  • Pet battles
  • Mount collecting
  • Arenas
  • Holiday event
  • The tillers
Before the Operation: Shieldwall and Dominance Offensive daily quest hubs, I would have added daily quests to that list, but those proved to me that I could enjoy dailies again. My point is not that those things aren't fun, nor even that they're not fun to me, but that their not being fun to me does not stop me in participating in some of them and even enjoying the participation. I've completed quite a few achievements and gotten several rare and hard to get mounts and even had fun doing it, not for the things themselves, but for the participation, for taking part in something. But even divorced from that, their presence in the game even when I don't enjoy them doesn't hurt the game for me - in a way, it helps to accent the things I do enjoy, like raiding and collecting rare weapon models for transmogrification.

Furthermore, processes like reforging, enchanting and gear gemming, as means to an end, aren't to my mind full-fledged aspects of gameplay to be judged and weighted on their own merits. They're part of the things I find fun. Would I enjoy an entire game that was reforging? No. I'd find it a tedious and highly mathy minigame and I wouldn't do it if it didn't make me better at doing what I do enjoy, but it does do that, and the same is true of enchanting. Do I find disenchanting items fun? No. Do I chortle with joy when I socket a crit gem? No. But that's fine - I also don't giggle with delight at how much fun it is to walk to the bus stop on my way to a movie. To use a game example, I'm not delighted with how much fun it is to fly to a raid, and I don't clap my hands with glee when Mark of the Wild is cast on me. There's fun, and there's fun, and I find World of Warcraft fun or I wouldn't keep playing it. But that doesn't mean I find every single second of it fun any more than I find every second of any game or activity fun. With an interactive entertainment like WoW, in order to really enjoy it you need valleys and peaks, and you won't get those if there's no base state to compare them to.

My ultimate argument would be that contrast is necessary, and moreover that it's acceptable to have systems in place that assist fun rather than being fun in and of themselves. I could argue that I enjoy, in a relaxed way, the time spent contemplating these things and the ends that provide me with motivation to execute the means. Some of the game exists to get you ready for the rest of it, some of it won't ever be to your personal taste but fits that of others, and that's as it should be.

Mists of Pandaria is here! The level cap has been raised to 90, many players have returned to Azeroth, and pet battles are taking the world by storm. Keep an eye out for all of the latest news, and check out our comprehensive guide to Mists of Pandaria for everything you'll ever need to know.

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