The long hiatus is finally over, finals have come to an end and I've a few weeks to enjoy the beak...how wonderfully convenient that it should happen to be right before Diablo 3 releases and I like much of the world will try extremely hard tomorrow to crash Blizzard's servers. However we have a day to kill before it releases! In the meantime I have taken up World of Tanks again after some rumblings in the blogosphere had refreshed my memory of it. However since I last took up the game I've found some new trends within I find unpleasant to deal with; namely the game's insistence on keeping a permanent record of everything done.
This is hardly a new concept to gaming; plenty of games keep track of your win/loss, accuracy (if applicable) and any other statistics that might impact your performance. The problem however, is that I am not always playing at my maximum level. There are times I find myself desiring to "play for fun" instead of playing to win. An example would be a multiplayer game of Assassins Creed where I am trying out a strange or new build. No matter how well or poorly that build does, it's going to permanently effect my stats. Now certainly for a good player over a long period those stats will even out and the game will have a negligible impact.
However, I find that with many of these games my enjoyment is going down and my stress is going up because every single game becomes about maintenance of these stats because they are right there in front of me. Using World of Tanks as an example, it's apparently become popular practice to have a mod or to use an outside service to look at other players "efficiency ratings" prior to the start of a game because my record is posted online for all to see. Now I don't have a record to complain about, I usually fall into the "good" side of the Gaussian, but I find that I am less likely to haphazardly click the "BATTLE!" button these days because it means I have to switch to "Serious" mode.
On the other side of the coin, I can understand the argument of "In a team game, everyone has to play their best or is unfair to the team." (aka the "9 subscription fees are greater than one") but this keeping of metrics is true even for non-team games. Frankly I am not even sure that in all games that attitude is even proper. How many people have joined a TF2 game just to play a weird build/class for fun? Maybe they are not helping their team the best they could but on the other hand, I am playing for me, not for you...and if a player is not actively HELPING the other team I am not sure we can really fault them. However this, like so many other concepts in life is subject to gradation...there is a time, a place, and a limit to just how "crazy" you can be.
A problem I am beginning to see is that game developers are using these metrics to create what they consider "fair" matchmaking systems. That carries with it an implicit assumption that every single player is always playing their best. Starcraft 2, WoW PvP, Global Agenda, League of Legends...those three off the top of my head all use some kind of ELO or metric based system to try and match you against opponents of "equal" skill (or at least pit teams of equal skill against each other).
A few months ago Tobold shared a story (IIRC) about a gamer who would intentionally drop his SC2 rating by forfeiting games, and I seem to recall people on other blogs talking about intentionally throwing Arena games to tank their rating and to enable them to fight easier opponents. Frankly after the stress of arena back in TBC I don't find it to be all that bad of an idea. The issue is that the games are designed with the assumption that these metrics are accurate, not gamed. Its hardly fair to a lower skill player to have the game match him up against someone he has no chance against because that other player decided to intentionally drop their rating.
For me this obsession with keeping track of my "stats" like I am some kind of pro-athlete is driving me to play games that don't focus on it. I've been enjoying Mass Effect 3 multiplayer a great deal and it does not track it at all, nor will Diablo 3 which I look forward to (may have something to do with them both being predominantly PvE). I might like it if I was given the option to "stop" tracking these metrics (especially by games like World of Tanks or Assassins Creed which don't use them for matchmaking outside of "ranked" games). Or allow me to set my profile to "anonymous" or "private" such that I can decide who gets to see it and who does not. I'd have no problem with a Clan I joined having access because usually they'll give you the benefit of the doubt, but I am tired of "XxShermanxX" getting to know everything about me. Conversely, as I said before one might argue the "duty" to your team to be transparent.
Sadly this post ends with little in the way of solutions and more in the way of problems that I mainly came up with while writing this. Suffice to say I am finding myself pining for the days when these stats were not tracked as much (especially in large team games where a single individual's contribution is less likely to matter). It strikes me as being a fundamental disagreement between the idea that multiplayer games are like "leagues" one joins, and the idea that a person is playing a game simply for their own enjoyment. Then again I start imagining what some other games would be like if they tracked these metrics. What if WoW tracked every time you wiped on a boss (and posted it in your Armory) or every time you made a mistake in your rotation or prioritized the wrong ability.
I understand that things like MLG are making gaming more acceptable to the mainstream as legitimate competition, but at a certain point we also need to remember that the majority of players are not looking to compete, they are just playing in their living room to have some fun. They might not want to have a permanent reminder of every mistake they make, or something other players can go to for flame fuel. Would the WoW forums be less hostile if people didn't have the option of checking someone's Armory for their rating? ("Lol not 2k rating, L2play"). This further brings up an issue I won't go into now, but the idea that games are being balanced around the top level of competitive play, which has sometimes unfortunate effects on lower level play.
Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments, and have fun saving Sanctuary tomorrow!