If the realms MMOs inhabit don’t disillusion our sense of wonder, then the methods by which we are expected to interact with them certainly do divorce us from any sense of ‘being there’. Over recent years, games such as Half-Life 2 have really pushed the idea that the less artifice around the player’s character, the more attached to them the player becomes. And to use an example as obvious as oxygen, the Wii’s instinctive gestural controls have been making old genres feel a million times more immersive for over a year now. What conclusion is all of this extended citation leading to? Complex stat manipulation not like real life. Complex stat manipulation make us bored and sad.
We want to live these characters. We want to be at one with them. We want to feel like we’re living their lives almost as plainly as we know we’re living our own. But we absolutely cannot do that when every aspect of their existence and growth as a human being (or orc, or zombie, or three headed cat warrior from the realm of Ek’hi’natha’spangggggggg) feels like part of a maths equation.
The mechanic is as old as pencil and paper RPGs, but while it was a necessary convention for that medium, we’re talking about modern videogames here. A medium which can create any kind of player interface. Which can craft any kind of interactive experience. Which can present us with any visuals or sound we can imagine, and which can make a world work by any kind of rules, seen or unseen, that developers can come up with. Limiting the mechanics of these games to a series of clunky ‘+’s and ‘-‘s and incessant artbitrary level-grinding achieves nothing but to remind us that we are manipulating a computer program rather than interacting in a real world.