Pushing the button

by on Sep.23, 2011, under General

I’ve been playing MMO’s for a long time now. My first big experience was with Ultima Online in 1999. In breaks between online games one of the fascinating things I’ve noticed is this great need I have for a ‘button to push’.

I’m speaking metaphorically of course, in this case specifically referring to this button:

During the second season of Lost, the survivors discovered a computer inside the Swan station which required the Numbers to be entered into it every 108 minutes. A timer set into the wall provided a continual countdown – and an alarm would sound as the timer neared zero. Entering the Numbers sequentially and pressing Execute (a.k.a. pushing the button) on the keyboard would cause the timer to reset to 108 minutes and begin the countdown anew. It was initially unclear what would happen if the button was not pushed.

When I stopped playing Everquest I bought a Playstation and got stuck into console gaming. Some great memories of Kingdom Hearts and Final Fantasy! I’d play one game until I’d finished it and move onto the next. I realised that instead of investing my attention in one item over a long arc of time I’d switched to investing my attention in multiple items over several short arcs of time.

Thinking about it even within the content of WoW that’s what I always needed. Some kind of plan or project in place that I’d work on each day and think about. Looking back it’s always the planning process and the journey itself that have been the most fun. I can actually remember feeling this distinct sense of emptiness for days after achieving the goals.

Interesting to reflect on I think. Having a ‘button to press’ isnt just restricted to gaming, either. I seem to always have a bunch of different projects I’m ‘working on’ that I happily pick up and put down at different times.

I’d be pretty interested to hear back from you guys on what your own activity arcs look like. What have you guys been up to, what are the things you work on each day in life? Do these things easily come to mind or are they hard to place? Are you happy?

:button, games, habit, mmo, obsessive

6 Comments for this entry

  • Oligopoly

    For me it has just been WoW with a few other games like Aion, Startcraft, filling in when I’m bored. As I get older, I find that I probably don’t play as many video games as the hardcore gamers out there. Or maybe I just need to upgrade this 5 year old system haha.

  • Zevia

    From kindergarten up until college, I was always a console gamer, and my style of playing was one game at a time.

    Typically I’d get a new game for a birthday or Christmas present, and do a playthrough trying to see as much of the stuff as the programmers put in as possible. My usual way of traversing dungeons is to figure out which way I’m supposed to go, and then go every other way until I’m only left with the “correct” way.

    Once I’d played through it once, and after the internet was available in the form of AOL 1.0, I would look up walkthroughs to see if there were any secrets or anything that I had missed. If it was interesting enough, I’d do a second playthrough. After that, replay value would usually come in the form of having a 2-player option, or several years later going, “You know what I haven’t played in awhile?”

    That tends to still be the case for most of my hobbies. I find one thing and focus pretty intensely on it, then move onto something else when I’m finished. For example, I went through all 6 seasons of the new Doctor Who in about 2 or 3 weeks because it was my new thing to focus on after work. Another example would be video editing – I don’t tend to work on a little bit here and a little bit there; I tend to get an idea, and then spend the entire day working on it nonstop. I think my graph would look a lot like the lower section of yours, but the spikes would be thinner and much higher.

  • Asuka

    My gaming arc looks more or less like Saate’s in that I try out new games, play through them whilst still coming back to WoW for raiding, dress collecting and just socializing a few times a week.

    Raiding as I am, WoW is sort of an evening activity that I actually have scheduled, just like playing sports or whatnot ,since I enjoy it and it actually gives me some “scheduled timeouts” from studying or whatnot (if you can call raiding new content and raging alongside of it a timeout). If I just sit down and game, it’s usually something else, currently it’s Disgaea 4. Playing too much WoW might put me off it slightly and I wouldn’t want to appreciate it less, as I really cherish the time I spend with my friends in Azeroth =).

    So yeah, free time arc = 33% random game of the month, 33% WoW and 33% playing stuff with my significant other.

  • Shockwave

    I quit WoW shortly after Cataclysm got released. I left behind over 350 days of playtime, virtually every achievement you can accomplish with dedication and time (including the Bloodsail Jazzrik grind, mother of god why did I do that)

    In vanilla and BC I actually played the game solely to have fun with fellow players and do everything that brought enjoyment at the time. But ever since the achievement system has been introduced, all I could focus on was “what should I do next”, “what achievement should I be working on” and “how could I use my time most effectively and combine multiple things that improve your character at once?”. I went totally crazy for achievement-, reputation- and item-hunting. I couldn’t help that everything that wasn’t somehow connected to achievements or reputation was somehow a “waste of WoW time”. It was only after I quit for good that I realized that I didn’t even have all that much fun doing those admittedly tedious tasks. I just did them for the sake of “doing them” and most of it was just an obligation you just had to stand through “to have all the fun” later. This fun never came.

    The satisfaction of each completed grind was short, the urge to complete an even more insane task grew immediately and I noticed the game taking over most of my free time. One of my biggest regrets in WoW is having done the Jazzrik grind since it took 2 months of my gameplay time and made me sick of WoW to such an extend that I quit later on. I’ve never been in a really successful raid guild for more than 2 months and I’ve been playing WoW pretty much in single-player mode for the entire WotLK expansion after Naxx due to a nasty, yet unfounded rumor of me being a ninja-looter. It was only a month before Cataclysm where I switched realms and applied to a decent raid guild. Turned out Cataclysm was a total blast and ruined the game (at least for me) and I quit.

    I couldn’t believe how much free time I had after having quit WoW. The days seemed to incredibly long and therefore I started playing all the single-player games I’ve missed out on during the time I played WoW. I actually had fun. Not the usual WoW-fun I was used to, but actual having-a-big-grin-on-your-face-while-shooting-enemies kind of fun. However I noticed that I took some habits from WoW to singleplayer games. I try to collect every item possible, loot every crate, spend lots of time theory-crafting if skill-points or the like are involved and later when I finish the game I end up being the wealthiest and most powerful guy with 99x super ultra mega healing potion in my inventory (in case you need them later) but I wasn’t able to fully enjoy the game during the actual gameplay. But short big enjoyment-arcs of singleplayer games were nevertheless an improvement of an incredibly long, medium to low enjoyment arc of WoW.

    Lately I haven’t been too motivated though. I don’t play many games anymore and I’m pretty much just wasting away my time on forums and browsing the internets. Days feel way too short again. I think I’ll pick up Battlefield 3. Unsure about Guild Wars 2 though, I don’t want to get hooked to another MMORPG.

    I don’t know if anybody cares to read this wall of text, just my random thoughts.

  • Zevia


    One of the biggest reasons I (and a few of my friends, not all) played WoW was because $15/month was the cheapest entertainment we could find for how much time we could potentially sink into playing.

    Since I’ve quit, I’ve also mostly returned to playing games I already own that I just haven’t played in awhile and browsing the internet and reading forums. I don’t really have the money to start any new hobbies, and I’m still waiting on replies from the talent agency regarding my voice-over work.

    I often find that after I’ve worked 4 or 5 days in a row, I feel like I need a break and I love getting a day off. But then when I get a day off, I realize I don’t really have anywhere to be or anything to do, and while I’m generally very happy at night, I often feel like I’d almost rather be back at work during the middle of the day because at least then I’d be making some extra scratch. And then I go back to work and look forward to my days off.

    I feel you about getting started on another MMO, though. My roommate and a friend or two of mine are getting very amped about Star Wars: The Old Republic (we’re apparently hosting a LAN party at my house for people who pre-ordered it), but I just find myself incredibly wary of getting into it. The beta footage I’ve seen leaked and the publicity videos I’ve seen of gameplay make it look very, very, very similar to just another WoW.

  • Cabac

    Hello there Saate, Zevia & Co,

    My arcs are very very similar Saate, or at least hey used to be. When I took a break from EQ back in the day I played about $400 worth of games in the next 2 months, lots of little arcs. I remember thinking to myself, wow, this gaming thing is getting very expensive. So I decided to take up WOW. This saved me heaps of money as you only have the one big arc that you describe above, but it is all consuming as you know.

    Back when I played EQ I was at uni so playing 8 hours a day was fine, but as you grow up and get higher jobs , and busier families, you just cant spare the time. I did have a good balance in my last year or so of wow. I did about 4 hrs of pvp per week, raided 2 to 3 nights for 3 hrs each and messed around for another couple of hours.

    This year was just a bit too busy for me with work and uni (back at uni) so I just didn’t have any spare time… so now I’m back on those expensive little arcs that you speak of. At the end of the day I’m just a button pusher as well, I just need something to keep my mind busy. Weather its imobster, world war (iphone), HOMM6, Skyrim, I’m still finding a little bit of time each week to play games.

    Nothing has really captured my interest like WoW or EQ did, but I’m hoping that I get hooked on Diablo 3 next year.

    Anyway, Merry Christmas to you all, and best of luck with what you’re doing.

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