Compelling or entertaining – does it matter?

You feel driven to complete the level, get the achievement, do the thing. You do not actually like the game (anymore?), but it appeals to your brain chemistry in a way that keeps you going, keeps you coming back.

– Zubon, Compelling But Not Entertaining (Kill Ten Rats)

In under 300 words, Kill Ten Rats’s Zubon gave life (beautifully, as usual) to some of my own thoughts on the state of today’s gamers. While he talked about games in the social media sphere, I can relate to his words in others – especially in a ‘snack culture’ where bite-sized content has transcended ‘time-pressed alternative’ to become ‘always-preferred choice’.

It’s a variation of the tired old Pavlovian argument, and it’s bothered me for a long time. I’ve heard the counter-arguments. But attention span, everybody’s favorite scapegoat (“Millennials suck!” and all that), does not seem to add up. When sprawling content-fests like Dragon Age: Inquisition and the Witcher games turn up, people do play them, and milk the daylights out of them.

Addiction to winning? Nope. I’ve known bottom feeders in Dota 2 to log night after night, not for friends, or to up their ante, but just to get their posteriors walloped. Masochism then?

I have no answer (yet). Not even a theory. Just a thought – what is ‘entertaining’, anyway, but a subjective? When I was cooking up my custom Ranger squad in Wasteland 2, I got kicks out of filling in little biographies for each member, following the style of the default Rangers’ ones. Nobody but me would ever see them. But writing them, the process of it, that was entertaining. How many others would call it a waste of time and a dork move?

Similarly, many gamers these days don’t split hairs. Perhaps, to many of them, ‘compelling’ is fun. Perhaps, they don’t need to care about the hill to fight to its top – the fighting is everything.

And more’s the pity, because the day that becomes the norm may be a dark one for games as art!

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