I’m not writing this due to any “recent events” or anything, just a thought that crossed my mind.
Loot should not be the reason why you play, because it’s just purple pixels with no value outside of the game.
You probably heard someone say this or something like it. And it’s hard not to agree. After all it’s undoubtedly true that purple pixels have no value outside of the game and the epic sword will in no way help with whatever goal you are trying to achieve in real life.
But the very same is true of monopoly money – it’s just paper with no value outside of the game. Yet monopoly players are very much interested in its acquisition, despite its lack of real value. It is, pretty clearly, the formal goal of the game to accumulate as much of it as possible. To win.
So is victory – progression in WoW terms – the reason to play? But unless you are a professional athlete, victory has no value outside of the game – any game – either. It’s all just pixels, images or text shown on our screens, nothing more. When you put the cards back into the deck, the chessboard back into the drawer, together with the Settlers of Catan box, your victory evaporates in nothing factual or tangible. Yet we’re happy when we win a game, when we kill a boss, or when we get that piece of loot we’ve been eyeing for so long.
Does our being happy have a value outside of the game? Is it a silly question to ask? Yes, it is. Despite not being a thing you can take, measure and assign value to, being happy is a pretty big deal. So that’s why we play, I guess – to be happy. That doesn’t always mean instant gratification – sometimes we just have to “grind it out”, to take a step back to be able to make two forward, to work towards a long term goal. But the idea is still that in the end, or in the absence of an end in the total balance, we expect to be happier than if we’d not been playing the game.
All those little things, the occasional loot drops, the victories, the constant drive to self improvement, the interactions we have and the friendships we make, they all contribute to making us happy. That is the outside value – as valuable as any other aspect of life that does not directly contribute to the necessities of staying alive. One cannot deny something an outside value without first having firmly defined what constitutes outside value – or “outside” to begin with.
Am I saying we should play for loot? No, I’m saying we should play for happiness, whatever that means to the person in particular. Corollary: guilds and similar social structures form and function when several people discover their ways of achieving happiness as being highly alike or at least compatible. Caveat: surely the person who derives happiness from causing unhappiness to others is not considered an equitable part of the equation.
Yes, happiness is, strictly speaking, just another word for “fun”. And fun can be a lot of things.