A Game Of Greed

April 13, 2008

I had an ex-hippie professor in college who was one of the most quotable people — possibly due to the amount of shrooms he consumed back in the 60’s — I’ve ever met. One of his sayings that I’ll never forget was simply this: “The religion in America is ‘Be thin and buy stuff’.”

Flash-forwards a couple years after college, when I was beginning to teach at a church in Colorado, and I used the Sims as an illustration of the trap of greed and materialism that exists in our lives. In the first game, at least, the primary path to make your little people happy was to continually buy them bigger and better items. Plus, they were quite thin. I think they were popes in the religion my prof described.

Greed is too often our primary motivation in MMOs. Devs bank on it: they deliberately hand you a weak, completely gimped character and then point you down a path to make that character bigger, better, stronger and (of course) more well-equipped for the dangers ahead. We are trained and conditioned to become greedy players, desiring above all else what will benefit our character the most, right now. Our level 25 armor is all right, we suppose, but not nearly as shiny and spiffy as that level 30 suit that lays right around the corner. When we don’t attain something new and better after a certain period of time in the game, we become depressed and apathetic toward the experience. Our happiness becomes dependent on what we get, not what we are.

I’ll pause and state that I’m not going on a rant here, just a bemused observation about what MMOs condition us to be. In and of itself, it’s not a bad thing to buy yourself things you need to survive and flourish in life, right? When does it start to get bad? When you become obsessed with what you don’t have and become envious of what others do. Likewise in the online gaming environment. Devs aren’t evil, demonic twiddlers trying to tempt us into being immoral people, they’re simply trying to keep our interest as long as possible so we keep paying for food on their tables. Why do you think World of Warcraft lets you check out the gear everyone else is wearing? So you can compliment them and continue on your way, satisfied with what you have… or to give you a new focus for your greed and aspirations?

It’s not bad to want to improve your character and enjoy collecting gear to give you more options in the game — not in the least. It’s only when you hit that greed barrier, and hit it hard, that the unattained new “stuff” lying just around the corner becomes your sole focus for playing.

Greed hurts us as social players, because greed is about ME, not about YOU. When we run dungeons with people, are we rooting more for great loot to drop for them, or for us? Do we feel genuine resentment that someone rolled higher on a piece of gear you’ve been drooling about for months? Do we put off helping friends and guildies because the time spent with them isn’t “profitable” to us — we have nothing to gain from it?

I hope you get the gist of what I’m saying. All too often I myself have ignored the pleas of lowbie guildmates asking for a dungeon run due to me grinding out another piece of “must have” gear. It’s something I grow to dislike about how I play a game. I should enjoy getting new stuff, sure, but my primary motivation for playing should be to enjoy where I’m at, what I’m doing at the moment, hanging with my friends, and being just as happy for someone else’s advancement as my own. I know people like that, and they are a joy to be around. They might not have the absolute best armor in the game, or even a single character who’s hit the level cap, but you can just tell they’re happier and more content.

That’s where I want to be.



  1. Not what I expected to read to when hit the Waaagh! tab in my browser, but an entirely satisfying read nevertheless. You make a good point about peoples motivations and sadly its as much about the people that play as it is about the way the devs designed their game.

  2. I just read this before I played WoW, a few minutes in, someone messaged me about helping them do their RFC quests while I was in org. I ended up running them, and I blame you!

  3. You made a good point here. Thank you.

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