Deciding your Digital Destiny

No matter the game, a Meta will always form which dictates a ‘correct’ way to play. This Meta seems to be created by the most vocal and driven people who seem to have a need to dominate the game, devouring the content as quickly as possible. When new content is released, they rush out en masse to complete it in the shortest time possible so they can then return to their favourite activity which seems to consist of PvP and complaining about the lack of content.

Four years into GW2 Incarnica and I still have a wealth of things on our to-do list, despite the fact we play every single day, often hours at a time. Do we sit around using the game as a social network? Hell no! What we do is create our own non-Meta goals and pursue those with fervour. The end result is a deep enjoyment of the game which never grows old and tired.

I’m going to use the experiences of Incarnica and myself in this article, and it might look like we’re just tooting our own horn. My honest intention is to simply offer it by way of example of some things we are qualified to comment upon. We’re well aware that our efforts are small in the big scheme of things, and we are nothing more than casual players, no matter the numbers of hours we have logged.

Creating your own goals

The MMO environment is special because it gives you a toolbox to create your own fun. Contrary to popular belief, I do not believe there is any such thing as Endgame content. The very term suggests the game is now ended, and you’re just doing busy work until the next patch comes along. It is our honest belief that the true joy of the MMO experience comes from using the tools provided to create your own experience. In effect, we treat a game like Guild Wars 2 more like Skyrim than as a social network or PvP arena.

The secret to the longevity of our enjoyment comes from setting our own goals and reaching for those goals with the same fervour that the Meta players rush towards their perceived Endgame. The nature of our goals might seem petty and useless to many people, because it’s just not the way the Meta says you should play.

Rather than talking around the subject I’ll simply give a few examples:

Example 1: Playing dress-up

Both Incarnica and I really love to give each character a unique identity. An identity that encompasses a fitting original name, a physique, weapon choice and includes personal styling. Finding the right look for a character requires research into what clothing is available and then acquiring the necessary goods. To find a school uniform with appropriate zettai ryouiki  proportions for Kiara I had to craft some items, track down unique Karma purchased clothing and invest gold into special racial armour. It took maybe a day once I finally got the look and colours right. My Fairy Sylvari required a special event based armour set and even a spend in the Gem store to complete.

Most people don’t really care how their characters look, and seem to actively uglify their character, but Incarnica and I take special pride in our characters and seeing them dressed to look just how we wanted gives us a feeling of accomplishment every single time we look upon them. We also take time out to whisper compliments to other people we like the look of, and it’s a real thrill when a stranger whispers either of us to compliment our look.

Example 2: Attaining a Guild Hall

To many people a Guild Hall is just something a guild does as a matter of course. It actually doesn’t mean much to the people involved, it’s just a simple checkbox that needs to be ticked. Incarnica and I have been solo/duo since the game started, but we each made a guild for personal storage. When Guild Halls came out, we really wanted one so we could make a place we could call home. Of course, with only two of us, we’d need help and both of us really struggle with the social elements of the game, so it’s not like we had friends to ask.

Incarnica recently stepped outside her comfort zone and for the first time in many years of gaming, we joined a larger guild. I couple of months later, the guild leader managed to find a few other members to help us capture a hall for the personal Guild Hall for Incarnica and myself.

Upgrading a Guild Hall requires doing group events, so again our social limitations were a barrier, but we worked out what needed to be done and now we’re finishing guild Missions faster than the big guild we’re associated with. Some people might suggest our goal with the Guild Hall is impossible for two people, but we beg to differ. Things are rocketing forward in leaps and bounds, and I wonder if our dedication to our goals might allow us to one day surpass the achievements of the larger guild who take their hall for granted.

Updated: Somehow we are now blessed with a few exceptionally helpful people. I’m not sure what has brought such awesome people to our banner, but they have helped make certain parts of the Guild Hall possible when previously they were not. Their dedication and help has been invaluable, and expanded the Guild Hall beyond the scope of what only two people were able to do.

Finding your Niche

Of course playing dress-ups or doing the grinding to afford guild upgrades might seem impossibly boring to you, and that’s fine. My advice though is to completely forget the Meta, and do some soul searching on what you truly enjoy about a game. If PvP is your thing, then don’t copy a build off a wiki, but carefully refine a special build all of your own. Yes, you’ll fail hard and often as you work the bugs out of it, but that only makes the victories all the sweeter when things fall into place. Don’t be just another generic PvP Warrior, be one that really surprises your opponent with new and interesting combinations.

Ryzom is a very old MMO which still exists today thanks to having a dedicated fan base. Incarnica and I played it for a year or two, and as we’ve done since leaving WoW, we played Ryzom as our own closed guild of two. Of course we couldn’t acquire our own guild outpost (like a guild hall) because it required PvP to aggressively take the place from someone else. Rather than bend to the Meta, we focussed on being a neutral trading house.

Ryzom crafting is amazingly complex and in depth, with the materials going into the construction of items deciding many attributes including item colour. One big issue is that the best materials forced your gear to be one of two colours (I think it was red or blue). To fashion focussed players like us, that wasn’t acceptable. I spent many hours experimenting and reverse calculating the formula used for creating the gear. It took a lot, but I cracked the code, and we went into the market creating custom coloured gear for others which still performed as well as the traditional two tone gear.

By finding that niche, we made a lot of connections and secretly puppeteer-ed faction politics from the shadows. Eventually, someone just gave us their outpost, along with a promise to defend it if needed. It never needed defending though because our little two woman guild was well established as neutral and valuable. By the time we left the game, our Guild Hall was bursting with the best the game had to offer, and it was all done in an entirely non-Meta way by creating a reputation for quality goods and neutrality, which allowed us to trade both sides of the border.

Every game has similar niche areas. Forget the Meta, and work out what you find is a fun way to play. GW2 Meta suggests Endgame content consists of Fractals, PvP and WvW. Incarnica and I have tried all three and we don’t like any of them. People who do those things tend to take it way too seriously, and we just don’t enjoy that community or activity.

So although we only really engage with maybe 20% of the game content, we’re still able to get everything we want. While the other guilds struggle to get enough resources for each upgrade to their Hall, the progression of our little Guild Hall knows few boundaries. A guild of 300 seems to struggle to perform a single guild mission, while we already have all of ours done for the week within hours of the change-over.

Why few can succeed where many fail

Just looking at guild missions as an example, we’ve tried to arrange for people to get together in the larger guild and do some missions. We’re asking for only fifteen minutes or so of their time and we could advance the entire Guild. Yet, everyone is so focused on the Endgame Meta, that they are always too busy to do the Guild thing. They want the benefits of the Guild, and proclaim a willingness to help, but it’s all empty words not backed by action.

I’m sure the PvP crowd must enjoy what they are doing or they wouldn’t be doing it (I’d hope). However, they also want the benefits of the Guild Hall, but because of the large number in the Guild they just assume someone else will take the time to do it all for them. This is really just human nature, to procrastinate until someone else completes the task for them. Incarnica and I are under no such illusion, as we don’t have other people willing to make Guild Hall improvements for us. So we got off our bums and in a few hours we got done all we could want for the week. Most of it Incarnica actually did without me. In effect, the focus of a two person guild is greater than the focus of a guild of three hundred because you cannot wait for others to do for you, you have to find ways to do for yourself.

There is no such thing as small goals

Ultimately, the purpose of any game is to have fun. If you find the Endgame activities fun, then that’s what you should be doing. However, look outside the Meta and re-evaluate what is fun for you. Most people find Fractals fun, and we were assured that once we did them we’d find them fun as well. We tried and it wasn’t fun for us. There was no real sense of achievement, it was just confusing and annoying with the array of funny little rules that seem to exist not for any real world reason, but simply as a mechanic to needlessly complicate an activity.

What makes dressing up a character a lesser goal than running fractals? Personal perception, that’s all. Whether it’s collecting pets or earning an obscure achievement, if it’s something you enjoy then it’s an absolutely valid way of playing the game. Shut out the Meta for a moment and think, seriously think, about what things bring you joy. If it’s something that will make you feel good then even if there is absolutely no reward in-game, it’s still a valid activity for you. You don’t need the game to hold your hand and give you sweets for doing the same thing everyone else is doing. You have the power to make your own choices and make up your own adventure.

Final Word

Every game offers rewards for certain things, and those rewards are used like a carrot on the end of a stick to encourage you to play the game a certain way. Don’t be like Pavlov’s dog, salivating when the game devs ring the bell to announce new content. Play the game at your own pace, doing the things you find to be fun. In most cases, ignoring content for a time does not mean you’re missing out on the rewards, it just means you are delaying gratification because you can always go get those rewards later. Do things at your own pace, so that at any given time your focus is on what’s bringing you the most enjoyment now.

Of course for many people, doing things with their friends online is their source of enjoyment, so they’ll do things they don’t like just because their friend is doing it. However, don’t be ashamed to invite your friend to do those things you like to do as well, the worse that should occur is that they refuse. I don’t blame those people who would rather PvP than help out with a Guild Mission, it’s their choice to do so and I assume they are enjoying themselves. However, if you want the rewards from something, then take the time to do the work to help get it. You’re not missing out on your other activities, you’re just delaying them for a time so you can reap the rewards of doing other content.

To sum it all up, just be prepared to decide for yourself what your digital destiny will be. You don’t have to follow the zerg, you just have to follow your heart. The rewards of taking your own path might not be recognised by the game as an actual achievement, but that doesn’t diminish the value of that achievement in any way, as the only approval you should ever need is your own.