There’s an excellent article a couple of issues back on The Escapist entitled World, Interrupted that explains the drudgery of massively multiplayer online games. This quote from the article in particular stood out for me.
Explaining the overwhelming part is easy: Lineage II takes over 2,000 hours or so to get to its final echelons, the level 70s. It’s not quite as ludicrous for World of Warcraft’s level 60, but nevertheless, the thousands of quests and 16,000 kills that are required to get to the later stages really do begin to weigh heavily on even the sternest gaming constitution.
And of course, therein lies the problem. Many online games today primarily focus their gameplay enjoyment on attaining individual rewards (i.e. the next level, the next better piece of armor, etc). This of course creates the carrot dangling in front of your face effect which quickly becomes tiring. Why? Because primarily from my point of view it’s no different than the "grind" in real life, where everyone seems to be striving for the next better car, next better technological gadget (i.e. cell phone, computer), or next better wardrobe. It’s almost like a crack addict looking for his next hit. After he gets it, he still has that "empty feeling" inside of him so he starts looking again for the next one.
Actually that’s one reason why I get so much enjoyment in playing what I call my "retired" character in the World of Warcraft. His name is Khorak and he’s a 38th level Alliance Human Warrior. Why "retired"? Because he doesn’t run around doing quests, trying to level up or strive to get that next fancier suit of armor. Khorak plain and simply exists for the unique experiences he encounters within the game. Therefore he just wanders the realms at leisure, bumping into other people on occasion, helps them out, chats a while and then continues on his way. I suppose you could say he’s sort of like Paladin from the television series with his "have gun, will travel" (but with Khorak it’s "have sword, will travel").
I mean but isn’t that what life should be about? Isn’t it the unique shared experiences that we have with one another that truly makes life so enjoyable in the first place (no matter how simple or grand the experience may actually be)? Therefore, instead of making individual rewards within these games the reason for enjoying them or existing within them, shouldn’t the "experience" of playing the game be the reward in itself? Or more specifically for massively multiplayer games, shouldn’t the shared experience of playing the game be the reward itself? Interestingly enough, the Escapist article does touch upon this same thought and even shares some possible insights as to how this might be achieved.