Culture

OCD and Y.O.U.: Crafting in Computer RPGs

Play any sort of computer roleplaying game (RPG) for any length, and you will discover that it allows you to make stuff. Typically weapons and armor if nothing else, but in more and more games you can build clothing, enchanted items, gimcracks, furniture, houses, settlements… you’ll know if you’re really down this particular rabbit hole if you can break things down for materials which you then can make into other things.  If you’re in a game where that happens, you’re going to be spending more time than you expect at some sort of workbench. Or running through a particular dungeon at high speed because it’s a reliable source of ebony ingots*.

Why do game designers put that stuff in there?  Because players will go along with it, of course.  I think that I’ve mentioned this before, but let me note it again: it is in fact untrue that men do not like to play with dolls. In my experience many men love to play with dolls… as long as you call them ‘action figures**.’ I’m obviously not the first person to make that observation, but it really took off during the video game era. And everything follows from that. If you have a doll, you must have outfits for your doll. And if you have enough outfits, you must have somewhere to store them. And if you have somewhere to store them, well, you need a house.  And furniture. And useful things to put in your house. And when your house gets too small, well obviously it’s time to have another house. With a stable for your mounts. Note the plural. And maybe a nice throne room, because by now you’re extremely high level and acting like a feudal baron anyway

That’s half of it. The other half? The aforementioned OCD. When you play a computer RPG that allows you to customize your gear and home base, you will run a constant risk of being seduced into spending hours upon hours fiddling with either until it’s perfect. The dread word ‘synergy’ often makes an appearance at this point; some of the more creatively malignant video game companies out there will let you set up combinations of equipment and abilities that will let you cascade your various bonuses to the point where you’re pretty much Batman or something. You just have to spend the time needed to get everything just right.

Some people are wondering how any of this can be fun. Well, it varies. Making stuff is fun, as any person who plays Minecraft will happily tell you.  Getting things arranged the way that you imagine them inside your head is also fun. Building a video game gun that can one-shot Cthulhu is always fun.  The problem is, though, that it’s also all potentially addictive. And addictive is not always fun. Addictive, in fact, kind of deserves its negative connotations.

So I have a rule of thumb for answering the question “Is any of this really bad?” Are you getting at least six hours of sleep (or whatever you need to function) a night?  Do you have clean underwear? Are you still eating hot meals and bathing regularly? Are you continuing to be gainfully employed? Do the spouse and kids remember your name? If the answer to all of these questions is ‘yes,’ then no: it’s not really bad. Just remember that you’re spending a lot of time doing this stuff, and if it’s not relaxing and entertaining you (two major reasons why humans play games), then maybe you should think about cutting back your fiddling with your dolls and dollhouses.

After you get the harvest in, of course – oh, yes, most of these games encourage you to farm. So that you can cook things. But that’s just usually a variant of crafting potions (one shot boosts to skills or stats or whatnot), so don’t worry about it. Everybody does that.

*Yes, I know that ebony is a kind of wood.  Tell that to the people who made Skyrim.

**Or “AR-15s.” Which are not, strictly speaking, dolls — but they do scratch the same itch for people who wouldn’t be caught dead fiddling with a video game character’s outfit. Almost the exact same itch.

(Artwork created using multiple Shutterstock.com images.)