Numbers, Spreadsheets and Calculations
Over the last few days, I’ve been working towards achieving “ally” reputation status with the Men of Dale while playing LOTRO. There were two particular armour pieces that I desired, which would enhance my statistics, that were gated behind this achievement. I’ve been also grinding for several jewellery items, which require 5,000 Motes of Enchantment. I was sufficiently close last night that I actually took the time to work out exactly how much XP was outstanding and what was the optimal way to earn it. I made a few notes on paper and determined that three repeatable quests and five tasks would be sufficient to reach the target. As of today, the calculation proved right, and I now have the two armour pieces equipped. The jewellery is proving more difficult as Motes of Enchantment are a lot harder to come by. That project remains an ongoing concern.
Now an odd thing occurred as I did the mental arithmetic last night and figured out exactly what permutation was required to get the required rep. Just for a moment I had this brief flash of insight in which the arbitrary nature of MMO mechanics became very clear. And for an instance it spoilt my fun. Luckily this was a fleeting experience, and, in a few moments, I was back to killing spiders in Lhingris for spiny carapaces and chatting on Discord to friends. It is the social element of MMOs that helps mitigate the mundane nature of some of the basic mechanics of the genre. It is a curious thing though because where as I find all the number crunching, min-maxing and esoteric formulas somewhat dull, others consider learning all this data and becoming an expert as part of the games allure. I have a basic grasp in LOTRO of the various stats and which ones are relevant for Lore-masters. However, the intricate details are lost on me. I choose not to know because in doing so, it diminishes my enjoyment of the game.
Star Trek Online is another MMO that has a player base that delve deep into the mathematics behind the game. You will find endless discussions on the games sub-reddit regarding builds and how best to maximise DPS or survivability. It is surprisingly complex and at first glance quite captivating. I have flirted with DPS parsers and tweaked my build in the past. However, it quickly becomes clear that a lot of people’s preferences are subjective and not just based on data. Weapon type, class and play styles determine various schools of thought. Also, if you want to pursue the “best builds” you frequently need access to a lot of rare items and traits, which are really only the province of the long term and heavily invested player. That’s fine and I certainly don’t begrudge those players that play so diligently, but for us who are somewhere between the shallow and the deep end, such tinkering is not applicable to us.
When thinking of the “spreadsheet” culture that goes hand-in-hand with some games, I suppose the most obvious example is EVE Online. I never got any further than four days into a two-week trial with that niche product and I learned very quickly that the realities of that MMO were far removed from what I had assumed. For me, the selling points of the two MMOs that I play the most are their narrative, intellectual property and the provision of goal orientated achievements. The social aspect is also a strong consideration. Although both LOTRO and STO require an element of analysis and technical understanding, it never overshadows the leisure that they provide. A quick skirmish or random task force can satisfy my urge for combat. Riding around Middle-earth or meandering round the promenade on Deep Space Nine helps me relax after a tough day. A game that requires me to track everything, weigh up every pro and con and maintain a complex inventory simply doesn’t strike me as fun. However, it is very much a question of “horses for courses”.