The title of this post is something that I have to constantly tell myself when I game. And, as it turns out, that is not nearly often enough. People have threatened to give me a stack of Post-It Notes to stick all over my monitor and/or wall with that emblazoned on it, and it still probably wouldn’t help. Specifically, here, I am talking about my tendency to overanalyze choices and turn an ostensibly fun hobby into something that is much closer to a stressful chore.
Let me paint you a (totally hypothetical and in no way real) picture, here. Say that you are trying out a new game – one that you’ve even ridiculed in the past for being dumb. This is a game that presses all sorts of silly (and/or terrifying) buttons, and one that you aren’t expecting to ever do anything more than mess around with for a few hours before you find something else to distract you. You spend the time to download and install the game, maybe take a quick glance at the official website to get a feel for what your options are, and then dive right into the character builder.
At this point, most games offer you a choice. Sometimes it’s a class, sometimes it’s a race. In this (again, totally made up) situation, it’s to pick your race. This isn’t actually too bad, since I have a few things that I tend to like and dislike aesthetically, so I pick one. Let’s say it’s the hilariously adorable uplifted animal race for the game. Cool, we’re on the path to playing and deciding if this game is any fun! Obviously, it’s hard to choose between the slightly-too-realistic sad cat (think Puss in Boots) face and the proud-of-himself hamster with a curly handlebar moustache. In the end, both are awesome, so you go with one. Still, even at this point, there is a nagging sensation in the back of your head… But you soldier bravely on!
Now comes a trickier choice. Which class will you play? Let’s assume that there are, I don’t know, eight classes to pick from. Those classes can be broken down in several ways. First, I usually try to decide if I want to play a melee class or a ranged class. But then there are other, more subtle choices. Do I want to play someone that can tank? Heal? Do I want to use magic or a bow? Do I want to use DoTs or direct spells? Do I like to AoE, or do I want to be strong on a single target? Does the game offer stealth, and is that something I would want to explore anyway? Do I prefer axes or swords or two weapon combat? Holy shit there are a lot of options and now I do not know which one to pick and this matters so much even though I am only playing this game on a lark to appease my curiosity and it was free anyway and what if I decide I really like this game but all my friends are healers and my class is a healing class and then we can’t go to do group content together because you can only take one healer and that other person definitely likes healing but I haven’t healed in several years and I might suck at it and then everyone will be sad and they will quit and they will blame me or worse yet I will get left out and/or have to reroll into a useful class and start this whole process over and oh god what is happening this is the hardest decision of my life!
So, umm… yeah, that happens to me. Usually, I end up just picking one, playing around with it for a while and letting all those thoughts stew in my mind. Inevitably, those demons get the better of me and I’m like, “Well, I’ll just try this other one out for a little while cause I saw one in the game and it looked pretty cool!” But then the same thing happens again and again. And while I am still in the starting area – rerolling level 1 characters and fiddling with the character generator - the people that don’t suffer from this same crisis of thinking are happily puttering away and spending their attention-for-this-game capital by actually playing the game. At which point, I start to feel like I’m falling behind, and that certain people have already established themselves as “the tank” or “the mage” or whatever, and the process turns in on itself again.
This is not some new phenomenon in my gaming life. And I know that I’m not truly isolated here. There are plenty of people who have come up with some sort of term for this – the one that I’ve always used is Multiple-Character Disorder (MCD) – and I’ve seen plenty of talk about the same kinds of issues on forums from time to time. I’m just not really sure how to combat it, or why it happens. But I do know that I’ve been suffering from MCD for almost 20 years now. This started back in GemStone in the mid 90s. There were just so many cool mechanics and classes to try! WoW was, of course, a serious offender here. I’ve struggled with it in RIFT, and SWTOR, and basically every other game I’ve played since. And when I tried out the SWGEmu thing a few weeks ago, I was already over-stressing about it. And I only actually was logged in for a total of about 5 minutes before I remembered how genuinely unfun that game was at the beginning!
The strangest thing, to me, is that I don’t always have this issue. In games like Mass Effect or Dragon Age, I am (usually) able to pick a class and just go with it. If I ever have any regrets or misgivings, I am able to say, “Yeah, it might be fun to do that – maybe I’ll take a crack at it on my next playthrough!” That extra playthrough that never happens, by the way, but I guess the point is that it could. But maybe that’s the point. Maybe I’m able to deal with it better in games that have a defined lifespan because there is the potential to replay it. Whereas characters in MMOs tend to be a much larger investment of time, and they live without any really well-defined end point. I guess, in those cases, the gravity of that choice appears much heavier.
Do you guys struggle with these issues? What have you done to combat them, if so? I’m definitely open to suggestions. Although, again, they probably boil down to “Shut Up and Play”.
Also, in case it wasn’t obvious, the latest game that I was referring to was TERA. Actually, nevermind. Let’s never speak of this again!