What motivates us to WoW?

Cynwise has written some excellent, introspective posts recently as he goes through a dark night of the soul with respect to World of Warcraft – but today he’s outdone himself again.

Inspired by a trip to pick up badges for his son’s Cub Scout uniform, he started to muse on how the Cub Scout badge system motivates the children within it to greater and greater tasks. And from there, he moved to thinking about WoW, achievements, and his own motivation to play

“You’re very dependent upon other people to succeed – in WoW, in life, it’s all the same. If you’re in the right raid team, you’re going to find that you can accomplish a lot more than if you’re in one where you don’t mesh, where they’re not as good players, where they’re not as driven, where they don’t sabotage themselves. This isn’t rocket science, but it’s amazing how we can collectively forget how much we depend on those around us when weighing our own individual accomplishments. Achievements (in WoW and in life) are as much about being in the right place in the right time with the right people as they are about having the skill to pull them off.

I was thinking about this when I took the picture at the very beginning of this article. That’s my son’s belt, he has the Horseback Riding belt loop. I never got that when I was a scout. I never even came close – I was a child of the city and suburbs, but even then I never had the desire to become a mongolian horse-archer or knight-errant. Even when I became obsessed with Fantasy literature and medieval history, I never really wanted to be a horseman.

My son loves horses. He’s been like this since he was a toddler, so we figured out a way to get him riding lessons years ago. This Horseback Riding belt loop was trivial for him. Like, it was barely even a warmup for his regular lesson. But for me, and most everyone else in his pack, it’s really, really hard. It’s one of those activities that takes a lot of planning, learning, and work. You have to get over your fear of the unknown, and fear of really large animals. You have to get up there on the horse and do it.

And that can be a big obstacle if you don’t really want to do it.”

Cynwise is taking on some big subjects here, and he does a good job of both explaining the theory of extrinsic vs intrinsic motivation, musing on and analysing WoW’s achievement structure in that context, and weaving in his personal tale and his personal challenges.

If this was just a personal post, it would probably be quite boring to an outsider. If it was just analysis, it would be dry. But the balance he achieves between them makes his writing come alive. I’d imagine most people playing MMOs – whether your current goal is to down a particular raid boss, to collect a set of achievements, to master PvP, or even to find a new goal to play on – will find this a thought-provoking post.

So, open question – what thoughts did Cynwise’s discussion of motivation give you?