Have you ever wonder, as a gamer yourself, what makes gamers tick? What are the fundamentals of gaming－an experience obviously different from reading or sports?
In other words, what makes Game A bad, Game B mediocre, Game C good, and games like Diablo, Worlds of Warcraft, or League of Legends great?
Sense of Progress/Growth
My favorite genre is RPG. In fact playing RPGs constitutes the core part of my earlier gaming life. Sense of progress or growth is at the core of every RPG. You level up characters to grow; you think of strategies to defeat various bosses in hope of getting better equipment to progress; you endure chores of collecting 100 pieces of this and that to tailor out that new outfit for your character. RPG is all about improving and growing, or at least the sense that you get better by spending more and more time and brain power (and money) on the game. There is always that goal or achievement the gamer wants to nail down. It suffices to say he/she will not continue to game if he is left with nothing substantial to aim at.
A great RPG offers a substantial large pool of goals for you to pick and work on. From simpler and easier ones－levelling up the character to learn a new skill－to more complicated and harder ones－collecting that whole set of awesome equipment that take your character to another level of strength. But simply providing the goals for the player to pursue is not enough. You have to engineer the systems with enough variability and complexity－even a sense of depth within－the player will soon lose interest and walk away. Which brings us to the next essential element of a great game －variability/ complexity of the systems of growth.
Variability/ Complexity of Progressing Systems
In my days of World of Warcrafts (WoW), archaeology is one of the various goals I pursue and by far the most enjoyable. The profession skill level doesn’t matter－there is not enough variability in the system. If you dig more, your skill level eventually caps. What matters are the artefacts you discover－random treasures you spot that requires a lot of digging across the vast continents of the game. The artefacts belong to different clans and carry certain features that differ from one another. They are mostly useless (one enables you to freeze your character for 30 minutes during which you cannot move or do anything meaningful). And the most popular ones are not even among the best equipment you can have to battle. There is, however, enough variability in the process and exquisiteness of the rewards that kept me committed to the next dig, until I eventually quit the game (or went afk).
Similarly, one most lasting attraction of Hearthstone (yes I became a Blizzard fan after WoW) to me, is not the sense of self-worthiness of defeating opponents by using popular decks, but the potentials of cards and decks, especially ones with unique synergies and mechanics of its kind. (e.g. Spellpower Shadowform Priest/ Freeze Echo Giant Mage/ Tree of Life Fatigue Druid) These decks and cards are never competitive in any meta and it is fairly hard to pull off the combos－the points of making and playing them. Yet when I succeed, the flooding sense of achievement and fulfilment makes the sweating and failing all the more worthy.
Elevation of Self
The last point I want to make may sound overkill－or is it? Beyond all gameplays and strategies and skills, the gamer’s ultimate prize is the elevation of self. This of course is achieved by many means and various forms, and is not necessarily confined to RPGs.
A raider elevates himself by being one of the top-skilled damage dealer and wielding the most powerful weapon, among his arsenal of prizes won, to slay the most formidable bosses in the game. He elevates himself by achieving the golden standards in the game, with flying colors, too.
A collector prides himself at collecting the most, if not all, collectible monsters and having enough understanding of most of them. It is the deep sense of fulfilment and moment of elevation that thrill him and sustain his otherwise almost hopeless attempt.
A legend rank player elevates himself by finishing at high legend ranks each season, defeating his fearsome opponents in games and ultimately major tournaments. He elevates himself by perfecting his skills and demanding himself to make every decision right in any given situations.
In the end, it is the games that provide players a substantial large pool of goals, and engineer the progression systems with enough variability and complexity, and reward them with the sense of self-elevation－that empower them－ in and after the quest that always win their hearts. These, I believe, are the fundamentals of gaming. They are what make gaming relevant.