The thing about hard things

I listen to a fair share of commentary about MMOs, their design choices, systems and incentives. One thing that got stuck in my head, was for a player to feel fulfilled, or rewarded, they have to put in the time and work on repeated likely boring tasks. The streamer was arguing that no one wants to do that anymore, besides a younger with time-in-their-hands audience. So the question is then how can game designers create an experience that feels rewarding, while at the same time respecting the amount of effort and time gamers put into an activity. The challenge in this task, is first defining what rewarding means, or the idea of fulfilment. To me it’s a mix of being proud of what I achieved, and status signalling. For the latter you can think about a rare item you get, that a very small percentage of the population has. In WoW, could be a high level tier piece, a rare title, or a random low drop chance mount. In all cases, as an ex-wow player, while they would make me feel proud of my accomplishments, I cannot say I had a lot of fun obtaining those. Sure in the beginning when things were new, but after repeating the same activity hundreds of times, things start to fall apart. I haven’t played WoW in many years, which one do you think I remember? The reward, or the grind?

As I transpose this experience to other activities, I can’t escape not thinking about running. I have run since 2016 and started ultra running in 2018. When I am with people that don’t know me very well, they ask me how the hell I am capable of running those distances. How crazy it is that if they ran 5k they would feel dead the next day. I can wholeheartedly say that most of my runs are boring as hell. They are soulless. Specially those during winter, when it’s cold, dark and raining. I have no motivation at all to go about and put in the work. Or the ones that force me to run for 5-6 hours and miss my kid and partner. But I know that if I do, I am rewarded, and I will be proud of my accomplishments. I know that if I put in the effort, I will perform when it’s time to race. After more than half a decade running, which one do you think I remember? The reward, or the grind?

When an interviewer asks me what’s the most ambitious thing I did, or what made me the most proud, I invariably tell them about the hardest ones. The one where I had to deal with the most obnoxious people. The one with strictest deadlines. The one where I had to stay in the evenings working so the team and the company wouldn’t be let down. Or the ones I had no idea what I was doing, where the imposter syndrome kicked in, but I was able to overcome. At the same time, these are also my fondest memories. The ones where I learned the most. The ones that made me grow as a person and as an engineer. Is it a coincidence I still talk on a daily basis with a big chunk of the people I managed at Babylon? Is it a coincidence that some of them are close friends? I don’t think it is.

Is it possible to feel proud of one’s achievements, if it was easy? Is it possible to accomplish something meaningful without putting the time and effort?