Posted by: Sean | June 20, 2009

Unintended Play: Why does it threaten people?

I have a nasty habit of doing big, long intros and then really small bodies in posts. It’s quite difficult to get around, and reminds me of a story…

Just kidding. Let’s get right to the point.

MMO role-playing is part of a larger movement in gaming which has no “proper name” that I’m aware of. I prefer to simply call it “unintended play”: The art of playing video-games in ways that the developers didn’t intend in the first place. Unintended playing isn’t just goofing around (although it can be) but is rather about playing games to different goals than those the developers designed it for. Mucking around in Grand Theft Auto is not, for example, unintended play. That’s part of what the designers were looking for. Now, by contrast, if you decided to play Grand Theft Auto by trying to see how much money you could make as an ‘honest citizen’, now that is unintended play.

The first example of unintended play I can remember seeing was the “Dance, Voldo, Dance” machinima. (Machinima as a whole can likewise be considered unintended play in most games.) In this, two players co-ordinated their play efforts in the game Soul Calibur 2, creating the illusion that the two Voldo characters they played were dancing to Nellie’s “Hot in Herre”. And then descending into juvenile sex jokes, but that’s beside the point. The point is that you don’t need to scroll too far down to find the suggestion, “I would bet that these two are dorks with no girlfriends. Guys, you need to get out of your parents basement and get a life. ”

Sound familiar? How about we move to World of Warcraft, instead, and take a look at a few examples of brilliant unintended play there, too.

Inspired by the South Park Cartoon “Make Love Not Warcraft”, this guy hit level cap killing nothing but pigs. Now, if you ask me? That’s astonishingly clever. It must have taken him a considerable amount of research and dedication. His reward? Comments like, “That’s just sad” or “Well, that’s either very impressive, or completely sad. Maybe a little of each.”

Noor the Pacifist has been levelling steadily while refusing to kill anyone – He levels entirely through battleground daily quests, helping to win by disrupting flag captures and healing. To me, this is a very difficult but impressive effort – My only criticism is that he’s compromised himself by allowing the throwing of bombs to stop flag captures. The insults continue.

Here’s my favourite one. Cautious, who is very aptly named, went level 1-80 without a single death. She did this by, you guessed it, unintended play – remaining consistently within green experience zones with little chance of death until she finally managed to hit level 80.

I can’t even get to level ten without dying.

And she was still blasted for this. “Not a single 5 man or raid. I don’t see why this is impressive. Farming lower level mobs isn’t exactly difficult or risky.” Even though really, what she was doing was barely unintended play at all.

What’s intriguing is also that the tone never changes. The accusations of ‘living in your parent’s basement’ remain. The ‘get a girlfriend, get a life’ comments continue… oh my god.

We’re nerds!

This is the thing. Naturally people deduce fairly quickly the intended goals of the game. And most people, fairly sensibly, move to achieve those goals. So when others don’t, well, it’s seen as proof that they can’t. We’re not achievers, we’re seen as pointless. As Gweryc the Melee Hunter argued, “I think the really violent reactions come from highly competitive players who can’t reconcile themselves to the idea that I am, in essence, playing a different game than they are.”

But just like the nerds in high school weren’t pointless, we are achieving something. We’re doing more. Those who mock will never get to level 70 by only killing pigs. They’ll never dance with Voldo. And they’ll never have your story.

All they’ll ever do is kill Yogg-Sagon. Like almost everyone else will. Just play the game the way you enjoy it, and hopefully enjoy the way others play it too.

Edited after excellent observation by Elleiras


  1. Why does anything in the game threaten people? I get grief from players who are more hardcore than I am because I’m “months behind,” and grief from people who are less hardcore (dare I say it, casual?) because I participate in scripted PvE encounters that require trivial amounts of skill but a ridiculous investment of time. Both sides think I need to “get a life.”

    No one is immune to this kind of baseless, pointlessly antagonistic criticism. Roleplayers get it. Raiders get it. Bloggers get it. PvPers get it.

    And even you, a respected WoW blogger, are perpetuating it to some extent by devaluing raid accomplishments as some sort of stigmatic “mainstream.”

    It’s not the fact that people like Cautious and Noor are playing the game in a way other than intended that draws ire from some people; it’s the fact that they’re playing the game differently from the way their detractors play it. Look at the antagonism that exists between some hardcore PvPers and some hardcore raiders. PvP and PvE are two legitimate ways to play, each supported by Blizzard … but each is somehow — and illogically — offensive to the other.

    • That’s a really excellent point, Elleiras, and I agree. I never delete content here, but I’ve stricken the point out that you referred to. That’s unhelpful. People like role-players, Cautious and Noor perhaps get a wider range of criticism because they’re playing it differently to more people, but yes, everyone gets criticised by everyone, it would seem. (Anna of Too Many Annas commented on people getting criticised for raiding by role-players, for example.)

  2. I think people might criticize people who get praised for playing differently or express enjoyment at playing differently, because they are insecure. They have built a lot of self-worth on their ability to play the game well in a certain way and I think it does threaten some (not all) of the high achievers to be faced with people who don’t care or to have different achievements than their own recognized.

    As to the larger topic, it always boggles me when people take one person’s hobby and use it to postulate that they’re a nerd or have no life. I’ve never known anyone who doesn’t have some hobby that is incomprehensible to the people who don’t enjoy it.

    I don’t get what’s fun about fantasy baseball, or collecting things, or even just watching and following sports teams, but I would never make fun of someone or tell them they have no life just because that’s what they like to do in their free time. But I think some people lack empathy and additionally buy into stereotypes. If you stop and think about it, spending your Saturday playing WoW is no less of a “life” than spending it watching a football game, but there’s only a stereotype about the first one.

  3. The irony here is that gamers as a whole are one of the largest mainstream groups that are continually lambasted by the media for any number of reasons.

    As a result, we are looked down upon by society, by politicians, by lawyers looking at us like a threat to the safety of children and adults everywhere…

    and instead of banding together, being supportive of one another, no matter what playstyles we might have or different skill levels…

    we are so much worse towards our fellow gamers than society or any government could ever be.

    It makes me sad.

  4. […] of the box thinking that I was talking about previously, here’s what Sean has to say about unintended play and why some players feel threatened by it. Roleplaying in MMOs lives in a kind of halfway house. It isn’t specifically intended by devs […]

  5. I just found this website today and have been reading through it. The author of is a friend of mine. I was wondering if you will be staying in game and just quitting the blog? Maybe I need to read more…but I have a few questions…

  6. […] this interesting post about why so many players seem to be threatened by those of us that enjoy “unintended” play. :Blog, Links, Warcraft No comments for this entry […]

  7. […] it up as I go along. Posted on May 22, 2010 by Sean Back when I was writing Blogatelle, I noted that “I can’t even get to level ten without dying.” Well, that was then. This is […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: