Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Dragon Quest Builders 2

“My biggest complaint about the licensed sets, other than their always increasing cost, is that they're basically the antithesis of the Lego model: where I remember building and learning to build with the Lego blocks of my youth, these new sets simply require children to follow somewhere between 100 and 300 steps to build a very specific, one-time use vehicle or environs. Then, 2 to 7 hours later, they're done, moved on to the next shiny branded toy.” - Molly Wood, July 31 2013, “Lego, you are dead to me

“It’s so wrapped up in being a good game that it never let me cool off once – always telling me to go here or build this or do this. This isn’t creation as an act of joy.[…] DRAGON QUEST BUILDERS 2 is 0/5 OF IMAGINATION AND FOR SOMEONE OUT THERE, A 5/5 VIDEOGAME.” - skeleton, Feb 6 2020, “Dragon Quest Builders 2

Dragon Quest Builders 2 (DQB2) is a game where you can build arbitrary creations and share pictures of them. It is also a game about taking care of your villagers by building specific pieces of furniture and placing them in specifically crafted rooms. It also is a game that gives you blueprints projected on the terrain and tells you explicitly where each kind of material must be placed. This set of qualities makes DQB2 similar to Minecraft, where elaborate creations are the norm. It makes DQB2 similar to Dwarf Fortress’ Fortress Mode, where you craft out things like beds to meet your dwarf’s needs. It also makes DQB2 similar to Lego sets, which give step-by-step instructions that must be followed precisely to create a finished product.

I love the different aspects of DQB2 but I like the precise step-by-step directions I follow to complete a blueprint the most. It’s an Ikea effect thing. I also love Lego sets, especially the Star Wars ones. Space ships are neat! Building them is fun! It is satisfying, both in DQB2 and in Lego, to look at the plans for a final product, be slightly intimidated by the scale, and then break it down into smaller parts. It is engaging to find the components I need for the next step, separate them out, and click them into place. I am happy when I can see how the individual steps start creating something that looks like a finished product.

I’m a little defensive. I perceive a bit of a moral dimension to conversations about extrinsic vs intrinsic rewards. It is easy to characterize intrinsic motivation as pure or uncorrupted. We praise doing things “for the love of it”. If intrinsic motivation is pure, then extrinsic motivation must be tainted. Extrinsic motivation makes us dependent on others for validation. Extrinsic motivation can come in the form of money, which makes pursuits mercenary or subject to capitalist influence. Expanding this to Lego, building things for the sake of building (an intrinsic motivation) is good for the imagination! Building Lego for the sake of a specific set (an extrinsic motivation) results in a shiny toy that is to be discarded. Building freeform structures outside of a licensed video game is pure expression, a noble pursuit. Building structures according to the strict direction of Dragon Quest Builder 2 is making yourself a tool of capitalist production and necessarily strip the joy from the act of creation. Those examples are all moral judgements. There is some research around the effectiveness of extrinsic vs intrinsic rewards, but I think there’s a lot of variation between people there. I have a personal preference, and I happen to feel a little bit more motivated with external structure. I don’t think that makes me incapable of feeling joy.