Thoughts, notes, etc.

View the Site on GitHub

View my GitHub Profile

View my LinkedIn


6 January 2022

Dota 2

by Florian

I have been playing Dota 2 since I was twelve or thirteen years old, and as I approach the 1,000 hour mark on Steam, I don’t know if I enjoy it anymore.

The Experience Machine

Dota is my experience machine. To say it’s simply enjoyable or a mere pastime is a massive understatement. It very well could be the most consistently engaging and rapturous game I’ve ever played. There have been days where I’ve played it (almost) non-stop for 8+ hours and then woken up the next day and done it again. If I could plug-in to a Dota metaverse and play for months on end, there’s a not insignificant part of me that would want to.

And that is terrifying to me.

The truth is, Dota is beginning to remind me of my experience with OSRS. It’s simply too enjoyable. There’s no way to truly “win” and it devolves into a massive time sink that detracts away from more fulfilling experiences. In some ways, Dota is much better than an MMO. You can experience the entire game relatively quickly (a dozen hours? Maybe?) as opposed to the hundred+ required by WoW, RuneScape, and others.

In other ways, Dota is a lot worse.

Negative Externalities

There’s an activity and then there’s what comes along with that activity. A lot of bad things come along with Dota.

Time Estimates

First, you are locked in to 20 to 60 minute plus games. This means that “playing games for a bit” can go from being something you do while dinner heats up to taking the time of a short film.

If you’re trying to fit gaming (or any hobby for that matter) into a nighttime activity, Dota 2 is horrible. In fact, it’s horrible for any sense of planning.

Want to get a quick game in before your in-laws come over? Let’s say you decide to start 80 minutes before they come by.

The average game length is much lower than 80 minutes, but to budget safely you decide that’s a good amount of time. The enemy team gets rolled and the match finishes in 30. You decide to play one more, it winds up being incredibly close and going to 70 minutes. Your husband/wife is now livid.

I understand there’s a self control element going on here, but this it’s also entirely plausible to play two, good matches in well under 80 minutes. Once you’re locked in though, you’re greying out a huge window of time for yourself and anybody who depends on you.

The game does nothing to help here. In fact, the game design is skewed heavily towards the opposite. There’s no forfeit option and the high-ground defenses are good enough that it’s very difficult for a team to steamroll the towers before minute 40. This is meant to give the opposing team a chance to comeback, but in actuality it leads to just a short stalemate.

Most of the games I’ve played lately become “we can’t win, but they also can’t beat us” between minutes 25 and 45. This is extremely frustrating (more on that later) as you’re now out 20 or so minutes awaiting the inevitable.

The People

This is the thing MOBA’s are perhaps best known for: Everyone is nasty, brutish, and cruel. I’ve been called an unknown number of despicable things and it, uh, isn’t enjoyable.

But that’s not really a novel point anymore. What’s more interesting to me, is you don’t form anything like a connection with the other players. There’s a very good chance you’ll never interact with them again and an even greater chance you’ll never be on the same team as them again if you do. There’s no moderators, barely a shared sense of purpose, and relatively few consequences.

This is in pretty stark contrast to a true MMO, where you typically do interact with other people who you see regularly - in the form of a clan. Those do have moderators and you can get bumped from them, or at least reprimanded.

Not only does this lead complete human disassociation lead to the aforementioned toxicity, it also destroys the enjoyment of the game and leads to some plain weirdness.

Stuff like this happens a lot and you’re always out 40 or so minutes (and typically a loss) when it does. What’s even more frustrating is that often times the only chance you have of winning is to kowtow to the people being royal jackasses. In the low level ranks (I’m terrible at this game despite my longevity with it), you can often win by simply staying grouped more than the enemy. As a result, you have to follow around the person abusing you with insults.

It doesn’t make those victories all that satisfying.

Emotional States

This game wouldn’t be as engaging as it is if it didn’t activate some emotions in you, and Dota elicits a lot of classic addiction thought patterns.

Winning no longer feels good, it’s just an excuse to play more. “Just one more game” and then I’ll stop. No longer understanding why you’re still playing, etc.

And that’s concerning to me.

That said, and I want to belabor this point, this game is incredibly engaging. It’s as close to a manufactured flow state as you can get and that’s a great thing! I’ve just been more sensitive to the fact that coming out of games has left me feeling worse than better.

Time Well Spent

This is my final point: There’s a dichotomy between things that are enjoyable in the moment and long term fulfillment. Sometimes there’s overlap, but there isn’t for Dota.

I heard on a podcast recently the question about kids playing violent video games. It isn’t mentally or psychologically damaging as people suggest, but it is a good question to ask if it’s a good childhood to do nothing but play violet video games.

Dota falls into this category. Is it a bad game, on the whole? No. But it may be a bad way to spend your time.

tags: posts - video games