Now that I have confirmed that the model works with one traditional game, I am going to apply it to a single raid boss. I assume the perspective of an average damage dealer in an average raid who is not the raid leader.
You should at least have read this post before reading this one.
Note that the raiding game is nested inside many other activities. These activities are not irrelevant for the raiding game. We'll see further down where they become important.
You work together with other people to kill a big monster. There's obviously a strong simulation background in raiding.
The goal is kill to the boss. A cynic might correct me: “The goal is to loot the boss”.
You are allowed to use your PC's client to communicate with the server and other clients. Except for modifying your client and using obvious exploits, you are pretty much allowed to do almost anything you can to achieve the goal. The exact rules vary from boss to boss but some, like that bosses die when their hit points reach zero, usually apply.
Playing along the rules, you press complex key combinations at the right time. Using feedback from the game, information from outside the game and doing what the raid leader tells you, you try to reach your goal of killing the boss. The journey usually consists of many failed attempts at killing the boss (sometimes many hundreds!), an eventual first victory and subsequent weekly farming.
Is the goal worth the journey?
The raiding game constantly has to fight the problem that killing raid bosses to gain loot, which allows you to kill more raid bosses, doesn't always seem worth it. The desirability of reaching the goal can be increased with the help of the game outside of raiding. Games with more desirable goals have the potential to be more fun by employing more burdensome journeys.
'Meaning' is a word that belongs here. The more success means to the player, the more desirable the goals are in his opinion. Note that even goals that are very desirable might still not be worth the journey, if the journey is especially burdensome.
Does raiding keep the mind busy?
The average raider listens to the raid leader explain the boss (information gathering). He tries to comprehend the information gathered. He recalls general strategies from former bosses he knows. Bosses can be analyzed by looking at their isolated abilities. This is not necesarrily something the average raider has to do, though. There are usually no educated guesses in a boss fight. Neither before nor during the fight has the average raider have to come up with any course of action, or decide on any course of action.
There's obviously tension as the hit points of the boss get low the first few times. The player sometimes can gain or lose buffs. More important, he anticipates victory and subsequent distribution of epics. He fears to make a mistake or that somebody else makes a mistake. Victory makes him happy.
There is a vast amount of social stuff going on while raiding. I won't list it all here, because it is way too much. The human brain has evolved to overcome challenges together with allies. Almost the entire (incomplete) list easily applies: Tribes, Fame, Guilt, Honesty, Humiliation, Hate, Obligation, Pride, Reliability, Status, Envy, Loyalty, Responsibility, Joking around, Shared Experience, Disappointment, Individuality, Deception, ...
Modern raiding is a lot about execution. Usually the player knows pretty well what he has to do; the problem is doing it.
- Preliminary Summary:
Raiding excels at keeping the mind busy with social issues. It's also heavy on the execution part and good at the emotional part. The average raider, however, doesn't have to do much logical thinking. While still required, it is least important.
Quick follow up: The LFR will be very interesting to observe, as the social experience is completely changed. The consequences of this fact will probably make raiding in LFR drastically different from traditional raiding.
Is Raiding frustrating?
Raiding can become frustrating when players wipe too often. Just recently some players complained about wiping more than 400 times on heroic Ragnaros. They obviously came to the conclusion that they ”shouldn't have to do this”. As usual, when fighting frustration, expectation management and immersion can help. What also always helps is making the journey less burdensome, obviously.
When looking at how much time raid groups spend failing, I can't help but declare raiding one of the most frustration-resistant games ever.
It should be noted that raiding is a very special game in that it makes players fail for the vast majority of their time. Most raid groups wipe for over 80% of their raiding time. Almost no single player game - except for those where players always fail eventually - could ever work the way raiding works. The social part obviously is sufficiently strong to keep players raiding inspite of failing all the time.
It's arguably ironic that World of Warcraft contains one of the most fail-safe single player experiences, while at the same time trying to lure people into an endgame activity that has them fail the vast majority of their time.