Had a short chat with Azariell just sometime ago, where he told how he had dipped his toes in the deep end again: he joined his guild's progression raids and got a few guild firsts under his belt. As I was about to congratulate him he stated how the achievement of a first kill felt kind of empty and instead of feeling great about it he thought he had failed the encounter: as a warlock he was supposed to deliver dps, but instead he was stuck low in the dps meter and that made him feel like a failure.
In a way this reminded me the weekly raid I accompanied, in which our guild took down Marrowgar. I was in there for the first time, we ran it like 4 times before the kill and for me it was a kind of anti-climatic experience. Like I wasn't contributing to the whole at all, like I was depending on others to do their job better while doing mine as well as I then could. The same happened to me with Onyxia and Sartharion, even though we ran Sarth with only 9 for the achievement: hollow, empty feeling, almost stating that I was glad it was over.
The more I think of it, the challenge just isn't as tangible as it should be. There is no risk involved, only severe repetition to overcome the bosses. Gear makes the effort easier, but doesn't remove any risks.
Risk of losing something valuable makes the challenge more... how do you say it... rewarding in a way, as you know that you have not only survived but overcome the opposition. FPS' are epitome of this perceived challenge without fear of losing anything: they stay interesting for just so long until you notice that there is nothing to lose and nothing to gain except your name on the rankings. WoW and other current day MMOs have the same, except that the gained 'rewards' are in form of gear, achievements or titles, which are not even unique, but common and unrecogniseable to most. I couldn't make a difference between two players in WoW with different titles, really, as the titles do not mean a flies poop to me. Especially if the player acts like a jerk.
WoW is a bit too much of a positive sum instant gratification passtime, really. It's nice, lovely looking and kind of fluffy cream cake with some crunchy bits in it. Sweet and compelling but pretty hollow in the mechanics.
It's funny but I see the same problems in my other hobby, too. The lure-coursing is actually a test for the working dogs to see whether they could perform their original work as intended. Instead of recognizing it as such and revering with the information that their dog has passed the trial, the owners have had to make it a competition. Instead of being happy with passed trial and healthy dog, people are disappointed for not winning!
In WoW the similar thing is with the whole game, actually: as a MMO it's not a game which you can win, it's more a passtime. Instead of enjoying the scenery, quests and lore, people are trying to beat the game and put extreme emphasis on beating the mechanics instead of the story. The whole end game thing is a culmination of this: people play the game to win it and the designer are doing their best to come up with 'challenges' for the same people to bang their heads against.
I was about to write a blogpost about how Gevlon actually hit the nail sometime ago, when he noted that everyone in WoW thinks s/he is a hero, as the game greets everyone as a hero. Instead of being a hero (among heroes), everyone is the same and everyone expects to get the same experience. There are no heroes in WoW besides those of the lore, and most of them are dead for good.
This is flawed: in hellenic stories, the hero usually dies. Saves the day, but sacrifies his life for others. There is only one hero and several henchmen.
I can see why EVE is more on the right route in this. The beginning pilot is one of millions of beginning pilots (ok, thousands), and has no way in hell to even greet the ones who rule their corporations. If this pilot sets her/his objectives right and has the stamina to stick to his/her dream, s/he may well become the hero in the corporation. But there will be only few pilots who's name will stay in the lore.
Will Cataclysm remember the name of the player who was the first to kill the Lich King? Does anyone even know who was the hero who ended Illidan's reign?
I doubt WoW will ever have that kind of depth to it. Still, I still play it and like the parts I like, but for me the end game part with the repetition and no connection to the lore is dead. Dead even before I ever tried it for good.
Isn't that sad?