Dammit, I went missing again

And I’ll likely continue to be MIA for some time.

About 6 weeks ago I was rushed to the emergency room with a pretty serious case of TTP. What the fuck is that, you ask? It’s thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura. Basically, my blood revolted and tried to kill me. Pretty crazy stuff, man. So I spent almost a month in the hospital getting treated for that, hence the lack of posts. Now I’m home and recovering from both the illness and the treatment (steroids and chemo drugs are no joke), hence the continued lack of posts.

I hope to get back to blogging sometime in September, so stay tuned!

The post in which I bitch about help, or

The post in which I bitch, not about a lack of help, but an excess of it, and wonder why some folks believe Hand-Holding others is more beneficial than Pointing In The Right Direction. Note, I’m discussing the excessive offering of “help” and not the excessive requesting of it, although unsurprisingly the player receiving the former can easily lead to that player doing the latter.

To use a reference from yesterday’s post, I don’t need a gold star every time I wipe my ass properly, and I certainly don’t need help wiping my ass. For a three year old or someone with two broken arms, both a gold star and assistance are appropriate, but not for a fully capable adult. What would most benefit the fully capable adult is pointing them in the direction of the bathroom, or in a more dire situation passing them a roll of toilet paper under the stall.

Now, I’m the type of player that likes to get somewhat immersed in the game world and wants to know why I’m doing this or that ridiculous quest. At the same time, I don’t look down upon players who prefer to skim the quest text and just go kill the seventy billion quest mobs needed or collect the twenty hojillion quest items. For me, knowing why I’m doing something is usually enough to overcome the tedium of most inane quests. To that end, I HATE spoilers. Hate. Hate. Hate.

For example. Someone letting me know I need to do X quest in order to open up Y quest chain is good helpful. Someone letting me know I need to do X in order to open up Y quest chain which will lead me to super cool Z which I totally have to do because [detailed description of what happens during/after Z] and then asking me periodically if I’ve gotten to the part where [detailed description of something I'd only know if I've done that part] is bad helpful.

Back in Unemployed, there was a sort of unspoken “no spoilers” rule (except for certain situations such as specific books, movies or TV shows and quest lines such as The Wrathgate, in which cases it was very clearly spoken). While I’m not advocating every guild have a rule of this nature, I am advocating that people take a moment to consider whether their “helpful” statements or advice to a fellow player regarding special ingame stuff could diminish that fellow player’s fun.

Not surprisingly, I hold a similar opinion when it comes to excessive running of people through quests and dungeons. However, I want to make it clear that I distinguish between receiving assistance from a higher level player in an instance or quest if it’s a situation where previous attempts doing it the prescribed way have failed, and situations where it’s a straight run-through of content. The line also blurs a bit for me in cases where friends want to play together but don’t have characters in similar level ranges, because while it’s possible to maintain communication via text or voice chat, there’s something extra fun about hanging out in the ingame world with your buddies.

Over the years, I’ve found that players who received the most hand-holding through lower level content were also those least capable of being successful at maximum level. In many cases, it was due to max level rep and gear grind, which one can only receive so much help with, being too much work. In other cases, it was due to max level content requiring a different skillset than the player had learned and used during their leveling process, and the player becoming frustrated. This is also sometimes found with players that leveled virtually solo, only entering a handful of instances during the process. Either way, they fail to learn the dynamics of their class in a group setting.

And this is where the major failure of Cataclysm comes into play. The leveling experience was already made simple and lackluster enough without a player having their hand held through lower level content. It doesn’t prepare a new player at all for endgame. Not that leveling has ever been great preparation for raiding, but it was once at the very least preparation for the max level grind. The broadening gap between the 1-85 experience and the endgame experience required a reduction in the skill level needed for beginning endgame content and a homogenization of the classes. As much as I don’t want my ass wiped by another player, I definitely don’t want it wiped by the game, too.

[Achievement: Epic Fart]

Let me start by saying that for all the Alliance hate I’ve accumulated over the years, the Worgen starting zone was awesome. Yes, there were plenty of inane quests, so much so that if I weren’t an avid quest-text reader I would’ve been borderline annoyed. Having played (on and off) since Vanilla, I can also say the updated lore had a nice richness to it. The phasing mechanics were definitely a plus, leaving me with a sense of accomplishment as I saw the world around me permanently changing due to my actions.

As enjoyable as the starting zone was, the fact that I got through it in only two sittings was pretty crappy. While I understand the idea of not wanting new players to feel stuck, this should have given me an inkling of how the remainder of my leveling experience would go.

I can sum up my opinion of the rest of the way to 85 as an overall diminished sense of accomplishment.

Achievements are nice, but I don’t need a new one every time I fart. Yay, I’m level 10! Yay, I learned a profession! Yay, I’m level 20! Yay, I have a mount! Yay, I killed a player in PVP combat! Yay, I did something completely expected in the normal course of leveling! By the time I gained real achievements, such as finishing a certain number of quests in a zone (which is a “real” achievement, considering how much faster leveling is now), it felt like… nothing. Maybe I’m an old stick-in-the-mud, but you don’t need a gold star every time you wipe your ass properly.

A large part of the reason I played WoW for so long (I started just before the patch that introduced Naxx in EPL, when Druids had to spec for Innervate) was that I found enough aspects of the game challenging. It took me a long time to level, it wasn’t easy, and I felt like such a badass when I finally got honored with Timbermaw Hold for the 1-H 15 Agi enchant recipe.

For some perspective, it took me several weeks to get revered as an Undead Warlock pre-BC, and the only Achievement was the gratitude of my guildmates for enchanting their shit for free due to the massive amounts of gold I got selling the enchants in trade. It took me 3 hours for exalted as a Worgen Druid, and I got a cute little pop-up letting me know I’d Achieved something. Because, honestly, if not for that pop-up I would’ve had no idea that I’d done anything special.

When the Achievement system was implemented, the majority actually required some sort of effort. Sure, there were plenty of dinky ones that would have been more aptly named Milestones, and for the most part they gave even the most casual player something to feel accomplished about. Finishing RFC: Milestone? Yes. Achievement? No (unless you’re Alliance and did this before the dungeon queue system). Getting my Champion of the Naaru title actually meant something, and entering SSC for the first time felt truly epic.

For me, and many others, the effort expended to accomplish something is directly related to the sense of accomplishment gained. Think acing a second grade spelling test versus acing the verbal portion of the GRE. The former is expected, and the latter is something to really be proud of.

It took me as much time /played to level 1-80 as it did 81-85, and when I was done I also had about 20k gold to my name. While some folks may find that awesome, I find it incredibly disappointing. I wanted a challenge, and it felt like I was just handed a max level character with a full purse, with nothing left to do but grind rep for gear to get my ilvl up to run instances that should require skill as well as gear to complete.

My Foray into Cataclysm

I had been debating purchasing the xpac immediately upon release,  but my choice was made much easier when  I realized the release coincided with studying for finals and paper due dates. Considering I owe just about as much in student loans as I do on my mortgage at this point, school is my first priority. I also had some concerns about whether starting my account up again was a good idea in the first place, since my gaming habit can hardly be satisfied by playing only an hour or so here and there. I didn’t want to get sucked back in, but I did have a hankering for seeing the new content.

So my well-meaning girlfriend got me Cataclysm for Christmas. Which sat around for two months, uninstalled. I couldn’t let it sit around forever, as it would be very rude to waste such a thoughtful gift. There was also the idea of returning to Pilsner and the now-defunct Unemployed guild, but it seemed a little painful to log into him and see the guild tag over my head, knowing that my former comrades-in-arms were now distributed among other guilds and servers, or not playing at all anymore.

That particular problem was solved fairly quickly, as I had a friend in school who’d been urging me to resub and roll a character on his server, Elune. The only downside there was that he played Alliance, and I’m a staunch supporter of the Horde. Lok’tar ogar, bitches! Not to mention, looking at Night Elves’ behinds makes me vomit in my mouth. But hey, what’s this new playable race? Worgen? They’re mistrustful of Humans, and I can be a druid? So I can subvert the Alliance from within? Hell. Yes.

And so Furminator was born, and my attempt to play WoW sans semi-hardcore raiding had begun!

Group WTF

In any scripted encounter, there exists a process or order of events that must be accomplished or followed in order to achieve completion. Some fudging or maneuvering can be done, but certain things still have to happen in order for the boss to die before the enrage timer. There are encounters where things have to be done on an individual basis by several members of the group at the same time, such as Magtheridon cube-clicking.

Group WTF was a study in what happens when multiple someones fail to click the cubes when they’re supposed to.

If you’re not familiar with the Magtheridon encounter, it basically amounts to killing five Channelers within a certain amount of time, as the remaining Channelers receive a stacking buff when one dies. This is followed by Mag himself, who casts an AOE damage ability periodically, which can only be interrupted by clicking five cubes spread throughout the chamber at the same time. If all five aren’t clicked simultaneously, it’s a wipe.

Now, let’s imagine that only half of the cubes need to be clicked in order to survive the encounter, but clicking all the cubes would ensure a successful one-shot kill with no casualties. Group WTF consisted of people who were all capable of cube-clicking, but only half of the members clicked. The other half promised to be near a cube and click when needed, but somehow always managed to avoid the duty, needlessly prolonging the encounter and requiring the actual clickers to be more on point than they would have had to be otherwise.

As someone who isn’t a fan of handing in a project that’s less than excellent, myself and the other clicker took on the bulk of the responsibility for organizing our group’s tasks. I’ll fully admit I have very high standards for things such as papers and presentations. However, the difference between this and Group OMG was that we (individually and anonymously) selected from a list of available project topics and were grouped according to our preferred topic. One would think this implies that all group members have an interest in said topic, and as such are more willing to work well toward a common goal than, say, a group working on a project nobody is interested in.

I think the key word there is “work.” We all want Mag dead, so we all need to click the cubes. An active clicker may or may not want Mag dead more than a non-clicker, but clicking the cubes simultaneously before the raid wipes isn’t a stroll through the park. It should be, but I spent enough time corpse-running to know it isn’t, unless everyone is on point. Regardless, Mag still has to die.

To that end, we identify and play to our strengths. I’m good with organization and numbers, so my job is the initial setup of the project, compilation of the data, and translating that data into layman’s terms and graphic illustrations. The other clicker is an excellent writer, and takes on the task of editing all our individual parts into a cohesive paper. The two non-clickers appear to be less academically-inclined and more sociable, so their responsibilities are geared toward the “fluff” aspects of the project and paper. Not necessarily less important than other aspects, but certainly less mentally taxing.

However, the one strength, or in this case weakness, we failed to take into consideration is punctuality. To kill Mag, the Channelers have to be killed within a certain amount of time, and the cubes must be clicked at specific times. Click as we might, there is still an enrage timer. In real life terms, this is known as a deadline. A certain amount of personal responsibility is expected from everyone in a group, and having someone with the ability to pick up another’s slack is a luxury.

Group OMG

As promised, here is an elaboration of my time in project group OMG.

Way back in the day of Vanilla and 40man raids, it wasn’t uncommon to carry a good quarter of the group, as they may have essentially been dead weight and only there for buffs. Carrying a full half of the raid was almost unthinkable, but still doable in certain circumstances. Mind you, carrying dead weight and carrying folks who fuck up every single pull are two different things. Group OMG can be considered the former, and Group WTF the latter (which I’ll go into in a subsequent post).

Group OMG was entirely a “LFG any heroic” experience, the only difference from queuing random being that once the group was assembled, we chose the instance based on our perceived strengths. I say “perceived” because…

We quickly found the tank claiming to know all the boss encounters had only seen them on YouTube. I kid you not. The project we chose to do was very, very ambitious and was chosen on the premise that said tank was at least somewhat experienced and could effectively lead the group through the process. Much “the video said to do it this way” ensued, with the frequent (and increasingly frustrating) “the video didn’t say to do it this way!”

However, the tank’s lack of, er, “experience” with the encounters was mitigated by his ability to come up with effective fixes and strategies once he was confident the group wasn’t entirely fail. This was only accomplished after a fair amount of e-peen stroking, and because of the…

Two utility players that read up on both accepted and alternate strategies for the encounters prior to the group forming. Myself and another group member already had a vested interest in this Achievement. While neither us nor the tank had full information or knew exactly what would work for us going into it, we were able to identify what would work, sometimes in spite of the tank.

Well, in spite of the tank, and in spite of the…

Oft-AFK player that is so dissatisfied in general they’ll do anything to undermine the tank. Sometimes having a dissenting opinion is good, as that can open up discussion of other strategies. However, having a dissenting opinion on everything is bad, particularly when the dissenting opinion is based on incomplete and sometimes outright incorrect information. When this player felt they weren’t being heard, or that the utility players were going over to the tank’s side of an issue, “brb bio” would turn into a weeklong AFK. In order to appease this player, they were allowed to undertake somewhat important tasks they volunteered for (such as starting group escort quests) and assigned simple focus-fire DPS tasks which may or may not have been done but weren’t vital.

The lesson learned here is that diplomacy will get you everywhere. Flattery usually helps, too. While nobody was completely happy with how everything turned out at the end of the project, nobody was completely unhappy, either. No, the project wasn’t what can be described as entirely successful; it was more of an iterative learning experience for what to do and what not to do the next time. Which is okay, because the important thing in this case was less having the most awesome project ever and more understanding that everyone needs to feel they’re being heard.

Of Quitting, and Decisions

I just realized it had been approximately two years since my last blog post before yesterday’s. It certainly doesn’t feel like two years, but I guess time has a way of flying by at epic speed.

The decision to stop playing regularly, and eventually completely, would have been far easier had it not been for my guild. I didn’t see it so much as leaving a game, as leaving a group of people I cared about. There was also the idea that I was bailing on an ongoing but unfinished project, which is definitely something I was loathe to do.

(As an aside, the intent of this post isn’t to be self-serving. I spent a lot of time trying to justify my decision to myself, but very little time explaining it to others. My hopes for sharing my experiences are for you, the reader, to glean at least a partial understanding into the motivations of someone choosing to leave a leadership/management position, whether it’s ingame or IRL.)

It wasn’t a case of when the going gets tough, the boss gets the hell out. Which isn’t to say the going wasn’t already tough and getting tougher. However, a facet of leadership is the ability to not only roll with the punches, but anticipate the punches and find ways to not get hit by the same punch twice. It involves a lot of blocking and dodging, sometimes parrying, and there’s no cap in existence to make one uncrittable.

Toward the end of summer 2009, several key members of the guild, including a few in leadership or quasi-leadership positions partially or entirely cut back their playing time and/or involvement, all for different reasons. This left me in a bind and overwhelmed, essentially crit by my members’ real lives. This was all while I was experiencing an ass-whupping by my own real life, namely a temp job with ridiculous hours followed by a consulting job with even more ridiculous hours. I couldn’t even make my own guild’s raids, with the schedule I was working. Which wasn’t really all that bad, considering we had more or less stopped raiding as a guild due to the loss of those key members. The slide had been well underway, but by this time it was way too late to navigate the slope.

Funnily enough, what cemented my decision to stop playing had absolutely nothing to do with that. It was in early 2010, during the Love is in the Air event. I hadn’t been playing on a daily basis since the previous October/November, and hadn’t left the Dalaran bank in almost a month (don’t ask). So I logged on, determined to do something that didn’t consist entirely of organizing and chatting, and a guildmate invited me to a PUG for the daily event boss kill  in SFK. Yay! Something fun! Right?! No.

I zone in and experience my usual loading screen lag, which was as expected. The group is steamrolling some trash, and I ask where to pick up the quest to summon the boss dude. All of a sudden, I get a stream of angry tells from one of the puggers, which spills over into party chat, essentially calling me an idiot (in not so nice terms) for not having done the pre-quest. I explain that I haven’t really played in a month, and that I thought I could pick up the quest in the instance. My guildie is trying to diffuse the situation, all while apologizing to me in gchat for this mess. At this point I see the yellow “!” on my minimap, and go pick up the quest for the summon. I say something to that effect in party chat. Twice. Next thing I know, I’ve been kicked from the group for being a “noob.” Yes, I was actually kicked from a group and called a noob. I ask why in /say, and get told they didn’t see my chat (twice). I reject the re-invite to the pug, /say they shouldn’t have a problem finding another DPS, and hearth. Back to the bank for me.

Now, don’t think I quit because some jackass kid in blues called me a noob. It was because, after a month of essentially doing nothing ingame, I wanted to have a fun experience and I let a jackass kid ruin my good time. I don’t believe I’d ever gotten so enraged in real life at something so inconsequential ingame. Part of my reason for creating my guild was to help create a positive experience for myself and my members, and to help create an ingame environment that I would enjoy playing in.

Those 5 or so minutes of interaction with the puggers encompassed everything I hate about WoW – not just their attitudes, but my reaction to them. If I couldn’t even be responsible for my own enjoyment of the game, how could I possibly put myself in a position to be responsible for someone else’s? I had failed in that. I was done, and I didn’t log in again for another year.



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