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Child’s Play

May 6, 2011

Dear Reader,

No, this doesn’t have anything to do with the absolutely excellent charity run by Penny Arcade, nor does it have to do with the series of horror films from the 80s and 90s.  No, indeed, it has to do with the literal meaning, the playing of children, and the implications of that play.

Do you remember, dear reader, from your science class, what the definition of a mammal was?  Warm blooded, sure.  Has live birth and takes care of children, yes.  Has fur (for the most part – damn you dolphins and whales), okay.  During my school years, that was it.  Now, though, they’ve found another unique quality of mammals that is not replicated in any other class of animals.

Mammals are the only class of animal that plays.

Lizards don’t play.  Fish don’t play.  Frogs don’t play.  Birds don’t play.  Squid, spiders, crabs, earthworms, mollusks don’t play.  We’re it.

A lot, far more than there needed to be, of discussion on what it means to play has been going on recently.  Some of it was dead on.  Some of it was dead wrong.  Some of it was right, but used for the wrong reasons.  Some of it was wrong, but came to th… you get the point.

Research shows that mammals play to learn, plain and simple.  The arguments out there that we play to “improve our skills,” are actually correct, from an animalistic sense.  Baby tigers play rough so that when they grow up they can kill prey and defend their own.  However, humans have gone further with play, learning, as it was, to make play “fun.”  We enjoy the “games” we play because not only do we learn, we do so in a way that’s engaging and exploratory.  When you take either one of those away, learning, or playing, becomes un-fun.  Think of school; very few “fun” classes allow for exploration.  The “boring” teachers may offer engaging material, stories of battle, real world uses of math, poems about young love, but without the opportunity for exploration, to go off in unexpected directions, to see how the learning can be individually experienced, it becomes boring or chore-like.

I have, in fact, heard many different raiders tell me that raiding became for them, eventually, like a job, something that might be both disengaging and non-exploratory.  I, too, have felt this, though only as a raid leader, never as a raider (I’ve led more than I’ve raided, counter-intuitively).  The comparison between something that’s supposed to be a game – something played – and a job – something worked – is no coincidence.  That this thought is pervasive through the game and the community lends credence, in fact, to Gevlon’s or Rohan’s approach and thoughts.

Dailies and heroics have frequently been called “chores,” as well.  The repetitive, disengaging, non-exploratory material that is necessary to be able to raid is, unsurprisingly, just as unappealing as long-term glass-chewing against raid bosses.  In fact, it could be viewed as a kind of training for it.

Why, then, do we say WoW is a game?  Perhaps it’s not.  It has many aspects of gaming.  You take on a role of a fantastic (used in the “fantasy” sense) hero overcoming challenges through repetition and skill.  That’s akin to many other games out there.  However, work also shares many of these qualities.  People who don’t enjoy their jobs often have to take on a “role” of a dutiful worker and overcome challenges through repetition and skill.  Is the fantastic an element to games?  Not really; there are many games that have no fantasy in them at all.

The early experiences with WoW can be game-like; you certainly play them.  You explore new zones, test new abilities, occasionally (depending on your play style) you become engaged in the quest stories.  Perhaps your second, third, or tenth alt makes leveling seem to be a job, but the first experiences don’t.  There, then is the shift.  Somewhere between rolling your first toon and stepping into heroics and doing dailies, WoW morphs for some from a game to a job.

Why isn’t everyone affected by this metamorphosis?  How can some people come out the other end without feeling like WoW’s work?  I honestly don’t know; perhaps that’s an idea for a future blog.  Some people are immune to the pressures of raiding, I’m sure for many, many reasons, be they good qualities like holistic perspective (realizing that it’s just supposed to be a game) or bad qualities like selfishness (not caring if they’re imposing on others by their poor play).

I think the final conclusion that we’re heading towards here is that for some players, WoW is a game, where as for some workers, WoW is a job.  That’s not meant to disparage WoW at all; jobs certainly can be enjoyable.  It’s just to more clearly define why so many of us are arguing how to play WoW.  It’s simple; some of us aren’t playing.

I think I still play WoW.  There was a time – a few of them – when WoW became a job, but I backed away until it turned back into a game.  Gevlon and Rohan clearly work at WoW.  They practice and repeat and struggle and push through to be better.  Others are still exploring, being engaged in the story, and just seeing how their personal WoW experience can be different.

Here’s the catch.  Playing leads to imagination.  Imagination leads to creativity.  Creativity leads to invention.  If everyone in WoW stopped playing and only worked, then there could be no real new insights into the game.  I guarantee you that the players in Paragon are, in fact, players.  Even if they do work at it and succeed, they start by exploring and seeing what works.  They, like the game, transition seamlessly between playing and working.  Many of the rest of us apparently can not.

A child learning about the world around them, playing in the yard with their dog, examining a bug never seen before, is playing.  No one would tell them that what they were doing was wrong.  No one would tell them it would be more efficient to either play with the dog or examine the bug, not both.  Of course, no one would recruit them for a professional basketball (to use others’ metaphors – not my own) team, either.

Both sides are right.  WoW is a game.  Wow is a job.  There is no wrong/dumb/stupid/moronic/slack way to play as long as you’re not affecting others.   Some people shouldn’t raid or do heroics.  The problem doesn’t lie in either of those philosophies, it lies in the way we’re talking to each other about them.

The novel The Power of One (as well as most of history) teaches us that “Inclusion, not exclusion, is the key to survival.”  We shouldn’t wish any philosophy to be gone from the community as that would only weaken it.  Here’s another quote, from the head of the American Library Association; “Tolerance is meaningless without tolerance of the intolerable.”  We need to accept the other views and acknowledge that some of them are as rational as our own, then we can start to have real discussions here instead of fights.

Then we can get back to playing this game we call blogging.

Then we can keep learning from each other and having fun.

It really is child’s play, dear reader.

Sincerely,

Stubborn (but no so much I can’t admit when other views have merit)

8 Comments leave one →
  1. May 6, 2011 2:01 pm

    Far better spoken then I ever will be. Stubborn you have a knack for making people think on what you are writing about. I have to wonder if part of the “play” in WoW is learning the social interactions and dealing with others. I’m not sure it always aplies, but since the game and especially end game requires team effort, perhaps the practice of play here is the getting along socially. Just a thought if it makes sense from my addled brain. Excellent post by the way.

  2. Nin permalink
    May 6, 2011 4:07 pm

    “Birds don’t play. ” What is the extremely playlike activity that I’ve seen a friend’s macaw do then?

    • May 6, 2011 6:45 pm

      I don’t know; ask a researcher (; However, if I had to guess, then I’d probably say either training or that researchers need to look at more “advanced” bird species for a similar behavior. But really, I haven’t the slightest idea. Good point, though!

  3. May 8, 2011 11:53 am

    Hmm.. Really opened my mind up to some different views or perspectives with this one.

    When I started playing again (Upon the creation of my blog) I went in with one goal. To have fun. Though like your example with Paragon. That didn’t mean I wouldn’t strive to become a better ‘player’.

    It depends on what context somebody is using the word ‘Work’ for. In a boring, repetitive, or more so unwanting to do so sense? Or a work-ing towards improving your play and advancing towards a shiny goal which you can’t wait to reach?

    Take a sport for example. Any sport. Whether it be football, rugby, basketball, or ever arm wrestling. There is a balance between work and play. With the work being to improve and explore how to better yourself (With the fact that you enjoy the sport enough to make it worth it in mind of course). While the play is in the middle and naturally occurs in the process. Sometimes of course the work does lean towards the other end of the spectrum (as mentioned above) when the going gets tough, though its gets like that at times but can tell you whether or not you still enjoy the sport.

    A sportsman trains (Works) all week, striving and pushing himself to the limit to make sure when he/she ‘plays’ in the finals the coming weekend they achieve there ultimate goal. Not just to win, but to enjoy the game.

    Sportsman or Gamer. Same concept.

    Anyway, end of wall of text (Critical Hit)

    - Jamin OUT

    • May 9, 2011 3:32 pm

      I agree that at some level work and play can be one and the same, which is the point Gevlon (I think, maybe Rohan) made in one of his comment replies. I still believe, though, that some people keep them from being a comfortable match, either working so hard it ceases to be play or playing so much that no progress is gained. There’s nothing wrong with either of those styles, and both can find a lot to do in WoW. I just don’t like the idea that people would say one or the other is “right” or “wrong” in a moral sense. It’s just a game (or a job).

  4. Imakulata permalink
    May 11, 2011 9:40 am

    I think you are putting a lot of emphasis on lack of rules in games and exploration as opposed to jobs which are supposed to bind people with all-encroaching rules that provide guidance to the workers in every situations. On the other hand, Wikipedia article for playing claims rules to be an essential part of the game and my experience confirms it – no matter how much exploratory games like go or chess are, you can’t just go and explore what would happen if you placed two stones on board/moved a piece in a non-standard way during your turn. I wonder, do you think there is any exploration in games like these? (Note that I do consider them games although at the high level they’re jobs as well.)

    I did think of school too, as you asked… I might have not understood your point well (I’m not a native speaker and my English is not very good); the fun classes were exploratory but the opportunities to go off in unexpected direction were limited. The teacher had a goal for us in mind and directed our exploratory effort towards finding the goal. Does this remind you of anything? “I guarantee you that the players in Paragon are, in fact, players. Even if they do work at it and succeed, they start by exploring and seeing what works.” It’s directed toward a goal too. There are many jobs that fit this description too, although everyone’s favorite workplaces like McDonald are not one of them. Of course, in most of them there are things that just need to be done no matter how little fun they are – but not everything is.

    I think that concentrating on the engaging play – boring work dichotomy can be misleading. Even if the two were exclusive, there would still be activities that are neither. Think about a 0/0/41 DK in random collection of healing/tanking/DPS plate that comes to a dungeon, starts autoattacking a random mob and saying how much is s/he looking forward to complete it provided, of course, the other people are good enough. Does s/he do this to explore? To check how much does parry make him/her hit the mobs more? Does s/he enjoy being steamrolled by mobs again and again?

    The “purists” might point out she’s playing and the raiders are not but who is having more fun?

    • May 11, 2011 11:10 am

      I certainly didn’t mean to imply that a lack of rules was necessary to play; I agree with you, that quite the opposite is true. In fact, I think I cited my one classroom rule as an example. I make sure that my kids understand that freedom does not mean a lack of rules (a line from one of the books I teach, actually). So we’re completely together on that point; boundaries are necessary parts of learning to keep things from getting to far afield, but an overuse of boundaries can be just as damaging as having none at all.

      As for your Go/Chess examples, I think they were highly exploratory (and still are at some level). When they were first developed, or when a person is first learning to play them, there’s (see how that ‘s works both as an “is” and a “was”? Sorry, English teacher thing there) a lot of exploration. Some of them will eventually lead to new strategies, named after who developed them. Others will lead to quick defeat and a lesson about good playing. So I do, in fact, think both of those games are exploratory, just less so as time goes on and players and the games age.

      I don’t think we’re too far apart on your last point, either. I don’t mean to imply that the only two axes on the graph are play or work. However, in your example, I think probably your person is, in fact, playing a game; it’s just not WoW. They’re playing a social game, probably either to intentionally upset the other players (a troll) or to get something for next to no work (a leech). Both of these are games, in fact; if he’s a troll, he’s playing very well (because that would be very irritating to the others). If he’s a leech, he’s playing very poorly, since he’s revealing his true colors and is likely to get nothing but kicked.

      Now, on the off chance that one of the absurd suggestions (explore/parry/steamrolling) is true, if they’re truly experimenting with the rules, then the mistake they made was imposing their form of play on others. I’m not suggesting that the kid on the soccer field looking a bug should demand the game stop so that they can do so, just that there are different things that interest people and, thus, different forms of play. Should he come alone or with a group of like-minded individuals, I can’t see a problem with any of those behaviors, however strange they may initially seem.

      At any rate, great response, and thanks for the thoughts.

    • Imakulata permalink
      May 12, 2011 3:31 am

      Thanks for the reply, I agree with the things you said. People playing a certain style affecting the play of others seems to be a problem in PuGged content. Sometimes, the game takes a part of the blame for it, e. g. Gevlon vs. Bad Mana in Tol Barad. (There’s only one Tol Barad so both of the sides have to either play together or take turns to make sure they don’t; it’s not possible for them to play in different Tol Barads the way it’s possible for instances.)

      It’s a bit harder to understand why would players take someone who would impose his style of play on them to an instance – I remember that the majority of groups did not bother checking whether their goals aligned unless requiring epic achievment in early Wrath or T5 for heroics in TBC count. Maybe it’s because the players who PuG do so because they do not want to wait and they would certainly have to wait for a long time to find like-minded individuals.

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