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Convenience and Decency

February 8, 2013

Dear Reader,

The Pot recently spotlighted an article that analyzed a lot of the “features” of vanilla WoW.  This article, by Erinys of The Harpy’s Nest, responded to some of the many complaints that have been being tossed around about Vanilla WoW.  Her article is very well written and thoughtful and a great chance to trek down nostalgia lane.

What bothers me most about the debate about the pros and cons of vanilla WoW is that so many of them miss the point.  Erinys does a fabulous job of covering many of the positive aspects of vanilla WoW, so this correspondence is in no way a criticism of her article.  She names more things than I could have come up with on my own and does a solid job defending her side.  The other side, though, often seems to miss the forest for the trees, or, perhaps, it’s the the old players have a hard time clearly communicating what it is we miss.  Here’s a word to help us, though, in that discussion: intangibles.

It’s not that old player miss the early-stage design of MMOs or desire inconvenience; it’s that old players miss the intangibles that those old systems inadvertently created.  Additionally, when players mention the various old-design “problems” that have since been remedied, they fail to take into account how those problems produced positive results that have since been been lost as the game has become more “convenient.”

The many conveniences that have been added as improvements – and most are improvements – have come with a series of terrible costs.  Often during debates about these conveniences, the people who don’t experience the costs somehow convince themselves that the costs don’t exist, much like the people who constantly defend ganking are often doing so from a comfortable position of power (apparently this is written by a famous EVE player, since Gevlon referenced him as such, but I have no idea.  The post was interesting, though).

What’s this all about, then?  Simple.  Each “problem” in vanilla WoW was solved by intangibles, in most cases, by players working together.  Here’s a list off the top of my head (heavily influenced by Erinys post):

Lack of guild function led to better guild communication using outside media.

Lack of quest information led to collaboration both in and out of game to make information available.

Lack of the ability to change names and servers led to jerks becoming blacklisted or being forced to rehabilitate and poor players getting help from strangers to improve.

Lack of auto-grouping (such as LFD) led to people talking to one another to get groups together.

Lack of ports everywhere (for non-mages) and flying mounts led to people planning better and being more patient.

Attunement quests led to people immersing themselves in the story more and feeling more rewarded when getting in to a hard-to-enter raid.

The 5 second rule and downranking led to more complex and intelligent play choices.

Lack of PvP-oriented gear led to a more level playing field in world PvP.

In short, all the “problems” led to people working harder and collaborating more to solve those deficiencies.  Was it more work?  Yes.  Was it at time frustrating?  Of course.

And that’s where the debate splits.  Some people believe that hard work and frustration are antithetical to gaming.  There’s a strong argument to that.  Others feel that WoW’s status hovers somewhere between “a game” and “a hobby,” and most hobbies do require some personal dedication.

Regardless, I feel that the convenience features of modern WoW have led to a culture of disposal in much the same way as in the real world.

WoW no longer requiring patience or work  makes it quite easy to dispose of all the meaningful encounters that the game used to provide.  Some of us have disposed of

dealing with people outside our guilds,

talking to others,

treating others decently,

learning anything from the game itself (as opposed to guides like Icy-Veins or Tankspot),

being willing to collaborate to problem-solve,

being patient,

immersion into the game world,

and most of all, of a lot of personal responsibility.

Most of us (myself included) have disposed of at least one of those things, and many of us have disposed of most of them.  We’re slowly disposing of everything that makes experiencing a game with others worthwhile.  We’re disposing of our in-game humanity.

Empathy has a biological root; look into mirror neurons if you disagree.  Immersion into a story is a uniquely (ugh – “an” uniquely sounds terrible but “a” uniquely looks wrong.  Goddamn English.) human behavior.  Our brains are wired specifically to learning (based on how our dopamine production operates).  Working together to conquer epic projects has been going on for 11,000 years (look into Golbeki Tepe).  And all of those things are being lost with each new convenience that’s introduced.

Do I think we should go back to vanilla WoW as it was?  No.  But I do think there’s a lot we could learn from those old, now-discarded intangibles, those elements that made that game worth playing together and added to the many true improvements that have since been introduced.  Convenience and decency don’t have to run against each other.

Sincerely,

Stubborn (and proselytizing)

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12 Comments leave one →
  1. February 8, 2013 8:20 am

    Ah yes, how I miss the days of sitting in IF for two hours trying (and normally failing) to get a run on my Warlock, or having to ignore people who wouldn’t leave my Priest alone while he was in the middle of healing a dungeon. And let’s not forget the great feel of an alpha-strike from a three-minute Mage wearing T2.5 when you have mixed greens (Eh, it’s INT and AGL but it beats this white) and maybe a blue. You are right, there was no Wowhead to provide all the answers so we had to use Allakhazam. And trying to do anything in the landscape on the Priest, without dropping 50G to go Shadow then 50G to go back to Holy…

    Nostalgia is fun, but it’s usually deceptive. There were a lot of things I liked about Vanilla but it seems you are looking at this from the perspective of someone who was in a nice, safe guild. I agree on a few thing – flying mounts are a huge mistake and the community is far worse. Flying mounts are out the bottle so no chance of a change there. The community is more a case of Blizzard prioritizing subscriptions over decency and the general decay of behavior in the population at large. That could change but I do not see any motivation for Blizzard.

    Oh, and the three characters I mostly played in Vanilla – Priest, Warlock, and Mage. One thing I will never miss was the constant “Port me to…” or “Food and water” whispers.

    • February 8, 2013 8:43 am

      Again, I think this argument misses the point. No one’s talking about nostalgia for problems that existed in the game. Each example you list is something that people can pretty universally agree that Blizzard has improved. You’ve created a straw man here that’s easy to knock down and in no way actually responds to the point I made, that the intangible benefits of working with other people have been lost.

      To be frank, I don’t think we’re disagreeing at all; I think you’re falling into precisely what I said a lot of people who take up your argument fall into, a discussion that debates the merits of the old design over the new design rather than a debate about the lost intangibles that the new conveniences accidentally did away with. You admit you agree with the intangibles argument, so there’s really not much more to say. Yes, the design is better than it used to be. There were negative consequences to some of those new design decisions. Those negative consequences need to be addressed. I don’t think our opinions part anywhere in that chain of logic.

      I will point out though that your examples are cherry picked from particularly negative situations that have little to no bearing with what I wrote. The only one that does – the “alpha strike” mage one (I have no idea what alpha strike is, btw), is only worth responding to because it does relate in a very minor way to my pvp argument. Ganking’s always ganking, no matter what. I again think we probably agree there. I’ll tell you this, though. Prior to pvp gear, two opposite-faction aligned characters of an equivalent level meeting by accident in the wilderness were far more likely to either have a good, fair fight or simply walk away.

      So take away from this that my point stands: the improvements to the design that you rightly defend and the complaints about intangibles that you agree with don’t have to run opposite to one another. We could have both.

      Thanks for the comment!

    • February 8, 2013 11:03 am

      “Alpha Strike” is from Star Fleet Battles, at least that’s the first place I encountered it way back in the early days before Steve Cole decided that you need to endorse his politics to be part of his game. Basically it was dumping all your weapons in a single turn segment for maximum shock damage.

      I think that you are missing the point of the examples. The game was different for people who weren’t in a raid guild. We didn’t go to the guild web page or guild chat to discover things. We certainly didn’t ask in Trade. We went to an external web site, just like now.

      The often unsuccessful wait for a dungeon run? Direct response to your point on LFD and forcing people to talk to each other. For my Priest, sure it was easy and could be fun but usually wasn’t. For my undergeared Mage and Warlock? Not even close. Your positive intangible was my negative.

      The point on T2.5 gear in PvP may have been more relevant to a BG, but the raiders would just explode people and you had to raid to get the gear. PvP gear was an, at least partially, unsuccessful attempt to stop forcing people to PvE to get gear to PvP. Again, for me the lack of PvP gear was a negative.

      I’ll directly respond to one more: The five second rule and downranking were just an experience test. Can you write a simple macro and cancel-cast? Probably not unless you check external sites or have guildmates to tell you. Not really positive or negative, just a mechanics thing.

      I will agree that the game that you want to play may not be there after the changes. The game I want to play is barely there as things stand. Fortunately for me most of my WoW game time is spent with my friends and family guild. It doesn’t matter that none of them will ever look at a theorycraft site, the game is a game for this crew, not a hobby. It’s also left me casting about looking for a game that I can turn into a hobby – to the point that I’m actually looking at Eve though that seems far too focused on the extroverted social butterflies. Who pack knives. And poison.

    • February 8, 2013 3:28 pm

      You’re right about your waiting on the dungeon run being a response to that point; I don’t know what I was thinking when I ignored that one other than it was early in the morning. However, my general point wasn’t about “liking to wait for dungeon runs,” it was about the coordination and relief that often kept the party together through what might be a tough pull, which again returns to my point about the fact that we’re not really having the same argument. LFD in and of itself is great, but the culture of disposal it engenders is a terrible result that everyone pretends is a given. I don’t believe it is, and when the old timers hearken back to the days before that culture, what we’re hearkening to is the cohesion, not the wait.

      You also make a point about checking external sites – those sites were created (back then) by individuals working together rather than large corporate entities with a financial stake in it. Not that I have a problem with WoWhead and the like, but the cooperation was a sign of enjoying the game.

      And for the record,
      “It’s also left me casting about looking for a game that I can turn into a hobby – to the point that I’m actually looking at Eve though that seems far too focused on the extroverted social butterflies. Who pack knives. And poison.” is fantastic (;

      Thanks for the comment!

  2. Samus permalink
    February 8, 2013 7:15 pm

    This entire argument is framed from the perspective of hardcore players. The argument that forming groups manually was better assumes you HAVE 1-2 hours to spare to form the group. And that is on top of the 2+ hours dungeons routinely took back then. I had several friends that rarely were able to run instances in vanilla or TBC because they simply couldn’t commit to that length of time.

    Nearly everything on your list assumes someone who is absolutely committed to this game, and that “conveniences” are for people who simply don’t want to do the work.

    Look on WoWProgress. There are currently roughly 40k guilds that have killed any raid boss (not including LFR), almost all of them 10 man. A generous estimate puts that at 500k “committed” players, out of 10 million, or 5%.

    Blizzard would be absolutely insane to get rid of quality of life features that unquestionably make the game better for 95% of their player base. And the benefit for the 5% is highly debatable.

    • February 8, 2013 9:22 pm

      From my point of view, defining my point of view as “hardcore” is pretty absurd. I’ve never had the time to be hardcore – ever – nor do I have the time for it now. I haven’t really raided in a solid year, and I haven’t raided seriously since the very beginning of Cataclysm. So to argue that my argument is framed from a hardcore perspective seems rather inaccurate.

      That said, here again this discussion misses the point; no one is saying we should go backwards and eliminate the quality of life features. I’m talking about addressing the horrible deficiencies that have appeared in the game as a RESULT of the quality of life features. Instead, people often pretend that it’s one or the other, that talking about the intangible benefits the old design engendered somehow threatens a change back to the dark ages of WoW, which results in these kinds of off-topic responses. As I concluded, we can have both. It doesn’t have to be one or the other. We’re not even really in disagreement.

      Lastly, “nearly everything on (my) list” is a pretty broad term. Which of the following list, taken directly from my blog post as a cut list solely of the intangibles (which appeared after the archaic design problems) requires “absolute commitment?”
      using outside media
      collaboration both in and out of game to make information available
      getting help from strangers to improve
      people talking to one another
      people planning better and being more patient
      people immersing themselves in the story
      more complex and intelligent play choices
      a more level playing field in world PvP

      Or perhaps you were talking about this list:
      dealing with people outside our guilds
      talking to others
      treating others decently
      learning anything from the game itself (as opposed to guides like Icy-Veins or Tankspot)
      being willing to collaborate to problem-solve
      being patient
      immersion into the game world
      and most of all, of a lot of personal responsibility

      Again, what there requires “absolute commitment?” They all seem perfectly reasonable to me, a person who barely raids at all and was never even remotely a hardcore raider.

      Thanks for the comment!

    • Samus permalink
      February 9, 2013 1:49 am

      Ah, I see what you’re saying now. You do not want to get rid of current quality of life features, you simply want to address the unintended consequences they caused (perhaps with new features, not necessarily by reverting back). That, I agree, is a different discussion.

      I would also say that hardcore to casual is more of a spectrum than either/or. However, you have to recognize, you would have been counted in the 500k members of raiding guilds I referred to before. It may sound absurd to you, and I’m sure you can point to a great many people much more hardcore than yourself, but you are still in the top 5% of the most hardcore players.

      Now, I’m not arguing with you about how hardcore you are, I’m just pointing out how much more casual the overwhelming majority of the WoW player base is. And I’m saying, I don’t think you realize that while your list might be perfectly reasonable to ask of players like yourself (and myself, for that matter), much of it simply isn’t feasible for a truly casual player.

      Anything which requires substantial research outside of the game itself, a substantial amount of time in preparation just to begin the actual content, and a substantial amount of uninterrupted time to go through that content is more than just a game. This is a full time hobby. That is what I mean by “absolute commitment.”

      Your list is perfectly reasonable to ask of someone who has committed the majority of their free time to this activity. But I think the most you can expect of a casual player is to treat others with decency, and to give an honest effort.

    • February 9, 2013 12:00 pm

      When you frame it that way, I suppose you’re right. I have raided, so I guess I’m in the 5%, even if I’m in the 4.9999999999% bottom percentile of it. And I do totally agree about the spectrum; it’s just that I’ve always identified as “part-core,” so it’s sometimes hard to wrap my brain around a “hardcore” label.

      I think the biggest gap in our discussion was just a semantic one (as is often the case). When I think “absolute commitment,” I think about people who raid nearly every night or for hours and hours at a time and who do little to nothing else. I’ve never been in that situation. Nor do I dedicate all my free time to WoW; I’m pretty extensively involved in other games all the time, from pen and paper RPGs to (currently) League of Legends and Magic: The Gathering Online. In the end, it may just be the word “absolute” that threw me; I would agree I’ve been “committed” to WoW at times, but have never thought of that as an absolute one.

      Still, the “vortex of social obligations” (to quote Penny Arcade) that has surrounded WoW for me at times does speak to a stronger commitment than perhaps I was at that time aware of.

      And in the end, it’s the decency that’s the most important to me, hence the title and the final line. Most of the other stuff was tangential to my point about “having it all.” I just feel that quite often people don’t register that it can, in fact, be both, and instead just respond to the erroneous appearance the old-timers sometimes put off that they miss the old game. It’s not really the old GAME they miss, it’s the old community that the stone-age design of the game engendered.

      Thanks for the comment, and I’m glad we could straighten a lot of that out!

  3. Imakulata permalink
    February 9, 2013 1:58 pm

    You might be the first person in years I’ve seen to claim WoW didn’t suffer from ability bloat but the exact opposite, i. e. had too few buttons. It doesn’t seem to be the main point of your post but certainly it is an unusual one. :-) Personally I prefer the current system with variety of spells over the game trying to obscure the fact I have 15 to 20 casted direct heals because I feel each spell has an identity (which allows me to decide what spell to use on the fly instead of having a spreadsheet do it for me). (I am not sure how would it work for DPS but I can’t really remember any widespread usage of 5SR and downranking among damage dealers.)

    As for what I think are the main points of your post: First, I feel you’re arguing with a strawman. I may be wrong and there may be some who wish people should be neither steered nor even helped into being social in the game but I believe most of them have a similar opinion to mine – Rimecat and Samus certainly seem to me. (It may be just my bias though.) I would like to see people be steered into being social with others and helpful to them. I don’t think I can be convinced to view it as a negative feature. However, there is a question: Is there a cost and what is it? And the answer I get from many people is: “HELL YES! And it’s huge too.” There’s a cost worth to pay for something and there’s a cost not worth to pay.

    Second point is that you assume vanilla WoW and the old games somehow had the advantages. One person arguing about this said we did most of the things in spite of the game rather than because of it; we can be – and many are – social in spite of the game even nowadays. People usually didn’t deal with others outside of their guild unless they were already friends or had a business with them, the talking to others was never very social (LF1M tank daily PST – inv – GS? etc.), there were basic things you had to learn on fan sites or forums (because people collaborated in and out of game to get the information the game used not to provide – they do it today as well), people had very little personal responsibility (remember how many groups broke before starting up a dungeon because there was not enough people to summon)…

    I agree with you that convenience and decency don’t have to run against each other. Where I seem to disagree is that I think – now matter how unfortunate it is – that inconvenience and indecency don’t have to run against each other either.

    • February 10, 2013 3:44 pm

      I’m not claiming any of the old features were better than new features. My only claim, as you pointed out later, is that the crappy old features engendered something in the players that has since been lacking. There absolutely is ability bloat.

      As for the straw man, I’m not really arguing about steering people to be social; I agree that everyone probably agrees with that. I’m arguing that often the debate about the old game versus the new game isn’t communicated very well be either side. The sides superficially appear to be arguing about old features versus new attitudes, but really they’re arguing about old attitudes versus new features. I believe there’s no argument there at all, that we could have both with a little redesign. However, because no one ever really gets anywhere with those arguments (since they’re not really listening to one another), we end up without any meaningful agreements on what should change. No one wants to change the new features, nor does anyone particularly like the sour attitudes. It’s just that often the problems are framed in a way that either you have to have one or the other. I don’t buy that.

      Regardless, thanks for the comment!

  4. Imakulata permalink
    February 10, 2013 5:33 pm

    Thank you for your reply too. I agree with you even though I came to the point a different way (as an example, I find the “new attitudes” actually being old ones and wish them being replaced with new ones which are very similar to the “old attitudes” you mention); I might also be a bit less optimistic on the implementation. But the goal is still the same.

    • Imakulata permalink
      February 10, 2013 5:34 pm

      This was supposed to be a reply to Stubborn’s previous comment – it seems I forgot to actually click the link and never noticed. Sorry!

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