I’ve been feeling old in my game play recently. Perhaps “getting old” is simply an excuse for mediocre players who’ve finally reached an age where they can use it for an excuse, but in the last four games I’ve played, I’ve really felt my age affecting my play.
I’m getting forgetful.
In Witcher 2, the button scheme is super-complicated (from my point of view). I’m frequently forgetting in between combats what buttons are what. During the tutorial, I did all the tasks as required and learned the buttons. When the end came, you’re given a trial to fight three dudes at once. I couldn’t remember the button sequences from minutes before, though,and got killed. The game then set my difficulty to easy, which I scoffed at, insulted. I changed it back to normal, but I’m not so sure that was a good idea. I’ll let you know as I progress.
I’m going blind.
I happen to by playing two first person shooters right now, too; one with my mostly-blind buddy, one with my NWN buddy. Far Cry 3 I play with my mostly-blind buddy. He beats me at shooting challenges sometimes, which distresses me. I can’t seem to keep my hand still any more to make long-range shots as effectively, but more on that in a second. In longer maps, I almost always come out on top for kills and headshots and measurements like that, but there’re times he spots things that I had completely missed. Since his vision in one eye is basically totaly shot (like colors only) and is pretty bad in the other eye, when he sees baddies coming that I’ve missed, I’m baffled at my own obliviousness. My eyes aren’t great, but they’re okay, and I’m missing these small details that I used to be the pro at finding. It’s a disconcerting change.
I’m also playing Mass Effect 3 multiplayer with my NWN buddy. When given the option of various classes, I often pick the high-accuracy, skillshot based classes. In ME3′s case, this is the infiltrator. However, the ME3 multiplayer requires a lot of movement. Instead of being able to stay in place and pick my targets off, I have to constantly reposition and, often, aim carefully while running. I can’t handle both of those tasks any more. If I’m moving and go to take a shot, my hands twitch a lot and I often miss. That’s a critical failure when using a slow bolt-action gun.
I’ve seen the same problem in League of Legends recently, too, the 4th game I’m playing. I’ve been practicing a lot on LeBlanc, and I’ve gotten very good against bots (which means nothing, I know, but still). I finally got to play her in a live game (instead of everyone else saying mid mid mid mid as soon as the damn champ select starts), and I did quite well against the Katarina that was there. However, I had a hard time finishing my combo, though, because the only real skill shot – a line attack – I kept missing because I’d twitch a tiny bit right as I clicked to shoot it off.
This is definitely different than my past. I’m from the south and spent a decent amount of time as a youth shooting guns. I was never a deadeye, but I was okay. I could hit smallish targets at medium ranges with a fair frequency, even with stronger caliber guns. The kick wasn’t that big a deal. I can’t imagine the “kick” of clicking the mouse is what’s throwing my aim off. I think I’m just getting old.
I don’t like being carried. I want to pull my weight, and I’m starting to feel like the only way I can safely ensure that is by playing with people my own age, even if that means playing on “casual” difficulty, which I was forced to resort to with my blind buddy after being mauled repeatedly on co-op. That’s not to say I’d turn down my younger buddy’s invitations to play games, but I certainly do feel like starting to withdraw a little from the multiplayer game world. Like so many stereotypes of old people before me, “I don’t want to be a burden.” Cliché, perhaps, but true.
Stubborn (and feeling old today)
There’s a well-known phenomenon in education (thought I’m sure we can all name teachers and professors who clearly had not heard of it) called The Curse of Knowledge. Its premise is that the longer you know about a topic, the harder and harder it is to explain it to newcomers. If you think about your mathematics professor who went too fast and became frustrated when you couldn’t keep up or your English professor who looked at you like you were stupid because you didn’t know what a dangling modifier was (btw: linguistic nerds, I just heard about “contrastive reduplication.” I think it’s a stupid name, but not stupid stupid.), then you’ve got a good idea about what it’s like to be the victim of The Curse of Knowledge.
I have no doubt this applies in video games as well. Koster describes this in his own terms as “priesthoods:”
The historical trend in games has shown that when a new genre of game is invented, it follows a trajectory where increasing complexity is added to it, until eventually the games on the market are so complex and advanced that newcomers can’t get into them–the barrier to entry is too high… Priesthoods develop, terms enter common usage, and soon only the educated few can hack it.
-Theory of Fun
I think that’s spot-on accurate about the communities that surround them, about how The Curse of Knowledge affects the old-guard player, the early adopters. And he’s not passive about the matter, either; he goes on to say, “priesthoods are a perversion of what games are about.”
I think a lot of the hulabaloo about various changes to any particular game are about the priesthood defending its turf. They’ve forgotten what it’s like to be a new player, or someone strapped for time, or someone who can’t seem to find a good fit for a game or play group; they’ve been infected by The Curse of Knowledge.
The downside is that it’s a curse that cannot be cured from without. It’s a self-inflicted curse brought on by people who don’t associate enough with new players, don’t reflect on their play style, and/or isolate themselves within high monastic walls, like elite guilds. To be clear, none of those behaviors are inherently wrong, but they can lead to a kind of mental seclusion where the elite play that they witness on a daily basis becomes their norm against which all other play is judged.
Games – and all hobbies – need dedicated players who push the limits of the game, plumb the depths of what can be done or where can be reached. It’s necessary for the game to develop; if no one ever killed H Rags, then what would the point of a new expansion be?
But at the same time, we should all work to safeguard ourselves from The Curse of Knowledge. I have to do it on a daily basis with my students, but many of us don’t have to interact very often with people so clearly on a different level in whatever area we’re pursuing. I get a lot of joy out of doing that; of watching my class of can’t-sit-stillers work 30 minutes without a single interruption (writing endurance is as real as running endurance, and it takes time to build), of the first really beautiful thesis statement a student produces, out of the goosebumps I get when students find something in a text I’d never considered. I’m constantly reminded that I know very little about the grand scheme of things because my students keep me that way. But many don’t have that kind of opportunity.
I’ve never been one much to pay attention to invisible boundaries, either, the kind of boundaries that the priesthood often develops. As I mentioned in a comment to my last post, when I finally level capped my paladin and was learning to tank, my buddy, a warrior, tried to teach me, but tanking mechanics worked very differently back then. So I asked around about what was the best guild on the server. This was Earthen Ring 4 or 5 years ago (edit: wow, no, it was more like 8… sheesh), a huge server with a big population and some very serious raiding guilds, mind you, so when I found out who was on top, perhaps I should have considered whether it was “my place” to cold whisper someone.
But I didn’t. I /who’d the guild name, found a max-level paladin, and asked them for some help.
And they gave it. They gave about an hour of their time just to talk to me, point me at websites where I could get more information, explain some of the more jargonistic terms (like “off the hit table”). Rather than acting like a part of the exclusionary priesthood, this person brought me into the fold, showed me how to further help myself, and bettered the server around them.
I know now how lucky I was. Had I landed on a jerk instead of a hero, who knows how that would have affected my perception of the game.
Now consider how many new players are still finding their way into Azeroth, and how much colder the community has become.
Work to avoid The Curse of Knowledge in all aspects of your life. You have no idea how important it will be to the people around you.
Stubborn (and casting decurse on all you readers)
I recently received sad news from a friend that she would no longer be playing WoW. It wasn’t totally unexpected; both she and I have logged very little play time for the past several months, so I fully understood her decision. In our discussion about her quitting, she mentioned that it had been hard to find a group of people to play with like she and her husband had in previous expansions. In short, guilds had failed her.
I’m so immediately and emotionally connected to that sentiment that I felt I should write on it, perhaps “again” as it’s nothing new to this blog. The game – whatever game it may be – is never better than when you and your group are meshing perfectly. We write about those times, about the heroic and funny stories of boss encounters, pvp situations, and even role-playing events. We share the joy and laughs of those good times because we’re bursting with the desire to share how great things are.
The other side of that, though, is that the game is never worse than when play groups fail. Guild drama, raiding problems, /gkicks, and the like all make up the measure of the worst type of gaming stories, the ones we write for sympathy and as words of warning. We’ve all seen our fair share of those, and many of us have had to endure them.
Play groups are the lifeblood of every single MMO out there. They’re what makes a game an MMO; just being online with a lot of other people – parallel play – is meaningless, really, and only visually distinguishable from a single player game, in that there’s other people around that you know aren’t AI. Play groups make or break a game, and having enough bad experiences with play groups is often the cause of people quitting a game. Players may say it’s about the mechanics or a shift in the game’s design, but if they still had a play group they loved, none of that would matter.
Of course, burnout is a very real and different reason that people quit, and not even a good play group can always cope with burnout, but from my personal experience, burnout has always led to breaks, but failing guilds have sounded the death knell of WoW, even if its actual death came somewhat later:
My buddy quit after our initial guild fell apart, then again after my previous “best guild” mistreated him, then permanently after a bout of guild hunting that landed us in several different guilds on different servers, none of which worked out.
My two friends who are brothers stopped after guild drama of various types. Both came back, but didn’t stick with it because they weren’t part of anything larger; they couldn’t find a guild they meshed with.
My wife stopped playing after our last guild (which for me is three guilds ago, to be clear) fell apart. She comes back for a little of this and that, but she’s never really had interest since.
Every one of these cases came down to play groups, and all were avoidable, but now I’m left in a similar place; I’ve none of my old guard to play with. I bounce around with my new buddy in the flex raids once a week, but that’s all I do. The clanging heartbeat of excitement we used to have when we raided in a great guild is gone, and the game’s subsisting on life support. If my schedule changed and I couldn’t make those flex raids regularly, that would be that, without a doubt.
Folks, if you’re in a good guild, treasure it. Thank those people the next time you see them – you know the ones – the players who make the social circle an inclusive, warm place to be. Tell them how much they mean to you and your gameplay, and when things go a little wrong, fight with all your interest in gaming against things falling apart.
Those play groups are all that separates that fun from dust.
Stubborn (who reminisces about his old days in good play groups)
Late and short post today, but I suppose that’s better than no post today. Drywaller’s in, but my wife asked him to do a lot more than we’d initially contracted, so that’s pushed our timetable back, which pushes the painter back, which pushes the carpet cleaners back, etc etc. Ah well. It’ll get done, but it’s stress on ladders here.
Been playing a fair share of LoL and not much else; I don’t really know why. I did enjoy my Wednesday night WoW flex raid, though my favorite healing druid wasn’t there, which put a damper on things. How dare she be sick or something! Still, it was a good, clean run, and I had plenty of fun with all my other friends in that otherwise hardcore guild. There was a “new” flexer from that hardcore guild there, and she was clearly a hardcore player. That’s not to say she wasn’t nice or interesting; she was. Hell, she had more unique pets than anyone I’ve met in person; somewhere in the neighborhood of 565, so it’s not like raiding was her only thing in life or even in the game. She was friendly, but she was also a little less patient with the flexers and a little more blunt and direct than I’ve grown used to. She didn’t say anything negative to me, mind you; she was perfectly cordial, you could just… tell. She was there for pets. That’s it. No shenanigans required or desired.
In LoL, I’ve been playing a lot of LeBlanc; I’d played her once or twice on a free week, and she was interesting, but she quickly fell off my radar for other favorites, and since I never saw her in games, I assumed she was fatally flawed somehow. Then I had an excellent game versus a LeBlanc on mid lane with me as Teemo; I quickly learned that she could burst me down in a heartbeat, so I stayed away and let my mushrooms and extremely occasional pokes do the job. Since she was so anti-Teemo (in gameplay and match ups), I figured I’d give her a try. It’s certainly refreshingly different to be a lane bully instead of being so passive all the time. I’ve yet to take her into a live game, but that’s only because people keep calling mid and/or top before I can, so I end up support (I refuse to jungle in a real game because I stink at it, and I don’t like adc too much). I’ll likely see her in a live game by the end of the weekend, though, so we’ll see if she’s okay or like Kennan, who I suspect is mostly just dead meat in live games.
I’m also preparing for my first professional conference presentation. If you check up on me, you won’t see Stubborn listed on the program, but I assure you I’ll be there. I’m doing an hour-long presentation on using business techniques, mostly salesmanship, to motivate otherwise only moderately motivated students into staying in class and doing the work you ask of them. It’s called “Motivation as Currency: How to Sell your Classroom,” which I think is a snappy title. We’ll see if I choke or not.
Enjoy the weekend!
Stubborn (and late)
It’s official; I will be moving to Virginia later this year. Mostly, this terrifies me; I have to sell a house – something I’ve never done before – and find a new job – something I struggled with literally for years upon moving to Illinois. Regardless, I think the move is for the best (especially since this hellhole’s had the worst winter in like 50 years, so I’m ready to be done with it).
As a result, there’s been a flurry of activity around my house. For one, I rotated a room 90 degrees at the real estate agent’s suggestion. This wouldn’t be so impressive except that the room had a seven-seat sectional as well as a satisfyingly large flat-screen TV on a nice wood and glass stand, as well as three bookshelves. It took hours, and my back is QUITE irritated at me.
On the gaming front, my buddy and I gave up on Far Cry 3 Co-op. Each board had a frustrating portion that was not only not fun, but also poorly designed. The one that finally did us in was a mission where one of us had to carry something very slowly back to a specific point while the other covered him from an absurd amount of randomly-spawning mobs. It would be fine, except that it was clearly a mission designed for four people: one person manning a short-range high-damage stationary gun, one person carrying, and two covering the 360 degrees around the carrier.
It was impossible with two. Impossible. We probably tried it fifty times – this is not an exaggeration. We tried it for hours over three play sessions. We’re both experienced FPS players, but mobs would spawn that could one-shot you – melee mobs or shotgunners – from multiple directions in packs of two or four, and one person simply could not kill them all fast enough. We tried having the carrier move a bit, drop the package, shoot some, and while that worked at first, by the end, so many mobs had spawned because it was taking so long to deliver the package that we were overwhelmed.
It reminded me precisely of what I disliked about Star Wars: The Old Republic. What made me the most irritated about that otherwise enjoyable game was the difficulty scaling between two and three people. The game was pretty clearly designed for one, two, or four – not for three. I’ve recounted before the hour-long dungeons with elite adds that spawn with the pull, making them un-CCable that were then run by two people in fifteen minutes.
This challenge was very much like that. I couldn’t pick a position and carefully take out the resistance first. I couldn’t stealth around and murder the guards to prevent them from calling for help. In fact, I couldn’t use any strategy at all; I just had to reactionarily shoot everything that spawned as fast as possible. That’s of no interest to me, particularly when they spawn at a rate faster than a single player can kill them. That leaves the players the choice of killing endless waves of adds but making no progress or making progress but dying from becoming overwhelmed. Fun.
So instead, my buddy and I installed How to Survive, a Diablo-style zombie horror survival game that he picked up for cheap. I was a bit skeptical because its metascore was 58, but since Two Worlds 2 had a 70-something, clearly those scores can’t be trusted at all (as that was basically the worst game I’ve paid for).
We’re probably half to three-quarters of the way through, and so far it’s been a lot of fun. The crafting system is great, the gameplay has been pretty fair so far. I think it would be really tough with just one person, but I don’t know if the zombies would be as numerous and tough as they are in two player mode. The plot line is a little thin at times, but so are most games nowadays, so that’s not much of a complaint. I will say that it’s much harder to play on a mouse/keyboard setup than with a dual analog system; it’s clearly designed for gamepad. My buddy essentially abandoned ranged because of how hard it was to aim (at least until he got a boomerang and thus could just spam attacks).
So overall, the big news is finalized, Far Cry 3 is out, and How to Survive is in, for now.
More next time!
Stubborn (with a sore back)
One thing that struck me recently was how much I like to try out different builds in games. Whether it’s Borderlands or WoW, I’ve likely tried every major build that’s out there for each character I’m really playing (meaning not on every alt). Games that allow that kind of respeccing encourage a little experimentation, though of course the ever-present theory-crafting beast tells us which of those specs is the most efficient. In that way, games have to seek a kind of balance, not just in power levels, which is the context in which we usually hear about balance, but also a balance between stagnation and efficiency. Once you’ve found the perfect build, how long are you willing to do that same thing, over and over and over?
It struck me most recently when I rebooted my Guild Wars 2 account in an expectation I’d be playing with my wife (which never came to pass). The first thing I did was look up thief builds; I’d not done any research on thieves in the past, so I really had no idea what a “good” or “bad” build was; I just knew I wanted to experiment with something new. I found a variety of options, bookmarked a few for later experimentation, and built the other.
It was a stark contrast to my experience with my GW2 warrior, where I found very early on that the great sword build was miles and miles more powerful than anything else I’d found. Knowing that made me feel very uncomfortable, though; my buddy was struggling on his elementalist, and when I wasn’t massacring mobs with the great sword, we’d struggle a bit, so I felt compelled to stick with efficiency and avoid experimentation.
I think that might be the secret problem in games like GW2 and The Secret World where you can realize your “ideal” build very early. Those of us who want to experiment, which I believe to be many of us, are left with an uncomfortable strain between what’s working very well and getting bored and wanting to try something else.
I suspect that’s part of why many other video games have a much more leisurely power curve; you don’t get all your core powers in WoW at level 45, for example; you learn to use the basics, then get more and more advanced techniques as you continue to level. In TSW, though, I had my “optimal” build by mid-Egypt (about halfway through the content), meaning that I was dying to experiment with something new before I got to Transylvania (the last third of the game). I tried out a tank build and was unimpressed, a healer/dps hybrid and was unimpressed, and so forth. My desire to experiment was facing problems at every turn because the efficiency of the other build was so great.
Perhaps that’s a feature, though, and not a bug. Perhaps they’ve designed the game with that in mind so that players have to make that “interesting choice.” I don’t know; I loved TSW and was only lukewarm to GW2. It doesn’t seem like there was a correlation between my overall experience and that discomfort I felt by being optimal too early. Then again, I didn’t finish GW2, either; I got bored of using the same abilities over and over.
So perhaps that’s a concern developers should consider. How early is too early to find your optimal build?
What do ya’ll think?
Stubborn (not yet his optimal build)
Syl’s got a lovely new player’s analysis of DayZ on her phenomenal blog, MMO Gypsy. I’d strongly urge you to give it a read, especially since the majority of the content of this post is on the same topic.
Have you read it? Okay, let’s take a trip down memory lane here at Sheep The Diamond.
It’s a completely different kind of gameplay than I’ve experienced in a long time – if not ever.
Syl feels much the same way:
MMO players curious about DayZ but undecided might also find something of interest there :)—
Syl (@Gypsy_Syl) February 13, 2014
Another similarity was our two descriptions of how we think about our interactions in terms of a consequence chain:
My second encounter with a survivor did not go as smoothly, but it did reveal to me that while I may not be a killer, I’m not just a victim, either. I was, again, in a barn. I seem to spend a lot of time there, since I avoid the big cities. I had seen another survivor outside and avoided them. There’s a dichotomy there: speak out and reveal that you’re around or stay quiet and potentially have a problem.
And from Syl
Centered around survival with and against other players, DayZ is a game of endless decisions that often need to happen quickly. Dilemmas abound: Do I cross that public square in broad daylight for a chance of food or do I risk my hunger longer? Do I take a chance at the exposed well or try the popular food store? Do I have my weapon at the ready or do I prefer the faster run speed? Do I talk to that person and risk getting shot? Do I shoot first and risk to be heard? If I get heard, what’s my fastest way out? It never ends and paths lead in all directions.
So it seems we both took a quick liking to DayZ. Even today, talking to my buddy about this post, he brought up enjoyable tale after enjoyable tale from our time playing it, but in the end, we both agreed with my previously-written final conclusion:
I’d like to discuss how in a 48 hour time period, DayZ went from what I wanted to play to what I don’t want to play any more. I mentioned DayZ a few days (weeks, perhaps?) ago. It’s a zombie-horror survival game wherein you play a survivor washed up on an unfamiliar coastline with nothing but a flashlight, a Band-aid, and a bottle of Tylenol. From there, you have to find food and water, arm yourself, equip yourself with tools to hunt, build fires, and cook, and see just how long you can survive.
It’s a masterful concept, but the more my buddy and I played, the more we realized the glaring design faults. This isn’t about the various bugs that exist everywhere in the game; it’s only in alpha, so we can hardly complain. No, the game clearly wants to be about one thing – survival – but due to poor design, it becomes something else – a Belarusian Counterstrike.
The primary outcome of the flawed design is that everyone becomes a “bandit.” A “bandit” is a player who kills other players for no reason. Now, I’m not against the PvP elements of the game; in a true survival situation, there will be bandits, even teams of them, and there will also be desperate situations where it’s kill or starve, and they’ll be misunderstandings that lead to bloodshed. But not everyone will be a bandit. It’s simply not realistic. However, after our first few play sessions, literally everyone we ever met shot at us for no reason. In most of those cases, we died. In a few, we pushed them back. In one, I killed the fellow. So to be clear: I’m not against the PvP. I’m against the concept that the whole goddamn game is PvP.
So while I will never fault someone for enjoying a game, I’m afraid I just can’t agree with Syl. The constant state of butchery for no reason does not imply, to me, an unspoken code of conduct. Is there one? Sure, but only for people who are playing it the same way I am (note I didn’t say the “right” or “wrong” way). I’d love to hang out with Syl’s British buddies, be a part of a clan, and run around bettering the desolate world.
But all it takes is one jerk who doesn’t care if he has to reroll popping you in the head from out of sight to ruin all your hard work. He may get killed by your buddies, and you may be able to get geared back up and into the mix, but still, you’re not the same character, nor, eventually, the same player. How many times before it loses its novelty? For my buddy and I, it was the fourth or fifth back-to-back snipings that made us want to stop. No speech, no discussion, just death from the dark, and we were done.
So I hope we’ll hear from Syl again (not Sly, by the way: Syl) in a few weeks on how she’s doing, and to be honest, I truly hope she’s still enjoying it. Maybe that will give me hope to give the new game a try. Only time will tell.
Stubborn (and quoting quite a lot today)