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Imagination and Memory, then some WoW News

October 12, 2011

Dear Reader,

Not about WoW

I think I’ve just read one of the most important studies I’ve come across in years.  I’ve always enjoyed reading about how the brain works, and I’ve applied a lot of what I’ve learned to the classroom, despite the fact that almost every educational “advance” I’ve seen come from elsewhere has gone against what I’ve learned.  I believe, in fact, that’s part of what makes me a good teacher.  I’ve read and strongly recommend books like A General Theory of Love and Nurtureshock for years, so it surprises me that today was the first time I came across the research done by Demis Hassabis, a former game designer-turned neuroscientist in England, not in a book about biochemistry, but about immersion in the modern media.  The book is The Art of Immersion by Frank Rose.

I won’t do too much biography here, but suffice it to say Hassabis worked for Lionhead studios on games like Black and White, got frustrated with how stupid AI was, and decided to learn about how human brains work so he could then incorporate similar mechanisms into AI.  His approach was to wonder what had been overlooked for the last 100 years, and it finally struck him when he considered a more recent view of memories, that we rebuild them each time we remember something (which turns out to be true).  He realized then that the act of remembering, that is reconstructing memories, could be linked to imagination.

It was.  His study showed that people with memory impairment also had imagination impairment.  When I read this, I got all tingly and got goosebumps, a surefire way for me to tell when something amazing is happening, though usually it’s related to student revelations in the classroom.  One of the constant complaints in modern education is that students have less and less retention, that is the ability to remember things that they’ve been taught, from lesson to lesson or year to year.  At the same time, I’ve seen a dramatic reduction in the amount of free-play imagination time in kids.  We hear about overscheduling, state mandated tests for third graders, and the like.  It’s not a coincidence.

Play, then, helps memory.  Whether it’s simple “house” or “cops and robbers” or Legos or even Chess, the act of imagining a scenario, be it a fanstastic scenario with Lego super-heroes (you know I’m speaking from experience on that one) or a strategic scenario about how to capture your opponent’s King, builds memory.  Having a stronger memory helps higher level thinking skills, as Bloom’s Taxonomy implies (though modern education seems to think that you can skip the bottom of the pyramid and move up to the top right away, which of course is structurally impossible).  Put directly then: Play makes you smarter.

It probably doesn’t come as that much of a revelation to people who work a lot with kids, but the fact that there’s research now that backs it up gives me hope that this can be transferred into classrooms.  Of course, the research in Nurtureshock‘s been out for a decade and many of the tenets of that book are routinely ignored in the public school system, so maybe I’m being premature.  Still, though, if the higher education institutions I work for ever make the “mistake” of giving me an education class, I’ll at least be able to pass this tidbit on to a few future teachers.

About WoW

For a WoW update, let me tell you that for probably the fifth time I’ve sworn off endgame PuGs.  I reached 85 with my shammy, having healed my way through dungeons all the way.  I went into a regular on my toon well enough geared for a heroic thanks to cheap 359 boots, scouting waves cards for cheap on the way, and the Thrall end-game quest line (not to mention the dungeon drops from getting to 85), but I didn’t think I was heroic ready yet.  My first regular was Grim Batol, where I had a tank and two dps who CLEARLY had no idea what they were doing.  They completely ignored boss mechanics up until Drahga, where they allowed themselves to be blown up one after another by the fire elementals.

Luckily, my healing and my wife’s rogue dps were good enough to finish the boss without them.  By burning the boss and just getting blown up, they’d taken the dragon down to few hp, and it was only seconds of my wife evasion tanking before Valiona left.  She handily mopped up Drahga while I frost shock kited and add around.  Overall, my healing was just fine; we finished the dungeon happy and only slightly annoyed by the noobishness of the other players.

My second was Halls of Origination.  The tank marked nothing, stood in the shadow lancer’s aoe damage effect, and we nearly wiped on the first pull; luckily I was able to keep everyone alive.  At the first boss, the tank dropped down at the appropriate time to pull the lever, but did NOTHING about picking up adds, so when the entire party followed, the others were massacred by the snakes.  I healed as much as I could, but was spending a lot of time just keeping myself alive, since every heal just generated more snake aggro.  We survived the first drop and burned the boss to the second, at which point I was out of mana.  The tank did the same thing, and everyone died.  “Bad heals” was the tank’s analysis.

I truly don’t know why I got so angry, but suffice it to say that I flipped out.  I stomped around my house, cursing and carrying on like a madman, which very rarely occurs but, unfortunately, sometimes does.  Bad healing?  That imbecile didn’t pick up a SINGLE add and ran me out of mana from healing everyone else in the party instead of just him.  I “Brutes’d” him (named after Brutes of Burning Blade, a character I met very early on in my WoW career who was extremely mean to me for no apparent reason and who got the treatment I describe here every few weeks for a few months afterwards), where I make a new character on his server, send him a very rude tell, then log off and delete the character.  Blizzard still hasn’t figured out a way to deal with that, but if the gold sellers get to abuse it, I should be able to as well.

I’m not proud of what I did, and I kick myself and am embarrassed that I got so upset, but that’s it, at least until I foolishly forget, but it seems unlikely since I’ve only 3 more toons to get to 85, and I know two of them will be INSTANTLY retired upon doing so.  I’m done with PuGs, I truly think forever this time.  I’d avoided them as a tank because they so callously ignore marks, strategies, and so forth, making my job harder, but I thought perhaps as a healer things would be different.  They weren’t, they were only worse, since tank attitude has been so elevated by Blizzard’s gift system.

Let me put it right out there.  Healing is hard.  Nothing else in the game is.  I’ve tanked end game, healed end game, and dps’d end game, and the ONLY time I’ve ever felt stress was healing.  The ONLY time it’s been a job is healing.  Everything else is easy (though I might say DK tanking is “harder” than other tanking; I’ll leave that one out of my tirade).  If you’re not healing, then I’ll happily listen to your theories about this and that, but the fact of the matter is that you don’t really know what it’s like to be with a bad group.  To you, it’s an inconvenience, dear reader.  To the healer, it’s a nightmare.

Tanking hasn’t been hard since Fel Reaver.  DPS was never hard, though it is competitive, which is not the same thing.  Healing is hard.

At any rate, I hope I didn’t offend you, dear reader, with my tirade.  I spent the next day just leveling my alts with my wife, which was thoroughly enjoyable as we mindlessly dpsed in dungeons and bgs.  That’s all I’m good for now, it seems.  I’ve too much anger stored away about all the little meaningless slights from PuGs to do anything else.  It’s not a situation I’m happy with, and I certainly sank to his level this time (and in Brutes’s case – he’s not on BB any more; I checked as soon as I transferred there months ago to see), but Blizz’s complete inability to create a coherent, polite community has left me unhappy with an otherwise good game.


Stubborn (and broken)

15 Comments leave one →
  1. October 12, 2011 10:21 am

    Just having leveled a discipline priest to 85 via LFD, my opinion is that healing well is much easier than doing dps well. HOWEVER, not healing well has conseqences, not dpsing well, does not.

    I can understand your reaction. Healing LFDs is easily the most thankless activity ever. If you excel nobody even notices. If you don’t, everybody complains.

    • October 12, 2011 3:02 pm

      I halfway agree about the “doing well” thing. It’s hard to dps well, which is why it’s such a competitive market. Healing “well,” though, I don’t know if it’s easy. It’s very much dependent on who you’re healing with, if we’re talking raids, and the gear level and competence of the players. It’s easy to heal “well” if everyone’s gear is great and no one stands in the bad. DPSing well never gets easier, though, regardless – or because of – gear. The better your gear, the more you SHOULD be doing. Good point.

  2. October 12, 2011 10:39 am

    I don’t think that’s true actually Nils. I found that the difference in the ability of the group makes hell of a difference, and healing a dungeon can be totally easy one run, and absolute hell the next.

    *hugs* Stubborn.. there are some nice groups out there.. it’s just finding them :/

    • October 12, 2011 3:06 pm

      That’s very true, too; I can sleep through some dungeons and panic through the others, all depending on the others players, whereas dps is really very much self reliant (to a point, of course; if your tank stinks then there may be trouble, at least until 4.3).

      I think most people find the “nice” groups in their guilds, which is my problem. I’m in a “raiding” guild now (though the last run was canceled due to lack of attendance) that seems to be filled with mostly nice people (a few don’t like the “new crowd,” but we’ll grow on them). Only time will tell.

  3. Windsoar permalink
    October 12, 2011 12:19 pm

    Another book to add to my list for when I finish grad school >.>

    I haven’t been in an end-game random in ages because they scare the ever-loving God out of me. I tend to gravitate towards tanks and healers and the blame game is horribly severe in those roles.

    • October 12, 2011 3:10 pm

      Ain’t that the truth. And Blizz wonders why no one wants to tank or heal while they do nothing about trying to clean up the social landscape (which I think probably looks like Death Valley now). I wish they scared me, because then I might remember to avoid them. Instead, they anger me, which slowly dissipates until I wander back into one, like running into a spider web you knew was there but had forgotten about because you were talking to your buddy (once again from experience – let me assure you that the poor spider involved probably got more of a shock than I did, but only just). If you need authors names or other recommendations, give me a holler when you’ve got time (read: out of grad school as you suggest).

  4. Dioskoros permalink
    October 12, 2011 12:32 pm

    I actually enjoy healing bad groups. Since I don’t have the time to raid, pulling out all the stops to keep an incompetent PUG alive through impossible situations is one of the best challenges available to me. If every group was perfect, I don’t think I’d find healing anywhere near as much fun to play.

    The only thing that can ruin it is if they’re hostile to me, but in my experience 90% of groups are somewhere between friendly and indifferent to me. So long as they keep it that way, I’m happy to try to heal them through whatever dumb stunts they want to pull.

    • October 12, 2011 3:12 pm

      I agree that the thrill of saving a group from a wipe really has no feeling like it. That Drahga near-wipe left a huge smile/grimace on my face afterwards, and the group then was only clueless and thus mostly indifferent, which I can deal with. Playing the “martyr healer” is rather fun, as long as you’re only being martyred by suck and not meanness. When the mean turns on, it’s another situation entirely. I think Jaded hit the nail on the head with the “blame game” suggestion; people for some reason are so ready to jump on everyone else that it makes responsible people nervous.

  5. Kierbuu permalink
    October 12, 2011 3:12 pm

    I think healing, tanking, and damaging are of roughly equal difficulty when done well ( that includes picking up adds and providing crowd control). The problem is when a healer messes up it shows how bad the healer did. When a tank or damage dealer messes up it tends to show as the healer being bad. Thus the healer gets lots of stress for things that are outside of their control. The job of healing isn’t more difficult, but the role of healer (especially in random groups) sure is.

    • October 12, 2011 3:30 pm

      Actually, I really like that distinction, which I failed to make in my writing as a few others have pointed out with their rewordings of my idea. I really was talking more about stress than competence, and I think that most of the rewrites commentators have done focused on the same thing (as yours does).

      The competition for dps certainly can provide as much stress as healing, but that seems more of an internal judgment – “I feel bad about my dps” – than an external one – “your healing sucks.” I’m sure a hard-core guild can be just as external about dps, but I’d never be in a hardcore guild, so that’s that for me.

      Tanking, though… I don’t know. About 50% of my end game is split between healing and tanking, and tanking really is easy. Threat’s a joke now and about to become more so, so really only picking up adds is any trouble, plus placement, and placement is everyone’s problem (not standing in crap), so it’s really just adds, which only are sometimes the tank’s problem.

      So healing and dps I mostly agree… but I don’t think anyone can convince me tanking well is hard any more.

    • Kierbuu permalink
      October 12, 2011 4:55 pm

      This could be very true. I checked out of the endgame a while ago and haven’t tanked anything above ‘Stockades’ since the threat mechanics changed.

  6. Imakulata permalink
    October 18, 2011 1:49 pm

    I’m really sorry about your bad experiences in dungeons although I’m a bit curious why do you always get such groups? Maybe it’s the 4.0 heroics, I run Zuls nearly exclusively because they’re more effective (the run takes maybe 50% longer but earns twice as much) and more fun for me but despite doing 3 or 4 every week, I don’t really get bad groups. Well, there’s these people who can’t – and don’t – execute the encounters to save their lives but those usually quit after a wipe or two so no harm done. (The best ones were two ranged DPS in a group that was on Jindo when I joined, we wiped due to being swarmed with the small mobs that are supposed to be killed by ranged which lead them to exclaim “why can’t we do this” and drop group.)

    Regarding the hard and easy roles, it depends on the encounters and on what you’re familiar with. I think I also have a huge advantage as a raider, I am used to noticing stuff and to analyzing my performance so when we wipe, I usually know why – and don’t get doubts about me if I’m wrongly blamed. I’m also familiar with my role which certainly helps; I tried tanking but I find it quite hard compared to healing. Maybe a bit too hard although I’m a bit ashamed to admit it.

    • October 19, 2011 9:01 am

      I’ve found the exact opposite true for heroics; I find it takes less time to do two regular heroics than one Zul. The dungeons I was mentioning there weren’t even heroics; I didn’t think I was geared enough to heal them, so I figured I’d run a few normals first. My mistake, I suppose.

      I have no idea why I’m so “lucky,” but I do have some hypotheses. Since I’m queueing with two, I rarely get into solid groups of three or four (never four, obviously) who only needed one more. Instead, I usually get a ragtag group of three individuals who play that way. If I were queueing with more people, I wouldn’t be so reliant on PuGs, and if I were queueing alone, I might end up in solid groups who were only down one.

      Experience is certainly a factor in hard and easy roles, and since a majority of my experience is tanking and healing, those are “easier” for me. Still, though, I think tanking is really easy now, though of course there’s a learning curve, as with everything.

  7. November 1, 2011 9:39 pm

    Thanks for this post (I actually read it a while back) – the memory and imagination… got my imagination and I was kicked into gear by my kids to writing something about it… so this is a bit of a manual traceback since posterous doesn’t do them:

    • November 2, 2011 3:34 pm

      Thanks for the linkback; I’ll head over and check your post out.

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