Convenience and Decency
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,
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.
Stubborn (and proselytizing)