I had an email last week from a reader named Theo that really made me step back and re-evaluate what I do and how I look at the game.
It was a very kind email from someone that actually took time out of his day to let me know he appreciated reading the meanderings of someone else just like him that played the game to have a fun time, and who generally tried to keep a cheerful attitude about it.
He told me a bit about himself, his gaming situation, and what his experiences had been playing the game with his wife and, at least part of the time, with his best friend.
His story resonated very strongly with me, and as I read his words I felt like I was reading about my own experiences when I first started playing the game.
Here is an excerpt from Theo’s email so you can see what I mean;
Anyway I had this whole other world to explore, I was introduced by a friend and I started out with a Paladin. On a european pvp server, Trollbane. I remember my first death due to a horde at level 60. After months of hard work, not having a clue about talent points until I was level 38. Someone pointed it out to me :)
I was ready to go with that friend through the Portal from the outlands.
We made a big thing out of it and stood in front of that portal and he walked through first. I had him on Skype and he tried to warn me but on the other side of the portal stood a level 80 Orc who smashed me with one stroke :P
I was really like…can he do that and why? Oh well, it was a funny situation and I loved every minute of that first time experience.
After I hit 80, my wife saw me play the game and was always watching along with me. I asked her to join but because she never ever played a computer game, with the size of Azeroth and all it made her hesistant. But together with another friend who also played WoW for the first time, we leveled our chars. I got me a druid, my wife a hunter and a friend a warlock. That friend also started new at WoW but had years of Guild Wars experience so he knew the basics of these sort of games.
Again, after months of playing like the three musketeers, they did all the killing and I tried to heal them, and we quested all over the world together with an occasional dungeon. Was fun.
In the end when I hit 80 I could dual spec, and thought about tanking a bit. I was horrified to try it but it tickled. I never ever thought about reading about the game online, so it struck me hard all the info there was. Ha ha, I hated myself for not trying and looking up stuff earlier coz that would have made my first 9 months a lot easier, I think. On the other hand, I’ve seen the whole world and though sometimes frustrating I am glad I did it like that.
Reading about Theo’s experiences took me back to when I first played the game, in the era of vanilla WoW.
Websites? I discovered Thottbot around level 40 or so. That and Allakhazam. When I reached 60 and began preparing to raid, websites for guidance were the furthest thing from my mind. Websites for games were about databases, reviews of upcoming games, and ASCII faqs like Gamefaqs.
Petopia? Ah, blessed Petopia. My best friend Manny played his Dwarf Hunter all the way to level 60, never knowing that you had to tame new pets in order to learn higher level skills from them, skills you could then teach your favorite pet. His level 60 cat stayed with him from 10 to 60, never ever being put away for another. That Claw was a bit wimpy, though. Yes, this was when pets had skills to train. If you don’t have any idea what I’m talking about, don’t worry about it, ancient history, move along now. :)
There was no commentary. There was no dialogue, except what could be found in the cesspool that was the original forums, and really, aside from Alamo teaching me how to be a durid, I didn’t spend much time there.
I’m not ashamed to admit that Alamo taught me all that I know. He made me the bare I am today!
When I wanted to figure out what gear upgrades there were, I had Kaliban’s Class Loot Lists. Wowhead? What was that? Searcheable gear database by class, iLevel and stat weights? Dream on, my friend, dream on.
There was the video game we played, and that was almost the entirety of the experience.
For them, just as for me, the video game was the thing and the whole of the thing. Everything there was that could be learned was found within the game itself. If I couldn’t figure it out on my own, well, then I struggled through.
I had to try stuff and see how it worked for myself, trial and error, “I wonder what would happen if…” and error WAS a part of the whole thing. Without risk there was no reward of that new talent arrangement that let me get an instant-cast Natures Swiftness Healing Touch on a swift-shift cast while soloing an army of mobs as a Bear.
The game allowed me to do that, to a certain extent. Without website tools to tell people the ‘right’ way to do something, content had to be designed for a lot of trial and error, and a looser interpretation of ‘optimal build and gear’.
It was good times. Sloppy fights, but good times.
Are those times come and gone, and have we lost something along the way?
I love the community that has grown on the internet, I really do. Lots of people have come together to share their experiences, their opinions and their advice on the game of World of Warcraft. I douubt I’d still be playing the game if it wasn’t for the force enhancement that the online community provides me.
But part of there being an online community comes a desire to help, to guide, to mentor and teach.
What have all these addons, talent guides, gear guides and mathy stuffs brought with them?
When players have online tools available to them to optimize their build and gear, and even have pre-made modeling spreadsheets to determine theoretically perfect rotations and gear reforging based on current stats, do the developers have any choice but to refine the content to challenge those players?
And the backside of the blade, if the content is designed with the assumption we all take full advantage of the community assets out there… where does that leave Theo, his wife and friends, and any other player that walks into World of Warcraft seeing a video game, not expecting they were entering a long-established world of very, very, VERY judgmental players that will be watching them like a hawk?
Apparently, having a damn good time for most of it, and that brings a huge smile to my face.
Right up until I think about the reception he and his wife would have in the current Looking For Raid.
A happy, fun-loving couple that plays the game to explore Azeroth and find adventure. A couple that loves the world, and the story, and sees all the aftermath of Deathwing, and maybe knows they’re not going to be part of some huge hardcore raiding group, but sees in the patch notes there is a new LFR option designed just for them… right?
Well, I’ll let Theo tell you;
Always fun to read about players who have the intention to play for fun without raging, and have kinda the same intention of playing as me. Try to have as much fun as possible. My wife hardly ever plays anymore because she is kinda shy and ran into people too often bitching and moaning. So I would like to say keep up that positive spirit and playstyle, and I will do my small share. Luckily there are often instances with others who have the same intentions. :)
As I said, this really resonated with me. This is exactly where Cassie and I are, as well.
Cassie tried some raiding off and on in the old days, and really enjoyed it when done with friends. She rarely plays in groups anymore because she’s tired of, if not bitching and moaning, then let’s say the immaturity and selfishness so often seen over pixels and performance.
For myself, yes, I am trying to hang in there with you, Theo. I’m in ur LFR, killing ur oozes. I’m in ur LFD, running those Twilights. I’m having a great time.
Community has a two-edged blade, and along with knowing what we ‘should’ do, comes the flip side of people who only know what a website told them.
You know what’s funny? For a long time now, gear upgrades and drops have not excited me.
Each new piece of loot has represented an increased possibility that I will not suffer abuse for my performance at the hands of complete strangers in a random group using specs and gear builds they read off the internet, pulling for me or on the wrong target, assuming any mistake is the fault of anyone but them.
And along the way I have had to remember that, if my choice of upgrade is not the approved item “as seen on TV”, I can get shit for that as well, and I have to be prepared to justify my choice with reason and logic.
And be ready to take shit for it anyhow. /ignore is your friend, until it is full.
Patch 4.3 returned to me a sense of excitement at loot drops for the sake of the new and unusual. Seeing how it looks, matching it’s appearance to the vision in my head, imagining what I could do with it as a transmogrified item. It’s brought back some of the innocent joy of “oh, that looks COOL!”
For good or bad, the community is in the World of Warcraft, and has affected most aspects of the game, from what the other players think to how the content is designed.
What I find myself wondering is, since 4.3 renewed my sense of wonder when I get a piece of gear to drop, will there ever be some other new and magical way to help me recapture that same innocense I feel has been lost forever? That sense that the World of Warcraft was mine to explore as I saw fit, played my way, without having to put the entire world on /ignore to keep from having people ask why I am ‘doing it wrong’.