Why It's Rude To Suck At World Of Warcraft

The irony of watching this and agreeing with all of it… while endlessly farming WOD dungeons.

In my defense I don’t play with any addons outside of nameplates and recount.
Good find, Chops. And thank you for provoking a long form response. First some direct notes on the video, and then my take afterward.

11:25 Yes, instrumental play is the dominant mode, but not just through social codes of practice. Blizzard designed a system where PvP and PvE combat implicitly (not explicitly, to the frustration and elitism of many), embeds instrumental play. Other types of play may blend or contend with instrumental play, but instrumental play wasn't just some sort of emergent choice that WoW came upon as a *societal* default. That's a *very* important distinction that will come to bear later on.

17:24 A really strong point, and we see it all the time in twinking with regards to the actual statistical impact of a piece of gear vs. the social capital represented by obtaining it.

20:15 Wild connection: Mia Consalvo was my Master's Thesis advisor (which I never did) for a couple of years before she left the university I was at, and that book of hers came out during that time. She was awesome, and I could tell you all kinds of cool stories about the work she did there. I have a copy of that book on my bookshelf, with maybe 15 bookmarks in it.

28:14 Information Asymmetry has changed. That's a huge point. We have (and create) access to much more information than we ever did, and that fundamentally changes how we interact with WoW and with all games, inclding ones made long before the internet.

43:46 Love this description of how WoW went from "vibe based" play within the black boxes of threat management, to min-maxing numbers, and thus changed social standards. That said, the video implies the change is "of kind", but I think it "of degree".

1:11:45 "We brought the bug back with us". Daggone.

1:21:39 "World of Warcraft is a product of the emergent collusion of developers and players." An absolutely elegant statement, and one that I would argue holds true for all video games, and frankly, all creative forms. Books, art, music, games...they are a collusion, and the best ones embrace that collusion.

With these notes in mind, my take, in three parts:

1) I like the word "collusion", because in the context of World of Warcraft (and most games), we collude with developers to give us what we implicitly want, rather than collaborate to get what we explicitly want. We explicitly want the damn gear to drop. We implicitly respect the time and effort we put into grinds, and create social distinctions based on the combination of effort, luck, knowledge, and experience we spend on such grinds. We hate that we love some of what Blizzard does, and Blizzard knows this.

Some art immerses us. Some art deceives us. Some art tries to enlighten us to our own hitherto unrealized collusion. In a deep sense, the video makes a compelling argument for the art of World of Warcraft.

2) WoW was always about min-maxing. What WoW did so well (for various reasons) was to provide multiple ways to min-max, some of which augmented each other, and others of which conflicted with each other. Beyond the barefoot gnome mentioned in the video, consider achievement hunters. For all the video talks of a WoW culture of "instrumental play", I'd argue are a lot more achievement hunters than there are raiders. There are a lot more "completionists" than there are "progressionists" as a Co-GM and I called them, back when we managed a competitive MoP guild.

I remember research by Nick Yee in WoW during the original TBC to Wrath era, that showed most players in WoW played solo. Yes, players were all in guilds and yes, players interacted with lots of communication channels both inside and outside the game. But as far as gameplay itself was concerned, the clear majority of players did stuff in game (questing, leveling, etc.) by themselves, in the presence of others.

That made for a huge find of Nick Yee's. WoW was one big coffee shop, where people congregated and everyone hung out together, but few were actually together. While LFG and LFR fundamentally took WoW in a direction that commoditized players, I can see why the developers thought it made sense at the time -- people were doing things "alone together" anyway. It didn't occur to the developers that the ambiance of the coffee shop would change by delivering coffee to each table, rather than making people come up to the counter to get their coffees.

3) Every multiplayer game brings an evolving context, from developers and from players, by which players interact and judge each other. It's hard to argue for a Tetris teammate who wants to match colors instead of clear lines. Such a player shouldn't be a teammate, and can pursue color matching on their own time. But what happens when two valid contexts collide in the same game? What happens when twinks run dungeons for gear, and leave levelers to find for themselves after the first boss? Players light up forums and discords about conflicting contexts.

This is the opportunity that I feel the video missed, and that developers continue to miss. Yes, the paratext (to use the video's term, and that of their several cited researchers) of WoW grew that strong, but it did so for all games, not just WoW. The video does a great job exploring just how much impact WoW's paratext made for the game, but glosses over the "emergent" approach of developer and player collusion. Let's replace "emergent" with "unmanaged", to reveal just how much of WoW's community evolution is an accident, and to the chagrin and rage of many of its players after all these years, continues to be an accident.


Thus we arrive at the grand irony of WoW. WoW is an amazing game with a terrible oligarchy, terrible not from their content development choices (I'd argue developers did and continue to do a fantastic job at that, with few exceptions), but because developers do such a terrible job at min-maxing the various contexts they created. WoW developers made deep and abiding opportunities for progression players, roleplayers, twinks, achievement hunters, multiple social constructs, and yet *to this day* WoW does an overall terrible job supporting the needs of each of these players, and helping the players grow the game. This is why we get so pissed off at the game we love. Blizzard developers are terrible min-maxers of the player experience.

I cheered when the video discussed the Field of View controversy at 1:15:04, as that simple issue best encapsulates what Blizzard *still* doesn't understand about how to manage its own game. Players wanted to increase the FoV and zoom out the camera so they could see more of what was going on. Blizzard said, "but immersion!" I get that games succeed as much on their limitations as they do on their features, and FoV grants one of the most fundamental limitations with which games work. The FoV controversy stank because Blizzard reduced a quality of life feature, and gave nothing in return. Immersion was already out the window and long gone. For a game that embeds min-maxing in so many places, Blizzard's min-maxing of player-facing features is so bad, that we would have metaphorically ejected the oligarchy from the raid and the guild long ago.

The video does an amazing job talking about the evolution of WoW culture, and how we come to expect certain behaviors and actions from people we've never met in the game, merely for appearing in the game. The video's conclusion is careful not to blame anyone for the challenges players face in the game, saying the collusion makes everyone culpable. But to me, Blizzard is a hypocrite. They expect certain actions and behaviors from the players of their game, and yet developers continually pass up opportunities to support these actions and behaviors, or even work against the developers' own expectations. If it's rude to suck at Warcraft, Blizzard is the rude, hypocritical parents who get mad when their kids do what Blizzard taught them. Thankfully, the parents provide well, and the kids know better, so the kids make the most of what they're given.
though this is about contrasting two diff top tier smash bros chars and how one killed its own game while the other caused its game to stand the test of time, there's a lot of philosophy here that relates to twinking. some of it's wisdom is for game design, some of it for gameplay.

some key lines:

if a character is unfair, the people are going to end up frustrated, even if they're not the best. wobbling--ice climber's extremely simple input--was banned for this exact reason. yes, it might have given a character who wasn't the strongest an opportunity to tangle with the best, but the lack of effort for icys to kill made the game frustrating. it wasn't fun. and even if they didn't win, wobbling would drive players away from the game due to how unfair it was. as a result, for the health of the kingdom, wobbling was banned. icy suffered for it at first, but for everyone, including icys, the effect that it had on people's morale to play the game, was undoubtedly positive. fairness is an important part of the game, but being the king is inherently unfair. you are stronger than those around you, so in some respect both of these characters (fox & metaknight) have already failed.

this, in my opinion is one of the things that keeps fox so electric after all these decades that melee has been around. he's a powerhouse in almost every sense, but the vulnerability that he has in his combo potential not only lets other characters still have their opportunity to shine, but also encourages everyone to improve their game. work for that extra little percent. search for slight improvements in timing. find that opportunity to play your game. because if the beast bleeds, we can kill it. melee has the reputation of being this lightning fast game, not because it's intrinsically fast--i've seen enough floating matchups go the full 8 miles to know that even if it hurts to admit. but fox, as the staple--as the king--was just vulnerable enough to bring out the pure ballistic speed everyone wants this game to have. fox didn't just uphold the 5th commandment, he reversed it. unlike metaknight, who despite his best intentions, couldn't help but slow it down. he was just unapproachable. the laws of the world too cruel when he would attempt to push, and the reward for trying to put him in his place often being punishment. the incentive of the opponent was not to find their chance, but to sit and wait for the gates of opportunity to open. he just wasn't right for the world he was in: too powerful have other characters keep up and not powerful enough to transform the game into what they wanted it to be. the fox was a king who reflected and enhanced the desires of his people. those who were drawn to smash often do so in search a quick explosive game. he was a king who demanded that from those who were there. and what better is it than a king who embodies and emblazons the requests of the people. while his kingdom sees setback after setback, it seems almost immortal for the storms that its weathered, its castle still standing today. this king (metaknight) however, had failed to maintain the morale of his people, and with that, the people lost interest. at times he was the antithesis of what the people wanted, despite his best intentions, and as he failed to engage with his audience, his empire would soon come to dwindle. some simply left, others crafted their own kingdom with enroll, but as time marched forward, the kingdom would continue to dilapidate until only the ruins of a game that once was remained.
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