Thursday, December 14, 2006

Samson Agonistes

Samson Agonistes [Hal’ isn’t the only one who can make obscure literary references]

It has been a bit . . . a lifetime . . . since I have ventured into WOW. What has brought me back was a request by DoubleE to ‘borrow’ . . . err . . ‘me’ for Sunday drives. It was odd. I mean . . . Viamedia isn’t me, but is. However, DoubleE is one of a very few people on this planet I actually value.

So, I re-subscribed and then went into WOW to do the equivalent of house cleaning. I mean, I can’t have him seeing my toolbar out of order or seeing that my vault is a mess. It took over an hour to make Viamedia presentable . . . which is not something one would generally have to do.

Along the way I realized I was now part of a guild that Hal’ and Twink’ weren’t. So, I quit it. Now, I am guildless . . . which, as I am more or less a soloist [Sorry, Twink . . . I went ahead and re-configured myself FURY] and a guild has little use to me beyond companionship . . .and without Hal or Twink . . it ain’t.

How does one surrender an identity . . or an e-dentity? How does one cease to become oneself? I image it [as I am one to do . . . or is it two to do?] that it is like someone who has played a role on Broadway for a long run and then surrendered it to someone else. Viamedia was never me, but it . . . he . . was a comfortable enough suit. Though . . . I’m now wondering if I was ever me . . . or just a comfortable suit.

Enough metaphysical bullshit . . . time for me to exploit the masses in India and Madagascar and time for someone else to assume the role of Viamedia. And as DoubleE in my lore already has assumed my former roles to far more success . . . I have little doubt I won’t bask in his shadow as usual.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

They're Heeeee-re


I was grinding my way to 60 in WPL/EPL, when, what to my wondering eyes should appear, but Draenei boy with a question mark over his ear. Yup, the new kids are here and they have work for us to do. This guy's posted up by the WPL gryphs. Go get 'im!

Monday, November 20, 2006

Stranger and Friend - or - Guild Emo

...with apologies to Hortense Powdermaker...

Oh crap, people can really suck sometimes. I'm sending this one out to Feli and Owlie with much consternation. I could have titled this entry Guild Emo, but I didn't. No, I just did. It deserved it.

So the happy shiny guild, number...what....five? in the hit parade of guild starts and stops...had a new drama episode. I'm tellin' ya, this stuff is better than reality t.v. Oh, cause it's reality MMO. Duh.

So, Feli and Owlie broke up. I won't do the details cause it's none of your business unless you already know the details, in which case it's moot. My interest here is this. I don't know either of these people, and until this past week, I didn't even know what their voice sounded like. (Guild got vent., which deserves it's own entry, imho.) We've played together and chatted for hours and days and weeks and months online. In fact, Feli and I are the originals, baby. We were the lil lvl 17 n00bs together in Deadmines under the guidance of our new found friends Bany and Sage. Sage is still in this guild, with many of his alts.

Anyhow...I don't know who they are, Owlie and Feli, but I know something about them and I have a social connection to them both, by virtue of our lengthy play together. I feel badly about the break up. It is as if some best friends have broken up. But...they're not my best friends. Or are they?

That's my real topic. What does it mean to be a friend in a networked society that supports virtual interactions. Perhaps more importantly, what does it mean to be a stranger? Who is a stranger. This harkens back to the concern I raised a few months back about my daughter's WoW buddy, the not-quite-boyfriend boy friend. I was fine with it till she started to hand out personal info. We had our big talk, and I chatted online with the boy. I was struck by his insistance that he wasn't a stranger.

Discussing this in the Terror Nova blog I was pressed to think about the real life analog. What do I know about the parents of the friends she has in real life? I think they're not strangers. I think I know them. Why do I think I know them? I don't know much about them. But I've SEEN them. Is this a visual proximity bias? In reality, they are much more dangerous, potentially, because they are here, in the 'hood. My kid goes over to their house regularly. You know, they say that people get molested by people they know, not by strangers. People get killed by people they know, not strangers. ...people they thought they knew. So what are the criteria we can rely upon in a virtual world to identify stranger and friend? What legitmacy comes from long periods of play time together? What clues and cues work to let us know who we can trust, we is "safe"? Who to love?

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

WoW TBC

Yep, delayed till January, and to hear the beta tester on Terror Nova tell it, not much to get excited about.

Oh yeah?

Here's a snippet from an interview with Frank Pearce, Sr. VP of Product Development


Will there be any... what I noticed is that the Alliance hub and the Horde hub are quite close together. Is the idea that it'll be one almighty scrap?

Frank Pearce: I don't know about an almighty scrap, but all the Outland zones are going to be contested territory. And there'll be outdoor PvP objectives, or goals to have outdoor PvP objectives in all those zones. Whether or not we'll hit them all up at once with PvP objectives remains to be seen. But that's our goal.

The outdoor PvP objectives in the zone of Nagrand involve the town of Halaa If you don't control that town, if your faction doesn't control that town then you'll have PvP objectives to kill the guards and whatnot and part of that will involve strafing runs over the town 'on rails' where you'll drop bombs. That should be fun.

....

Blizzard said recently that the plan is to release WoW expansions on a yearly basis...

Frank Pearce: That's our goal.

How set in stone is that plan, and how far into the future are you looking in terms of overall WoW development?

Frank Pearce: Well, the goal is concrete. That's our goal, and we've publicly stated that. Whether or not we'll be able to achieve that goal remains to be seen. An expansion set of the scope of The Burning Crusade is a lot of content to deliver on, on an annual basis. We're working to improve our production methods, to try and be more efficient on delivering and creating quality content. But at the end of the day, the quality of the experience is more important than the timeline it's delivered in. It's our goal to do it in that timeline but, if it's not ready, then... [sounds, on our dictaphone, like someone was eating a big bag of crisps at this point so we couldn't quite hear what was said. No one was actually eating a big bag of crisps, but that's what it sounds like].

And as far as how long we'd do that, that depends on the community, right? Because if players are playing WoW, we certainly want to continue to support it.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

The other side of the game

Found this blog posting and found that it resonated more than I cared to admit. Balance in life seems to be a tricky thing, and games expressly designed to absorb time certainly play into that.

Where's that MC signup?

Monday, October 16, 2006

I am Meesiah!

I know I'm behind on my posting all over the place, but this'll have to do as a stopgap

Meesiah was a toon I encountered when I first went into BGs with DruidiaJane. An undead priest, she was just impossible to stop. It was freakish - she'd be in the game, and bam - Horde wins. Killing her was near to impossible, and when she ran with her guildies from Zeiram - game over.

I have become Meesiah.

Well, maybe not really, but today, as a break from work and building printed schedules and other assorted b.s., I logged into Shadowpeeg to take a run in Warsong, and it happened. Alliance went down 1-0, and it happened fast - so fast I wondered if they were using a speed hack, and then I kicked it in gear. I got across the mid, and into the tunnel untouched. No boots, but into the flag room, and grabbed the flag. Nice, but not wildly unusual. Popped a speed pot, bubbled, renewed myself, ran the tunnel, feared the pursuit, renewed, bubbled, boots weren't up but I cappped. A good run. 1-1.

Waiting a moment, it suddenly became clear to me how the next flag was going to go down. Horde had a huge zerg incoming, and so I paused for just long enough - about 15 seconds, before heading out over the gy. Midfield was completely clear, but to make it take just a little longer, I ran ramp, and sure enough, some Alliance player grabbed the Horde flag and made a dash for it. I could see them start to take damage right away, even as I headed for the horde balcony, and knew they were toasted nubcakes. Flag returned just as I dropped into the flag room. Bubbled, renewed, grabbed the flag and headed out the tunnel.

Met the defenders coming back up the tunnel, feared, renewed, and dropped the speed pot to get out into the midfield. Passed the Horde FC and they made the mistake of turning toward me, just as all of the Alliance GY emptied out. They pounced on the Horde FC, I bubbled, desperate prayer, renewed and dispelled like mad into the tunnel - boots were up, and I capped. 2-1.

It was one of those rare moments, quite frankly, where text told more than it normally does. "damn good job" came a tell, and another whispered "now let's win". The shift of momentum was palpable. I renewed, and I headed out over the gy.

I could see there were two players ahead of me, and I knew that I'd gone tunnel both times, so I typed "grab their flag and go ramp". Sure enough, I met our FC mid ramp, bubbled him and got him through the midfield scrum and up the tunnel. He was a twinked rogue, and when we reached the flag room (ours was gone, of course), he /say'd "passing to you shadow, I'll go kill". We passed, I bubbled and went to the balcony. I watched as the retrieval crew headed out to midfield, then shifted to our GY tents. Ten or 15 seconds later, the retrieval was into their base, and just seconds after that, one of them said "cap" even though the return hadn't happened. I knew enough about that rogue, however, just in the 10 minutes we'd played together, to know that he was going to finish the job, and I dropped a speed pot and headed to the flag room

The flag reappeared just as I was three yards from the cap. 3-1, and +200 rep for the game (!). I swear I heard 10 Horde players yelling "Shiiiit! Damn that Shadowpeeg! Fuck!" as the scoreboard came up.

I am Meesiah.

And damn, it feels good.

Evolution...

So I drank a little tonight, and whilst on the long gryphon flight from Auberdine to Silithus, the beast within emerged, showing hunger... I listened to my thirst for nutrition, and moved into position.

I came in upwind..scanning the common food prey that frequented this area. I peered quietly into the cabinets to see my options of kill. The oatmeal, too risky as it takes too long to ensnare. The chips looked malnourished, and weren't to my liking. The crackers, again, weren't tantamount to the needs of the nutrition receptacle.

I searched on..

The jar of pickles looked like steak to an herbivore..no interest. The box of cheesy scalloped potatoes were not aligned with the quickness of need, which my hunger indicator professed.

Ahh..I see you.

*lowers, pulling against the stove, to keep my presence unknown*

Alone..helpless..unaware.. A box of Basic 4 cereal..captivated by the vision of a girl walking in the rain..holding her umbrella tightly..spilling too much salt to be unnoticed by its carrier..stared on in amazement of the carelessness... how fitting.

It had no chance....

Wham!!!

Top of the food chain at its fucking finest.

I lashed out, quick as a black mamba, and stole away the unsuspecting cardboard embodiment of the grain, nut and fruit victim, like a thief in a jewelry store.

I tore into it like Christmas was five days late. Spilled it's battle won contents into a primitive, plastic bowl. Doused it with milk I had bartered from this "walmart" lad earlier that day, and shoveled it's daily allowance of whole wheat victory into my awaiting, highly developed, devouring device.

No attention to its cries..I was unaffected by its drowning gasps for oxygen and help. Again, it had no chance this eve.

After I was done with the body of the hunt, I held its milky remains high..and let it pour down my body to revel in the kill....more like I drank the milk and rinsed out the bowl in the sink.. But nontheless!! I savored my trophy.

You'd think my craving for sustenance was quenched..not whatsoever, as I was unsure to when I would see my next available prey.

I could hear the helpless cry of four, unattended cookies. In their dire need of protection from their mother/baker, they gave their trademark, toll-house distress yelp. They resorted to cowering under the ill-advised safety of instant, unreactive and dehydrated rice. Desperate, they were detected giving the sound cues of utter abandonment. I'm assuming someone already devoured the parents under a similiar situaion.

None of my concern..I crouched..crept..and slithered my way into position in for the pounce.

Another resourceful night lived on the grocery hunting plains.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Who Pulled the Surger with the Core Hound?

I have now had my second MC run. Nothing like the first one. We must have wiped about 3 or 4 times. I think people were tired, cause when Bizz got testy and we focused up, we had no real problems. Now the more I play the MC, the funnier the MC Raiders tune is, and the less funny the Onyxia wipe tape is. It's also increasingly clear that there really is some task complexity to leadership in this sort of complex simultaneous large group foray. It has a very military feel to it, in that there are subgroup specializations, and those groups need some leadership as well. The take-downs of the mobs and bosses are really very tactical. I wonder if military folks make the best leaders, which is an odd thought because in the middle of the MC run last night Soveigny announced he'd gotten a call and was just promoted in his military unit, to something fairly high level. I am also aware of a military dude in one of my guilds, and who knows how many others. If the game weren't so addicting, it might make a nice training ground. Although...that horrible run yesterday took from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. I can't believe I managed to stay in it without getting restless.

Okay so the good news, bad news part is: Good news, I got two Felheart pieces, for only 40 DKP total. The bad news, I was the aggmag as we were trying to slide around the corner and not deal with a couple of mobs. Nearly wiped the group cause they whacked us from behind. I'm still not sure it was my fault, but Bizz said the first guy to die is the person who pulled 'em. I think a bunch of us went down at once cause the mob threw an AOE fireblast, but what the heck. I felt very bad cause Bizz had been yelling at people during the Baron wipes (drat that Baron / Shazz combo makes for a tough room.). He had been threatening to toss people out of hte raid if they exploded as living bomb in a group of people. So I pst'd him about leaving and he laughed and said, if I kicked out everyone who had made a mistake I'd only have 20 people left to play.

I don't know how people do it, I have a hard time just "seeing" what's going on. My toon view is often blocked by various toons. I'm also struck by the need to be so mobile. You have to get close enough to be within range to cast, yet far enough to avoid harm. These distances rarely, if ever, overlap, which means you have to pay attention to the action and run in when it's safe and bang out some spells, then turn tail and run when the mob cranks up the AOE. Suddenly all those doofy talent points that merely increase distance seem way more important than they did when I was leveling up. I figure after a couple more runs I'll be up for a respec.

Anyhow, here's some shots for you to enjoy. There's the obvious wipe at Baron/Shazz; you can see the priests starting to rez people. And I've added the visual mess that IS a 40 man raid fighting in a narrow area (of which there are many in MC). And, last but not least, I've added a shot of Saami up in Azshara completing a quest. Saami is gonna go for Dragonscale LW, and the trainer is up there.





Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Virgin Run

Yup. Got that first MC run under my belt and did it with Crimson. I was lucky to have a friendly face, Twinkleheal, along on the run. It helped calm me down. There really isn't much info forthcoming for n00bs on an MC run. Yeah, sure, Bizz was on vent calling out the plan and reprimanding both the goofy and the error-prone. When he called out, in a rather testy tone, "The next living bomb who takes out a group of people will be removed from the raid and lose DKP" ... it was all I could do to NOT type: and 50 DKP minus in the chat window. LOL.

But toward the end of the raid, when I whispered a question to the wizzened ole lock and friend Nunnster, he asked if I were on the lock channel. Huh wha? says I. So he tells me to join channel 7 with the other three warlocks. Dude, I type furiously, told you I was a n00b on MC; don't assume I know everything. Of course I added the requisite LOL to indicate I wasn't pissy.

As a warlock, I had a major obligation to keep elementals banished while the tanks held the aggro on the main boss and the casters tossed all they could at it. Fun and yet, more than a little nerve wracking. We got as far as taking down Sulfuron. That only took two efforts. We had a full wipe only once, at the Baron. That was the living bomb problem mentioned above.

I did bid on some sweeeeeeeeet epics, and was super annoyed to learn that when I bid my max pts, 73, the two items in question were each won with a bid of 75. Arg. So close and yet so far. But hey, it was my first run. At least I know what to expect now, and that matters a whole lot.

I was hugely surprised by the dmg reports. I expected the warrior tanks to have the max, but DUH, they were busily being aggmags. It was the rogues who really racked it up. I get it now, and I see why James said what he said about MT. I felt so worried for poor TK (Trendkiller) as MT. What a lot of responsibility.

I'll have to grab a snap of my RL setup. It's pretty funny. I'm on vent on the HP lappie whilst playing on the MacBook Pro lappie. I'm including a few of my fav snaps. The first is after the wipe. This is the line to get back in. The second is after we downed Sulfuron, sorta proof we got there and did our jorb. The third is just an shot of the crowd...so many toons....omg.



Thursday, September 28, 2006

Twinkleheal, Shadowpeeg, DoubleE, Eric and . . . my response to my "friends".

“I think those rules generally serve to temper our own tendencies, not replace them. “

So, I was supposed to level up a character to play in SMASH. I mostly did. BobNotBob sits there in my list of characters, but I never load him. Hellfire, I think he has 50g even that I . . . well . . . ViaMedia . . . err . . ok . . “I” could use. DoubleE can be Twinkleheal AND . . . it’s something Peeg . . . I know that, but can’t recall. Yet, I don’t like “being” “other” than “ViaMedia”.

I’m starting to think Hallgrima has more alts than Bany. I get ‘tells’ [holdover lingo from Planetside] from “people” I don’t know who have to identify themselves NOT by their actual names, but the names of other alts . . . or non-alts . . . what is the lingo for our main toon?

Back to ViaMedia . . . it took me a very long time “become” ViaMedia in WOW after “being” “OrneryBob” in Planetside. Yet, in the end, they really are not different. Same bad jokes and borderline humor and. . . ok, sometimes the humor is on the other side of the border . . . but still, same show, different game . . . same “e-dentity” . . . different alternate reality.

“. . . but ignoring the ruleset will limit the immersion that a player can achieve.”

My thought here is that this “ruleset” of the "game" must conform to the “ruleset” of the "player" or "person" or "personage" or . . . damn, I'm confusing myself with all these quotation marks. The more “games” accomadate greater latitude in rulsets the more "people" will “play” them.

“. . . he’s [James] become clear in his choice of the fury spec. Making this choice opens some doors for Viamedia and closes others – he’ll never be the main tank in Molten Core, for example – his hold on aggro, improved though it is, is still too light – but he’ll always be able to solo safely.

Thank God I will NEVER be the main tank in Molten Core!!! Do you have ANY idea how much responsibility a MT has? Every wipe is your fault. Every death is your fault. Every time someone doesn’t know their class or their jorb and it leads to accusations . . . leveled at the MT.

So, the solution? Bill yourself as a ‘drunken’ tank. From the start, play up your lack of responsibility. Make everyone clear they need to do their jorbs . . . then do yours. Tanking is a specific activity and action. I don’t know Twink’s jorb . . . or Hallgrima’s. Yet, I know what it isn’t. When I run with what I call my family they are the best runs. I don’t try to do Twink’s jorb and he doesn’t try to do mine. For the life of me, I can’t figure out what he does or even why he does it [how dull must healing be compared to killing?], but I know to keep agro off him so he can do it. I trust him to always heal me regardless of how low my health gets [that isn't true, I will drop a pot if it gets too low, but I never think it is cause he isn't doing his jorb, but that he is busy doing it] and he trusts me to let a mob hack at him for a few moments . . . that I'll not let him die willingly anymore than he'll let me die willingly.

“He [James] may still have a greater tolerance for losing party members than I do, but now I’d argue that that’s a personality choice, not a reflection of the ruleset.”

This is where Twink and I diverge in our playing style. I love a wipe almost as much I love a successful run. I love to see the social interactions . . . anger and accusations and accommodations . . . but I am the ‘drunken’ tank and have few responsibilities.

“I’m changed by Twinkleheal, just as I change Twinkleheal – but even at my most immersed, I’m never not simultaneously me as well. What’s fascinating to watch, I guess, is where the boundaries are, and how they shift.”

And here is the interesting thing . . . I’m not sure DoubleE is the same friend as Twinkleheal. I think I like Twink better. I’ve spent more time with both than “Eric”. I think I've been a better friend to Twink than Eric. I watch my interactions and they do vary with them. So, expanding the question here . . . not just the question of our e-dentity, but the e-denties of others.

I am reminded of the fifth part of T. S. Eliot’s “The Hollow Men” as I think about all of this . . . and perhaps it is fitting that it is poetry and not prose that leads to an understanding of e-dentity.

Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow

For Thine is the Kingdom

Between the conception
And the creation
Between the emotion
And the response
Falls the Shadow

Life is very long

Between the desire
And the spasm
Between the potency
And the existence
Between the essence
And the descent
Falls the Shadow
For Thine is the Kingdom

For Thine is
Life is
For Thine is the

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper

. . . and respawn!

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Identity and why Viamedia's a good player

Some time ago I wrote a posting that argued “Viamedia is a bad player and I don’t want to be like him.” While the title was meant in jest, the discussion really did touch on some observations about how players play within an alternate reality like WoW, and how some players’ responses to the rulesets of the realities make them more or less fun to be around. Experientially, the post was a long time ago in our WoW lifetime, and over the last month or so, Via’s been needling me about that post – he’ll pull off a really nice piece of warrior-work, and then whisper me saying “tell me that wasn’t a nice jorb – who’s a good tank, huh?” We both recognize that things have changed in our approaches to the game.

From my reading this summer (Bartle, Castronova, Taylor and Dibbel) I’ve come to see that MMO’s, and games in general, are less “other”, but rather are “representative”, which is why the moniker “alternate realities” makes sense – when we enter into a game of chess, or a run into Dire Maul, we take our selves into the game. And, though the gamespace we enter may have different structures on the surface, (knights move two forward, one laterally, or only priests can dispel disease) in the end, I think those rules generally serve to temper our own tendencies, not replace them.

Perhaps it’s put better this way – alternative realities are more significantly impacted by the social expectations of the participants than by the ruleset of the specific reality, but ignoring the ruleset will limit the immersion that a player can achieve.

There are several examples that lead me to think this. First is Ken, who’s playing Turbulence up to 60. As a mage, Turbulence is the proverbial “glass cannon” – wildly lethal, DPS to die for, and incredible mana pool, and no lasting power. If you’re not watching the mages pretty carefully as a healer, you’ll lose them.

Ken’s a fast player – not necessarily impatient, but he likes the challenge of killing quickly and moving on. He’s had experiences in raids where the push is always to keep moving, so he’s trying to impart that to us as we play together. Most of the time, that’s not a problem, but occasionally it can backfire. In those situations, he and I joke about the “Mage tank” – thinking that he can overlook his class limitations and take on the world by himself. As a practice, it’s something he can recover from when the mobs are lower, but not so much when they’re higher. Right now, however, Ken’s a generalist mage – he’s still taking the middle path, so to speak.

James is the other example. As a player, as a participant in the virtual world, James has come to really understand what the warrior class is, to the depth that he’s been able to make decisions about which subset of the warrior roles he enjoys the most. I’ve watched him experiment with the protection spec and the fury spec, and he’s become clear in his choice of the fury spec. Making this choice opens some doors for Viamedia and closes others – he’ll never be the main tank in Molten Core, for example – his hold on aggro, improved though it is, is still too light – but he’ll always be able to solo safely.

I’ve watched both Ken and James push against the ruleset. I don’t think it’s quixotic or futile pushing – rather, it’s learning and accommodating the virtual world with their own personal decisionmaking. I happen to think that James has become a very good warrior, and in the five man instances, I’d rather run with him than almost anyone. He may still have a greater tolerance for losing party members than I do, but now I’d argue that that’s a personality choice, not a reflection of the ruleset.

Ken, I think, is still in contention with the ruleset. The march to 60, long as it is, I now see as analogous to the first several years of a seven year apprenticeship. The magetank phenomenon, I suspect, is a bit chrysalis-like – you emerge from it at some point after 60, and at that point, the mage decides whether they’re an initiator of action (a style more attuned to soloing), or a concluder of action (more supportive of the raid, I’d argue).

In both cases, there’s not a correct path, just a personal path, and that’s where the virtual world becomes representative for me, not “other”. We can, I suppose, choose intentionally to play against ourselves – James could have been a healer, I suppose, for the challenge of it, or I could try to level a protection-specced warrior – but even if we do that, the game we’re playing is inflected by what we bring in. To be sure, if we’re being reflective about it, the experience is a two-way street – I’m changed by Twinkleheal, just as I change Twinkleheal – but even at my most immersed, I’m never not simultaneously me as well. What’s fascinating to watch, I guess, is where the boundaries are, and how they shift.

Guitar Hero Lessons

Funny, poignant, pathetic, and informative...you don't have to be doing FPS or MMO to get schooled.

from Escapist this month

Monday, September 18, 2006

Magic Muffins and Math

This afternoon, the new kid in the guild was chatting on the guild chat. Mostly I wasn't "listening" but then a snippet caught my eye.

"I just realized I can make 400 muffins an hour and if I sold them for 1 copper each, I could make 40 silver in 10 minutes."

One of our senior guild mates engaged him in chat to discover what these muffins were (magic muffins, which made me remember the muffins bit in the Illegal Danish movie, which made no sense at the time). I gather this is a cooking thing or alchemy or something.

After a few minutes, he posted again in guild chat, and you just know he had been calculating this answer in the space between his remarks:

"I could make 2.4 gold an hour."

Finally a real word problem worth solving, eh?

Friday, September 01, 2006

Sunday, August 27, 2006

MMORPG Play and Cognitive Flexibility - LONG but worth the read

First, an apology and explanation to my doc'l gamers. You must have been wondering when I was going to say more. Well, I am one of those ex-English majors that has to swim around in it, immerse in the phenomenon, and wait for my muse, for my insight to surface. It is beginning to do so and this entry is occasioned by my need to convert some mental notes and musings into text.

I was working on a green quest in Tynaqua's quest log. She's a lvl 30 rogue troll. I hate it when quests go gray. This pesky quest has been driving me nuts. It's hard for me. I've tried it on several different days, starting back when it was yellow, and I've died a thousand deaths, so to speak. In exasperation, I checked in to the community knowledge base, thotbott, where I read the usual "I soloed this as a level 23 priest" and such. But this time, I was really compelled to understand why I could not accomplish this task, and then I found an entry by a rogue.

As my kid might say, "OMG!" Here's the post, with boldface player moves I have added for discussion:

Cake With Rogue
Score 0.1 Vote: [-] [+] by Kynmore, 2.5 months ago

Ding'ed to 25 just before i got to him. He has his 22 escourt, which spawns a 3rd escourt, the damned bot.

Cake! First off, use distraction to get Gerenzp to look away, then sap his ass. Take out the escourt, dont worry about her bot. Use vanish, and the bot will go away. Then, distract Gerenzo again, Ambush his ass, and take his arms.

Doesn't get more simple than that.


My jaw dropped when I read this, not because it held the key (because it still might have been more than I could manage), but because it demonstrated a very deep knowledge of the rogue skills and, thereby, a creativity or cognitive flexibility with those skills and that knowledge.

An aside for those unfamiliar with cognitive flexibility. Paragraph one is a defintion. Paragraph two is the reason I have not embraced it much.

Cognitive flexibility theory focuses on the nature of learning in complex and ill-structured domains. Spiro & Jehng (1990, p. 165) state: "By cognitive flexibility, we mean the ability to spontaneously restructure one's knowledge, in many ways, in adaptive response to radically changing situational demands...This is a function of both the way knowledge is represented (e.g., along multiple rather single conceptual dimensions) and the processes that operate on those mental representations (e.g., processes of schema assembly rather than intact schema retrieval)."

The theory is largely concerned with transfer of knowledge and skills beyond their initial learning situation. For this reason, emphasis is placed upon the presentation of information from multiple perspectives and use of many case studies that present diverse examples. The theory also asserts that effective learning is context-dependent, so instruction needs to be very specific. In addition, the theory stresses the importance of constructed knowledge; learners must be given an opportunity to develop their own representations of information in order to properly learn.

Source: http://tip.psychology.org/spiro.htm


So I had gotten all these skills: vanish, sap, distraction. I could also take people out quite effectively. I'm a very good fighting rogue. But when I first got vanish, at lvl 22 I read its functionality and made a judgment about it. True, I went out and bought a 5-stack of flash powder, which it requires. But I put it on a secondary bar, for special case uses, and promptly forgot about it. Why? Because it has a 5 minute cool down, which means you use it once in a situation. Somehow I missed important features, such as its duration, 10 seconds (long time in a battle), and this: Also breaks movement impairing effects. All aggro'd mobs on Rogue will exit combat phase and return to their original locations or turn to other players if the rogue is in a party (WoWWiki entry).

So the lvl 25 rogue who wrote the entry understood vanish better than I do. But, more importantly, he understood how to string it together with a set of other talents, e.g., distraction (another move on my rare use tool bar) to experience the quest as a piece of cake.

How did I miss this?

Immediately I thought of last night's run with Twink and Clivenar and Meranda (me) and Orosquee to finish off the seal of wrynn chain. As we stood around in the garden in the keep, waiting our turn to kill the spy, another player, a kid we "know" as Denaly, was jumping and running around us like...like...well all I can think of is a balloon that has been blown up and let go of, whirling around the room in random ways.

I found it mildly annoying, more amusing, but just kid behavior. He was also telling us he'd managed 500 HK (honor kills) in BGs that day. OMG, that's an amazing amount. This morning, while I pondered the rogue quest problem, those two fact collided. In BGs that very behavior is a valuable skill and strategy for rogues. I had an idea. I was reminded of ethology studies of baby primates play-fighting with each other to learn to be adult primates fighting for real. Denaly, and my own kid, Orosquee, play like this inside the game at idle moments. A lot times we find it hugely annoying, but it may serve a similar novice practice function. It may open up possibilities for them to experience their skills/moves separate from any particular use-context that would make them a tool for X, and instead more deeply embue them with the context of things I can do as a rogue, and thus available to me in all my rogue contexts. We adults, we encounter a new talent and think about how it fits our game play -- our past game play -- and make a decision about its role and utility, and promptly pigeon hole it.

After all, quests are deliciously ill-defined problem spaces that ask us to just get the jorb done however we see fit, with the tools and insights at our disposal. I certainly limit what's at my disposal. I didn't see vanish as a tool I might use on my quest. I just didn't see it. When I read the entry, my reaction was first, jees that's a lot of stuff to remember to do... and then, DOH! only for me, the dweeb who has locked her tools in a fixed game play style. I'm just burning through the levels with the rogue. I want to level her up. And ironically that very reconceptualization of quests as barriers to levels is what made the task hard. Hey stupid, it's a R O L E playing game. As Woody Allen intones in the film, Antz, be the ball. I need to BE the rogue.

And I know this. I have read earlier Thotbott postings about some grinding task that someone was bitching about, which occasioned the reply posting that went something like this: Dude, that's how BLizzard gets you to practice that skill. It's better than some stupid tutorial; you get points for it. So STFU and stop complaining, n00b. How could I read that, agree with and get it, and still not get it?

Wow, am I a n00b, eight months later, despite my several high level characters!

And, this returns me to the initial point. I want to look through the postings for evidence of this sort of exploration. I want to watch players like Denaly and Akmalla, both hugely annoying at times when they are goofing around with new skills (a reconstruction of the experience...smile).

Now at some preconscious level I knew this. I had already begun looking around in the literature for work on the role of play, beyond the ethologist point of view though. Dorothy Holland and LS Vygotsky, himself, have things to say about play and learning, and so I am heading back to reread books they've written that I already own.

DOH!

Thursday, August 24, 2006

When tribalism dies

Something that I'd perhaps subtly understood before came into stark relief with the last patch for WoW, and that's that change, which is so often gradual in RL, is distinct and identifiable in a world that is defined by software. Patch Tuesday is like a virtual Sept. 11 or the assassination of JFK - there's a before and an after, and each side of the demarcation has its own assumptions.

The deployment of the 1.12 patch, which brought cross-realm battlegrounds to WoW, will be looked back on as a point when, for valid and defensible reasons, Blizzard sacrificed the sense of server community on the altar of shorter BG queues. And, while I'm generally pleased with the new world we're living in, the change was abrupt enough that I'm a little sad, or perhaps nostalgic, for what once was.

I've been playing in the Khaz Modan BGs now for several months, long enough to get to know names on the Horde side, and a lot of the regulars on the Alliance side. I read through the Khaz Modan forums regularly, know a lot of the regular forum trolls there, and generally feel like part of a larger community, even if I didn't contribute much to it directly. 10,000 people, or whatever a WoW realm holds, actually felt like a much smaller town when I ran in the BGs, or the forums, because of the smaller subset that frequented those areas.

Now, however, going into WSG is kind of like flying into LAX - there are 12 contests going at any one time, and there's little or no expectation of seeing anyone you know. Sometimes the group is good, sometimes not, but what's interesting is how anonymous it can feel. The Horde I kill feel a lot like the person I cut off on the 405 - I'll never see them again.

But I love the speed of the queues, so complaining is a little silly. As a game, the change was a superior choice; as community, it reminds me of the arrival of air travel or railroads to the rural dwellers - a whole wide world opened up, but at the same time, something got a little lost too. Fascinating.

Friday, August 18, 2006

stuff 'n things

Julian Dibbell wrote me an email today inviting me to join his Horde guild group on another realm. His email reply came approximately 5 months after my last email to him and was clearly occasioned by his cleaning out his email. At any rate, it sent me traipsing over to TN to see what was up over there, and suddenly I found myself generating replies to two separate postings, one of which led me to another blog, which led me to another project. These last two items are sufficiently compelling to post here right before your eyes to encourage your perusal of them.

First, Kuurian Expedition blog, which I got to from the Synthetic Worlds Initiative at I.U. Wow, who knew. So check them out too. The Kuurian Expedition -- oh duh I just got Korean, DOH! -- is also playing WoW, though if they are doing Deadmines runs, they aren't too far along. They are also meeting inside Second Life.
Jonas Karlsson announces that the Kuurian Expedition, a Community Relations project of the Indiana University Synthetic Worlds Initiative, has now established a guild inside of Second Life. Journalists, researchers, authors and anyone else interested in being introduced to Synthetic Worlds are encouraged to join each Synthetic World's Kuurian Expedition for friendly, mature, professional, and fun exploration.


Somehow I got here too, from the SWI page. Democracy Island...VIcky, they are inviting the locals to plan the park in a virtual sketchpad. The cool thing here is the transport of the wiki notion to a visual collaboration.

I think we are finding SL's meaning and it isn't formal, intentional education. It might be a redefinition of collaboration software, per both the uses described in this post.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Distinguishing characteristics/patterns of successful and less successful group tasks in WoW

Here's a thought, after having played another bad dungeon that didn't go far before everyone bailed.

You get a group of folks to agree that, when the dungeon is done or when they leave the party, they will give you a signal: 1, 2, 3, where 1 = great; 2 = okay; and 3 = awful. You capture the chat, as a participant observer, and hopefully capture the video stream. When done, folks give rating. You do a debrief with as many as you can get to show up. You tape their remarks (Second Life would be good for this.)

You go back through your data sets, where one set = one dungeon, BG, or raid (with chat, video, ratings, and hopefully debrief). You sort them by ratings, taking care to put disputed sets (mixed ratings) in their own pile. You go through each pile of datasets trying to identify common themes in that set. Then you look across sets at what differentiates the good, the bad, and the mediocre...and the mixed bag. What do the good ones have in common? How do they differ from the others?

Maybe it will be leadership. Maybe it will be communication. Maybe it will experience (expertise in group). etc etc.

At write up, you make the case for dungeons or BGs or instances as cases of a particular kind of collaborative work. If this kind of collaborative work occurs in the real world, at work or at school or in-between, you can make discuss what you've found out about what makes more and less successful task or project collaborations.

You could do something similar with guilds... You have to have insider ratings to use to differentiate the variations based upon criteria identified by the users, e.g.,BG twink guilds serve different needs than endgame raiding guilds. The you look in the clearly demarcated grouping for what is common within the group, and how the grouping is differentiated from others.

These two studies should also give you a predictive power that you can check out. Then, of course, you'll want to move it to a real world setting and see if the principles hold true.

Friday, August 11, 2006

OK, a chance for Linda to go all "Professorial" on my ass

Ok, I've held off on this because I wanted to think a little more about it, see if I could come up with some answers before exposing my ignorance. But I think we're at a crossroads in our discussions here, so I'll ask the question:

Why's Nick Yee's work so fatally flawed?

Here's the context of the question as I see it. Yee acknowledges that he's working with a self-selected sample of the population, and I think I understand the inherent problem that self-selection brings. However, in statistics, isn't there a certain numerical point where a sample size, regardless of selection method, crosses a threshold and begins to become significant? Maybe I'm wrong, but at a certain point I'd assume that the sheer power of numbers begins to overwhelm the self-selection, and the sample becomes a valid representation of the population.

Further, how can we overcome the problems that you seen in Yee's methodology? It seems to me that if we're studying customers of proprietary virtual worlds, and the owners of those worlds either can't or won't make the population available to us for us to draw a statistically relevant sample, how do we proceed? If we go out with an open call for feedback, don't screen the responses, and get back 50,000 responses, isn't that an adequate sample to make some judgments on?

I guess I look at it like this - if we're studying the incidence of a type of cancer in the general population, there's really no one that "owns" the right to look at medical data or "cause of death" data, so researchers with some skill can get access to the information they need. But in the situation of Blizzard or Sony Online, they could make the argument that it would be detrimental to their relationship with their subscribers/players/customers, and detrimental to the players' in-game experience, to allow researchers to contact players for research purposes. From the game developers' perspective, facilitating research becomes not just a hassle, but actually a negative outcome. If that's true, and as a researcher you're still committed to garnering player opinions, how do you avoid something that looks a lot like Yee's solution?

Understand that I'm not arguing for sloppy research, but looking at both Yee and the PARC Play On projects, both seem hamstrung by the gatekeeping function of the publishers. Are we left to wait until we can somehow garner support from the publishers, or can we take half steps (which is how I'd see Yee's work) until such time as the playing field shifts?

As I said, I've been hesitant to ask because I have the feeling I'm asking something I should have already understood about academic research, but since I clearly don't... I'm looking forward to being enlightened.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

A WoW wedding

Thought this might be of interest - I thought I'd attend to see what it looked like. A gnome and a NElf getting hitched.

Link


A wedding, followed by world PVP - woohoo!

Friday, August 04, 2006

I Hang out in SL not WoW - Why?

A worthwhile angle for consideration in understanding the value of and motivation for spending time in a virtual world might turn up if folks help me cogitate over why I've not played WoW for a while now. I could say it was because I was finishing up my coursework and looking for a job - and of course, that is true. But it is also true the WoW isn't very high on my priority list for scarce time (and I can't trade sleeptime for playtime, like some of my time-pressed colleagues). And - during this same period, I've spent hours in Second Life and interacting with my SL colleagues both out- and in-world. And - when I've had free time since end of coursework, I've been reading (living in totally imaginary worlds). Actually, when I log on to my computer I always start up SL (because I can truly multi-task with it, leaving an SL window open while I go about my other activities).

Maybe it is because I have never reallly been a gamer. I don't know how much that goes along with my disinterest in sports; collective striving in a competitive environment has never engaged me for some reason. I don't even watch sports on tv, or attend sporting events. (Don't report me to Homeland Security, please, I really am an American). My "sport" in high school was modern dancing. The only activity that I enjoy that is only loosely classified as a sport is swimming.

I do enjoy WoW, and likely could get addicted to it. Now that may seem contradictory. But the pull and emotion that I feel toward WoW is very like my relationship to potato chips. I love potato chips - the greasier and at the same time the crisper the better. If I have a bag of potato chips in the house, they might last a day. But if I never buy potato chips, they just pass out of my conscious awareness, and I don't think about them (chocolate on the other hand never goes out of my consciousness). When I start playing WoW, I go to another place where time just disappears - but in fact, it is very similar to the kind of place I go when I read. I'm the kind of reader who sits down to read a book, and looks up four hours later answering "huh?" to friend or family who've been trying to get my attention for thirty minutes. But if I don't play for a while, I don't miss it.

I'm NOT saying that I think that there is more "there" in SL than in WoW, although I know that several of you believe the converse. I think what I'm saying is that my connection with WoW is perhaps both more narrow and shallower than for the rest of the playlate gang. On the other hand, my relationship to SL is more like one that I would have to this fantastic coffeehouse where I can go to talk about things I care about with people who also care, or collaborate on some project that matters to us, or listen to music from a fresh new independent band, or watch kinetic art.

In SL, I can disappear into building, but mostly it is solo. But my most satisfying interactions are with my SL buds - I've got 30 friends on my friends list. Some of them are from CadreX (the Dissertation Club Crew - we've already gotten together in the Cafe Malibu, the coffeehouse I put on our island). I'm a member of the RL EdD/PhD Graduate Students Colony in SL, and get with people both for formal meetings and just as I run into them (SL lets me know when/where friends are when they come in-world). I've rediscovered people who were important to me in my other life (NLII) in SL. I get together regularly with different people in-world, and talk about what is important to us - teaching and learning and virtual worlds. We argue about immersion, presence, spatiality in virtual worlds, and the value of these dimensions for learning. We show each other cool new toys and utilities we've developed - you guys would have loved the incredible show that Karla Pixie did last week with her particle generator (I've asked her to the grand opening of Malibu Island I'm thinking about setting up for end of August). And I meet people like the NASA guy who is incorporating games into their work with educators.

Perhaps it is a question of identity: Wendy Widget is a more representative of RL Vicki; Perrenelle is a good vacation from RL Vicki. That's all I can identify in this first pass at understanding the differences in appeal between the two. This is not to say that I will stop playing WoW; I plan on making it a Friday evening activity. But I've gotten out of synch with everyone else in the playlate group, and will need to figure out some bridging efforts that I might carry out - which is thought-provoking in itself, in the context of communities of practice and legitimate peripheral participation.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Ding

That's right. Two years ago I bought my new car, only several days after OMET graduation, when my former ride died in the middle of San Bernardino County. James was at Tech Camp, and he and Christiane helped save me from a sweaty death. A day or so of frenzied internet shopping and a test drive or two, and I left LA driving a new Honda Accord.

This morning I rolled over 60,000 miles. And Viamedia logged in briefly to scan the AH (I assume). James is done with classwork. I'm a year away.

And this morning, in the overheated wastelands of Sillithus, an anonymous scorpion died for no particular reason.

Ding.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Strat Dead, Dire Maul, and the precipice of 60

Over the last two weeks Twinkleheal has been on a fast grind through the upper 50s, and it’s given me a hint of what the end game looks like. What it looks like is a bit humbling quite frankly.

At the outset of last week, I was traveling to state meetings, which gave me the chance to play on broadband for several evenings in a row. Viamedia had been running with me to grind XP, and he related to me that he’d been on his first high end instance (I forget which) as a tank, and that it had been nerve-wracking to hold aggro. I heard the comment, but didn’t know whether to chalk it up to James having to learn a different style of play, or something else.

Something else, mostly. I know James is working to figure out what the proper spec will be for Viamedia, and how that will fit into the roles he’ll play in instances. But the fact of the matter is, what I didn’t understand, and what I think maybe we all didn’t understand, was that there really is a quantum jump between, say, Zul’Farak and Sunken Temple, and Stratholme, Scholomance and Dire Maul.

I say this because Tuesday night Twink was invited to run Strat Dead with Blizzarov, Renton, Imprecora and Crymarc (Rogue, War, Lock and Hunter, all 60 – Twink was 58). I had the comfort of being on Ventrillo with Renton and Crymarc, but since Blizz was running the raid, the communication was still a bit sketchy.

To be truthful, I’m not even sure I remember all of the run – just that it was amazing and overwhelming for the speed with which things came at me. Ken tells me that Strat’s a showpiece for a priest – juggling the heals of the group, and also managing the process of shackling selected undead mobs. All I know is that things were coming out of every nook and cranny, Blizz was throwing down insane amounts of DPS, which in turn drew amazing aggro, and I let him die almost immediately. Renton was talking in my ear about the fact that he was having trouble holding aggro from all of the DPS Blizz was doing. And within a moment, we’d wiped.

It was discouraging. I was so locked into watching the health meters of the party, I didn’t even see the action, so I couldn’t have shackled a mob even if I’d know which one to take. I also realized that my standard keyboard mappings for soloing, where 2-5 on the keyboard were offensive spells and then 6 and 7 were my heals, was hurting my performance – the distance to the keys for my left hand was too far, and I was losing people because I couldn’t get the spells off quickly enough.

“You need to adapt” was what Blizzarov said to me as we ran back. It was harsh, perhaps, but it was true. I was thinking as a healer, separated from the action – 1 and 4 – instead of a member of the party with defensive AND offensive responsibilities. And as we progressed along – killed the first boss, moved on to the second – things got a little better. I did cause another wipe precisely because I didn’t follow orders and pulled a crowd – I was trying to get into line of sight to heal, even though Blizz had been quite specific about where I should stand. That wipe felt bad – I thought I knew better, and I didn’t – but the others felt like learning, even though I was learning on others’ repair bills.

Blizzarov left the group after the second boss, and Crymarc a little after that – I can’t say whether they were frustrated with the pace or shepherding a baby – but as their replacements were Datta and Gimpee, I felt better and better to be surrounded by friends I knew. Both joined in on Vent, so that only Imprecora wasn’t talking in my ear, offering directions and encouragement. We wiped several more times, but eventually, got all the way to the Baron, who’s the end boss.

He beat the crap out of us. Made us look silly, really. It’s the first time I’ve ever seen my equipment meter read at 0% - completely red. The others had a bit more gear, but not much, and we called it a night. I think I spent about three hours in the instance – a lot of it was waiting, and running back, to be sure, but still, that’s a run that now people have to do in 45 minutes to get their tier 2 armor set. The practice and the commitment to learning to play well enough to do that is daunting.

It was a humbling experience. I’d spent too much time recently playing the “Priest Tank” in Deadmines, and soloing in Felwood, where I looked competent; I was reminded that I’d become a routine expert, but only at a low level. I felt bad for the others and their repair bills, so I sent gold to all of them, thanking them and offering a token for their repair costs. I took it as a mark of the community experience, and the awareness of “everyone’s a noob sometimes,” that every one of them returned it.

Friday night, then, I was invited to Dire Maul by a group that I’d never run with – Basty, Giles and a couple others. We were all on Vent, and I came late to the run – they’d been with another lower level (!) healer who was pulling too much aggro, so they asked me to step in. I have to say, I agreed, but with some trepidation that I was going into another situation where I was going be a liability.

As it turned out however, Dire Maul isn’t quite the same as Strat. There’s more room to work, the mobs don’t seem quite as aggressive or densely packed, and I’d gone up to 59. It seemed to make a difference. We wiped several times, but we succeeded in killing the boss we needed to, and I knocked off a couple of quests from the log. I felt more competent, but still was aware that the end game is a different one than what had come before. I got a nice ring out of the run, and an upgraded wand, too, which has been helpful.

So now I’m poised to push it over the threshold. I’ve run down into Un’goro and Silithus in the last couple days; Silithus is a tough town to solo, but Un’goro’s been fun. I’m at 59.75 – five bars to go, and three of them blue. I’m waffling internally whether I want to do 60 by myself, or with a group of friends. Either way, it’s coming up. And then I’m going to run Scholomance, and go back into Strat, to get started on getting better.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Constance, Discourse, and Legacy

Constance Steinkuhler has an article on discourse in Legacy and Legacy II in this month's Mind, Culture, and Activity journal.

Monday, July 17, 2006

4th of July in Booty Bay

Top Ten Reasons the 4th in Booty Bay is Better than the 4th on Redondo Beach Pier.

10. No fat chicks, including me.

9. Snacks and beverages close at hand and free.

8. Great view without having to sit on a lawn chair.

7. Noise optional.

6. Color adjustable.

5. You can still kill while you cheer the next explosion.

4. You can fish and watch.

3. No sand in your pants or shoes.

2. Easy access to clean bathrooms.

And the number one reason it's better virtually...

You can drink and drive your ride legally.



people were also a little nuts in Stormwind, also. see below.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Sense of loneliness in the NS Guild (or lack thereof)

Several of you have been posting about your new guilds and leaving old ones; its my turn. I have been in Night Shift since the dawn of time (aka November of last year). I first joined the guild to play with my buddies and see what this whole idea of "guild" was all about (me NOT being a gamer). In the beginning of my guild experience, I would chat with several members, quest with some of them, and generally enjoy interactions. Good conversation that helped the game play experience along. A few months in, there was a pissing match between the 2 guys who were heading up the guild. Several people split, going with the other head guy, and one member being Hall. Once Hall left, it was Twink and I.. which was still cool.. cause I really like Twink. The guild started to dwindle, along with conversations and guild play. I tended to just ignore it and say hi to Twinkleheal when I saw him online.

However, the other day, I logged on and saw the words in green "Twinkleheal has left the guild" .. eek! Twink left the guild, and my heart sank. WHY? Why on earth would my heart sink to see a person that I chat with on AIM, and see IRL, cause me to feel that when the leave a guild in a GAME? I suppose I realized out of the crew, I am the last one, not so much the survivor, but more the lost one. I haven't explored the option of a new guild yet, but I plan on it very soon. Being a level 40 isn't much of an enticing option for a guild, so I may have to stick it out for awhile.

This time around, I am looking for something more. I want the sense of community, a group that wants to run raids, shares good chat and values each member. I am past having the notoriety of being in a guild with clout; I want to find the community. The past several months I have been questing alone, with the occasional quest from Navarre or Via, but usually alone. I determined months ago, I play WoW for the social interaction, and I am not getting that these days.
On the WoW website discussing guilds it says, "Guilds offer many benefits including free items, opportunities for groups, access to trade skill masters, quest items, and readily available trade skill ingredients through gathering guild members. You may discover that a guild greatly enhances your gameplay experience. You can meet friends, share adventures, and find people to protect you if you fight in faction versus faction combat. Typically, players in good guilds can go places and do things that players in poor guilds or no guild can't." WoW Guild Info
This could be the main reason I rarely am on anymore, because no one is online to quest with. So, on July 4th, I watched fireworks in Booty Bay .. all alone :(

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

The Community *is* the High

I find it deliciously ironic that the acronym for World of Warcraft is wow. As James and others have pointed out, there are so many wow moments. Eric's rejoineder to James's post reminds me that social gaming creates an aura of wow. Our successes are more satisfying because they are shared, not only in the aftermath, as a child or spouse might share a significant accomplishment through anecdote over dinner, but shared in the moment they occur. We know that people bond, who have shared, in the moment, triumph over adversity or challenge. We know that social bonds enrich the human experience, for most people. I don't want to overanalyze.

ASIDE: Check out the Terra Nova commentary on a Jared Ranier posting, both of which offer an interesting take on the role of the collective.

I do want to think about identity a bit though. We have crafted, in our avatars, alternative identities with alternative competencies and opportunities to demonstrate competence. That is, we live is a social world that helps us be successful and be identified as successful. In some ways, it is a wonderful place to live. We can do well. We can show others we are doing well. Things are somewhat under our control. Rules are clear. Information and help abound to ensure we succeed. ... and it feels damn good!

The culture clearly values collaboration, indeed assumes it in some places (as we have each noted in entries elsewhere in the blog). Thus we can exist in a world where it is more than okay to ask for help, to give help, and to rely upon help to accomplish tasks. So, when we master a quest chain with help, we still feel success for ourselves. It is not diminished by the co-presence of helpful others. In fact, the experience is often enhanced by the presence of those who understand the challenge and have put shoulder to the wheel to help us.

The failures and unsuccessful moments are made less painful by the shared acknowledgement of difficulty. The only other situation I can think of like this is sport, where players know that on any given play or turn they too might chili dip the club face, throw an interception, hit into the net, or miss the unmissable slam-dunk...and it's *okay*. [picture of a bad day in STV]

Of course we learn and thrive and develop new identities of competent performance in this sort of environment. And, oddly, this does not preclude competition. It does not preclude assessment of performance. It does not preclude labeling of competence/skill levels. And everyone is *okay* with that.

Wow indeed.

p.s.
Hmmm, odd random thought... perhaps social gaming is inherently addicting because it is so forgiving and supportive. Most of us give up on things that are mean to us when we don't succeed in them. Hmmmm.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Why are we playing, redux

Motivation was my point. We all have different counts in the categories. Yet, I think a category is missing.

I’m up in the WPL and Twink and I are killing . . . err . . . I long ago stopped paying attention to what I kill. I should, but I don’t. So, it’s an undead or it’s this or that. Really doesn’t matter to the simple mind of a dwarf warrior whose motto is, “Hit, rinse and repeat as required”

Well, we pull a large mob. And for the second time in as many hours, we are outnumbered and outgunned. I go to town trying to hold agro and Twink does whatever the hell he does behind me. I’ve played long enough with enough folks to see the difference skill makes. I’ve wiped on a mob this size with twice as many people. Yet, I know my jorb and Twink knows his and unlike me I suspect Twink knows my jorb as well.

And whenever I am about to die he gets my health up and if he doesn’t, I have the potion or the bandage ready. I watch his health and when it gets too low, I pull the baddie off of him or throw my own bandage on him. We both keep each other alive, though the credit is his far more to him than mine.

I think I probably have a style others have to conform to as opposed to compromise. Yet, I have always felt that was my jorb as a warrior. Aggro is my biddness and I get the first thwack regardless. How I hold it it and manage it is also my biddness, but this requires partners who understand that. I’m going to let some mobs chew on you while I chew up others, but I’m going to try and make sure they don’t chew you up too much.

It is a bit of an exercise in juggling. And for someone who tries to avoid direct leadership, is also a challenge. And there is not a lot of time to talk once I’ve screamed, “Remember the Alamo” and plowed into a crowd committing the party to a course they might still be discussing the merits of. Again, have to have partners who find that charming and not caustically annoying.

Back to motivation . . . Twink and I take down the mob and both of us were on sliver of health here and there, but we came out the other side and the sparkly things over the dead bodies were as pleasing as any forth of July celebration. I do not think I could have survived that pull with any other player . . . and that is a motivation for me to play.

But Yee’s, “Relationship, Immersion, Grief, Achievement and Leadership” don’t really cover that for me. It touches on relationship and achievement, but it is somewhere in-between. Having someone to hi-five and go, “Dude!” and “Damn!” with and knowing that moment was ‘real-time’ and unique . . . that is a big motivation for me in the game, but not exactly covered in the list.

And Dude, Damn!

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Goodbye, so long, Night Shift

So Wednesday, I'm happily trailing along behind the rolling bloodbath that is Viamedia, when I get a whisper from one of the Night Shift members, asking me if I wanted to join that high level raiding guild...

Ok, I should back up.

Night Shift was my guild because it was OUR guild on Blackhand, and after we moved across and the Fellison/Gimpee drama happened, I stayed mostly because I felt beholden to Brudie for taking us under his wing. I knew I'd always be able to run with Hallgrima and Viamedia regardless of guild, but I don't like feeling like a social butterfly, so I figured, "love the ones you're with," and though I enjoyed running with Felli, figured it wasn't that big of a deal.

And in fact, that's proven itself out. I've mostly played with Hall and Via, as well as my IRL buddies here at the college. Occasionally I've run with Brudie, or other NS guildies, but mostly it's been pickup groups, or the SMASH crew. I know Eddiva's still poking around in NS, but she's got better time managment skills than me, so I don't see her very often, and the differential in levels has become a challenge to overcome. (As an aside, there's something real to study about what happens when IRL friends find themselves separated by their virtual level differences - It's not just a difference in toon ability, it's also a difference in IRL play experience and expertise. I'm so much more comfortable of withstanding a bad pull now than I was 3 months ago, and it's not just that the toon has more time before death.) But in general, the guild didn't matter much, and if you'd asked me, I'd have said that SMASH was my real guild.

There has been a core of Night Shift, however, that has pushed forward, and one by one, 60s started appearing on the guild roster. Brudie, Gimpee, Sarianas, Arianas, Renton ... gradually they dinged over. Several weeks ago I'd have said there were maybe 10 or 12 60s in the NS guild, and I knew they were running the higher level instances, but didn't know what they were talking about, until a new guild MOTD showed up from Renton saying "Don't worry, the 60s have gone to a new raiding guild, but they're still around if you need anything." I caught up with Brudie and asked what was up, and he said that the players who'd reached 60 were looking for a way to participate in end game raiding, and that had led them to start talking with a larger guild, Crimson, about joining. Crimson agreed to take all of Night Shift's 60s, and Brudie said there was also talk about forcing all of Crimson's non-60s to move to Night Shift, as a sort of minor leagues for levelling up. Just as a matter of communication and group dynamics, it seemed a bit presumptuous to assume guild members were going to be willing to swap around. I thanked Brudie for the information and went on my way - as I'm still not a 60, I was content to let things fall out a bit, work on levelling up, and working on the SMASH experiment.

In the days that followed this, I did notice that there was a decrease in the number of members in the guild list, and not only the 60s were missing. I also notice that Sarianas, who'd been a Guild Mommy to Night Shift, popped up advertising a new guild in IF. Clearly, not everyone who'd been "elegible" to move to Crimson had found it a perfect fit.

So I was a little surprised when Renton contacted me and asked if I wanted to join Crimson. It seemed like somewhere the rules that I'd been playing under had shifted again. But I figured, it's all part of the process, so I told Renton that sure, I'd play along, and he walked me through the /gquit process, and then got me into Crimson. The GM is Blizzarov, and I was welcomed warmly enough by the guildies on at the time.

Perhaps the only thing I feel badly about the move was that it happened just after Eddiva logged in, and all she saw was the /gquit process. I'm sorry Holls - I said I'd explain it that evening and I didn't.

On the whole, I'm not sure what to make of it - I'm still focussed on 60, and SMASH, and the dialup at home has been so bad of late that I'm hesitant to enter into raids where people might be counting on me, for fear of dropping at an inopportune time. All of that said, the most notable thing about the shift has been the guild chat - there are people talking about the planned Zul'Gurub run, and the attunement process for MC. I'm back in newbie land after feeling more and more expert for the past several months, and that's an intriguing place to be again.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

End Game or Bust

Okay. Why still play at 60? Are you nuts? I am barely a week into 60 and I'm sooooooo diggin' the power. Yesterday, Viamedia and I took on a level 60 elite by ourselves and slew it handily. OMG. I was stunned. And it wasn't the first time I was stunned this week. I am learning to abandon my seven-month-old, clothie, caster/DOT, fear of attacking. I love attacking. I can pull. I can hack. I can slay and smote and otherwise trash baddies. I can go places by myself. LOL.

But now...a new itch arises. Dudes, let go on some raids! More and nastier dungeons! Onyxia, Molten Core, Upper Blackrock Spire, Dire Maul, and the new Naxxaramas (or whatever his name is)! I'm sick of questing, even in a party. I want to sweat bullets as the pull goes bad...and we squeak by. I want to feel trepidation as the creaky metal gate unlocks and we venture in. I want to worry about the pat. coming up from behind us. I want to roll for epic drops! I have needs! LOL. I have been on two runs through BRD (BlackRock Depths) and loved it. Just balancing down that long chain suspended over the lava pools...eek. All I could think of (and did say to the party, the first time through): Throw the ring in, Frodo!

So that's my end game...that's why I'm here. Who's playing with me?

I"m also into the BG experiment. It's tough though. I f'n hate those shamies. This is Meranda, my lvl 18.5 twinked warlock. She's an engineer, which, btw, I'm hugely digging!

Monday, July 03, 2006

Meet the new grind . . . same as the old grind.

Nick Yee lists five motivating factors for playing an online game as Relationship, Immersion, Grief, Achievement and Leadership. As I’ve reached 60 and find myself grinding as hard as I ever have, I am questioning my own motivation. Why do I keep playing this damned game?

It used to be for the relationships on some level, but my life has taken me away from the game more and more and I feel less and less connected to those within. There are the constants of Hal’ and Twink’, but my ‘relationship’ with them exists more outside the game than inside.

I am not really into the immersion aspect. I’ve yet to be bothered to learn exactly what the scourge are or why there are large floaty things outside the cities. I know names like Licch King and Dark Tower and have a vague understanding of their place in the mythology, but it does not drive me.

Grief? Err . . . well . . . hmm . . . Yeah, I’ll have to cope to this. I love to see how folks behave in the game when I tweak them just a tiny bit. Sometimes it is more of a motivation than kill yet another thing in front of me.

Achievement might be the top of the list for me. Grinding to 60 had little to do with the above and was more an arbitrary goal that I made a personal goal. Now I am up in the Eastern Plaugeland grinding out reputation with the Argent Dawn for no reason that means much more than getting 60.

Leadership is important to me as well, but I exercise it in a covert fashion. Leading parties or guilds does not appeal to me. I prefer more of a servant-leadership approach when not questing or grinding. By this I mean I prefer to offer support or goods and goodies. When out and about, I am MUCH more comfortable letting just about anyone take the up front position when in a party. I prefer to hit and rinse and repeat as opposed to taking the responsibility for the group.

So, if Achievement, apart from the minor distraction of griefing players, is my real motivation than why am I fixated on MMOGs when I could be playing a solo game? I don’t know yet, but I’m thinking about it.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Playing WOW can make you smart

Reading “The Reinvetion of the Self” . . . an article in Seed Magazine [are they ‘in’ anymore when you get them online? I suppose I should have said ‘on’]. It starts with a overview of Professor Elizabeth Gould’s work at Princeton in neurobiology.

In her laboratory at Princeton University’s Department of Psychology, Gould is determined to create a marmoset environment that takes full advantage of their innate intelligence. She doesn’t believe in metal cages. “We are housing our marmosets in large, enriched enclosures,” she says, “and with a variety of objects to support foraging. These are social animals, and it’s important to let them be social. Basically, we want to bring our experimental conditions closer to the wild.”

What struck me as I read this is perhaps this is what the ‘virtual’ worlds are slowly becoming . . . an environment designed to satisfy our true nature. Is the true nature of humanity the very things WOW satisfies? Is conflict and community at the core of who we really are?

Gould’s research has shown that the brain produces new neurons [say that five times fast . . . I’ll wait] when ‘happy’ and actually damages them when ‘unhappy’. This J is connected to stress.

Now, playing WOW, I have been happy often and seldom stressed. Which means my brain should have been producing new neurons all this time and making me if not smarter at least more adept at hiding my native stupidity.

Being low in a dominance hierarchy also suppresses neurogenesis. So does living in a bare environment.

WOW allows us to rise up and is anything but a bare environment. While there is a hierarchy and we start low, we are through out own efforts, like we wish for the poor, to rise up out of low ‘dominance’ and achieve the highest ranks regardless of our living circumstances.

In 1989, no one would have dared to imagine that the environment we live in can profoundly influence the actual structure of our brain, or that childhood stress might have permanent neurological effects.

So, is WOW the solution to poverty? If kids are given free access to these realms will their brains produce more neurons and will they grow smarter and then more successful?

JBR

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Zero to Sixty - Reflections on a Post-Progression Era

Once upon a time there was Halgrima and Balamor . . .

. . . when G-Money rode up on his steed Lucky, I remember being totally stunned by it all. He was 60 and we were wee. I now know the rearing of his steed was a stunt . . . a theatric flourish that I myself do as The Naked Dwarf, but than . . . it was more . . . it was an indication of power and place.

I had neither here. I had a body that wasn’t my body. I had a world that wasn’t my world. I stared through newborn eyes and remembered other lives in other lands, but that knowledge would not help me today.

G-Money handed us bags and 10g each and we had NO idea how he had made us princess among paupers. From the baby Dwarfland standing next to Hal to The Blasted Lands standing with a level 60 undead laying . . . err . .. dead at my feet, it has been a long seven months [40 days of continuous play].

I now have everything G-money had than and I understand the value of what he gave us freely. Yet, I believe what he was trying to touch .. to share . . were those first moments of wonder . . . of wow! He told me than there were “WOW moments” all the way to 60. From the first time I saw a raptor to Hal’ and I backing away from a dragon in the The Swamp of Sorrows to the Un’Goro Crater and finally to realizing what the Dark Portal in The Blasted Lands represented within the mythology of the game . . . wow moments all the way to 60 indeed!

I had parked my toon days ago at 59.9 to await Halgrima’s advancement from level 58. That night when I logged on as scheduled to share that final moment like we had shared the first I saw that she had gone on without me. Hurt feelings aside, it was time to cross my own finish line.

Heading down to The Blasted Lands, I was joined by Twinkleheal. This was far from cold comfort as he and I go back to the start of my new academic days [daze?]. He is always a welcome traveling companion . . . here and there. I pulled and pummeled and he healed and hexed. It was a grind, but not as bad as many. Pull a 60 . . . kill a 60. rinse and repeat. It was one of those odd disconnected experiences. It had nothing to do with enjoying the game, but only achieving an arbitrary goal, but a personal one nonetheless.

Exhausting one area we moved to another. Dingwise, I was close. Two more kills and a fireworks show. Standing on a light rise, I pulled a 60 towards me. As had been the case for the last half hour, I could not see Twink behind me, but I knew he was there pulling his weight. I had not healed up after the last two 60s, but I was growing confident in how long I could hang without hassle.

As I watched my health meter and hacked away, a basilisk attacked me from behind. I could not disengage from the 60 and for the first time in a bit I had the sense that I’d be a ghost walker here shortly. Yet, a purple blast from on high hit the basilisk dead center and in that one hit it jumped up and flipped over laying dead. My thoughts were, “Damn, Twink’s got a new major kick ass power!”. I would have typed so, but was engaged in the mini-drama before me.

The 60 I was fighting was worn by my mighty two-handed mace. Its health fell fast enough for me to realize I would be the one standing between the two of us. One more hit and I knew I only had one more to kill. Yet, with the final strike the familiar yellow shroud enveloped me as it had 58 times before and I passed from leveling to leveled.

I turned to Twink, but there was no Twink. There was no anybody except the undead and the dead. His party indicator came into focus to reveal he was disconnected. The purple lighting that struck that basilisk dead and spared my toonish existence long enough to kill the 60 and level myself had not been guided by Twink’s hand at all, but by random lighting that strikes The Blasted Lands.

Standing there . . . surveying the landscape I noticed something wrong with my interface. I scanned around the edges until I realized it was my experience bar . . it was now missing. The single most important indicator of my progression was gone! My thoughts were to how would I measure my success now?

So, there I was . . . at the end of the long trail as alone as I had been for all my earlier levels with this toon. I typed the obligatory ‘ding’ into the guild chat and received the same obligatory ‘grats’. Yet, it held little glory for me. There was no fist pumping in the air or a shout of excitement or even a bittersweet feeling. In that moment, there was just me on a hill in a ruined land. I knew behind me was the Dark Portal and if I walked around the hill to the right I could take the road to the Swamp of Sorrows . . . and maybe kill that dragon. I knew to the left were level 62 elites. Unlike when I was wee and wide-eyed, I KNEW where I was standing, yet where I was sitting was in my chair a world away wondering what do you do once you lose your progress bar?

Time to stop ‘playing’ and start researching.

ViaMedia . . . dwarf, warrior, skinner, herbalist, comic relief, bringer of the quick quip, provocateur, naked dwarf, friend to the weak and the wee, auction house pimp, founding member of Knights of Illuminati and level 60.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Odd Thoughts and Experiences

The Other WoW Game
This evening, whilst playing Meranda, my SMASH BG Guild 'toon, I was in SW doing chores and prepping for a BG run when what to my wondering eyes should appear? No, not a sleigh and eight tiny reindeer! A muster, a raid group assembling for an MC run. I got to chatting with one of them, Shuiro. I asked about the raiding. I mentioned my lvl 59-soon-to-be-60 'lock was in a guild that didn't do much and I was very interested in the raid stuff. Anyhow, we chatted a good 5 mins and he gave me his guild's web URL and suggested I consider joining it, which I am considering. His guild is FATED and they partner with Knights of Azeroth. I've seen members of both around. OMG, these guys are organized, but not overly Type A I don't think. (Lots of jargon I have yet to master, but the WoWwikipedia saved me there.) Read around in their forums; check their roster and DKP pages; look at the photos. Interesting.

The Scourge Invasion rocks, period. No... exclamation point!
I am having soooo much fun with it. After chatting with Shuiro ended I headed toward the castle keep to meet up with Flaiginbar for BGs. As I entered the long hallway into the castle, a crowd of about 12 or 15 undead Scourge Invasion skeletons, level 53, 54, 55 ELITE, ran past into the hallway, where they were set upon by the NPC guards. Very exciting to watch the NPCs and higher level player characters try to bring these guys down. They did eventually. I tried to help, but all of Meranda's attacks were resisted by the elite 55s. This snap is toward the end, when most of the group is already down.

I am 4 bricks from 60!

Thursday, June 22, 2006

So Much to Tell...

Okay, so I shouldn't have waited so long to post.

The Patch


First, the new patch...thank you!!! Finally those billions of enchanting mats clogging up my bank bags can stack in 20s. Yahoo! Maybe I'll get reinvigorated about enchanting. The mats were driving me nuts.

Second, the invasion of the scourge. OMG what fun! I spent 90 mins yesterday in a heated battle, shoulder-to-shoulder with the Horde and Alliance, fighting the never ending stream of undead skeletons and such dropping out of the sky through the crystal into the Blasted Lands. Check your continent maps for the skull symbol, which indicates an atack in that region. The attacks go for quite a while, until the assembled crowd has killed enough folks to deplete the crystal. I am so digging this. Be sure to loot. Not only do invasion scourge stones drop (turn in to Agent Dawn reps for BLUE loot and rep pts.) but they also drop easy-peasy quests. I got two yellow quests from two diff. letters that dropped and merely required delivery to an Argent Dawn person in Eastern Plaguelands.
Which brings me to third, the Light's Hope Chapel in Eastern Plaguelands is finally worth visiting! OMG it looks like a mini Iron Forge there. Argent Dawn with dungeon quests all over the place. And always a weird locale because of the proximity of Horde.

btw, I force loaded my Titan UI and it seems to be just fine, thank you very much. of course, your mileage may vary, as always.

A Good Time Was Had by All


Finally got the guildies to do a Sunken Temple run so I could score a wicked cool Warlock quest reward. Spent a lot of time reading the ongoing argument in the forums about what to choose. Here's the delicious choices, all blue items: a robe, a two-handed rod, and an offhand trinket. Each, as someone smart person figured out, is aligned to a different talent tree. I went against popular opinion (but in step with the smarter posts, imho) and selected the trinket, which lets me rez a VW w/o a shard or any mana. You don't know how often I've needed that in an instance run! I know there is a 30m cool down, but I think of this trinket as "in case of emergency, break glass."

It also got me thinking about the role of trinkets and rings and necklaces, as the ones I have right now exceed the number of slots available to use them. I had a BGO (blinding glimpse of the obvious): think seals. Yeah, just as the Palie moves seals in and out of play, so too I can move my trinkets. I have them set up in logical proximity to their related casts on my tool bars. For instance, next to my cast for my flaming horsie, I put the carrot on a stick. So, if I need to call up the horse, I first click on the carrot, which installs it in a slot and swaps it out for another trinket. Then I call up the horse.

I have this awsome drop from killing Araj: The Essense of Eranikus, which envelops the bearer in a cloud of poison, dealing 50 nature damage every 5 secs to any enemy in an 8 yard radius for 45 secs. SWEEET. I also have some cool offhands that boost shadow and fire spells, etc etc. Anyhow. Duh.

The title of this section refers to the absolute fun we had running the instance, besides the fact that blue stuff was dropping like candy (I mean, we even LEFT STUFF on the floor...it was BOP anyhow, but it was blue BOP and we were out of space! LOL). Sage, Cela, Felison, and I whined and convinced Arecles to join us. He is a masterful hunter puller. I went to school on him for my lvl 34 hunter. Plus, he knows the dungeon like the back of his hand. And my friends, I know why we wiped in the big round room of dragonkins with the hole in the middle. We went through this with NO party wipe and NO individual wipe. T'was fun.

So...after I finish my work today, I'm off to fight the invader Zim in the Blasted Lands or something. I only have 8 Necrotic Runes (need 10 to turn in) and 7 Invader's Scourgestone (also need at least 10).

I love this game. Just when you get a little restless...they up the ante and the fun is back.

It also helps to play party dungeons. I certainly enjoy that way, way, way more than just soloing. That said, I'm also building my PVP toon. Btw, didn't Eitrigg used to be PVP? Suddenly it's marked normal. So...I jumped to a new PVP.

Hallgrima stands at only 36% XP needed to hit 59!