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?


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 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!

Thursday, June 08, 2006

SMASH PvP guild

Linda asked that I create a blog for the SMASH PvP preparation process, so I've done that. It's located at . I've initially posted the WoW forum threads that I've been reading for guidance on the twinking process, but next will be an inventory of the items that I've stockpiled for the coming campaign. Enjoy.


Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Name: DruidiaJane. Level: 19. Standing: 1,777th

So, as I write, DruidiaJane is 1,777th on the Khaz Modan PVP rankings, is a Sergeant, and is the top rated lvl 19 player on the Alliance side. It’s a small celebrity, I know, but it’s satisfying, too. (and it’ll fade soon – I wasn’t able to play this weekend, so my honor was way down.)

I went into the battlegrounds hesitantly. I’m tempermentally suited to the priest – buff, heal, a smite or two, and then I let the others in my party mop up around me. It’s a supportive role, but I understand it. So pvp wasn’t high on my list – every time I was challenged to a duel, I found myself spinning more than attacking, and with no instant cast offensive spells, I was pretty much useless.

So I stayed out of the BG, even though I was curious. During our time in San Francisco, Sarah described to me the basic concepts of Warsong Gulch, and it sounded chaotic, but fun. It was Linda’s posting, though, that pushed me over the edge, so one afternoon I queued up.

I’d rolled DruidiaJane because I wanted to see what another class looked like. I’d taken Twinkleheal to 50, but was finding that it was harder to grind with a priest at 50 than it was at 30, and the instances require more time and planning than I often have, so I’d been slowed a bit there. I’d rolled a rogue, Slipperypeet, and taken him to 20, but I just don’t enjoy the rogue – I’m a lousy sneaker, and rogues are all about the stealthy attack.

So I settled on Druid, to see what a more offensive healer looked like, and pretty quickly ran through the first 18 levels, which was about the time I went into WSG for the first time.

There’s the term “ill-structured domain” that Margaret Riel introduced me to, and while I’m sure I don’t understand it real well, it seems to me that WSG is a perfect example of one smaller ill-structured domain inside of a larger one. Perhaps if Khaz Modan had been a PvP server, it might not have presented so much of a dichotomy in contrast with the outside PvE world, but as it was, it seemed like all or most of the previous patterns that had led to success with Twinkleheal were liabilities within the BG – deliberation, long-timed spell casts for huge damage, healing to a maximum – they all went out the window. After two matches in the bg, I knew I needed to respect DruidiaJane, and I also knew that I’d never be able to take Twinkleheal into a BG at any level – he’s specced for healing in instances.

But BGs are still a realm where analysis has some payoff, and I began seeing some of the patterns of the game. I also found myself on the winning side more often than I expected from reading the WoW forums and talking with my WoW mentor, Ken. It’s pretty clear that the IRL players who choose Horde avatars are willing to take on the personae of underdogs – part of the WoW mythology, I suppose – but it also seems that Hordies believe that PvP is where they pwn, their rightful domain. I’m not sure Blizzard could have expected this sort of racial affinity to develop, but it’s surely there nonetheless.

In any case, very quickly I learned that the role for a druid in the BG, their true calling, is the midfield. We’re fair healers, but you can’t do it quickly enough to be much use unless you set it up ahead of time – that is, if you position yourself ahead of the flag carrier, then heal them as they pass, then harass their pursuers. This is almost always a suicidal position to take – the pursuers turn on you in frustration, or to prevent your heals, but done properly, you’re the midfield boost to the flag carrier that gets them into a position to cap.

On defense, the role is reversed – the druid’s purpose is to Root, Root, Root. Even though it would unbalance the game terribly, I wish that Entangling Roots were instant cast. OMG, I would pwn! There’s nothing more satisfying than to see the flag coming, with several of my teammates trailing behind, and know that in a minute, the carrier’s going to come to a screeching halt and then get the stuffing whacked out of him. I think the animation of the roots folding around them is particularly satisfying – it’s like grasping claws just reach up and around.

My grasp on the WSG marks of honor, and the XP they generate when they’re turned in, didn’t really make a lot of sense to me at first. 750 XP for winning a match? Sweet. Over the next several weekends, I played Druidia pretty consistently and earned enough marks to level to 19, and then to 19.5. It was only when I reached 19.9 that I realized I had a problem – turning in any more marks was going to put me over into 20, and I really didn’t want to leave the bracket I was playing in.

I also had begun to see that in WSG, at least, there are really two classes of toons – those that are there in transit, and those that are there only for bg pvp. That is, there are those toons that are playing BGs while at the same time continuing to level up in a normal progression in the larger context of the game, and then those that have been constructed (think Frankenstein’s monster) to be the best PVP toon available – in other words, the twink.

The twink is fairly easy to identify on the battleground – their weapons glow. The rest of us are normal looking - drab, even - but they’re running around with flames in one hand and ice in the other. Oh yeah, and when they whack you – you die. Instantaneously. Poof. Dirtnap. But… but… and it’s kind of like admiring Barry Bonds’ physique… They’re so dang cool….

My experience is that within the Alliance ranks at the 10-19 level, there aren’t that many twinks. A few, but mostly the Alliance seems to tend toward regular folks deciding to run in WSG for a little while. The horde, on the other hand, has a dedicated and powerful core of twinks, and I’ve come to know them pretty well – Ohhx, Meesiah, Nancycalahan. I’ve been killed plenty by them, but I’ve killed them too. I always know when the Horde twinks are in the BGs, because the queues are so short – they roll the Alliance in 10 minutes or less, and then there’s a new set of suckers for them to kill…

In any case, after about three weekends of pretty regular BG, several things became clear. First, you can be a regular toon in BG, and the strength of the group has a dramatic impact on you, or you can be a twink, and you can shift the balance of power by your presence. Second, defense is a generally losing tactic, unless you’re very, very good – offense beats defense 90% of the time. Third, three or four players who work well together can beat 10 who don’t – it’s just that simple. And finally, fourth, it’s time for the Alliance to win in the 10-19 BG.

To that end, I and my IRL friends here at the college have set a goal of rolling and outfitting a set of twinks with the express purpose of pwning WSG. I believe we’ll know we’ve accomplished our goal when all six of us are ranked in the PVP rankings, and when some sort of post shows up in the realm forum with the title of “who the hell is SMASH?” SMASH is our guild.

The preparation for this isn’t a small undertaking. Toward the end of getting everyone with the appropriate buffs, I’m having to take another toon to 35, so that we can do the stamina and fiery weapon enchants we’ll need. We’re also stockpiling blues that we’ll need to outfit the SMASH strike force, and I’m spending a lot of the money I earn at the AH to build an inventory. I’ve also taken to doing periodic farming runs of Shadowfang Keep with Twinkleheal in the hope that a rare blue dagger drops (only 3% of the time). All in all, I’d guess that we’ll need 1000g or more in materials and blues to really reach some of the higher thresholds.

We’ll also have to choose our toons carefully. All that I’ve read suggests that Stamina is prized above all in the BG – that hit points are the coin of the realm. To that end, we’re rolling dwarves because they’re the race with the greatest STA starting point. We’re also planning our roles fairly carefully – right now, we’re planning to go in with 3 hunters, a warlock, a priest and a rogue. The plan is for us to move down the midfield with pets in front of us, while the rest of us work from the rear in shields; the ‘lock and priest also bring fear to the table, to get folks off of us. We'll farm some HK, to be sure, but the plan is to roll straight into the flag room, then rampage out of there, trailing chaos and death in our wake.

I don’t doubt that it’s going to be more than just gear that we’ll have to learn – even the best group can’t function without some sort of leadership – but I believe that the BGs, like many other things, can be conquered. Money, persistence, a plan and a goal are going to carry us through.

And, btw, you’re welcome to join, if you want… just let me know – we’ve still got 4 slots in SMASH!

Druidiajane - 19 and holding
Twinkleheal - 52 and climbing slowly
Slipperypeet - 22 and climbing as fast as I can get him to 35
Shadowpeeg - 8, and prepping for a debut....

I Was Like Sooooo Oh My God!

Every now and then, when all my 'toons hit that steep plateau jump where all the quests are orange or red or inside dungeons, I amuse myself by generating a new 'toon with a variation. Last week I created a female, human warrior...with shoulder length platnum blonde hair and a come hither expression. I thought it would be fun to play against type. You know, The OC OMG with shiny big, two-handed axe.
So as I was slaying my n00b way through the Northshire Abbey / Goldshire area, I encountered a n'elf (Sarah's term for Night Elves) running past with a train of aggro munching his behind. Ever the helpful player, I pulled a couple off him and smote them but good. To my surprise, the n'elf circled back around and I discovered he wasn't some poor lowbie, but a lvl 27 rogue who was just too much in a hurry to bother to slay the animal train behind him. He struck up a convo. I decided to play blonde n00b to see what might happen.

"Hey, I could make you some better armor. Let me make you some leather armor."
"Um, ok. You mean now?"

He starts crafting and then opens a trade window and hands over a pair of leather boots.
"But I don't have anything to pay you with. I just have 37 copper."
"I don't want anything for it. Just take them."
Gee thanks. Cool."
Since they actually WERE higher than what I was wearing, I donned them.
"I could make more but I don't have any more leather with me."
"Oh, that's okay. I think I"m supposed to wear mail"
"Want me to buff your armor."
"Um, ok. What's that? How do you do that?"
He explained, badly, how to put your apparel in the non-trade window. I just did it anyhow to move forward in the conversation, even though his directions were woefully inadequate. He basically used a medium armor kit to +16 my mail chest armor. LOL.
"I can make more and send it to you."
"Oh that's okay. I think I mostly wear mail. Does he not hear me, or is he trying to create an enduring connection. LOL.
"Hey do you have any quests I could help you with?"
"Um well no, I'm logging off soon."
"Okay well, let me know. I can help."
"Okay. Thanks a lot."
It was very hard not to type: buh bye now, and wave, like the Barbie dolls in Toy Story 2.

Was it just a guy being nice, or did my 'toon get extra attention cause she looked like a bimbo? Obviously I'd have to track more encounters, but I don't have the patience. I should have gone questing with him. One of my students will have to pick up the baton and finish the race on this topic. I don't play the role well enough. LOL!

Friday, June 02, 2006

Terra Nova Riff

I was reading the Army of One entry on the Terra Nova blog and generated a response, which I would copy here, but you'd need to see the context. (See above embedded link.) My comment is at the bottom. What do YOU think?

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Chuck Norris Pwns

So much has happened. Where to begin?

Well, Feli imploded another guild. Skug, Jen, Jar, Sproink, Beo, Artfuldodger, and a couple of others have jumped from our guild to a completely different server. I think there was a power struggle between Feli and Skug, but I wasn't there for the particulars and just don't know.

I"m keeping Hallgrima in the current guild. I'm into continuity. LOL. But, as luck would have it, the jumpers jumped to a new server, Eitrigg, that happens to be the server where Joi Ito and the WeKnow (and the Horde, We No) researchy guilds are playing. Did you catch Joi's little blurb on WoW in this month's WiReD? I know that Vicky has a character there now too. Since I do like the people who jumped and I would like to see what the Ito group is up to, I made a new char on the new server. The jumpers are playing Horde, so I have made an orc hunter.

Predictably, the AH on the new server is barren for the most part. THis makes the whole AH activity much more interesting and foregrounds it in my playing experience. I am making some good money farming drops and undercutting the already scarce competition. There are more buyers thans sellers, and I am a happy, leatherworking, skinner. Meanwhile, I hear that James and Eric have cornered 1% of the AH transactions on Khaz. Oh, btw ERic, I saw the BIFP on AH for 29G. You timed it right!

We also got our internal seed money grant from the university. Now we need to do some planning. I'm getting psyched about GLS, more for the chance to sit down and interact as a group, than for the presentations, most of which will be fairly predictable. I'm not looking at games to harness them for the delivery of curricular content; I'm looking at game design to understand how to reform pedagogy. I don't want to make educational games. I want to make education playful.

For those that have longed to see it...I got James (Viamedia) to show me (as Saami) his fiery breath with the assistance of some SouthShore murlocs. James is behind the cloud of fire.

FYI, Hallgrima is pretty much done with the crater and mostly hanging out in Winterspring and Plaguelands now. I am hoping to hit 60 before the new patch is released this month.

Saami, my hunter, is a sargeant thanks to BGs, but having rolled over into the 30s, is now regularly pwn'd by Horde. I hope to push her up into the high 30s for greater killing satisfaction. LOL! [Don (aka Clivenar) is completely and totally addicted to BGs. He spends HOURS in there. Watch for his standing to hit Major or Lt. or something, soon.]

If you don't get the Chuck Norris reference, you are NOT in the game culture. Play more. Latest heard in the Barrens: Chuck Norris sleeps with a nightlight, not because he is afraid of the dark, but because the dark is afraid of Chuck Norris.

I will also be updating the snapshots links. Almost every week I grab some ingame images and toss them into a dated folder. I will be pressing to CD for our mutual use, but I recommend you grab things with dates to help you anchor your recollections of the playing experience.