Friday, January 7, 2011

A view from the bottom of the learning curve

Two weeks away from WoW was all it took for me to tumble down all the way down the learning curve back to the sewer level, where I started four years ago.

This was obvious as I logged in last weekend after my holiday absence.

I stared in disbelief at the screen, getting more and more nauseous as the camera nervously flipped up and down. You were supposed to control this thing with your mouse, weren’t you?
Was something broken or was this how it worked? How was I supposed to move my toon? Had I ever even played this game at all?

So this was my character, Larísa. A mage apparently. Level 85, it said, whatever that could mean.

Catching up
Slowly I recalled what this was about. Oh yes. There had been this expansion coming right before my holidays. In the middle of packing and other preparations I had managed to press her up to end game level, but not much more than that.

And now I was back and within 72 hours our first 25 man raid was scheduled, and I needed not only to remember how to play WoW, but also to make Larísa raid ready. It wasn’t anyone else who had required me to be prepared to go in such a short time, but I wanted to. This would be the first 25 man raid since June last year, and you all know what it’s like to get back to school after the summer vacation. There’s something special in the air in the first raid of the season. I just didn’t want to miss it.

But where to start, what to do? I was lost, so lost. And also increasingly ill, not just because of the view of the screen, but because all those germs we escaped in India seem to have been assembling in Sweden to have a sneaky assault on me as soon as I came home.

It was a challenging task, but somehow I did it. Don’t ask me how though, because those first few days are a bit hazy in my memory, an equal mix of chain running heroics and chain running to the bathroom.

Enough to say: when Adrenaline stood at the top of Bastion of Twilight Tuesday night, ready to enter for the first time, I was there.

I was dressed up in mostly heroic gear and even a couple of epics thanks to a very wealthy and equally generous guildie. I had the reputation enchants I needed and I had even managed to level first aid to max, which was a bit of a pain, especially since I levelled my tailoring profession at the same time. (A tip to anyone in the same predicament – if the cloth is dirty expensive at your server, take a treasure finding potion that gives you extra loot and find a spot for aoe-farming. Even with a price of 200 g a pot, it pays off and it saved my day.)

Climbing the learning curve
Gearing up is one thing though, learning how to play is something completely different. You can be as raid ready as you like gear wise, but this doesn’t help much if you’ve lost the feeling for how to play WoW.

This has made me think of learning curves. I’m admittedly not the quickest of climbers, and I tend to start out horribly low as we’re learning new encounters. Eventually I will always “get it”, but not quite as fast as the quickest learners in our guild.

But if I think about this first week back in WoW, I don’t feel as if I’m just at the bottom of a learning curve I need to climb. It’s more as if I’ve fallen down into a dark pit hole, losing skills I believed I already mastered.

When you think of learning how to ride a bicycle, it’s a one-time-only. Once you’ve learned how to do it, it’s there. You won’t forget how you do it, either you practice or not. You can mount a bicycle 10 years later and you’ll still not fall.

Playing WoW is different. Apparently you can de-climb the curve and de-learn things you knew, leaving you with no choice but to start over again.

A headless chicken
Partly I figure it’s the result of the class changes. Mages have gotten a couple of new spells that need to be squeezed, not only into my action bars, but also into my mindset, habits and muscle memory. It’s not done overnight.

Another reason for my struggles is probably that the difficulty level has stepped up considerably since Wrath. Some of the heroic bosses feel more like raid bosses than anything else. This is basically something I welcome; it means that also non-raiders can get access to interesting and challenging content. So it’s not as if I’m asking for nerfs, not at all.

But the fact remains, more than once have I felt like a headless chicken – in heroics as well as in raids - and I can’t help feeling a bit let down by myself.

Why I can’t pull my gameplay together and climb the learning curves as quick and easily as my fellow guildies? What am I doing here, still crawling around in the sewer?

However, this isn’t going to be a post that ends in misery, despair and self-bashing. I refuse to give up! I’ve climbed hills like this before and damned me if I won’t be able to climb it again!
As a reminder I’ve changed my title from Merrymaker to The Patient. Even if I geared up in two days I can’t expect myself to re-learn my class with all the changes there have been to it in the same amount of time. All I can do is to keep going, spend some times at the dummies, read up, ask fellow mages for advice and then and practice, practice, practice, Eventually I’ll get it.

The juggling experience
If I have any doubts about it, I’ll just think back at what I did in India. I spent most of my days lazily drifting in the ocean or reading novels on the beach. But I had brought one project with me: a set of juggling balls. I had decided to once for all learn how to juggle, which was quite ambitious for someone who lacks any sense for ball handling whatsoever.

The balls came with a leaflet, where you were told you could learn three-ball juggling in seven steps. “Anyone can learn this within one hour”, assured the writer. Well, that wasn’t entirely true. For me it took one and a half week of daily practice before I got it. But that’s not the point.

The point is that I didn’t give up. And I didn’t care about the quizzing glares I got from other beach visitors as I publicly displayed my shortcomings in tossing as little as one or two balls.

I just kept going. Not for long periods, just ten minutes per hour, day after day. Sometimes I fell back on the learning curve, starting to fail at step five, which I previously had mastered. In those moments I went back a few steps and practiced more until I had them working properly, before taking it back to where I was.

I didn’t bash on myself, I didn’t ask why it took me hours and hours of juggle training when the leaflet said it would take just 60 minutes. I just did it anyway, my way, enjoying the learning process as such, not attempting to take shortcuts as I climbed the curve in my own pace.

I left India with a moment forever burned into my memory: the feeling of successfully doing three-ball juggling as the sun dived into the ocean at the peaceful beach in Goa. Twenty times in a row I cast the balls without dropping them once. I don’t think anyone noticed. But I’ll never forget how I felt inside.

And whenever I’ll find the view in the sewers at the bottom of the learning curve just too depressing, whenever I’ll start doubting that I can be a true asset to our raid team rather than a burden, I will think about my juggling experience.

If I could learn how to juggle, I can learn how to do anything.

Even how to play my mage properly in Cataclysm.



Andrei said...

"Even how to play my mage properly in Cataclysm"

The biggest fallacy of all. There is no "proper way" of playing any class in MMORPG including WoW. Despite hordes of elitists and gevlons telling you otherwise...

Vidyala said...

Aw. This was such a touching post. I think we all know how it can feel to come back to something after a long time away, the uncertainty of it. Even sometimes not having stepped away from the game I wonder if I can play "well enough."

I'm glad you were at the first raid. And I'm glad you juggled those balls! Welcome home. :)

Anonymous said...

Inspiring! It's hard not to start searching for magic shortcuts and despairing at the time one's brain takes to learn stuff, easy to forget one's previous successes. Thanks for this post.
(scuddles off to use the inspiration)

Tracey said...

Welcome home, Larisa! Your posts always make me smile. Thank you for the touching, optimistic insights.

Gevlon said...

For people with such attitude nothing is impossible.

Wolflore said...

One thing is for sure Larisa, you have not gone down the learning curve when it comes to writing great, inspiring blog posts.

Damn you are a good writer.

SpiritusRex said...

Bravo, Larissa! Both on a well-written post, but also on learning to juggle.

I, like you, was feeling lost. Due to various real life issues, last night I was finally able to run my first heroic (thankfully with guildies). What a disaster from my perspective! Yes, we cleared all content, but, between trying to adjust to heroic content (Stonecore) and the changes to the hunter class, there were times where I was so frustrated I wanted to .... you know what, I don't even know what I wanted to do. Actually, I do know, I wanted to apologize to my guildies for being a sucktard and so I did, over and over and over again. Eventually we finished and after logging out (and after several glasses of adult beverages), I came to the realization that perhaps I did suck, but what was worse was the realization that I thought I wouldn't! As if I was better than everyone else and could just strap on my 333s and roll heroic content - hah!! So, this morning after waking up, I’ve resolved to strap on the old bow, forget all of my previous conceptions of what kind of raider I used to be, and approach this as I would if I were a true Noobert. That means, hard work, practice and dedication - things that maybe we have all taken for granted for a little too long.

Have a great weekend and keep the beverages flowing to my usual seat in the corner near the fire.

Kurnak said...

Welcome back Larísa!
That's the spirit, never give up. Unfortunately unless you're in a guild large enough, getting ready for raids or even going through heroics can be very painful and a lot of that pain's due to people not having any single bit of patience and understanding. Even if you announce it's the first time at a given instance, even normal ones, you'll be treated as a dirty rag for any slight mistake you do or for "lack of dps" and kicked out. Welcome to the Brave New World, now with Enhanced Dickhead Attitude (TM)

Andy said...

I found this video a huge help for learning how to juggle, and it's only 5 minutes long!

tufva said...

"And whenever I’ll find the view in the sewers at the bottom of the learning curve just too depressing, whenever I’ll start doubting that I can be a true asset to our raid team rather than a burden, I will think about my juggling experience."

I just love the way you manage to look so positively on things.

Sounds like you had a lovely time in India.


Gronthe said...

Sometimes I wonder how people can raise their reputation with the new factions or, like you, gear up so darn quickly, I often begin to feel like I'm doing something wrong.

As I move from a healing role to my preferred dps role, I realize that I need to obtain a completely different perspective without losing my old one. I figure as long as my learning curve is going in the right direction, how long isn't important, it's only important HOW.

Juggling? Too cool!

Nils said...

For people with such attitude nothing is impossible.

Wow! Gevlon becomes emotional about this :)

Quite obviously a lot of things are still impossible.

Andy said...

I suspect Gevlon becomes emotional about many things, just not what most people do. Anyway, the attitude of "I can do this" is indeed something to be celebrated, in anyone who displays it. It certainly beats the "cba lol" rot.

Tessy said...

I can see you standing there at the beach, juggling, getting with the flow :)

Inspiring post!

Christopher said...

"The biggest fallacy of all. There is no "proper way" of playing any class in MMORPG including WoW. Despite hordes of elitists and gevlons telling you otherwise..."

Actually, there is a "proper way" to play any class, and much of that proper way overlaps. For any DPS class, playing properly means maximizing damage done, focusing the correct targets, managing your CC targets effectively, and minimizing damage taken. All of those things can be quantified and analyzed. You don't have to be an elitist to want to perform better and make your team more successful. If your goal is downing bosses, playing properly is not only possible, but vital. Saying otherwise is at best misinformed and at worst intentionally obstructive.

Andy said...

If your goal is downing bosses, playing properly is not only possible, but vital. Saying otherwise is at best misinformed and at worst intentionally obstructive.

What if your goal is not downing bosses? What if you like soloing, or making gold, or even just fishing?

chewy said...

I confess Larisa that I don't read you every day or even every week but something tempted me to come and have a look today, I'm so glad I did, an excellent read.

I learned to juggle about 20 something years ago and I still remember on the box of my first set of balls it said "You may struggle to learn this but when you have it will become one of those things you just do" and it is so true. I'll never forget my first 20 jugs (yes, that's what they're called) without dropping the balls.

This evening I did some juggling (as I sometimes do) because I couldn't resist after reading your post, welcome to the club ;-)

Copra said...

Dear Larísa,

You haven't seen the bottom of the learning curve in years. Look at you: you have a lv85 mage to play, you are raiding in 25 man content and are certainly more qualified than most of the readers even.

Stop bloody whining, woman.

C out

Larísa said...

@Andrei: Well, it depends on what you’re planning to do, doesn’t it? And I agree that I used the word kind of sloppy. I do think that you can play your mage better or worse for instance in a raid situation, leading to different results and a different amount of contribution to the death of a certain evil creature. On the other hand – if you’re a die-hard RP:er who don’t care too much for raiding, you might put something entirely different into what it is to play your mage “properly”. So it’s all about what you want to do. I don’t think trying to improve your performance is to be a complete elitist jerk tbh.

@Vidyala, Tracey, Wolflore, Tessy: Thank you!

@Anonymous: well, I’ll definitely have to get back to the post myself. It’s easy to despair and for all my good ideas and ambitions I tend to do that sometimes.

@Gevlon: I wouldn’t say… “nothing”. There are physical limits that would prevent me from doing a few things in the world. But yes, I agree that we limit ourselves far more than we should, giving up without even trying.

@SpiritusRex: I’m glad to hear I’m not the only one. This said: I do enjoy the challenges of the heroics. But it sucks to feel that you holding someone else back.

@Kurnak: Oh dear. I don’t know about the LFG horrors of Cataclysm, since I’m fortunate enough to be in a guild that runs them a lot. Oh, I think I stepped into a pug… once. I arrived at that worm thing in stonecore and we couldn’t get passed it. I haven’t tried a pug ever since.

@Andy: cool, I’ll check that out!

@Tufva: I had indeed. It helped me to put things into perspective I think. And to be truthful I didn’t think about WoW for a single second.

@Gronthe: Well… to be honest I’ve been blessed with generous guildies helping me out with crafted epics as well as offering to run instances. And I’ve picked my tabards and done some daily questing, all after some consideration, trying to prioritize wisely. I also played way more WoW than I do normally for a couple of days. That helped of course. Gearing up IS quite a bit of a time-equation thing, you can’t come around that.

@Nils: Well… it’s the whole thing Gevlon’s blog is about actually, in case you’ve missed it.

@Christopher: well, it depends on what your goal is, as Andy also points out. But basically I agree, as you see in my reply to Andrei.

@Chewy: it’s great to hear that you keep up the habit! To be honest I haven’t juggled that much since my homecoming; I’ve spent one week being really ill. But I hope to pick it up again soon. It’s not something I’d like to waste.

@Nils: I think you’d say otherwise if you’d seen our weblogs.