Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The pursuit for gaming zen moments

A few sentences at Typhoon Andrew’s place caught my attention:
“Doing 10 man Ulduar on the Iron Council fight was totally awesome. We got killed over and over, but each time got closer. I literally could not have looked away from the screen - gaming zen moment.”
This description was so spot on. Gaming zen moments. I know exactly what he means by it and to me it’s definitely the most addicting part of the game and the reason why I’m so hopelessly hooked on raiding.

I don’t say that you can’t encounter zen moments doing other stuff. I’m pretty sure you can. I can imagine that if you’re a dedicated PvP:er and doing a bunch of really important Arena games where your ranking is at stake, you’ll be so focused and motivated that you’ll enter this altered state. But speaking from my own experiences I’ve hardly ever had any zen moments outside of raiding.

Questing for instance is out of the question, there’s no zen for me in that. Not to mention crafting and gathering. Mind you, there’s nothing wrong about those activities; they may be fun and relaxing in their own way, but I can’t lose myself into it to the extent that real life time and space cease to exist. There’s always room for my mind to drift away and my attention to be caught by a whisper or a chat or real life problems that bother me.

Sometimes five man instances have been able to give me the same feeling of being absolutely focused at what I was doing. Black Morass comes to my mind. You probably don’t remember it now, but there was a point when we weren’t overgeared and it actually was quite challenging.

Looking for zen
So how do you find those zen moments? Well, it isn’t like you can order them from a menu and count on that you’ll get them delivered to you. They don’t always appear when you want them to and sometimes they just happen unexpectedly.

But as a general rule I wouldn’t look for them in raids on farming status, such as Naxx. That’s why I find those raids so inferior to progression raids. Blizzard may drench us in emblems and epic loot, it doesn’t matter, because we’re still missing the zen and then it’s not as fun.

To enable the zen mode, the encounter needs to be so challenging that it requires our full attention every second of it. An encounter being new to you isn’t enough. Neither Patchwerk, nor Loatheb ever offered a journey to the zen zone of my mind. Tank- and spank fights rarely do. No, there must be some more twist into the fight than just handling your spell rotations and threat. Sarth+3d is a good example. It requires you to be mobile and follow not only the health bar of the boss, but everything else that’s going on in the surroundings. The other night I had a first go at Hodir and he seems to have zen potential indeed. I was absolutely exhausted, but also pretty thrilled after the insane dancing between all the stand-there and don’t-stand-there spots.

Raid discipline
But it takes more than just a good fight to bring me to WoW nirvana. It requires another ingredient: raid discipline. It’s the kind of discipline that will appear when the initial analysis of the first tries is done, when we’ve worked out a strategy that we believe in and only need to practice it until the execution is perfect.

In this phase of a new raid encounter, our recoveries will be quick and smooth. There will be no unnecessary waiting. We just run, buff, mana up and then pull again, all in one single flow. Again and again and again, with an occasional break for repairs. And for almost every try we’ll notice some kind of improvement, a little step on the road that eventually will take us to the sweet kill. A typical sign that the raid has reached the zen moment is when the vent turns so silent that you’re wondering if it’s broken. And the silence doesn’t come from fear of an angry raid leader; it comes naturally because we’re all too involved in what’s going on to even think about opening our mouths.

A danger?
A question comes into my mind: is the pursuit for those zen moments that I enjoy so much only for good? Could there be a danger in them? Tobold had a post yesterday where he discussed the amount of time that he had spent on WoW. And if I understood him correctly, he thought that this kind of activity, which requires a high amount of focus and energy, is more addicting, more in conflict with real life obligations and because of this also more questionable than “casual” activities in the game such as questing.

I gave it a thought but came to the conclusion that I for once sake don’t quite agree with Tobold. I think it’s rather the opposite. The more adrenaline kicks I can get from those zen moments in the game, the less interest do I feel to engage myself in time sinks, such as grinds for vanity reps, pointless achievements, levelling of alts and general hanging around and chatting to people. When I’ve had my zen moment, I feel satisfied and can happily log off, throwing myself into other activities outside of Azeroth.

If you ask my family they don’t give a damned about if I’m questing or raiding. All they can see is that I’m staring into a screen with colorful toons running around. The fewer hours they have to see me doing this, the happier they will be. So my conclusion is: Quality > Quantity.

And just because I’m passionate about my hobby it doesn’t mean that I can’t be passionate about my job as well. To me it appears as if the energy I put into raiding is somehow converted and returned to me. You should see me the day after a sweet first kill! I can make miracles, I assure you!

It just happens
Zen moments. Some of us love them. Others couldn’t care less or will even avoid them, because they want to keep themselves at a sound distance from the game.

If you want it, you can provide the right circumstances by your choice of activity and by creating a focused raiding atmosphere. But in the very end you can’t control it completely. A part of it is about grabbing the moment and opening your mind. To recognize it and embrace it when it happens.


Geoffrey said...

You should write a book. Something like Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, except about WoW.

You may think I am kidding, but it's the next logical step. Take your writing skills to a higher level.

Everyone slags video games as being empty, guilty pleasures, devoid of serious meaning. Prove them wrong.

Anonymous said...

Krizz writes about Buddhism...
You write about Zen...
I write about Gnomes...

There is such sweet balance in the world right now...

Vanessa said...

I wrote about this a couple of times alreayd, it's what I meant by being in the Flow. Your description is much better of it though ^_^

But yes, it's these moments that I play the game for, the moments where it all seems to get together and the world seems to have stopped turning, and you find yourself finally breathing again when the boss goes down.

Those are the moments that make it all worth it =)

Gevlon said...

There will be a post about that.

Anonymous said...

Actually, as a tank I'm much more likely to feel some kind of zen on a farming raid where I know exactly what I need to do and how.

Malygos is a good example for me. I always used to find him quite a struggle to tank, even when everyone else in the raid probably thought things were going as smooth as silk. But last time we did it, I just did it without having to think, and it was perfect.

It takes a lot of practice to make things look that easy.

euripedes said...

I get these moments all the time in battlegrounds.
It just happens, when you get into a certain rhythm with yourself, your toon, and those around you.

I ran a WSG today on my Paladin, where me and a buddy (who was carrying the flag) did not leave combat once from the alliance flag room all the way to the horde flag room.

It was absolutely glorious.

Andrew said...

I have to agree with you. I have a warrior that I’m levelling right now. I do have a 80 paladin for healing but I’ve lost the first love so to speak with him. On my last blog I spoke about boosting, which has links to your topic. It easy getting someone to boost you for good gear but there is no fun in it. I wrote that i was doing a quest in Arathi and that i grouped with a hunter to try complete the group quest. We failed due to the respawn rate, however i had such fun in doing it as we tried different ways to accomplish the goal, we did progress but time was against us and we couldn't finish. The fun that I had though was overwhelming, the ZEN moment you speak of.

I've found that I’ve played all day and accomplished nothing and feel the gaming was a waste. The next day I do a challenging heroic, get it right and feel that I can log of and enjoy my time out of WOW.

Anonymous said...

Ahh yes, the moment triumph!! The feeling of satisfaction, accomplishment!!! We know it well, the melding of 25 ppl into one mind to overcome the enemy in front of you!!

For me its not about the loot, it never has been. Its the challenge of raiding (even though i stopped raiding 6 months ago :P ) that got me out farming for mats, getting the consumeables ready, turning up 3 hours before to make sure im set.

Zen like is such a good description of what (i hope) everyone feels after a first kill.

To mark one of my highest "Zen" like moments, i still carry my widows embrace (server first!) which topped out my +healing to 1011 which at lvl 60 was one of the highest on realm!

another glorious insight into the mind of a pink haired gnome by the way Larisa


Carra said...

Other people might just get that feeling when they get a new piece of loot they've been wanting for several (farm) runs. Or doing those dailies every day until you get that super item you wanted. Or levelling your alt to 80 or...

In the end, everyone just finds something they really enjoy and go for it. Personally, it's been a while since I really had that zen feeling.

Scotty said...

For me, these moments are on a raid boss, not necessarily on a first kill, those tend to be somewhat messy, but on a 2nd-5th kill or so, when its still hard, but it starts to get smooth (as in most people alive).....the moment for me is when you just *know* the boss is going to die, and that can be as early as 50% health or so....its just a feeling that cant be replaced, it seems that all 25 people are "in the zone" and are, for that few seconds, unbeatable......

For me, its the second best feeling in WoW, after new boss kills

Larísa said...

@Geoffrey: oh, thanks. /blush
The thought has crossed my mind that I've written so many posts now that it would be a book if you put it all together... Not that it would be coherent or sellable in any way. Sometimes I've played with the thought of writing some fiction - influenced by what I've seen in the game. Writing about online gaming and the joys and sorrows of guildlief... I haven't come around to do it though. I don't think my English is good enough for novel writing and if I wrote it in Swedish the possible target audience is so small that probably hardly anyone would read it, even if I published it for free on the web. But who knows, one day maybe I'll go for it anyway... :)

@Gnomeaggedon: oh and you THEORYCRAFT! I didn't believe my eyes when I read your post today! You're indeed keeping up the balance!

@Shy: Flow is probably a more appropriate expression for it, I was just caught by the way TyphoonAndrew put it.

@Gevlon: ooohhh... Looking forward to read it!

@Spinksville: well, farming raids may provide a sort of feeling of flow as well. But I won't get quite as involved as I will when we're progressing in a focused way.

@Euripedes: I can imagine that! Must be a little bit hard these days though with all those unwilling achievement-pvp:ers running around, ruining the game...

@Soujourner: yeah, there may be those glourious moments outside of raids as well. The hard thing is to find ways to pick the cherries from the cake, having those zen moments without having to wade through so much time online that gives you a feeling of waste.

@Cack: maybe I can tempt you to come back to raiding again? :) But then, who would we put on the trade-channel duty?

Larísa said...

@carra: I agree that achiving a goal you've been striving for, be it a loot or a ding 80, also can give you tremendous joy. But I'm not sure if we're meaning the same thing. The "zen moment" I'm trying to describe lasts a bit longer. At least for me. It's more like a altered state of mind that I'm entering. It's more like... phasing or going invis... I enter something else. That's the best way I can describe it, although I understand that it may seem a bit vague and cryptic.

@Scotty: Oh yes, you're very spot on there. You still have to be 100 percent focused, but there's better flow in the fight than there was initially. Truly zen...

Bri said...

Wow, this is something I've said for a long time..
I've been an MMO player for years now, but before that I played a lot of FPS shooter, specifically Unreal Tournament. There's a game mode called "Instagib" .. one shot, one kill.
On certain maps, I could get into a very ZEN-like state, flowing through the map, like I was part of it. I just *knew* where my opponents would be, and when. Just *knew it* somehow. I would fire at a spot and at that very moment an enemy would appear and meet their demise.
Those moments were few and far between. I've felt it rarely in an MMO. But those moments of transcendance can define a lifetime of gaming. It's not about the gear, or the level, or the score. It's about getting that next gaming high. You see, maybe gaming's addictive after all, just not in the way that all the "experts" talk about in such derogatory tones on CNN.

Misneach said...

I agree with Spinksville. When you're tanking farm content, you're not thinking, just doing. It's all very Zen with the level of almost involuntary anticipation.

I'm getting strangely excited right now...

Firespirit said...

I was in gaming zen last night.

My group, as I have been commineting before, was stuck on XT-002. Notice I said *was*.

Last night we were in the zone. we got him down to 27% (which was 10% more than we had before). Our DPS was hot, our tanking spectacular, and our heals were spot on. We made one last adjustment after 45 minutes of attempts, and were going for one last shot at it.

Boy, were we there.

Then my IST decides to act up. I get disconnected at 35%. I instantly went from Zen to COMPLETELYOMGFURIOUS. Just as they downed him, it reconnected, and I heard all of the cheers in vent. I logged back in to see xt-002 at my feet. I missed one of the first kills because of inet problems.


Yeah, thats all I had to say about that.

Unknown said...

It's just so sad that you have to invest so much time in the game to get these zen moments. PvP is an option, though not everyone like that aspect of the game. Raiding being time consuming makes the rewards taste even sweeter and I'm not suggesting they change it, but I do wish there were alternatives, like harder 5-man instances. Otherwise I'll never really get that zen feeling I've heard so much about.

Mogresh of Moon Guard. said...

This Zen is exactly why I play an affliction lock. I get it 3 or 4 times a raid during fairly stationary bosses. (Kt, Raz, Loetheb)

For me the zen kicks in when I have my rotation tuned tight. Unstable affliction is cast right as the last one wore off. I'm not missing life taps, but casting them every 20 seconds like clockwork. Cutting Drain soul off right after it ticks for 12k to cast haunt, and shoot off another drain soul. No Haunt downtime. It's even better when I can throw in some movement, like dodging void zones, or grabbing a spore.

The nice thing about this, is the more I practice, the easier this zen becomes, and it starts to show in the numbers. I started off doing about 2.5k on patchwerk, but now I go to my happy place and am nearing 5k and there is still room for improvement.

Fitz said...

Great post! I also cannot wait to see Gevlon's take on it, which is hopefully more favorable than his take on the Consumer-Producer paradigm.

I hit a moment of gaming zen last night on Super Mario Galaxy of all things. Going through the game a second time, I had a serious sense of dread when Luigi's Purple Coins came up on the Toy Time galaxy, which is probably the hardest challenge in the game. Despite not playing for 4 months, I went in and got in such a zone that it was truly nirvana after a few lives spent to get that elusive star. It definitely makes an entire evening.

And as to Kel, I think there's more opportunities than raiding to hit a "zone." Nevertheless, I'm hopeful for a new challenging 5-man in the next patch.

Larísa said...

@Bri: I must admit that I've had prejudices against FPS shooter games. I never realized they could offer the same kind of zen experience as wow. Thank's for sharing!

@Misneach: I obviously ought to roll myself a tank and tank some farming content!

@Firesprit: ouch. from the top to the bottom in just a few seconds. I missed a first kill yesterday because my internet went down. It sucked. I'll write more about it tomorrow.

@Kel: maybe go for some 5 man achievements? Or make up your own mind- and focus-consuming challenges.

@Mogresh: you seem to be a bit connected to the farming-content-with-a-tank-perspective. But with some void zones added!

@Fitz: thanks! And yeah, I really want more 5-man instances. I remember when MgT came, how we had longed for it! It surely isn't to ask for too much to get a 5 man instance with every new raid instance. In my opinion.