Monday, February 28, 2011

A pint with Larísa somewhere else

The people at MMO Melting Pot were kind enough to invite me over to their place to have a chat over a pint. And how they made me talk! There wasn’t any end to it.

If you’d like to hear my take on topics such as raid sizes, in-game special rewards, the pros and cons of link-love and the possible responsibility we might have to the blogosphere – please head over to MMO Melting Pot and read the interview. Be warned though – each reply to the seven questions is more or less like a blogpost in itself.

Friday, February 25, 2011

The death knight who dreamed of turning 85

After the bar fight the other night I figured we could need something more lighthearted as a Friday night snack.

I thought long and hard about it and to be entirely truthful I had a hard time to find anything cheerful to talk about.

I remember how a game friend once said to me something along the lines: “You know, when WoW is good, it can be SO good. And when it’s bad, it’s SO bad”. Indeed. While I don’t hold it for truth for everyone, and there certainly are players who walk around, eternally stuck on some sort of average, “OK” level of happiness, my own curve tends to be a bit bumpier, spiking from time to time in both directions.

Recently it has spiked downwards. I won't go into any details, because I can’t at the moment (it has nothing to do with blogging drama though). All I can say is that I've spent a few hours crying and a sleepless night this week over WoW, how pitiful it may sound.

Crying can be a relief sometimes, but is frustrating when you like me have to hide it since the people I have around me in real life have zero understanding of why you ever would care so much about some” imaginary friends” in a game.

WoW sucks sometimes. It really does.

An application
But lo and behold, something popped up in our guild forums that actually gave me a huge smile and I thought I’d share it with you because I'd like to spend this Friday night at the inn in a slightly happier mood.

It was an application to our guild, which – in case anyone missed it – is a fairly serious raiding guild with high expectations on our potential new members, which I think is obvious from our website. Those expectations didn’t stop this daring young man to try his luck as in the following. And yes, in case you’re wondering, he does exist for real. It’s not a hoax; I checked in Armory. However, I’ve changed his name here slightly and hidden his guild in order to protect him. Motherly Larísa is motherly.

Name: dkmaster

Class: Death Knight

Level: 82

Race: Gnome

Country: england

Age: 14

Gender: male

Occupation/Study: go to school

Professions and skill level: engineering = 452, balcksmith = 111

Talents: frost and unholy

Would you be willing to adjust your talents where necessary? (Yes/No): yes

What do you feel are your core PVE stats? (Please do NOT link your armory profile here, this is for you to tell us what you feel your core PVE stats are): good

Our raid days are Sun-Tues-Thurs 20:00 - 23:30 (server time) How many of these raids are you able to attend each week? dont no but can try

Please outline your previous raiding experience Pre-Cata - Cata -: good did afew raids, done none yet

Who is/was your current/last guild and why are you looking to leave/why did you leave them?: [guild name] abd i am leaveing as it is a lvl 1 guild and there is like no one in it

Do you have Ventrilo and a working Microphone? No but can get soon

Are you playing with a stable internet connection and computer? yes

What are your expectations of Adrenaline? that it is a very friendly guild and i will have fun in it if i get in

Please tell us a little about yourself and also about your aims within the game. my aims r to be lvl 85, have fun and be in th eadrenaline

How did you hear about Adrenaline? a member in the guild told me about it

Toast of the week
I mean: isn’t he just adorable? Reading this I wanted to hug this little gnomish death knight, keeping him as a pet. Poor little creature, stuck in a level 1 guild with no one around him. It sounds tough.

May he remain as he is, innocent, sparkle eyed, with the goal to reach level 85 and to find a friendly, fun guild. May he never grow up and turn into a cynic, disillusioned veteran! May he level his “balcksmithing” beyond 111!

Dkmaster, I doubt that you read this post. However, you brought a smile to my face in a moment when I needed it. Thank you. This one is for you.


And now if you excuse me I'll just grab an armchair by the fire and doze for a while. I think I need a rest.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

An already chewed chewing gum loses its flavour quickly

I don’t normally chew chewing gums, for various reasons. One is that it makes me look stupid. Cows look peaceful as they’re grinding their jaws. Humans not so very much. Another is that I never know what to do with it when I’m done. There is never any bin around when I need it, throwing it on the ground is unthinkable and swallowing it seems unhealthy. I can’t stop imagining it will get stuck somewhere and mess around with my digestion.

However, I have munched a few chewing gums in my childhood and one thing I remember is that you could reuse it. First you chewed it until it lost all flavour. Then you put it at rest, putting it back in the wrap. And after some hours, when it had matured, you could put it back into the mouth. At this time a miracle occurred! For some reason the chewing gum had accumulated more taste again. It wasn’t as the first time you put it into the mouth. But at least it was far better than the tasteless piece of junk you had spit out a few hours earlier.

Diminishing returns
There was this thing about second time chewing though: you always knew that it would be a short pleasure. This was a clear case of diminishing returns. Within a few minutes you’d just want to get rid of it again.

This summarizes my feelings about the news on the upcoming 4.1 patch, where once again Blizzard will recycle content, this time in the form of the old raid instances Zul Gurub and Zul Aman, appearing as 5-man heroics.

I was a bit surprised to see the – at least initially – rather enthusiastic comments at MMO-champion. People immediately started to drool over mounts or recalling the raid instances from the past that they used to love so much.

I too can see why a quick trip back to ZA could be fun. Once. Chew it again, feel the taste! But in the long run?

I doubt that those who already have done those instances a number of times will be able to enjoy them as interesting, added content. You only need to think about what happened to Onyxia’s comeback in wrath. While it was thrilling and interesting for a couple of times, our interest for it faded every so quickly.

Recycling as a trend
The trend is there. Blizzard is cycling through the content once again. And I can see where they’re coming from. The turnover probably makes this content new to many of the current players, and the veterans who still are around will hopefully embrace it as well for nostalgic reasons. So what’s the harm?

Well, the harm is if the existence of rehashed material will gimp the efforts they put into creating new, original content. It’s been said that there will be a shiny 5-man instance as well, Abyssal Maw, and if this turns out to be correct I guess I needn’t whine too much about this patch.

I can’t help wondering though how much more of recycled content we’re going to see in the future. Karazhan 5-man? Tempest Keep? A miniature version of Black Temple?

To be honest I’d rather see them put all effort they could into creating new content. After all, if you’re in the mood for a walk on the memory lane, what is there to stop you from venturing into it in a miniature raid today?

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Publish and be damned

Err…hello world, if you’re still there. I’m not coming back to blogging but it seems I have a final post to make. I actually wanted to write on this subject for at least the last sixth months of my blogging life but it had the potential to be so horrendously political that I wussed out. But now, bwhahaha, I don’t give a damn (I do miss you folks, by the way).

One of the topics that often floats around the blogosphere concerns the nature of disagreement between bloggers. Larísa wrote one a long time ago on Blogging PVP, Grimmtooth wrote up his typical calm take on the matter, and just lately Alas has waded into the fray. You can plot these posts pretty much on a spectrum with Grim in the middle (oo-er) but, without wishing to open myself to a charge of blog-bullying (or, actually, what does it matter if I do?), I disagree sufficiently strongly with the end of the spectrum covered by Alas’s post that I want to write about it. And to think I thought I was done with this stuff!

Don’t be perceived to be a dick

One of the oft-quote ethical “laws” of the internet, made up by some dude like most internet laws, is, of course “don’t be a dick.” And this is, of course, a wonderful idea. If nobody was a dick the internet would be full of heart-to-heart conversation and intelligent debate! Except “being a dick” is not an objective state. You can no-more point at somebody and say “he’s being a dick” than you can point at a shade of purple and say “yep, that’s definitely lavender.” Or, at least you can but you have to also accept that someone will come along any minute and say “no, that looks more like heliotrope to me.” I mean, to reference blogging drama long dead (as I intend to do often in this post, by the way) one of the points of contention in the whole Frostgate thing was the notion that he had set a bad example through his behaviour. However, this whole line of argument rests on the assumption that his behaviour WAS bad. Whereas more accurately it might be said: “some people perceived that his behaviour was bad.” Frost didn’t set a bad example to me because I didn’t think he behaved all that badly.

The problem with the law of be notteth a dicke is that it gives us a glib soundbite and allows us to forget that such things are largely subjective. Of course I’m not arguing that some things are not definitely dickly BUT when it comes to the complexities of human interaction “don’t be a dick” is basically equivalent to “behave in a way I like.” And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with this – we all like people to behave in ways we approve – BUT it cannot constitute a universal law of ethical or social conduct.

There’s a bit in Beowulf when our hero rocks up to Heorot and Unferth greets him at the door with a bit of light flyting. It’s a rather odd sequence but it goes something like this (forgive the liberties in translation):

Unferth: I heard you entered a swimming competition and you totally sucked!

Beowulf: That’s not true. I was awesome! I was so awesome I not only swam faster than any other man in the universe has ever swum but I killed like eighty million sea monsters as well.

Unferth: Yeah right. You’re totally lying, bitch.

Beowulf: I am totally not lying, bitch. And by the way you fucked your sister and killed your mother.



Beowulf: Pwned.

As is often the case with Anglo Saxon texts I have no idea how we’re meant to interpret this. It’s genuinely hard to tell, isn’t it, whether Beowulf is being a total dick, whether Unferth is being a total dick, if Beowulf has no idea how this flyting thing is supposed to work and whether Unferth had it coming. But ultimately there’s some pretty serious escalation between “you lost a swimming competition because you’re as weak as a little girl” and “you killed your family, fucker!” It reminds me a lot, however, of the way disagreements in the game, and in blogs, tend to pan out. I mean to relate it to Frostgate again, he basically dropped the equivalent of “And by the way you fucked your sister and killed your mother” on his pug. But then he was there to help them kill Grendel Herald Volazj and they reacted by getting all up his in grill when what he really wanted to do was get his badges and go back to Scandinavia.

So what you get there is a case of being-a-dick escalation. Because we accept at face value the great law of don’t-be-a-dick we have to enter every situation like Debbie Does Dallas: looking for the biggest dick around. You win “don’t-be-a-dick” by making sure somebody else comes off as a bigger dick than you and points of contention occur when we can’t decide. Chas commented on Frostgate that if Frost had spent a bit more time tarring his fellow pugees people probably wouldn’t have given a damn. I’m reminded, in fact, of an old post of Chas’s in which he is a total and irredeemable twat to a group of strangers but it’s hard to condemn him for it because he’s gone to such trouble to make sure we could all relate to the awfulness of the pugees.

Another example of this was when I wrote about refusing to rez the whole group after a wipe (back in the days when we had to corpse run, remember those?) and because of that refusal brought the whole group to a screaming halt. One the things that infuriated me about the debate at the time was that I was dead set certain that refusing to run your lazy arse back to your corpse was by far the act of biggest dickliness but many, many commenters were convinced that holding a group hostage to my principles when all they wanted to do was get their badges and get out was far more dickly than the act that inspired my stand.

History is Written by the Whiners

And never have the problems attendant on looking for the biggest dick been more apparent to me than when I read perspectives on the Too Many Annas / Cranky Healer debacle. I mean, there’s not only the commentary in Alas’s post but I also remember a commenter cited it to me once upon a time as an occasion on which a large blogger bullied a smaller one into giving up blogging. Just to refresh our memories, this is what actually happened:

1.Crankyhealer wrote a post inciting members of the blogging community to grief RPers. It was meant as a joke.
2.Anna wrote a post in response to the post. She said it “upset” her, explained why and talked more generally about godmodding and griefing. She also spoke a bit about “bad RP”, and reminded us that no matter how risible half-vampire, half-demon bunny girls are, they are still played by real people. (You could argue, in fact, she is essentially reminding us “don’t be a dick.”)
3.As a consequence of Anna’s post, some of Anna’s more aggressive commenters swarmed over to Cranky Healer’s blog and weren’t very nice to her.
4.The blogosphere factionalised.
5.Cranky Healer CHOSE to stop blogging.

Now I am no way supporting the act of charging over to people’s blogs and yelling at them. HOWEVER, it also strikes me as profoundly unfair to hold Anna responsible for the choices of other people: the choice to attack a blogger (just because something isn’t very nice doesn’t mean individuals don’t have the right to do it) and the choice to stop blogging. Deliberately inciting others to go to a blogger’s blog for the explicit purpose of insulting and attacking them (as, for example, Total Biscuit did when he sent his army of fanboys to Dwism’s blog with the following tweet: "Retard on the internet blogs about how I am a 'sad man'") is one thing. Responding – passionately – to something a blogger has written is another.

Of course, it is not unreasonable to be upset when somebody doesn’t like something you write, nor is it unreasonable to be upset when people leave you nasty comments. But it is important to distinguish between the two. And I have to say it goes with the territory – it’s been something I’ve personally found rather a relief to leave behind, to be honest. It is nice to wake up the morning and have some control over whether somebody is going to say something shitty to you today. But this is a choice - or a sacrifice, if you prefer – you make when you publish something in a public space. You cannot hold other people accountable for your feelings, just has I have never held Alas accountable for the fact the seemingly endless saga of Dino-Tam has always made me uncomfortable as fuck. Just as you have the basic human right to be upset, other people have the basic human right to say things, and do things, that you MAY find upsetting. And I shall just flag up again for emphasis that I am not talking about explicit and specific attempts to attack and wound. I mean I remember quite recently Larísa had a post linked by and somebody thought it a completely worthwhile expenditure of his time to write a paragraph about how he thought her post was banal and self-serving. That was nothing but criticism for the sake of criticism; pointless and disgusting. So, yeah, fuck you too, random guy. I hope you trip over a lose paving stone on your way to your unfulfilling job and mildly hurt your knee.

To put to put this whole incident back into the context of “don’t be a dick” what we have is a situation in which Anna called Cranky out on what she perceived as being a dick (inciting people to grief RPers) which several people then interpreted as Anna being a dick to the Cranky Healer. Again, we return to the subjectivity of dickishness – is it “worse” to (mistakenly) do something dickish, than it is challenge someone on it? But then of all this was topped by the fact Cranky Healer chose at that juncture to stop blogging. Now my respect for Cranky Healer leads me not to draw a direct connection between the two events – as it would honestly be pathetic to stop blogging because somebody called you out on a bad thing you did. I think, like any of us, she looked at what blogging is, and what it involves (which is taking a degree of shit because you think the rest is worth it) and decided she didn’t want to deal with it at the time. However, other people chose to establish the link which leads to the following, err, reinterpretation of events: “blogger is SUCH A DICK that it makes another blogger stop blogging.”

What really makes me want to stab my own eyes with a fork is that it is this misreading that seems to have gone down as the official history of what happened. To look at it in bald terms: Cranky Healer “won” because, by choosing to stop blogging, she (unintentionally I’m sure) succeeded in making Anna look, to some people, like a bigger dick than the Cranky Healer. Thus the actual issue – the treatment of RPers in the game – became lost in a welter of meta-textuality about whether it was okay for Anna to write a post about the Cranky Healer’s post in the first place.

Which of course it bloody well was.

It’s what you do with it that counts

Of course, a related issue to the whole debate comes down to the relationship between so-called “big” blogs with smaller ones. Alas writes:

And guess what? If someone is bigger than you are, it’s really easy to feel threatened. To use a real life example, the skinny guy who wears glasses and weighs maybe 90 pounds isn’t going to get taken as a serious threat to anyone who isn’t, like, five years old or younger

The thing is, this analogy cuts both ways. And, although, yes I agree a size differential can make a situation feel unbalanced to the more vulnerable participant ultimately there are plenty of things skinny guys can do to hurt, embarrass and threaten people who are bigger than they are. Bullying is not limited to threats of physical violence, and it is genuinely damaging to pretend that it is, even in analogy.

I mean, I remember a few summers back I was out punting with a group of friends and we went past a bit of the river called Parsons Pleasure which is a nice hang-out spot. There was a group of grim-looking fourteen year olds sitting around there, smoking and drinking, and as we went past one of them took it into his head to call one of my friends a fat cunt. I was out of that boat like someone had set it on fire. They scattered pretty quickly but I was furious enough to grab the kid who’d called out. And I remember standing there, having this struggling, cursing brat by the collar, thinking to myself, “oh shit, what do I do now?” I mean you can see the headlines, can’t you? Twenty Eight Year Old University Employee Beats The Crap Out of Child. I genuinely can’t recall a time of feeling more helpless or impotent. To be honest, I’ve never raised my hand to anyone in anything other than self-defense in my entire life and “Now, see here young man, don’t say rude things about my friends” wasn’t exactly going to cut it. In the end I just had to let him go and slink back to the punt feeling about 2 inches tall.

In short, size and apparent strength are no guarantee of security and it is just as easy for smaller bloggers to upset bigger ones, for example by misguidedly attacking RPers, than it is for bigger bloggers to upset smaller ones, for example, for calling them on their misguided attack on RPers.

Like Larísa, I have to admit I find the notion that relative size should influence our treatment of each other utterly absurd. One of the most liberating things about blogging, I would argue, is that it is an equal playing field – anybody can respond to anybody else. It’s not, y’know, boxing where you can only take people of equal weight or get smashed into the ground. And you may argue that this isn’t true, and that larger blogs have stables of fans, ready to rush forth and emit the prescribed opinion of the blogger, but this actually nonsense. Bloggers are separate entities from those who read them, and, for God’s sake, have some respect for your readers. Last time I checked, they were capable of independent thought. As much as I like the idea of sitting here on my dark throne, saying “Fly, my minions, and disagree with this person until they cry!” I’m pretty sure it doesn’t work that way. I think we forget just how meritocratic the blogosphere really is. It’s very easy to get all bulverist and assume that Xs readers only agree with X over you because X is popular, but actually we are broadly judged on our content, and that’s exactly the way it should be.

I also dislike the idea of a blogging culture in which size is the thing that matters, and defines how we interact with others. Doesn’t that turn us all into Matticus, wandering around with our subscriber numbers hanging out of our trousers (5th comment from the bottom) so everybody can see? Such a mentality is profoundly harmful to the life and energy of the blogosphere – you leave your bigger bloggers paralyzed with angst over whether they’re going to upset someone and your up and coming bloggers get fewer readers because nobody dares actually send them any traffic. I remember one of my final posts – one of my favourite posts to write in recent times, actually – was about the forthcoming changes – “nerfs” - to the heroic dungeons. I wrote it in direct response to a post I read over on Mauradin Musings, and I wrote it specifically to disagree, loudly and aggressively as is my style. Not long after hitting publish I had a little emotional meltdown and wrote to Janyaa to check she wasn’t weeping into her keyboard and sticking pins into a voodoo doll in a sissy robe. Of course she wasn’t. Duh. She was happy for the discussion, and we exchange a few cheerful emails.

And that was the point at which I realised how fucking stupid things had become. That I didn’t dare respond to posts any more. I mean nothing – to my mind – could have been more innocent or more gentle than Larísa quoting Xeppe on the occasion that she did. And yet no. It upset the blogger to the extent that she made her blog private – which, again, was a bit saddening because I always enjoyed Xeppe’s blog. Once more, as Larísa herself says in her comment, this has been chalked up to the long dark shadow of the big blogger. I genuinely don’t understand this. Even at the end of my blogging life, a link from Larísa, or Spinks, or Tobold – even if they weren’t agreeing with me – made my damn day. For that matter I even like seeing that little trackback from Gevlon or Adam calling me out for being a moron, and/or slacker, or some other flavour of idiot, because at least it reminds me I’m living in interesting times. It is discord, not accord, that keeps us honest with ourselves.

The Rules of Engagement

I suppose a thing that we might pick up from my previous point is that I took the trouble to email Janyaa about disagreeing with her. It’s also something that comes up with reference to the Cranky Healer / Anna issue. Here’s Alas on the subject:

There were plenty of other options for that blogger, including emailing Zel or leaving a civil comment with the reasons why they disagreed with Zel’s post

The thing is, (sorry Janyaa) but there’s an extent to which my email was an act of arrant and self-serving hypocrisy, although not consciously of course. What if she had been upset? Would I have taken down the post, moderated my language? Nope, nope, it’s all nope. I’d have said sorry, of course, and emphasized that it wasn’t my intent to cause distress but there was no way on this earth that the best post I’d written for ages was going away. Also I did email her after the fact so, again, it was more of a “I hope to God you’re not going to take this badly” email than a “I sincerely care about your feelings” message.

Okay, I’m over-stating my case here. Of course I sincerely care about the feelings of other bloggers. But there’s a huge difference in emailing someone to keep lines of communication open – I’ve often had email exchanges with bloggers and commenters when discussion has grown heated in public places – and emailing someone in lieu of writing a blog post. I mean they are both personal choices, one is not necessarily more moral than the other. It’s kind of like when you date somebody’s ex – you can, if you care enough about the other person, let them know but you’re not doing anything wrong by dating the ex in the first place. The point here is that not only you do have a right to date someone's ex, you are fully morally justified in doing it.

But many people seem to believe (as Alas suggests above) that Anna SHOULD have done something other than write the blog post she did. By emphasising options other than blogging, Alas seems to be suggesting that it is inherently more moral to discuss points of contention privately rather than publicly – which is not only absurd, because we are all part of a public community, but harmful to that community because it stifles discussion and imposes arbitrary limitations on certain people but not others. Little bloggers, for example, having the freedom to say whatever they like but bigger bloggers restricted to posting things only with permission.

There's a big difference between "it is courteous to tell somebody you intend to do, or have done, something to which they may have an emotional reaction" and "it is morally wrong to do something to which another person may have an emotional reaction without first seeking their permission.” It’s like saying instead of writing a review of Twilight, in which I castigate it for sucking, I should write privately to Stephanie Meyer and tell her I didn’t like it much, on the off-chance a bunch of people who don’t like Twilight either take encouragement from my review.

I know blogging does not have an established code of ethics but I would in no way expect an email notification of another blogger’s disagreement with me. That notification is already built into the system. It’s called a pingback. The “correct” way to respond to a blog post is by writing a blogpost. If someone says something in a public space that you feel needs to be challenged, there is no point in challenging it quietly. If for example someone writes a blogpost that (however inadvertently) encourages griefing, when you challenge it, you want to address that challenge to the people who read the original post and saw it as encouragement to grief. In an extreme case you might feel you have an actual moral imperative to publicly denounce a public statement you consider to be unacceptable – as I believe was the case for Chas during the wow-feminism ruckus. This is not bullying.

The other thing that makes me suspicious of the whole “there are better ways to respond to a blog post than writing a blog post” mentality is that it seems to be one of those rules that applies to certain people in the blogosphere and not others. I mean it’s fairly easy to call out Larísa for being a big meanie because she’s so nice and you know she’ll at least give you the time of day. But would you do that to Gevlon, or Rohan, or Spinks or Ophelie? Well you could try but you’d get laughed out of the house. And I kind of think that’s fair enough.

Don’t Learn to Read, Learn to Write

One of the points Grim mentions in his post is the importance of L2read. Again, perhaps it is because I am accustomed to having to defend what I write, but one of the things I have tried very hard to avoid – not always successfully I’ll be the first to admit – is whinging, and getting defensive, when readers have taken something away from what I have written that I did not intend to say. And to be fair, written communication being what it is, this happens a lot. And, sometimes, yes, the problem is that someone needs to L2R Noob and you’ll find yourself arguing with someone over something you never said, and certainly never meant. But far more important than L2R, to me, is L2W. And I don’t mean putting your commas in the right place, I mean taking responsibility for what you say and how you say. For the implications – intentional or otherwise – of the words you write, in the context you put them. And this isn’t meant to be a lecture. It is a lesson I am, myself, still in the process of learning.

One of the most difficult things, for me, about this particular post is the fact it takes as its starting point the encounter between Xeppe and Larísa. Yes, there is no particular commentary or judgement about the incident itself BUT nevertheless in presenting a discussion about the inherently threatening nature of large blogs to smaller ones it presupposes the fact that smaller bloggers ARE threatened and that this was an example of that in action. The thing is, I’m genuinely not sure smaller blogs are these shy and vulnerable flowers who would rather close down than experience a moment of conflict - many of us, I am sure, respond to the attention of larger blogs with relish. I know I did.

Mainly, however, I can’t help but feel it’s an incredibly bad example to use. Firstly because it’s profoundly unfair on Larísa who has to be the most diplomatic and generous-hearted blogger out there, and secondly because, although poor Xeppe had to deal with some unpleasant fallout (which makes me sad), the disconnect between Larísa’s link and the consequences of it could not have been more marked. I mean Xeppe writes here:

When a big blogger holds up the work of a smaller blogger to ridicule, my experience of what happens is that a whole lot of the readership of the big blog go across and leave comments on the smaller blog.

This is, err, the ridicule in question:

It's a great list and I won't belittle anyone following it, not at all. It was just that it became clear to me how little I have done. Out of 10 possible points of preparation, I failed at 8. Bad, bad Larísa.
(take from here)

If you want to see a blogger – size irrelevant – hammering, with and without ridicule, another blogger, you can look at RO Versus Codi or RO Versus Adam, neither of whom, incidentally, have been so traumatised by the experience that they felt the need to stop writing, and neither of whom, incidentally, received the courtesy of a “I’m about to disagree with you loudly” note. With hindsight, I do feel quite bad about how fervently we all disagreed with each other but I don’t think any of us believed we acted immorally, unreasonably or unfairly by blogging about it in the way did. If you want to see the real effect of an internet personality actively rallying people to attack someone else, go and read the comments on Dwism’s post here. If anything, what the Larísa example demonstrates is that you can link to someone with the best will and the most innocent heart in the world and sometimes it’ll just go wrong. Should Larísa really be accountable for her readers just because she has some? No.

Of course, what’s interesting about the whole business is that in choosing to situate the discussion in the context of an accusation of cruelty directed at Larísa, what we have here is an excellent example of a smaller blog – however unintentionally - casting a larger blogger as a bully, admittedly through context and implication rather than directly. And, of course, were Larísa to respond this, or blog about it, I’m sure that would only play into the points made in the post, especially because I imagine some of us might want to go to Larísa's defence. It really is a lose-lose situation for the bigger blogger.

If you don’t want to get hit in the face, step out of the ring

I guess it sounds harsh but, seriously, this is what publication – even publication on the internet – is. Do I think it’s right that it includes people who just want to demean you, ridicule you, criticise you and rip you apart? No, I don’t. But attacking our own, accusing each other of bullying, won’t help with that. Blogging is a choice. It’s worth it until it isn’t.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Can a game without graphics be better than WoW?

The vocal members of the WoW community are currently looking left and right for someone new to fall in love with as their relationship with WoW is fading away. This has become more and more obvious the last couple of weeks.

It’s not that there’s anything wrong with Cataclysm. It’s just that those who have been playing WoW for six years straight are pretty much done with it, needing a change of diet, and who can blame them?

A lot of the buzz has been about Rift, which I honestly couldn’t care less about. There will no doubt be a day in the future – yet to be determined - when I too am done with World of Warcraft. However I can’t see why I would want to play something that appears to be pretty much the same thing, with only some smaller adjustments.

My current plan is to stick to the original as long as it can hold my interest, and after that I’ll probably venture for a completely different gaming experience, which not necessarily will be an MMO. But I imagine will be playing some sort of game, which is a change of mind. I guess I’ve finally taken the step to recognize myself as a gamer rather an as a temporary tourist, accidently coming by.

A new game experience
This week I dipped my toe into one candidate to become my future gaming partner.

The game in question didn’t cost me anything; I was given it for free. It didn’t spring out from a huge studio inhabited by professionals. This piece of art was created by a hobby gamer like me, not for greed or for fame, but as an outlet of creativity. A world spawned from the writer's mind and I was invited to share it.

Did it look shiny and fancy? Hardly. There wasn’t a single graphic element to be seen, no eye-candy to dazzle my eyes. If someone passed by my screen, all they would see would be plain black text on a white background. Just like any Word document.

I didn’t dance around restlessly with my mouse and there was no frenetic spamming of key combinations. All I did the entire gaming session was to write text commands. “Talk to man”, “walk east”, “take x”, read the response and then write another command. It sounds a bit quiet, almost dull, doesn’t it? But it wasn’t.

I had ventured into my first piece of interactive fiction (IF) and I can’t remember last time I was this enchanted, thrilled and immersed playing WoW as I was during my session in the text adventure.

Interactive fiction
I’m a little bit late to the party, obviously. This genre isn’t he mother of WoW and other MMOs. It’s rather the grandmother’s grandmother (if you can claim any connection at all) and according to Wikipedia it peaked in the first half of the 80s.

I suppose the more jaded readers of PPI will sigh to themselves, asking what rock Larísa has been dwelling under during all those years in order to miss it out completely. But apparently I did and I’m glad that I finally got out of my ignorance.

The question is: is my fascination and newborn enthusiasm for IF well founded? Could it be just the sensation of novelty and change that I enjoy so much? Perhaps. But thinking about it closer, there are elements in it that I miss in WoW.

I think most of all it's the sensation of exploration, of stepping into an adventure. Playing my first text adventure, I experienced the thrill of folding up a story with an unknown ending, of looking at a puzzle that needed to be solved.

Even if I didn’t see the surroundings on my screen, I had a clear picture of them in my mind, noticing every detail in a way I never would in Azeroth, where I’m just rushing forward to turn in the next 12 trophies to the quest giver.

I walked from room to room, carefully examining every item I saw, talking to every person I met, always looking for clues. I opened doors, I tried out paths, I fumbled in the darkness and sometimes I got stuck and had to go back and rethink, trying another strategy. I guessed and I took chances. One door might lead to success, another one to defeat and if there were pointers, they were well hidden.

It was exactly the opposite of the concept of yellow exclamation and question marks, sparkles, cogwheels and marked areas on the map, showing exactly where to go next.

From autopilot to interaction
After trying out IF, I can’t help thinking that some of the convenience we enjoy in WoW, those handy maximize-the-cool-fun and minimize-the-boring-hassle solutions, also come with negatives.

If I’m completely honest with myself, it sometimes feels as if I’m playing WoW on autopilot. Absentmindedly I push the same nuke button over and over again, thinking about something completely different. And you may rightfully ask: what’s the point?

The text adventure on the other hand required my full attention, without giving away a single sound or light effect. The story was more involving than any boss fight and if I failed to find a puzzle clue I felt more frustrated and more motivated to overcome the challenge than if I had been wiping repeatedly on a raid boss.

I wasn’t only a watcher, I was an actor, a participant, or even a co-writer, since the continuation of the story depended on my choices.

IF may have peaked 30 years ago, but apparently I’m not the only one that is intrigued by it. From what I understand there is a community that is still going strong, making up new adventures that they share generously with each other.

Could this to some extent replace WoW for me in the future? Yes, possibly. And for some reason thinking about it makes me happy. I guess it’s the old punk rocker inside me speaking. I feel the smell of underground.

So to answer the question: yes, how crazy as it sounds, games without graphics, games without million dollar budgets, can compete and even be better than WoW and its clones in some aspects.

There are still enclaves of the world that are ruled by other incentives than money.

And naturally the toast of the week will be dedicated to those enclaves and to the enthusiasts that inhabit them. Here’s to all those who create new worlds or me to explore in the future, beyond Azeroth.


Thursday, February 17, 2011

Let the Amani War Bear rest in peace

A thread on the US forums has exploded in a heated discussion about a possible future reinstallation of the Amani War Bear.

In case you started to play in Wrath or Cataclysm and have no idea of what bear I’m talking about, it’s a mount with a rather exclusive aura that dropped as a reward for raids that managed to clear the 10-man raid instance Zul Aman back in TBC within a certain time limit. This was quite a challenge back in the days, even if you spotted a full set of T6 gear.

The poster suggests that the bear should be brought back since “it’s such a cool one and I’d love to have one.” He argues that this mount never should have left the game. He admits that doing a chest run in Zul Aman at level 85 isn’t exactly hard these days, but neither is downing LK heroic or Yogg+0. And since those mount rewards still are in the game, it doesn’t make sense that the bear isn’t. According to him there should be a small chance for it to drop from the fourth chest.

Vague statement
Needless to say, there are quite a few people who disagree with him, but he also gets some support from players who mock the upset Amani War Bear owners for being equally childish and elitist and that they should get over it and stop wanting to be a unique and beautiful snowflake.

Until now there are about 1000 comments and the thread is still growing. I think what has made this thread so big and infected is an obscure comment from the blue poster Zarhym, who wrote:
“One never knows what might happen with Zul'Aman and the treasures of old found therein...”

This statement isn’t even worthy of being called a statement. It could mean anything and nothing at all. But I can understand those who interpret it as if there is a chance that the bear will make comeback. It could refer to a planned revamp, tuning up the mobs to level 85, on par with what they’ve done with Deadmines and Onyxia in the past. And this talk about “treasures” could also lead the thoughts to archaeology. Have they plans on making Zul Aman into a dig site?

But maybe this doesn’t actually mean anything. Maybe it’s just a slip of the tongue. Blue poster Tigole was very clear about Blizzard’s position back in 2008, and Zarhym would have made it easier from everyone if he had referred to it:

”Once Wrath of the Lich King goes live, you will no longer be able to obtain the Zul'Aman bear mount by saving all 4 prisoners in the timed run. The Bear Mount will be replaced by a very good, epic item that is level appropriate for people doing the zone. To be clear, the Zul'Aman bear mount is supposed to be an item of very high prestige. We want players who have earned it during the appropriate era (aka before the level cap gets raised) to be recognized for their accomplishment. We have absolutely no problem with higher level players (above level 70) going back and doing Zul'Aman after Wrath of the Lich King is live. We just want to preserve the accomplishment of having saved all 4 prisoners at the intended difficulty level.”

Stick to their guns
For my own part, I hope Blizzard will stick to their guns.

No, I don’t have a bear of my own. I completed Zul Aman a number of times and I think it’s a wonderful instance – short and yet intense, with some really fun boss encounters. But I never did it within the time limit and I don’t think I’m entitled to have one of those mounts. The players who did the bear runs put a ton of pain and effort into it - or gold, for those who bought a spot in the raid, which wasn’t uncommon towards the end of TBC. And I think they’re perfectly entitled to show off a bit with their mounts.

The game moves on. Old content is removed and new content will arrive. That’s the natural evolution.

The newcomers to Azeroth should make themselves a service and stop crying over missed opportunities in the past. Then they might notice that today there are other challenges in the game, challenges that have replaced the ZA bear runs, challenges that come with equally exclusive rewards that grant you bragging rights.

Let dead bears rest in peace.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The window that can bring your guild together

I think we can agree on that teamwork is one of the essentials in raiding.

You won’t kill a single boss if you have 10 or 25 individuals, each one running their own show without paying too much attention to what everyone else is doing. Optimal enchants and precious gems won’t help you if the group mind is lacking.

Yet I have the feeling that many raid teams spend way more time on memorizing every little detail in Tankspot videos or penetrating the latest spellrotation discussions at EJ than they spend time thinking about how they could develop their raiding team and bring it all together.

Why bother?
I’m not sure why this is. Perhaps the theories and suggestions about group development are just too vague and therefore more difficult to grasp than the solid number-crunching figures of strategies and spec optimization. After all, it’s not your guild happiness level that literally kills bosses. It’s raw damage, point by point. So why bother about psychology?

One reason why you should is that a stable raiding team which manages to hold together overtime, not getting dragged down by a huge turnover, probably will be more successful. in the long run Handling internal conflicts (a.k.a. Guild drama) leaks a ton of energy and effort that you could use way better elsewhere. If you want to minimize that kind of crap, I think you might want to look into this field.

Some guilds actually already do. For instance Paragon, the highest ranked guild in the world, cooperates with a researcher in group psychology. They use personality types as a tool when they’re recruiting and improving their raiding team.

But you don’t have to be a world class guild to benefit from this approach. Perhaps you’re not even raiding at all. You could still have a good reason to want to bring stability to your guild, making your members get a little closer to each other. After all, I think many of us (although not all) find it nicer to play with friends or colleagues than with NPC-resembling anonymous robots.

A Johari Window
One way to develop your team is to use a Johari Window. The new blogger Stubborn at Sheep The Diamond had a post where he suggested a way to adapt the model for a WoW setting.

Basically the Johari Window is a tool that you can use to help people to discuss how they see themselves and discover how others see them. As you get to know more about it, the window will open up, which from my experience will bring a solid ground for teambuilding as well as self development.

As an example Stubborn gives us a list with suggestion of adjectives to describe you as a player and he asks us to pick a few of them that we think fit to ourselves. The next step is to ask a guild mate to do the same thing and pick the adjectives that he or she thinks describe you best. And then you compare your resaults.

You might end up getting quite surprised, seeing that your ideas about yourself are entirely different to the impression you’ve made on your guildie. The differences you find can spark a discussion that can result in a deeper understanding and acceptance of each other’s personality. But it can also highlight behaviour and habits that you were completely oblivious of and that you might want to change.

I tried Stubborn’s list on myself and ended up with the following adjectives about me: doesn’t nerdrage, signs up for raids, stays until the end, reads WoW blogs, always ready on time, worries about causing wipes and doesn’t afk.

But is that how my guildies see me? Maybe, maybe not. And if I’d ask them about it, I might learn something from it. Our windows could widen a bit and bring us together, putting oil in the raiding machinery.

Check out Stubborn’s post and try it for yourself! Perhaps you’ll get some insights. And if you don’t – at least it can bring you some laughs.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Valentine's Day in Azeroth - Who did you hug?

OK, let's put this straight from the beginning. I've never been a big fan of Valentine's Day.

It's not that I haven't got any sense for romance. Believe it or not, but even a jaded innkeeper with wrinkles, gray strokes in her hair and less-than-spectacular boobs can see the enjoyment of flirting or even hugging every once in a while. The world needs more love, not less! But I prefer spontaneous manifestations of romance sprung from true affection to deeds that are performed out of social pressure and a sense of obligation.

Judging from what I've seen of Valentine's Day - from my mother's perspective - there is no Gearscore, damage chart spamming or general epeening in WoW that can come anywhere near the brutal competition and measuring teenage girls have to endure on February 14.

Did you get a ton of roses, publicly confirming what everyone already knew - that all the boys in your class have a secret crush on you? Not? Did you even get one single rose that clearly wasn't from your mother? One flower to confirm that even though you might not be popular, at least you haven't gone invisible. Did anyone notice you at all? Ouch. Tough luck. No wonder if you make up an excuse for not going to school on this day next year.

Valentine in Azeroth
Valentine in Azeroth is thankfully more lighthearted than the real life equivalence. Everyone - even the geekiest of the geeks - will get their share of the love, either you ask for it or not. Just put your foot into Stormwind and you're granted to be the target for someone's affection, resulting in a big pink heart buff hovering over your head. Love is in the air, indeed!

Sadly enough I've been feeling a little alienated as I've watched the 2011 edition of the seasonal event from the sideline. I'm not a part of it and I don't think it's my doubts about the goodness of Valentine in real life spilling over; it's more about being jaded. "Been there, done that! Couldn't they have brushed this up with something new?" The achievements were obviously a bigger motivator for me to participate than I had imagined.

Last year I completed my violet meta-drake and ever since, I've been quite indifferent to all of the game holidays. As long as they don't bribe me with substantial rewards, I can't motivate myself to sprinkle perfume, cologne, fill my bags with a ton of pure crap or repeatedly tell the city guards how much I love them.

It was OK or sometimes even fun to take part in those activities once (and I wear my Love Fool title with pride) - it's just not fun enough to do it all over again. I'm speaking for myself of course; I know that there are players who not only stomach, but even enjoy doing all of them on their third or fourth alt. I'm just not one of those.

Hugging an NPC
So, does this mean that I didn't do anything even remotely romantic in Azeroth this year's Valentine? As a matter of fact I did. Obviously it wasn't as romantic as the lovely story of Dawn Moore at WoWinsider (a must-read for anyone with a romantic mindset). But at least I gave out a hug to someone who I thought might need it.

I thought to myself: isn't it a bit unfair that the NPCs in Stormwind get all the love. In fact they look a bit like those girls with the huge bouquets of roses at high school. What about all the others? Aren't there many NPCs in WoW who get very little love or attention these days?

I decided to celebrate Valentine's Day in my own way by hugging someone who I thought might need it. And that's how I ended up, wrapped up in the arms of David Wayne at Wayne's Refuge.

You have no idea who he is? No wonder. He's standing at a godforsaken cliff at the edge of Terokkar, on the verge of falling down into an endless abyss. Not a living soul in his neighborhood. Just this man and his eternally burning fire.

I always thought he was an outsider even in TBC, when players still occasionally came by. his little camp. Back in those days he offered a questline, ending up with a weapon reward, a dagger with special daemon fighting abilities. It required a tremendous effort to get it, including completing a whole bunch of five-man instances. Few did it at that point. And I can't imagine anyone doing it these days, apart from possibly Loremaster title aspirants.

I don't exaggerate when I tell you that David Wayne is about as lonely as you can get as an NPC in WoW.

He didn't say much as I hugged him. Not even a word. I reckon it was a bit of a shock to suddenly get a visitor after all this time - and even more so a little gnome who wasn't interested in his services as a weapon smith and only wanted to snuggle. Or perhaps he was just a shy guy.

The secret of Valentine
In any case it felt good to hug, even if the response was a bit chill. It felt really good.

You see - the secret about having a nice Valentine Day is to not idly sit there waiting for cards and flowers, getting disappointed as they won't appear. The secret is to take the initiative yourself.

If you want to hug someone - go for it. If it's a real person rather than a pixelated NPC - the better, congratulations! But we've all got to start somewhere, right?

Dave Wayne got a hug on Valentine's Day from me this year. Who did you hug?

Friday, February 11, 2011

A Haunted Week

I won’t hide it to you. This week is best described as “meh”, which is odd. After all it’s Patch week and we should be bouncing and clapping our hands – alternatively raging and knitting our fists over the buffs and nerfs to different aspects of the game.

But it’s quiet. Too quiet. I see apathy in the blogosphere and I see apathy in my guild and it’s damn hard to not get somewhat affected by it - even if you’re blessed with pink pigtails.

Adam wrote a post the other day claiming that old bloggers like me have a “responsibility to rise to the occasion and inspire others”. Are you serious Adam? I’ve been doing this for three years now, don’t you think I deserve a rest at some point?

But OK, I’ll do my best not to be too dark and whiney as I’m about to ramble away, sharing what’s been on my mind lately.

The haemorrhage in our guild
So, what’s up? Well, first, there’s the constant underlying worrying about the future of my guild. I wrote about it a while ago and we’re still struggling with our recruitment. While we still get an application here and there, we’re losing our older players at the same rate as the new ones join – or actually slightly quicker. The veterans aren’t leaving us for other guilds; it’s a case of reaching the point where the game doesn’t have a grip on them anymore. They’ve had their fun but now they’re done with it.

Of course this was bound to happen at some point, but I must admit that I’m a little bit surprised at the timing of it. We’re still just a couple of months into the expansion. It’s not like when we had been raiding ICC for six months and there was nothing new on the horizon. I wonder if this is just our guild or if it’s a sign of an overall change in the game. Are we seeing a shift of generations here? Are the vanilla veterans marching out?

The shift in the blogosphere
And then there’s the blogosphere. The part of it where I hang around took a huge hit this week as Righteous Orbs closed down. I still stand by what I wrote in a comment – that I’m happy for them, since I think that their talent was too to be spent on solely writing WoW-related blog posts. I understand and support their decision to move on, and somehow it’s almost a bit inspiring and liberating to see them let go so of it so easily.

But this said – Tam and Chas are leaving a huge void after them as they’re moving on. Normally I remove blogs that have shut down immediately from my blogroll, but in this case I can’t yet bring myself to do it. The community won’t be the same without their voices. They brought colour and life to it and as I look around in what’s left of bloggers, we all appear a bit grey and dull in comparison, to be honest.

However - life goes on and I suppose the rest of us will recover eventually. But I can’t deny that it feels as if I too am getting closer and closer to the day when it’s my turn to bid farewell and head for new pastures. The thought has crossed my mind, more than once.

On the brighter side: when oldies like RO and – at some point in the future – PPI shuts down, it leaves more space for the newcomers to flourish. And there isn’t any lack of new blood. Every week several new blogs are introduced in the Blog Azeroth forums. I keep getting letters from newcomers, such as most recently Stubborn at Sheep The Diamond, asking me how to get started and noticed. Maybe he will grow up and find his own voice and eventually and become the next generation’s equivalence of RO? You never know.

The LFD buff
So what about the patch that dropped this week? Does it get a “yay” or a “boo” from Larísa? Well, I think the biggest news in it was the introduction of the up-to-15 percent buff to LFD parties, which made some players cheer and others moan. I’m in neither party since I’m currently only doing dungeons in guild groups, so it really doesn’t affect me at all. And I don’t give a crap about if it’s easier or not for non-guild parties. It’s not my concern.

For me the most interesting aspect was the fact that we had been doing those random dungeons for such a long time without anyone noticing that the 5 percent buff didn’t work. It reminded me a little bit of when you’re teaching a child how to ride a bicycle. As long as you assure them that you’re holding the rear luggage carrier, everything will go just fine. They’ll keep going until the moment they realize that you’re actually not holding them anymore and haven’t been doing for a long while. As they see this, they’re bound to fall over, and they’ll be very angry with you, claiming that they can’t ride the bike unless you support them.

I know there have been come complaints, but I can’t help being a little amused thinking of that so many players seem to have been riding that bike damn well without anyone holding it. However, now all of a sudden, GC isn’t just holding the bike for us, he has even put on supporting wheels.

Is it for good or for bad? I don't know. I don't pug and I'm not the target audience for this change, so I'll refrain from judging and raging this time; I've done enough of it in the past.

Drop of the week
Let’s end this post on the brighter side. After four years of playing WoW, I finally got my first epic world drop in the form of a pair of plate trousers. For some obscure reason a crocodile in Tol Brad carried them in his pockets, so I killed him and sold them for over 20 k gold. This is a sum that I personally never ever, under any circumstances, would pay for a piece of gear that inevitably will be replaced in the next content patch. But of course I’m happy that other players think differently!

On the other hand, I'm prepared to spend ridiculous amounts of gold on other sorts of items that I suspect other players would consider utterly useless. Worthless fluff, filling your bags with nothing. And that’s exactly what I did for a part of the income from the trousers: I bought myself a shadow.

For ages, I’ve been cursing myself for losing my Haunted Memento, somewhere along the road. In case you’ve forgotten, this was an item that you got during the scorge invasion in the pre-Wrath events. If you have it in your bag, it will give you a haunted buff or debuff, (considering how you look at it), and occasionally you’ll also see a dark figure discretely following you in a distance.

Once upon a time I had one of my own, but I must have lost it during some bank clear-out, in the belief that it was just another trash necklace (the icon model is not unique for the item). And ever since, I’ve been a sad panda for being so careless and stupid.

However, rich as a goblin after my world drop, I entered AH and bought the one that was up at 5 k gold. It was worth every copper of it!

Finally I’m back to myself again. This is Larísa, this is me, in a nutshell. A gnome with bright pink pigtails, carrying a shadow she never quite can escape.

It’s been a haunted week indeed. So let’s end it here with a toast.

I’ll have a big one myself. I think I need it.


Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Where to find friends in WoW of today

Beyond parties, raids, and guilds, you will inevitably encounter other players who share some of the same interests, likes, and dislikes as you, people with whom you’ll end up chatting even when you’re not in a dungeon or on a quest; the kind of people where you don’t even notice the hours flying by as you swap stories, joke, and play together. In other words, you’ll make friends. Making friends and going on adventures with them is part of what makes World of Warcraft so much fun.”

You’ll make friends. They said it! “Swap stories, joke and play together as the hours fly by”. It sounds great, doesn’t it? Making friends is a part of what makes World of Warcraft so much fun! And so easy! Inevitable as they say.

Counting my friends
The question is: is this true? I figure it was back in the early days of WoW; at least I’ve been told so. But is this still valid?

I went to myself and did a quick count where I recalled how many friends I have in WoW right now. How many players are there who I chat with, not in raid channels about practical issues, but in whispers about nothing-important at all? How many players do I know who give me a personal greeting as I log on, who will tell me what they have for raid snack, who will notice if I seem to have a bad night and ask what’s up? How many players do I know who might ask me to do something together in the game because we enjoy each other’s company rather than to achieve something?

I ended up with around three. And I suppose three are better than none, but it’s far, far from the social platform that Blizzard makes us believe that WoW is.

The silent club
I’m not sure what the problem is – if there even is one. Is it the game that has changed into a solo experience – for all the beautiful promises in the gameguide ? Or – perhaps – it’s more about me, how I choose to approach it?

On one hand I can agree with Copra, who complains about the lack of social tools in WoW of today. There are no natural meeting points anymore - group quests removed and the LFD tool turning PUGs into speechless, anonymous let’s-get-it-over-with experiences with strangers you’ll never meet again. If you don’t already have friends as you enter WoW, you’re not likely to get any new.

On the other hand I wonder if it isn’t a little bit unfair and too simplified to blame Blizzard for this as for so much else. Haven’t the players got something to do with it? Isn’t this more about what we want and how we act in game?

Wolfshead has a new post about on the issue of group play (or the lack thereof), as a part of his ongoing crusade to “bring back the good community experience that once existed”. He compares the modern MMO experience to the gentleman’s club pictured in the Sherlock Holmes series, where talking is strictly prohibited.

“It occurred to me this has become what many solo gamers find appealing about MMOs. They are just places where they can go to relax, unwind and not talk with anyone. But what happens when the majority of people in a virtual world are escaping to such a silent club?”

Well, my question is: if the majority wants the club to be silent, can you really blame Blizzard for supporting such a play style?

And if I go to myself: how much effort have I, Larísa, put into trying to get to know more people? If I roll an alt, do I look around for new players in the starting zone to possibly connect to? Do I spot players who struggle and offer them a helping hand? Do I add them to my friends list and next time I see them come online, do I whisper them and ask them if they want to play with me for a while?

As long as I don’t lift a finger to do this, as long as I behave pretty much in game as in real life, keeping most people at a safe distance, who am I to complain? You can’t really expect friends to fall from the sky right into your hands.

Where to find friends in WoW
But let’s come to the point of this post, namely that maybe we’re missing something as we’re discussing the lack of opportunities to make friends and build communities in the cataclysmic version of Azeroth.

You see: I actually do have quite a few WoW friends, it’s just that they don’t play on my server. They’re people in the blogosphere, readers and writers, who I’ve exchanged my most personal thoughts and experiences with for years. We’ve followed each other through bad times and good times, sharing our proudest as well as our worst moments, opening a window into our minds.

I’d dare say we know each other pretty well by now - better than I know many of my guildies, and If I’d ever find myself guildless for some reason, I’m pretty sure that someone would offer me a new home.

I believe that you still can make WoW friends, even if the game is turned into a silent gentleman’s club, but you don’t necessarily make them the traditional way, as you bounce into people when you're out in the world on adventures.

There are better places today for meeting people. If you want to make friends, you won't find them in /trade or Goldshire. You'll find them in the blogosphere, in the forums or on Twitter.

Perhaps this is something to include in the game guide for beginners? Don't look for WoW friends as you're logged into WoW. Look for them in the offline community.

Friday, February 4, 2011

The blog names I’d rather see go away

Disclaimer: This post is probably going to upset a few readers. I’m about to thread on some toes of fellows in the blogging community. Please don’t take it personally. I don’t hate you. I don’t hate your blog. It’s just the name of it that I don’t fancy that much. I’m sorry if I hurt your feelings. OK?

I’m not picky when it comes to blog names. Basically you can call your blog whatever you like, as long as it’s not a blatant rip-off from another, well-known blog, which is something I don’t approve of. Build your own brand with your own ideas, thank you very much!

However there is one kind of names that has bugged me for years now and finally I’ve decided to speak up about it. Maybe, just maybe it could prevent one of you who might be thinking of starting your own blog from picking such a name.

Girl blogs
So. (Larísa takes a deep breath. She's not much of a toe stepper).

I have a problem with blogs called something with “girl” or “chick”. Girl playing WoW! Girl not playing WoW! The girl that games! Gamers can be girls! Chick gamer! I’m a super chic gaming chick girl IRL, yes you heard it right, girl, GRRRLLL!!!!

Well the last one wasn’t authentic but you get the idea.

What’s up with you people? Is your gender really such an important aspect of your blog that you have to display it in the name? You could believe that those blogs would be full-fledged gender blogs, wresting every thinkable topic to be about feminism or anti-feminism or whatever. But they rarely are. They’re just normal WoW blogs by normal gamers.

They keep coming. I see them popping up in the newcomer section at Blog Azeroth where new bloggers introduce themselves and every time I see a new blog named “girl” or “chick” blog, I cringe.

Some of the chick named blogs have been around for years, which makes it more understandable. I only started to play games four years ago, but further back, I’ve heard that the situation was different. Females were rare spawns in the gaming community and those who spoke up and came out of their wardrobes were a bit of pioneers. If you were one of the early adaptors it could make perfectly sense to start a blog where you stated that here was a real girl, playing games, a rebellion against the prejudices. Becoming visible was essential.

But now? In 2011? Haven’t we come any further than that? I’d dare say we have. Being a girl who games isn’t exactly shocking news anymore. And it’s definitely not the unique selling point you may look for as a new blogger, rather the contrary if you ask me. If you name your blog “I’m a girl who plays WoW”, I guarantee you that I’ll be unable to tell it from the 20 other blogs with similar names that already are on the market. (Male bloggers are in a different situation; as far as I know there’s only one blog that displays gender in the name – A boy and his death rays.)

Girl or woman
And while I’m raging, what’s this thing about always using the name “girl”, either you’re a 17 year old blogger or 37? If you insist on marketing your gender for whatever reason, what’s wrong with the word “woman”? Could it possibly be that “girl” comes with a connotation of being innocent, harmless and cute, while a grown-up woman feels a bit more creepy and threatening?

Saga has been around blogging for quite a while, but recently she took the step to change her blogname from one of those “girl” themed into the neutral “Spellbound”, which I think is a beautiful blogname and appropriate for a warlock. I wish that more would follow her example.

It’s about time that we stop presenting ourselves as “girls” and start looking at ourselves as “gamers”. No matter how good the intentions are, I think the “girl that games” blog names make more harm than they help to make female gamers into fully accepted members of the community. I look forward to the day when no one would come up with the idea to name a blog “girl” as little as they’d name it “Vegetarian plays WoW” or “The right-handed WoW player”.

Friday night toast
And this was quite a grumpy rant for being a Friday night post. Normally I try to end the week a bit more cheerfully, but I needed to get this off my chest.

To all of you who have a blog named “girl”, I’m truly sorry if I offended you. If you want to mock the name of my blog, please go ahead! I’m sure you can find up something about it. After that I suggest that we end this evening, sharing a toast, making peace again.

After all, the weekend is incoming and hopefully a nice one for all of us. Boys as girls. Women as men. Gnomes as orcs.


Thursday, February 3, 2011

At 3 am he nukes a pizza and checks the combat logs

What’s it like to play on the bleeding edge? Kruf of Paragon, the current highest ranked guild in the world, recently shared a typical day of his life.

Here’s a sample from his blogpost. Kruf has just finished a raid that lasted eight hours straight, from 6 pm to 2 am. And yes, he holds a fulltime day job and his alarm goes off at 8:10 every morning.

“02:00. Raid ends. Now it's time to do some daily quests, maybe a random heroic if necessary to reach the Valor Point cap on either of the raiding characters and restock consumables for next raid.

03:00. Done with all the "mandatory" stuff ingame, so it's time to get some food in real life. Depending on how lazy I am, that means either cooking something or just tossing a frozen pizza in the oven or nuking something in the microwave. Most of the time, it turns out to be pizza. Check the forums and news while eating. Try to fix some addons, do some parses on combatlogs to figure out boss ability timers and such.

04:00. Finally ready for bed”
This is what his life has been like most days since Cataclysm launch, and Kruf tries to explain what motivates him:

“A lot of people would wonder "Why does anyone do something like this?", for which I have no better answer than vanity, wanting to be one of the best.”
Different worlds
I don’t normally bother too much about the competition for the world firsts, who killed what, with or without bugs. They live in their world and I live in mine and never will those worlds meet. Just because you like to play football with your friends in the backyard it doesn’t mean that you need to follow every step of the players in Champions League.

However there was something in this post that captured me. I think it was the refreshing honesty. Sometimes hardcore players claim that they play less than casuals. It’s a sneaky form of bragging, if you ask me. We’re led to believe that their godly WoW skills come from talent rather than from spending insane amounts of time on it.

The truth is probably a bit of both. Of course you can spend all day long in Azeroth, doing lapdances for gold, without improving in any aspect at all – apart from possibly becoming a good lapdancer. If you use your online time carefully, always focusing on activities that eventually will lead to your overall raiding goal, you will get a way better return on your time investment and progress quicker in the game. But you still have to invest time, even if you’re ever so talented.

Kruf doesn’t pretend that it’s easy to combine a normal life with job and family with raiding on the bleeding edge. At 3 am, when you’re done with the “mandatories”, you warm your pizza, fix your addons and check the combat logs. That’s what it’s like to be on the top. If you want to be there, you have to pay the price - either you’re WoW player, a football player or a mountain climber.

The scale of seriousness
Kruf’s post made me think about how different approaches we have to WoW. The scale of seriousness is gigantic. On one end you have Kruf. On the other you have what Gevlon calls “morons and slackers”.

Where do I find myself on this scale? Somewhere in the middle I suppose, but probably closer to Kruf than to the bleeding edge of casual players.

I do arrange my real life a bit around our raiding schedule so I can make most of our three raid nights a week. But our raids last three hours, not eight. Like Kruf I make sure to refill my bags with consumables after a raid. On the other side I won’t torture myself with mandatory dailies or running a heroic just to cap my valor points, if I’d rather go to sleep. And I don’t eat pizza at in the morning. I have dinner with my family.

Not a problem
Do I think that Kruf’s lifestyle is bad and something that therefore should be condemned? Not at all. While it admittedly sounds a bit unhealthy in the long run, I can't see any problem in it, as long as he's the only one who takes the consequences and his life choices doesn't affect someone else, as a child.

However it can be good to bear his blogpost in mind as you compare your own progression rate to Paragon’s deeds. If Kruf's guild has cleared all the heroic modes, while you're wiping on the first bosses in normal, there is a reason for it. They've paid a price that you're probably not prepared to pay.

There ain't such a thing as a free bosskill.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Snapshots from my life as a blogger

I became a blogger on February 2 2008. I had absolutely no idea of what I was doing or why I did it. I was curious. That was reason enough for me to give it a go.

Three years later I’m still around talking about the same stuff - World of Warcraft. You would think that I’d run out of things to say after +600 posts, but obviously not. I’m not sure if it’s about the size and complexity of the game and community, or if it’s more about my passion for it. Regardless of which, here I am as always, standing in the bar, serving drinks and thinking aloud, occasionally taking a break in one of the cosy armchairs by the fireplace.

Not much has changed over the years. The top picture has remained the same since I redesigned the blog in June 2008. I'm turning my back to the audience on it, which doesn't really look very nice, thinking of it. I think I wanted to picture me and the readers sitting side by side by the fireplace, staring into the dancing flames, sharing our stories from Azeroth. Some conversations don’t require you to look into each others eyes all the time.

However I thought that the three year anniversary would be a nice opportunity to turn around for once and say hello to all guests face to face. So here’s a picture of me, drawn by Vidyala at Manalicious from my Armory page. Pretty much spot on if you ask me, only the pink colour is missing.

So this is me, Larísa, and I'd like to spend this jubilee sharing some snapshots from those years by linking to some of the older posts that were special to me for various reasons. Some of them were particularly fun to write - or hard or painful. Others stirred up reactions. Or they just stuck in my mind.

Before I transferred to my current server, I went through a guild split. It was the first time in the game that I experienced that kind of drama and I took it pretty hard. This post was memorable because it was the first time I shared something personal on the blog and used it as therapy. Many more of this kind of posts would follow.

Onion thoughts
This was a little post which came to my mind as I was chopping onions. I compared the learning curve of WoW to the looks of one of those. What made the post special to me was that Matticus linked to it in a post about some new and “upcoming” bloggers. It was the first time I felt as if someone in the blogosphere had noticed me and I’ll never forget it.

The Big Battle of Mages
When people link to PPI they normally categorize it as a “general” WoW blog, rather than a mage one. I don’t talk much about mage stuff these days. But during my first year as a blogger I had a very enjoyable little discussion going on between me, Gnomeaggedon, Krizzlybear and Zupa, a former blogger. We argued about which mage spec that was the best one, in a pseudo-theorycrafting pretty silly way. I’m not sure it was an all that good read to be honest. However we had a blast doing it (arcane of course, what else?) And I think it gave me a taste of how fun and friendly the blogging community could be.

Discovered: Black Temple
PPI was never much of a diary, but bigger events and changes to my gameplay normally will end up as blogposts. Joining Adrenaline was probably the bravest thing I ever did in the game. This post reflects what I felt about it at that time pretty well. Re-reading it is a good reminder to me to be nice to our trialists.

If I die for real will anyone notice?
My gnome may have a cheerful appearance with her pink pigtails, but PPI has never been just strawberries and sunshine. Sometimes I write about my weakness, my self doubts, my ghosts. Or even death as in this case. Two years later I wrote In the Shade of Deathwing – about those things we normally try not to think about, which if possible was even darker. I struggled to write it, but I was glad that I managed to. It rendered some very beautiful and insightful comments.

Ask Larísa – how do I make my blog noticed?
Gevlon at Greedy Goblin and I have a long story together. He was one of my first readers and as he decided to start a blog of his own, he turned to me, asking for advice, which I willingly gave him. The rest is history. Needless to say, I have disagreed with him several times over the years, like in this post. But he has always a reserved seat here at the inn, regardless of how he’s regarded by the rest of the blogosphere.

Happily building my sandcastle
Most posts you write will be forgotten the next day. Blogposts are like milk, it’s consumed on the spot and come with a best-before-date. But this one was an exception. I still hear people in the blogosphere referring to the “sandcastle post”. For some reason this analogy worked, not just for me.

This post isn’t spectacular in itself, but it’s a souvenir from when I appeared as a guest in Twisted Nether Podcast, which turned out to be way more fun and way less nervous than I had imagined. The major problem was for the poor host to make me stop talking.

A year later I did another podcast appearance, in Blue Plz. Considering the size of the audience, this was scarier, but I needn’t have worried. Totalbiscuit is as nice in real life as he’s nasty in his commentary and he didn’t just make me feel comfortable, he also managed to make me stop talking.

33 things I want to do before I quit WoW
I think list posts are a little bit like choir music; it’s more fun to sing or write it than it is to listen or read. Bloggers who give advice on how-to-blog tend to be enthusiastic about list posts, suggesting you to make posts like “Five reasons to…” “The five best ways to..”
It’s tempting, since it’s a convenient structure to work in, but I try not to do it too often, since it gets old after a while.

However, this post was one that I really enjoyed to write and which I actually went back to every now and then, if I needed inspiration for what-to-do next in the game.

Other list posts I enjoyed to write was 17 excuses to play WoW when you know you shouldn’t and Seven lessons learned from trekking, where I managed to combine my interest for mountain walks with WoW (constructed or not, I leave for someone else to judge.)

How to make an unforgettable guild anniversary

I’ve always been quite discrete about my guild's doings in my blog, reluctant to even mention the names of my guildies. For some reason it feels as if I shouldn’t talk about them unless we’ve agreed on it on before hand. If I’ve been writing, it has mostly been in positive contexts, like when we’ve gotten a very longed for first kill. There has been very little guild drama in my posts, if any at all. This post was about a guild event that was so good that I wanted to share it. And I was actually pretty delighted when WoW Insider wrote a special post about it, giving the officers of Adrenaline credit for all their efforts.

Sad and frustrated
The summer of 2009 was a nightmare, computer wise. My old rig had never been a hit, but at that point I was really in trouble and I couldn’t work out what was wrong. I wrote about my desperation and got so many responses and honest tries to help out. In the end, it turned out that I had to buy a new computer, but oh, how touched I was by the love and friendship I felt from the community.

The Bubble
Some posts are personal and this is one of those. Enough said.

The Picture of the Day
I’ve never been one of the Bloggers Who Talk A Lot about Gender issues and unlike Pewter and Chastity I’m not particularly good in feminist theory or argumentation. But sometimes I dip into the topic nevertheless. Not too often though, it wears me down for some reason. This post was about a picture of the staff at Blizzard which made me realize that WoW in the end pretty much is a boys club.

Coming out as an older player in WoW
Age is another topic that I’ve touched on a couple of occasions. I was floored by the reception of this post and I felt far less alone than I had before. The club of older players was apparently bigger than you might imagine.

Musings over boobs and my liberating lack thereof

This post combined the last two topics – age and gender – into one, and a wonderful discussion followed in the comment section, which left me touched and empowered.

A power demonstration of a GM

I’m probably not known to be the most controversial of bloggers, but there are exceptions like this one. My support for a guildie who had been rude to a GM and deprived of his character name as a punishment provoked a massive reaction, with over 100 comments, of which approximately 2/3 were negative. It didn’t make me change my mind on this, though.

Did Blizzard just miss to do a reality check?
Oh, the community rage of the summer of 2010! Blizzard launched the idea of real name posting on the forums. And we raged and they changed their mind! I would believe it was rather the players who cancelled their subscriptions how made this happen, but who knows, maybe I contributed a tiny, tiny, tiny little as well?

An unfortunate meet-up with the pumpking leechers
Some posts are more fun than others to write, posts where the writing is pure entertainment and doesn’t feel like taking any effort at all. This was one of those. The situation was so absurd that the story had to be told. It basically wrote itself.

WoW is...
Sometimes I can't resist going in clinch with those people who I call the Bitter Veterans. A few times it has been Wolfshead, but this time it was Syncaine I attacked. This was a simple list post with linkage, mostly to my own blog. However it was fun to write and gave me a reminder about how many different ways there are to play WoW and why I still like it so much after all those years.

The Perfect Raid Snack

My final snapshot will be this little post about what constitutes a perfect raid snack. I never intended my blog to be useful, but in the end this post turned out to be, since the commenters were more than willing to share their own recipes and ideas.

I've enjoyed taking this walk down the memory lane and I could go on talking forever about every blogpost I ever wrote, but I think I’ll end it here. 25 snapshots are more than enough. (No, I said snapshot, not schnapps shot! 25 of those would DEFINITELY be enough!)

Only one thing remains: to bring out a toast. Thank you for coming here and helping to make this place into what it is.


Tuesday, February 1, 2011

I'd rather play with a living moron than with a dead NPC

Tobold has a tongue-in-cheek post today where he pictures WoW in 2020. By then it has reached huge success turning into a solo game. Instead of grouping up with annoying people, you can clear all of the content, including soloing raid bosses, assisted by AI controlled NPCs.

Is this a crazy fantasy, something taken out of the blue? Well, although a little bit exaggerated, I think he has a point. Without having any scientific data as support, I have the feeling that many players have become less and less interested in the social aspect of WoW during the four years I’ve been playing it.

A waste of time?
Judging not only from what I see on the forums, but also from many blog posts, we tend more and more to regard other players as obstacles and annoyances rather than as potential friends, people you might like to get to know and hang around with. People are annoying, they’re clueless, they’re morons, slackers and above all: they’re not you.

If we socialize, we tend to do it with people we already know. I feel truthfully sorry for new players who enter the game on their own, like I did once upon a time. My impression is that you’d better have some real life friends joining at the same time, or you might end up lonely and alienated. It seems to me as if people don’t have the time for small talk they used to have once upon a time. It’s all about efficiency and return on investment of time. Get your achievements done. Gear up. Get your ranking. Accomplish. Don’t waste your time on strangers!

Or as Tobold remarked:
“I bet that over half of the people reading this post think "I want to play that!" instead of considering it as something bad. One day you will need to realize that you are part of a shrinking minority that actually wants player interaction in a multiplayer game.”

The word “social”
Adam at The Noisy Rogue is also talking about this in a post, where he rightfully puts up a different meaning to the word “social”, which seems to have become a bit of a dirty word in the gaming world. He points out that the social aspect is the only thing that makes an MMO different from a single player game – the ability to log on at any time and encounter people playing the same game:
“You can see them, you can talk to them. I remember the first time that I logged onto an MMO virtual world and another player walked past me, and I realised that I had just seen another person playing the same game that I was. It was mind blowing.”

Exactly. It was mind blowing at that point – and it still is. The thought that someone sitting in Italy is seeing and fighting the same ugly dragon as I am and that we could talk to each other any second, just a click away, fills me with wonder.

Playing with NPCs
Currently I’m finishing Twilight Highlands and the other night I ended up doing exactly what Tobold predicted could be standard procedure in a future WoW. I grouped up with a squad of NPCs and we worked our way towards Grim Batol, fighting off ambushing mobs on our way. I tossed away a scorch here and there, since it seemed to be the best way to make the NPC soldiers understand that they were supposed to kill stuff. (To be honest they were kind of dumb for being artificial intelligences).

And all this time, as we fought in the canyon, I thought about how much more fun it would have been if the squad had consisted of real players instead. Even a complete moron makes better company than an ever so skilled and polite NPC, void of anything that remotely could be regarded as a personality.

Annoying or not – every time you team up with another player you bring something from it. You may not get a new person on your friends list, but you may gain an insight, a laugh or a good story to share in your blog.

I’m not a horrible person to be around, but I would absolutely hate to play an MMO where I was left out to only have company with myself. I hope sincerely that Tobold’s vision of the future online gaming won’t come true.