So I did what I have been speculating to myself about for some time, and started a new guild of my own on World Of Warcraft. The act of starting the guild, in itself, was quite a learning experience. Whilst it has changed over time, the present system with founding new guilds involves getting a charter, getting five signatures from unique players, and then turning it in to an NPC who basically hands you the keys to your new guild. So whilst I have my own guild that I am very slowly building up to what I want, I am also very slowly and staggeringly learning the ins and outs of running the damned thing.
As anyone who plays World Of Warcraft and has been reading my recent posts that mention it can guess, I am choosing the slowly, slowly tack in terms of building this guild. So far, I have three members that I would consider permanent in the sense of expecting them to be there tomorrow when I log in. One is the same player I have mentioned in the last couple of months, the one who is basically the reason I even continue playing. The other is a more recent addition to the guild, one I am still umming and ahhing nervously about. Not because of any suspicion about them on my part, but rather because they have demonstrated a level of commitment I am not sure I will be completely able to live up to. As in feel right about them having put so much in.
Since I wrote the above, the player in question has managed to talk me into things in the game that I would normally not go near. For those who are not familiar with the game, there are several modes and styles of play. All of which can be split firmly into two major categories depending on the type of opponent one chooses. In one mode, one can play against the program and its artificial intelligence. This mode of play, known as Player Versus Environment, has the advantage of mostly being predictable and transparent in its rules. However, that advantage is also a weakness. Games in this mode can become predictable to the point of being boring, and when one attempts to play through them with people who not only do not know what they are doing but will not listen to advice no matter how helpfully-framed, it becomes an exercise in gnashing teeth. It also does not help matters when the rules of a particular part of the game in that mode have been badly designed. Anyone who remembers the first “heroic” implementation of an old dungeon from the very early days of the game knows what I am talking about.
The other mode of play in the game is known as Player Versus Player. I will be blunt about this. I hate it. There are a number of things wrong with it in my view, but these are not really germaine to the point. In order to understand my objections and how they formulate part of my point, it is important to understand a fundamental difference between World Of Warcraft in this mode and games I have played in other environs that involve head to head competition between two or more players.
I have elsewhere described the tabletop model-based game based on The Lord Of The Rings that I used to avidly play and paint models from. A freeze-dried summary is that one paints models, assembles them into groups according to point values, moves them about on a board, roll dice, and generally engages them in simulated fights. What makes this game different to, and in my viewpoint far preferable to, almost all computer games is that the rules that govern the game are extremely transparent. You compare one value (say, Defense) to another (say, Strength), roll the appropriate number of dice, and compare that result to a table of values. There have been tournaments at branches of Games Workshop in this game, and the rules are so fukking straightforward and transparent that the first rule added to tournaments is simply “all arguments to be settled by dice roll”. In other words, if our rules are still not simple enough for you, when you do experience conflict between interpretations, we have a way of settling that where there are no two ways about it. Fukk me, if videogames could be that transparent in how they work, I would enjoy them a lot more these days. Learning that game is simple, but mastering it is quite something else, and the manner in which different types of model interact means that one can never be completely sure of how to prosecute a battle until it starts to unfold.
That, however, is what makes the Player Versus Player part of World Of Warcraft so unattractive to me, especially compared to the other mode of play. Not only are the rules not transparent, the only transparent aspect to them is that they are so constantly in flux that a person could stop playing for a month and find them completely at the opposite state of what they were before. Of course, rule changes are nothing to fear when they are done for good reasons. In the aforementioned tabletop game, the points value and attributes of the Balrog, for example, have changed so radically since their first incarnation that it takes a bit of explanation to make a newcomer to the game understand that it was for a good reason.
Unfortunately, this speaks to the fundamental difference between Blizzard Entertainment and game companies that have been around for longer. When customers come back and say that your product fails to satisfy them for this or that reason, there are two manners in which you can respond. The underwhelming reaction of the world to Diablo III speaks to the manner in which Blizzard Entertainment respond to negative feedback. Namely, with sheer, mind-boggling, arrogance. Now, granted, there are many things that they do right. Making a videogame that millions of people play and interact in numerous ways during is no easy task, and getting the balance of different elements “right” even less so. But Blizzard‘s style of response to complaint or negative feedback is to besmirch the person or persons doing the complaining.
Yes, Blizzard, some people hate Player Versus Player. I am sorry about that, but if you make it so that people cannot understand the mechanics of a game even when they study it at length, that is simply going to happen. What if Monopoly had changed in 1960 so that every player had to go counter-clockwise around the board, lose all of their money, and do transparently stupid things in order to win? Do you think that people would still be playing it today in spite of how board games have declined dramatically in market share? Let me give you a hint: I just described the Mad Magazine Game. Whilst said game is still in circulation today, I can promise you that it is nowhere near as widely played, nor has it ever been, as Monopoly. Because the rules are designed specifically as a satire of Monopoly, and thus not nearly as well. Which brings me back to this point. Blizzard simply cannot design a game around consistent rules that are transparent and sensical to the casual player.
Which brings me to one point of my guild-building exercise that is keeping me up at night, so to speak. Whilst I am ready to do anything in order to improve things, the Player Versus Player game mode known as arena takes a toll both on my nerves and the bits inside my forearms. I know that this is partly my own fault, going into the game mode entirely with player equipment that is meant for a different game mode. But the lack of ability to properly account for the fact that some people might come into that mode of play in such a manner speaks to what I feel the fundamental problem with Blizzard Entertainment is.
You see, Blizzard Entertainment have this peculiar problem in which they believe that everyone of every walk or type reacts in exactly the same manner to the same things. They genuinely believe that everyone sees the character known as Thrall as the Malcolm X meets Albert Einstein meets Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi they want him to be seen as, as opposed to the pathetic Mary Sue that a person who can write a story sees. And this is far from an isolated example, it is just the one I am using because it illustrates my point best. You see, going into Player Versus Player arena has emerged as the only credible way to level the guild in a manner, or rather speed, that can be on the winning end of comparisons to really old people fukking. And I feel, quite correctly, that this is wrong. It locks a lot of lower-level guilds out of advancement, especially in what can be termed a competitive environment. That, in and of itself, is wrong. Whilst I am not saying that a guild should simply be able to earn “perks” or levels at a rate of one a day, the current system is a lot like the tax system the Western world has had since the 1980s. Those who are already rich get everything, and everyone else just gets to choke on it.
So for the present time, I continue to persist in these arena matches for the benefit of the guild. I would like to be able to recruit a second or even third player who can join an arena team with this other individual I have referred to previously, and do the part of earning guild experience that way. But for the time being, that person is basically stuck with me, and whilst I do the best I can to follow their directions, I am much the same in unfamiliar aspects of the game as I am in real-life. Basically, a little boy in a man’s body, trying his hardest to rail in favour of something more to his favour. But if you are reading this, are on the server known as Moon Guard, and have a Player Versus Player-oriented character who feels like helping build up a guild that is presently doing a little of everything (including role-playing), I would love to hear from you.
So now, I have to reflect on why I started a new guild, and on one of the servers that is absolutely over-the-brim flooded with competing guilds at that. I have to admit, when I think about it in those terms, it still does not make a whole lot of sense. Guilds and I, however, have a bit of a sticky relationship. Part of that has to do with my lack of understanding of the game in the past. When I started the game, I did not understand how the relationship between the gearing of a character, their access to higher-level things, and how they made in-game money, worked. But the thing was, a lot of my in-game relationships were coloured by people expecting me to just automatically know these things.
Thus, the game became a good metaphor for a lot of my real-world troubles. People just assume that other people automatically know things, like an instinct or a natural skill. It sticks in my craw, so to speak, but people make assumptions based on the idea that all people regardless of race, socio-economic status, or native language are all the same. Not just in the “real” world, but also in videogames like World Of Warcraft. And when they encounter someone who defies this expectation, however subtly, they react with hostility. The game is just like real-life in that sense. I might explore this communicative thing in more detail later, as it relates to something I want to write about anyway.
Games like World Of Warcraft market themselves in a number of different ways. But probably the biggest thing in videogame marketing is the proclamation that one can do just about everything they want in the game. For example, when a sequel to the far superior in design and concept game called Syndicate was in the works, pre-release publicity told of the wanton destruction one could inflict upon maps and people within the game’s environments. To quote the article that sold me on Syndicate Wars, as it became known, if one was a closet pyromaniac, one would be happy to know that there was very little that one could not set on fire in Syndicate Wars. That much was true. Ammunition limitations notwithstanding, one could absolutely destroy every living thing on the map in Syndicate Wars. Now, if one looks at the year in which Syndicate Wars was released (1996), one sees the problem immediately: namely, that the level of freedom in games has not increased since then.
On the converse point, one that I touched on before, videogames and games in general are constrained by one very important point that is verbalised during one of Jason Statham‘s better films, The Transporter. Namely, you cannot get anything done in a world without rules. Which brings me to the meat of the issue. The problem with World Of Warcraft as I see it is not the rules themselves. It is the manner in which the rules are arranged, negotiated, and updated. Again, just like in real life, the rules are often decided upon by a minority who believe that what is good for them is automatically good for everyone and anyone else. Regardless of what you believe, a hodgepodge of old content and a distasteful lack of variety does not an improvement make.
It is getting late, and I am having a difficult time coming up with things to say, but I will just state that there is a reason for all of this. The fact that I bother to play World Of Warcraft. I have mentioned in the past that I play for the social aspect, including meeting online with a person who I am able to enjoy communicating with. But after all of this drama with starting and putting together a guild, I am also reminded of another thing that I play the game for. Namely, a sense that I am building something. Whether it is building an individual character by giving them a name, a backstory, and equipment, or building this little guild, there is a sense of taking something and improving it. And whilst this is still only a dream, I want to make this guild into a place for people who do not “belong” anywhere else. That is pretty much why I do anything these days.
I have also begun trying to experiment with a little thing called multi-boxing. Multi-boxing, essentially, is running multiple copies of the game at once in order to make a team that one controls. The specifics of how to do it are pretty complex for me to describe, but at the moment, I am attempting to run a dual-box configuration. That is, I run two copies of the game in sync to form a mini-team that runs and fights in a sort of sync. That is a difficult thing to organise properly. I am still struggling with it, and on some days I just get so frustrated with the whole thing that I want to give up. But it is also another avenue by which I can defeat how difficult building the guild has been made. At present, in order to complete a dungeon in a group that will contribute to building the guild, we need to have three distinct players in the group. But what if one of them is having persistent connection problems and keeps disconnecting before the completion of the dungeon? So, by dual-boxing and getting people in with more reliable connections…
Yeesh, it is just supposed to be a fukking videogame. Please teleport me back to 1990 now.