GW2: Morale and The Psychology of Losing

Dead. Again. Now what? (Ironically, I logged on just to get a defeated screenshot and ended up staying over an hour having good fun. More in a later post.

This Sunday, the strongest stand out memories are the two hour breaks of -not- playing Guild Wars 2, in order to get away from the hidden dangers of WvW to a newbie dipping one’s toes into a competitive format. :)

You see, I started getting an inkling something was wrong when I developed a headache. An honest to goodness -real- headache from playing a computer game.

The last 12 hours or so have been pretty bad. No doubt, some of this is due to sleep deprivation as I’ve been up at weird hours looking in on this week’s match, catching both NA and Oceanics in action. (I do crazy shit like this from time to time.)

I had an incredible morale high this morning (NA night time) as combined arms and lots of siege broke open a keep, along with an incredible continuous reinforcement rush (died three times easily) to hold one successfully even as a horde was knocking on the keep lord.

Then plunged to an abyssal low during the afternoon and night (NA wee morning hours and Sunday morning) as it grew obvious that the bulk of whoever was on during this time was not organized, failed to grasp strategy or spend siege to take or defend places, and worse of all, did not pay attention to the team/map chat.

A trebuchet knocked down a tower’s wall. Around 30-40 were outside zerging the place. 10-15 defenders. Guesses on how many people looked up from AoEing what was in front of them, read the chat, went left and into the tower. You are correct if you surmised less than the number of fingers on one hand. After dying horribly inside, I looked about at the 4-5 corpses inside and sighed.

A keep was lost when no one communicated clearly until it was nigh unto too late to do anything, and the frantic panicked screaming of “THEIR INSIDE KEEP” “INNER GATE” failed to move the said zerg that were still obsessed with failing to take above tower.

Yet another keep was lost as a significant bulk of people failed to read the chat and come to the rescue of those fighting off invaders at the keep lord, preferring instead to continue zerg duking it out on the bridge on the courtyard between outer and inner keep walls, failing to realize that they would be wiped out the moment the keep changed hands, with the walls locking in place around them and the happy victors emerging to scour the grounds.

Stuff like that does terrible things to one’s morale.

I’m only human, alas.

And yes, it gets frustrating and aggravating when things happen beyond your control, and despite your best efforts, the situation still seems helplessly uncontrollable and doomed to fail.

After quickly withdrawing to variously take a nap, go for a swim, have some tea, plan the next blog post (and reading up on the functions of morale in combat, the psychology of losing and how sportsmen and competitive gamers handle defeat well, badly or otherwise) and hovering between attempting to calm down and gritting one’s teeth from the pain of the headache, it was rather obvious that the tension and stress and pent up frustration were getting to me.

I especially have a personal problem with this since if you recall, I straddle two divides:

1) The primarily PvE player dipping toes into PvP and/or competitive formats

PvE players are used to having easy fun. That is, we want to win 85-100% of the time, as long as we play passably well.

Logically, this does not and cannot happen in PvP. There is always a winner and a loser to a match.

In a balanced game, that means even the best will be winning 50% of the time at most, as they eventually get matched against people just as good.

The slightest misbalance due to the other guy’s skill and strategy, your personal lack of it or emotional composure or circumstances otherwise beyond your control, and guess what, you’ll be losing a majority of the time, rather than just 50%.

Hell, in WvW format, there are always two losers to one winner, if you want to look at it in that light. So as some guy in a forums mentioned, 2/3 of the people are “losing” at any point in time.

2) Having a tendency to be obsessively hardcore and fixate upon success / winning / a goal

Normal (casual playing) people don’t frequent game forums twice a day or more, don’t write blogs dissecting games, and spend their time alternatively brooding on the moment-to-moment point scoring in a week-long match and reading up obsessively on potential strategies and ways to improve one’s play.

Nor do they sit around looking and reading up all manner of articles on a particular topic of interest wondering how other people deal with the problem they are having.

It’s just a small subset of the population that is blessed/plagued with such a personality, and I happen to be one of those individuals.

Been there, done that, don’t like how it made me.

I don’t want to be constantly tense and angry, I don’t want to blow up on people or insult or abuse them, I don’t want all my self-worth to be predicated on being number 1 and being so scared and ego-driven to maintain it.

Worse, taken to an extreme, we get folks who even go past the controversial edge of Sirlin’s Play to Win philosophy and start cheating, hacking and exploiting for the sake of a) a number on a scoreboard or b) to make other people angry (their new ‘win’ condition.)

That’s a definitive line for me. Much to my misfortune, I have too much bloody integrity to ever consider doing shit like that.

Besides, I already get in enough trouble emotionally and physically (I’m getting too old for sleep deprivation and alarm-clock gaming, dammit) before I go past that line.

When looked at objectively in this fashion, it becomes clear that if we want to continue playing around with PvP and competitive formats, we need to get used to “losing” and get out of the mindset of playing to win being all important.

This is not a new concept. It’s as old as competition and sports.

Just idly flipping through stuff people have written, I’ve found such disparate things as a discussion thread about losing Starcraft 2 matches and how different players deal with the blow to one’s morale, an advice article on a wiki about Starcraft 2 anxiety playing ladder games that run the risk of doing horrible things to one’s ranking with a loss (or so I gather, I don’t own SC2 yet,) a Warhammer article about the impact of losing on player morale and how it impacts one’s judgement and decision-making while tabletop gaming, and even a general sports article on emotional mastery and how various athletes may react in a competition.

I’m especially amused by the last one, because it gives one of those cheesy classifications that group people into different styles. He differentiates between the seether, the rager, the brooder and the Zen Master.

Watch any sports competition and there’s a pretty hefty grain of truth in the simplistic classification. Everyone can tell the explosive ragers, who wear their frustration on their sleeves, have little self-control and will no doubt be voted ‘most likely to break their wrists punching a wall.’ The seethers also steadily become obvious if the match doesn’t go their way, and you can see them gradually lose it and their play deteriorating.

I identify most strongly with a brooder, alas. My impulse is to think bad thoughts, look upon a situation helplessly and then become avoidant and sneak off without a word or quit silently, because it’s just as pointless to scream and yell at idiots or the just plain ignorant.

The Zen Master, naturally, is the ideal goal to strive toward. Being unaffected by emotions, being focused and playing consistently, win or lose.

I’m thinking I need to make something like that my new goal, rather than obsess about winning or the scoreboard. I believe competition has some very important life lessons to teach – about teamwork, about handling loss, about self-improvement, maturity and so on.

And Guild Wars 2 is a nice format to do it in, because of the whole server togetherness thing. By design, it doesn’t make you feel alone (as one would be if playing a 1 vs 1 competition match) or in a completely hostile world with anyone ready to backstab you at any time (see other open world PvP formats.)

It straddles the line of organized groups being decisively more effective, which is a little personally disappointing to me as I’m reluctant to invest that sort of commitment, but I’ll respect that others really enjoy that playstyle, and it’s beautiful to watch in action.

And I really like that the design encourages organized guilds to pay attention to the lonely souls like me – any warm body can be a help at times.

And while we sometimes cannot expect much of a pug zerg and want to chew nails in frustration trying to herd cats and teach people who don’t even seem to read chat or understand English, let alone talk back and communicate, successfully respecting and teaching/training the average pug to become an effective militia seems to have been one of the factors why Henge of Denravi is in the top position it is.

It’s just going to take time, a lot of patience and kindness and teaching towards both the self and others.

From a calmer, objective perspective though, I find it both alternatively great and fascinating that WvWvW is capable of replicating such ‘combat’ situations in miniature.

I’ve always found that MMOs are a great way to learn about real life in microcosm. In 4-5 years of playing an MMO, you can learn a lot of life lessons that would normally take folks 40 years to work through in real time.

Any student of war and history knows the importance of morale to overall success in an engagement. In this monograph by a Major Cox from the School of Advanced Military Studies, he states:

Morale and unit cohesion are a reality of warfare. They are as much a factor of war as wounds and death. The commander that fails to recognize the importance of these factors is the commander who will fail in combat.

These two components of war are segments of the undeniably human influence in warfare. This human influence is the element of warfare that is unpredictable and as Michael Howard states, contributes to the ‘fog of war.’

Anyone who has been within various kinds of WvW zergs can no doubt recognize the truth within those words. Some groups are full of confidence and plow right on through any opposition. (See any successful orb running zerg for a good example, folks tend to throw themselves at the enemy in order to protect the orb runner, and conversely, people hellbent on destroying the orb runner may also fling themselves into certain death without worrying about the cost.)  Some are hesitant and full of individuals bent on self-preservation, rather than the achievement of a goal, and quickly break apart in all directions, fleeing with shattered morale in the face of more confident seeming opposition.

The real question, of course, is how to make the latter group more like the former.

A lot seems to hinge on good leadership. Sun Tzu’s Art of War is always a fun read, as he talks about the importance of always having a strategic plan of attack and all warfare being based on a deception. It’s painfully obvious that Isle of Janthir is still lacking such a focus at times as the point score gets run away with, now and then, but well, since I’m not prepared to sacrifice my time or life to be commander-ing anything, I will shut up armchair general-ing and just wait patiently for such leaders to emerge.

(We have some, we’re not completely bereft, but apparently the more definitely hardcore servers are arranging crazy shit like scheduling commanders at all hours of a day. That may be a bit too crazy for IoJ to ever contemplate, in which case, we will have to settle with being where we are and come to accept that we choose to balance our WvW game time with other things of import.)

But morale is also contingent on good communication and the teamwork/trust bond between individuals until they feel like part of something greater than themselves.

In this, I think every individual has a part they can play if they so choose. We can practice reporting sightings of enemy servers by how many there are (roughly), which server and what location. We can learn the locations that are being referenced. We can learn the maps, all the nooks and crannies. We can work on improving our play, our gear/stats/skills/traits.

And we can teach. Or just talk out loud and mention obvious things like “remember to take supply” even though we sound like a broken record, because it may not be obvious at all to someone just joining WvW for the first time. Given the number of casual players playing GW2 and just hitting the mid and high levels that may make them feel brave enough to step into WvW, they may still be figuring things out.

It’s not easy, certainly. I don’t really like to say anything aloud if there’s no plan. Take supply for what, if we’re not going to siege anywhere? And there’s the fear of rejection aka wild n00b l33tspeak attack frenzy, but maybe others feel less inhibited.

I do tells and whispers fine though. Perhaps I can work on that.

I sent a tell once to a random person who was looking for the entrance to the jumping puzzle, he had trouble finding it and I took him there. He was grateful and it made me feel warm and fuzzy. Then I sent a tell offering to sight for another person who seemed to having trouble aiming a treb and it was like speaking into a black hole. A simple “no” would have sufficed, but maybe the person didn’t even know how to reply. *sighs*

I also sent a tell to a guy operating a ballista who was blowing up trebs that I couldn’t seem to target for the life of me, and asked how the heck he was doing it. He was nice enough to tell me to click the bottom of the treb to target it, and while it still seemed ridiculously far and impossible to target (were my graphics settings the problem?), I’ll be working on improving that part of my game the next time. So this stuff goes both ways.

We have to eventually create an atmosphere where it’s okay to talk to each other and ask stupid questions and teach each other. It’s really hard when we’re working uphill against the solo in an MMO – WoW Barrens chat abuse impulse, but if we don’t work on it, then it will be no one’s fault but ours that we’re standing alone. Time will tell, I guess.

If there’s a good lesson to be learnt from WvW and PvP, it’s how to be patient, persistent and pick oneself up when one falls down. Keep trying. Keep fighting the good fight.

(And no, that does not mean look straight ahead and target nearest enemy. You get flanked that way. Please pick up some situational awareness. Please…)

I’m referring to a social fight, an organization fight, a strategic fight, a community fight.

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3 thoughts on “GW2: Morale and The Psychology of Losing

  1. Great post – I’m featuring it over at the Melting Pot today.

  2. [...] had a nice piece about the effects of moral during WvW and I had never really thought about it like that but now it makes soo much sense, you can see the [...]

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