On Fantasy and Reality (and Violence?)

A million stories tell us that woods are magic places... what the cat with a giant sword on fire is doing there, I dont know...

From as early on as I can remember, I have always grown up with the fantastic.

80s cartoons like “He-Man, Masters of the Universe,”  “The Centurions,” “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” “Transformers” and their attendant advertisements were always an important part of my childhood.

Were they violent?

Well, they did involve lots of battles against villains, and a truckload of laser blasts and rocket explosions.

A dozen years on, a class project involved another group of classmates who gleefully projected the number of laser shots fired and explosions and so on in just one episode of X-Men.

I think their count was somewhere in the 80-100 number range.

From there, I think they were trying to make some kind of point about how media influences our lives and our perceptions, and linking cartoon violence to real violence – you know, that thing that has been going on with video games and violence for the past dozen years now.

I remember being ridiculously skeptical because my biggest take-home from watching entire SEASONS worth of X-Men was that discrimination of the mutant or the outsider for the color of their skin (or how many arms they had) was unfair and hurtful.

This was also the same class project where my own group attempted to belittle Xena: Warrior Princess for being demeaning to women by camera angles that always insisted on a boob shot before panning to the face.

A couple of years later, the advent of popular internet revealed to our general knowledge how feminists and lesbian groups were praising the show for not shying away from using two females as their main characters and passing the Bechdel Test with flying colors… so you might indeed want to treat our adolescent attempts at matching our teacher’s assigned theme with a hefty helping of salt grains.

These days, I think adults too often project their own fears and interpretations onto the kids themselves.

Has anyone ever asked the children what they’re thinking?

One such person that did is Gerard Jones, author of “Killing Monsters: Why Children Need Fantasy, Super-Heroes, and Make-Believe Violence” and he goes on to say:

It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that young people emulate literally what they see in entertainment. That if they like a rapper who insults gays, then they must be learning hostility to gays, and if they love a movie hero who defeats villainy with a gun, then they must be learning to solve problems with violence. There is some truth in that. One of the functions of stories and games is to help children rehearse for what they’ll be in later life. Anthropologists and psychologists who study play, however, have shown that there are many other functions as well – one of which is to enable children to pretend to be just what they know they’ll never be. Exploring, in a safe and controlled context, what is impossible or too dangerous or forbidden to them is a crucial tool in accepting the limits of reality. Playing with rage is a valuable way to reduce its power. Being evil and destructive in imagination is a vital compensation for the wildness we all have to surrender on our way to being good people.

In focusing so intently on the literal, we overlook the emotional meaning of stories and images. The most peaceful, empathetic, conscientious children are often excited by the most aggressive entertainment. Young people who reject violence, guns and bigotry in every form can sift through the literal contents of a movie, game, or song and still embrace the emotional power at its heart. Children need to feel strong. They need to feel powerful in the face of a scary, uncontrollable world. Superheroes, video-game warriors, rappers, and movie gunmen are symbols of strength. By pretending to be them, young people are being strong.

Adults, however, often react to violent images very differently – and in the gap between juvenile and adult reactions, some of our greatest misunderstandings and most damaging disputes are born. Soon after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, many toy retailers reported sharp increases in sales of G.I. Joe and other militaristic toys. But some of those same retailers also began pulling such toys from the shelves, largely in response to parents’ requests. Newspaper stories reported that many parents were forbidden violent toys and entertainment in their homes as a reaction to the tragedy. One mother said she’d hidden her sons’ toy soldiers because “It’s bad enough that they see the Army in the airport.”

Many of us worried about how we would help children deal with the terror of September 11, but when I went into the classrooms, I found that the children were far less shaken than their parents and teachers. Most of them talked about the horrific images they’d seen with a mixture of anger and excitement – and a lot of them wanted to draw pictures, tell stories, or play games involving planes destroying buildings or soldiers fighting terrorists. This isn’t a failure to react appropriately to tragedy: this is how children deal with it. When something troubles them, they have to play with it until it feels safer….

…Adults are generally more empathetic, more attuned to the greater world, and more literalistic than children. We are more likely to feel the pain and anxiety caused by real violence when we see it in make-believe. It troubles us to see our kids having fun with something we deplore. We fear that they are celebrating or affirming a horror that we desperately want to banish from reality. We want them to mirror our adult restraint, seriousness, compassion and pacifism. But they can’t – and shouldn’t – mimic adult reactions. Play, fantasy, and emotional imagination are essential tools of the work of childhood and adolescence.

If any of the above makes sense, I encourage you to take a browse through the actual book itself, recall and think about your own childhood and come to your own conclusions.

Personally, Gerard Jones’ words resonate a lot with me.

I remember my favorite daydream, an elaborate saga that would go on in repetitive vein fueled by the latest plotlines of the week’s cartoons and whatever books I’d read. I was a god on a spaceship.

My house was my spaceship. I’d jump onto the sofa and it’ll become the comfortable control center for taking off to the next planet or magical plane of existence. The balcony was the viewport, and of course, the spaceship had plenty of laser guns and was so shielded by godly power that it could dive into the sun and come out again.

As for godhood, I had to be, because gods are powerful, you know? They can do anything they want.

Except you know, gods also had powerful enemies, so there was a very fair share of getting weakened by a Kryptonite equivalent and getting captured. He, of course, had friends to rescue him from these perpetual predicaments. Godly disciples yanked out of the latest books to capture my imagination.

I don’t remember all of them, but I know the first was Lord Mhoram – out of the Stephen R. Donaldson Chronicles of Thomas Convenant series.

(Yeah, that series that has an anti-protagonist that dared to commit the r-word. I don’t think I even understood that part as a kid, just glossed over what I didn’t understand at the time.

All I knew was that I wasn’t at all impressed with the craven Covenant, and that Lord Mhoram was so much more a wise and active figure that he became my hero and favorite character of the series. Try as I might, through repeated attempts over the years, I could never properly get through the Second Chronicles after the series moved on past the age of the Lords.

I wince to think about what kind of trauma I might have suffered, if anyone had pulled the books out of my hands as a kid and told me not to read the dang things because OMG RAPE.)

Lord Mhoram was simply my wizard figure. He worked for me, because I was a god, you know – that standard narcissistic center of the universe reasoning that children often enjoy. He’d give advice and lead the rest when the god was otherwise (and frequently) disabled or incapacitated and get me out of a million and one scrapes.

I was a bit of a precocious kid, by the way. My mother tells me I was reading by the age of two. Something I naturally don’t remember but would credit her patience and willingness to teach and read with me till I picked up the habit.

Enid Blyton was entertaining me before and through the first years of primary school – groups of five kid adventurers (always five, for some reason) who would visit incredible places and solve mysteries that stumped adults, a fantastic tree that two kids would climb and enter lands of make-believe, often filled with delicious food, and so on.

From youth, libraries were exciting places, and I’d soon find myself exhausting the children’s section and wound up nestled away in a magic Dewey Decimal System number somewhere past 100 and just before the 400s (the Sciences, from which I’d also borrow tons of plant and animal books.)

Whoever thought to put Folklore in the 390s was a genius.

It was an eclectic mix of only two shelves or so, but I patiently worked my way through as many as I could decipher. Tales of 1001 Arabian Nights – a humongous tome that I’d never quite get to the end of, before running out of library borrowing time, tales of greek and roman myths and gods, tales of the devil and ol’ Nick and the common man taking them on.

The second disciple of my long and extensive imaginary childhood construct was Lord Aragorn.

Of course. How you can have geek cred if you didn’t read Lord of the Rings, eh?

My father shared his well-worn browned and very thumbed through copy with me, when he realized I was reading a bunch of folklore and fantasy epics from said library.

The first page contained his signature, a black ink scribble running to purple and green from the passage of time, with a date marked before I was born, to say when he bought the book. Marking a book like that was quite unthinkable to me at the time, but I found it fascinating anyway, to realize that my dad had a past that existed before I had even existed, and that this book was older than I was.

Naturally, the hobbits were too modest a hero to idolize when you’re young and small yourself, and my wizard needed a warrior to do the melee fighting, right?

Who better, than Strider himself?

(Sorry, Gandalf, Lord Mhoram’s cooler than you. You can come and play a bit part and guest star in my cartoon, no problems. Plenty of plotlines of the week.)

Sadly, I don’t remember the third any more, and I knew the fourth was a purely imaginary character that joined up with the group later, a sort of karate fighter that I named Tiger Khan (from glomming together a cool word and Ghengis Khan – don’t ask, I don’t know how it got created in my head either. Watching Karate Kid and Eye of the Tiger movies, perhaps?)

I’m sure there was PLENTY of play and pretend fighting through the storylines. I had my share of plastic swords and Super-Soaker Blaster types to use, after all.

When I played with LEGO, it was castles and knights, and then subsequently pirates. Much pirates. Pirates upon pirates.

I had two ships, and they’d clash forever, with cannons blazing and crew clambering aboard the opposing ship, lots of cutlass swinging and stabbing, little yellow figurines going into the water and getting sheared in half with only the tops remaining visible on the floor (“HALP! WE’RE DROWNING!”) while the two pirate captains would smirk and pet their red and yellow parrots with their hooks and stop by the local fortress to jail their captives. (Cue rescue mission later.)

Try as I might, I simply don’t remember a time when I wasn’t aware that all my fantasies were exactly that. Just pretend. They weren’t real.

All they were, were simple joyous escapism. They were a place where exciting adventures could happen, in contrast with real life and grades upon grades. A place where one could feel powerful and in control, where kids are often just the opposite in reality, acted on by adults who had more authority.

The emotional content was the real reward, not whatever wrapping lay around it – be it sci-fi or medieval fantasy or cowboy western or supernatural fantasy.

Even then, I’d probably look pityingly on an adult that somehow got this confused.

When I was around 11, one teacher of mine took one look at the -cover- of the Blood Sword gamebook I had brought to school, The Battlepits of Krarth, that sported a slimy looking horror monster. Without even reading the contents, she did a double-take, took me and my friends aside and gave us a serious heart-to-heart talk about how satanic and dangerous ‘roleplaying games’ were, while we looked bemusedly at each other and tried to explain what an adventure gamebook was, and this particular volume’s foundings in folklore – she was an English/literature teacher.

Fortunately, confiscating student property on trumped up charges wasn’t a thing in those days, so I got to keep my book. Our entire class did get to sit through a Christianity video she brought to school after that, where we blinked amusedly at caricatures of American kids who dressed up in wizard robes, carried D&D books as a prop, and tried to sacrifice cats and summon Satan. Naturally, one kid saw the light of God and defeated the evil Game Master or something of that nature.

Leslie Fish – Gamers (As she says, I really wonder and worry about these people who think a game is real)

It makes me wonder why and how we come to differentiate the real and the fantastic.

Maybe the secularity of my upbringing helped?

Maybe it was just what my parents taught me?

I dunno. My mom believes in Catholicism, but she never imposed that belief on me or anyone else.

My father believes in UFOs. (Or at least thinks they could be a very real possibility. Why not? Is his line of thinking. He’s never really heard of Occam’s Razor.)

It’s especially ironic that we had a screaming argument when I was in my rebellious teenage years and I almost threw a punch at him (my only attempted real world violence against another person, only held in check by my mother. Thank you, mom) because he thought my highly valued comic book and roleplaying game collection indicated that I was lost in a world of fantasy and wanted to throw them out to ‘force’ me to live in the real world.

All I was really thinking of at the time was how much -real life- dollars that collection had cost me, how impossible it would be to find copies of them again, and how unfair it was that he had a roomful of DVDs (many of them with fantastic themes) while I apparently couldn’t be allowed to maintain a collection of what I enjoyed, because he specifically didn’t understand what they were, and feared what he didn’t understand?

My mom talked us down and the incident blew over. Logic prevailed over tempers.

Maybe, ultimately, I have to credit books and my mother for teaching me how to read them, so I could think for myself.

Googling up “how people distinguish real and fantastic” brought up this article about children’s beliefs in fantasy and magic and how theatrical plays may have an impact:

What might account for the age differences in children’s understanding of the reality-fantasy distinction? Anne Hickling at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and I have proposed that a number of different factors contribute to children learning what can really happen in the world, and what cannot. The first is increased knowledge. The more knowledge children acquire about objects in the world and their causal mechanisms, the better able they are to distinguish real from unreal events. A second factor is parental input and encouragement.

Knowledge is key.

Reading is the key to knowledge.

Or rather, exposure to information, with parental encouragement, rather than repression of what adults fear.

This post is a lot more personal than you’d usually see from me. Think of it as my little sort of Blaugust contribution, in the spirit of things, even if I really don’t intend to do daily posts or share too much personal stuff in my gaming blog.

It was written as a sort of response to Aggro Range’s “Rated M for Mommy” post. It’s not a criticism of any kind of parenting – I believe all parents have the right to do as they see fit for their particular household and context – but the story of the kid that had a screaming tantrum when he wasn’t allowed to play Call of Duty got to me a little.

I don’t know the context, if this kid really believes terrorists are going to come to get him and everybody else, if he couldn’t shoot them before they could, that really suggests something has gone awry with his ability to distinguish the real from the fantastic. Or maybe it’s just the only way he can cope with the reality that his oldest brother is facing real danger, to shoot pretend terrorists and exorcise the fear demons haunting him by doing it in a safe environment.

The whole patriotism jibe is not cool, of course. Seems to be a trend in conservative America now to accuse anyone with differing viewpoints of not being ‘patriotic.’ That’s a kind of groupthink that can easily lead to more dystopian scenarios – as reading or watching sci-fi stuff might teach.

The corresponding impulse to ban and prohibit games or media in response is personally worrisome to me.

It strikes me that forbidden fruit tastes the sweetest, and that repressing and bottling up things without discussing them might just lead to infernos of rage or strong emotion that people don’t know how to handle later, if they haven’t had prior practice, with smaller emotions, in make-believe.

I am not going to impose this view on anyone, or say that there’s only one way of doing things, or that things SHOULD be this way or no other, because reality doesn’t work like that.

There can be multiple solutions to a problem that all work, and plenty of people have grown up with all kinds of parenting and turned out perfectly healthy individuals.

But I do hope this post makes all of you think a little, and explore different perspectives, and decide for yourselves, rather than indulge in knee-jerk reactions or go along with what the mass media tells us.

I leave you with this adorable cute video of a father playing Dark Souls 2… with his admirably precocious three year daughter, who also plays Portal 2:

That MMO “Feeling” – What’s Missing? A Purpose? What’s My Motivation?

Destiny's Edge + 1

Ever had a thought that just refuses to lay down and die?

It rattles around in your brain, tossing and turning, gnawing and worrying while you spend days trying to pin it down and articulate it to some degree.

It began with Syl’s post about a lack of purpose in our MMOs of today.

There was something to it, especially in regards to Landmark needing to link some kind of functionality and give reasons to do their various activities (for certain subsets of players anyway, who don’t seem to find the existing framework motivating enough), but it sounded… off. Not quite right. Especially when extrapolated in a general sense.

Further questioning in the comments revealed that Syl meant something like a “shared purpose.” A united vision, a commonality of purpose across players, to work hand-in-hand towards… something.

Be it taking down a raid boss together, or perhaps contributing towards building a project in Glitch (RIP Glitch :( ) or a monument in a Tale in the Desert, or maybe even Tarnished Coast and Jade Quarry’s dastardly goal of making sure Blackgate doesn’t just easy mode cruise into a WvW Season 2 win. :P

Then it continued on across various Reddit and forum posts trying to express why some players really want to like GW2 but can’t seem to deal with the leveling process.

There’s no reason for it, they say. No purpose. Something’s missing, and it’s just not lack of direction or guidance. They’re running from one point of interest to another, connecting the dots, but somehow feeling disconnected with the world. Like there’s no story for the players to be the center of and our characters just wind up around the periphery clearing wasps and helping groups of NPCs do something or other.

Personally, I never had that problem when the game first launched. Everything was new and shiny and unfamiliar. There was something AWESOME to see around every corner, and something novel and cool to discover. Even after hitting level 80, I held back on 100% world completion for a long time because I was terrified by the thought of officially consuming all the content and making the world familiar. Known. Habitual. Boring.

In the lull between Living Story seasons, I have been taking my time and leveling a charr engineer the old fashioned way. While I’m still having no problems keeping apace with levels, probably because I kill everything and am not above popping a food and wrench (20%), and occasionally a 50% XP booster to go with the 18% account bonus from achievements, I started feeling…

…what’s the word… Bored, maybe.

Like something was missing.

In my case, I suspected that I was meta-gaming way too much. I’ve seen all these maps before, several times. I know their schtick and what the NPCs are up to in each of them. I could probably find each jumping puzzle entrance unaided by a wiki, going from memory alone. The personal story from the orders on is SO SO DONE before.

Always on my mind is the possibility that I could log in on one of five other level 80s to do something -else-, and by god, are there a lot of something -elses- to do in GW2 – world bosses, TTS runs, WvW, a dungeon, gather or farm stuff, etc.

Except that I’ve also repeated a bunch of these activities… if they’re not quite to the point of being nauseating, they’re at least to the point of “having been done before.”

Strangely enough, a temporary cure for this malaise was serendipitously found when I saw the “Fear Not This Night” video and decided to watch a series of all its Youtube variants in the other screen while I went around leveling.

Between the stirring music and watching all the fantastical cutscenes and incredible art and rekindling that sense of potential GW2 had when it was new, I think I recreated some of that sense of wonder and awe that I personally CRAVE like a thirsting man needs water.

theworldisjustawesome

I started feeling more like a hero, more immersed into the world again, rather than my character acting as Tool #6 for Future Experimentation with AoE Spam in WvW and Condi Builds in PvP.

There was still one more thing missing though.

And this was where I really started missing the Living Story. It was -hard- to find a story, a linear narrative that my character could get involved in.

In GW1, this was front and center. Every story mission you went on, there was this one big overarcing story that we traced.

In GW2, the stories are fractured and scattered. Yes, I could chase the Personal Story. It’s the most linear narrative we have. It’s spread out geographically though, and with level gaps that enforce pauses and breaks in between.

I could do dungeons and follow Destiny’s Edges’ story – assuming I don’t get kicked out of impatient PUGs for daring to watch cutscenes – but again, the story is broken up by dungeons and levels. Anyway, we know the story. They squabble a lot. Our character tells them they’re being idiots. They eventually wise up, kiss and make up.

The open world itself has teeny tiny storylets that are unfortunately caught in time. They’re interesting, no doubt. I enjoy the Fields of Ruin for instance, the tension between the charr and the humans and the peace treaty and the characters that are still clinging on or struggling to get rid of old prejudices. But we can’t progress those stories in any meaningful fashion.

A narrative needs a beginning, middle and end. A line. Not a closed circle that continuously loops.

So I end up stuck waiting for the Living Story – our last, best hope for narrative in GW2.

Thing is, what’s missing for me, may not what’s be missing for you.

Which led to a fevered attempt to brainstorm motivations and reasons for why people play MMOs.

(Which has, of course, been attempted multiple times by others – some far more scientifically than me.)

In no particular order:

  • To feel like a hero – to be at the center of a story, or to be unique or stand out in some fashion, via prestigious cool-looking armor perhaps?
  • To feel like one is improving oneself, eg. via increasing stats or levels, or demonstrating competency via overcoming challenges
  • To be validated or acknowledged by one’s peers, eg. earning social respect via leadership or game skill, defeating others in a competition, etc.
  • To experience a shared purpose, commonality of goal, ‘teamwork’
  • For self-expression – customisation of a character and its looks, or to tell a story or build a home or express creativity in some other form
  • To experience a microcosm of life – MMO as a ‘flight simulator’ of life, test running and learning life lessons about social relationships and interacting with people within the game (a role also fulfilled by reading fiction or otherwise experiencing stories)
  • To feel like one is in a world – interconnectedness, have real people be doing stuff all around you or roleplaying, playing someone you’re not
  • To experience constant change and bursts of novelty, “new content”
  • To discover and learn new things
  • To master mechanics and optimize for efficiency
  • To experience a story – which segues nicely into the dev-created narrative or player-created narrative debate
  • To experience emotions, such as awe and wonder from seeing fantastic landscapes or large-scaled monsters in comparison to yourself (see WoW raid bosses and Shadow of the Colossus), or triumph and victory from defeating a difficult challenge, or a sense of belonging via falling in with a community of like-minded people

I’m sure there’s more.

And of course I noticed that a bunch of these were overlapping, so to speak, and I struggled to try and categorize them in some fashion.

We could fall back on Nick Yee’s main categories of Achievement, Social and Immersion.

Things to do with advancement, power, ambition, improving of self, mechanics and efficiency, perhaps competition might fall under Achievement.

Anything to do with belonging, relationships, player interaction, shared goals, teamwork and cooperation, perhaps even competition might fall under Social.

Immersion being the grab bag that then covers things like escapism, wonder, awe, curiosity, discovery, story-seeking.

Though we end up with a last hanging thread that I might end up terming as Self-Expression – being creative, enjoying customisation, being unique, storytelling and roleplaying (which overlaps onto Immersion), standing out (which overlaps back onto Achievement)

But then I noticed that maybe, just maybe… there was something even more universal at play here.

Note the many repeats of words like “feel” or “experience” or the various emotions that get named.

We say we play a game “for fun.”

We know that this “fun” means different things to different people, and we keep struggling to neatly delineate even more and more subcategories of “fun” in an attempt to get at what we’re really after.

Perhaps we’re really playing a game to feel -something.-

Preferably not boredom.

Many don’t like to feel anger or frustration in their games, but a few others do crave some of those negative emotions, if only to make the opposite emotion the sweeter when it finally arrives after a long struggle.

Different people crave certain feelings over others.

Different games feed certain feelings over others.

(GW2, as is, is pretty good in the Achievement and Social and Self-Expression categories – they keep pushing those agendas anyway, with a stress on cooperation and community organization rather than competition or elitist domination – but they’re kind of dropping the ball on the Immersion one and I think we’re seeing some of the repercussions in the recurring complaints about stories, lore, new zones, lack of caring about roleplaying, etc.)

If we end up feeling nothing or an overall lack of excitement in a game, that apathy becomes a problem which seems to eventually lead to the game being dropped.

Thing is, who’s in control here of our own emotions?

Do developers have a responsibility to entertain and feed us some of these emotions via their game design, since we’re choosing to play their game, after all?

Will it work if we ourselves are determined to not feel anything, having already been there and done that?

Perhaps an awareness that these things are in play is what we need to cross that divide of feeling and not-feeling.

At any time, perhaps we should be picking and choosing to play games (and do activities within a game) that do reward us with the feelings we’re craving.

It’s not a one-time life choice, after all.

We can swap them in and out like watching a comedy movie when we want to laugh and watching a horror movie when we want to be scared and thrilled.

We just need to remember to do it.

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.