ATITD: The Psychology of the Pilgrimage

This has not been an easy post to write.

Like survivors of the aftermath of a game of Neptune’s Pride, I find myself wrestling with negative emotions and a gnawing feeling of unease in the pit of my gut.

It’s probably why I’ve jumped back into Guild Wars 2 lately, in an effort to escape the guilt. It’s taken a few days to try and put things into perspective.

Have you ever been benched? Put aside for another player?

Gone around? Had folks do stuff behind your back?

Betrayed? Backstabbed?

The damnable thing about the Test of the Pilgrimage in A Tale in the Desert is that you require a total of seven characters, no more and no less, to do something in-game for roughly an hour or more.

What that something is, is not really relevant, but I’ll describe it anyway. The seven pilgrims bring requested resources to pilgrim shrines set up by other players, in order to tithe (donate/give) them to those players. This accrues points. The highest scoring team at the end of each week passes the Test.

If you are less dedicated to test-passing, you can opt to just finish the Principles, which only requires that your team score 700 points, and nets you a level.

A slight complication arises in that each pilgrim shrine, which has to be 600 coordinates apart from each other (a pretty long jog) in order to be valid and score you the points.

Early on in the Telling, when the most competitive players are out to outdo each other and level up the fastest (which gets them a heads up on technology and skills and easier test passes for other things,) a pilgrimage can be quite a long and grueling affair.

Many teams are in the running, and there are a number of strategies used to eke out a slight point advantage so as to pass weeks before another team. This can involve tithing extra rounds (assuming one has the materials) for a diminishing return of point score. One tithe nets you 100 points. Two tithes at the same shrine nets you 150 points. Three tithes 175, four 187 and so on.

Or a team can get members to set up their own private pilgrim shrines and keep them secret and off the wiki, so that other teams cannot find them and tithe at them, while their team does so and gets extra points. (Except those pilgrim shrines require marble to build, so that opens a whole new kettle of busywork.)

Or teams can simply do herculean routes of pilgrimage and run together for hours across endless roads and sands of Egypt to get to every last scrap of a shrine there is, and outlast the stamina of teams that are unwilling to or cannot stay on long enough to recreate the same feat.

Assuming one can afford all requested materials to begin with. If the pilgrim shrine asks for materials that one cannot afford, one is out of the running for that shrine in the first place.

Those are all the technical game-design rule considerations.

The more sneaky social aspect is that it’s pretty hard to get seven disparate players online at the same time and coordinated enough to go anywhere together. It’s like arranging a dinner meetup with a big group of not-very-close friends, like classmates or something. There’s always one or two bound to be late, or one that simply doesn’t show up or arrive at the same time.. cat herding stuff.

In hindsight, I made the first mistake. I tried to form a PUG pilgrimage.

I would never have done that if it was the early part of a Telling. I would have found reliable friends that were always online during the times I play, and raised the question with them, and done it with as little ‘outsiders’ as possible.

However, at this late stage of the game, I’d imagined there was no more competition and no more interest in the Test. All the groups that wanted to must have passed by now. For a good many weeks past, there were zero pilgrim groups passing – essentially a ‘gimme’ for any team that scored any amount of points.

Furthermore, most of all my friends and veterans that I was familiar with had stopped playing. Not to mention, probably already passed.

At this stage in the Tale though, nearly all materials are ridiculously easy to obtain to the point where I could essentially sponsor the entire group’s resource list by myself, and it wouldn’t have to be that onerous, we could just ride around Egypt’s chariots and go for the nearest shrines without running too far.

Filled with a benevolent confidence, I thought I’d just ask over an essentially public chat channel if anyone would like to join and take pretty much the first six people that responded.

That was a big fucking error on my part.

Not because I’d stir up interest and put ideas into many peoples’ heads and possibly create additional competition where there was none before. I knew it might happen. And I was okay with that. I figured there aren’t twenty one people left in a game that only has some 300 odd players that still want to pass pilgrimage. Even if my team didn’t pass this week because another more hardworking team overtook them, there was always next week or the next after that. ATITD’s a long term kind of game anyway.

Not because I might have to turn away extra people, and possibly leave them feeling benched or rejected or basically passed up for the baseball or basketball game. I didn’t design the test. It’s a mean test. Seven. No more, no less. I need one more. You’re the seventh, sorry, you can’t bring your friend along. Don’t want to do it without your friend? No problems, I’ll find another, no hard feelings, good luck with your friend and the other team you’re bound to form, I’ll send you other peoples’ names who have contacted me too, but I had to turn away.

Yeah, I know I was creating competition for myself. Yes, I was experiencing an odd sort of cognitive dissonance about the fact. Yes, I was trying to brush it off and try not to mind it, despite some bits of my obsessive-compulsive win-at-all-costs Achiever nature screeching that it was an illogical thing to do. Remember, I’m trying to be its master, not let it rule me.

No, I made the exceptionally critical mistake of assuming trustworthiness, reliability of log-on time and shared priorities among strangers I’d previously never met.

And they the same in me.

To be honest, it -usually- doesn’t steer me wrong. I like to think good, positive things about other people. I find folks tend to respond in kind. Trust them first, smile at them and the natural response is to reciprocate.

However, I do follow game theory and the Prisoner’s Dilemma and tend to subscribe somewhat to the Tit-for-Tat strategy if cooperating first doesn’t yield cooperation in return. That’s the head talking. The heart? Well, it kinda exploded. Once in a blue moon, I have hot-button volcanic rage issues.

It all started well. We talked, exchanged broad timezones for scheduling purposes, expressed interest in getting the pilgrimage done. One person wanted to delay for a few days for some real life concerns. Okay, I thought, there’s still some five days to go before test passes are run, we can work with that.

Another person kindly made a guild hall for us. This opens up a shared chat channel. Remember, in ATITD, anyone can join multiple guilds and often do. A shared chat would make things easier to coordinate and I could post proposed timings for all to see.

Two days passed. Real life days.

Three people still had not joined the guild.

Three people did not have the courtesy to speak one single word to me about why they could not do such a simple thing.

It did not bode well for the actual concept of being logged-in together for an hour to achieve the pilgrimage.

I checked their log-ins and all of them had logged in at least once each day during those two real life days. It wasn’t as if there was some real life emergency that stopped them logging in to the game. If they aren’t logged in, of course, I would understand that it’s physically impossible for them to join the shared chat channel.

But they were.

So they were online. Doing other things. Not considering the pilgrim group important enough or worth enough respect to even offer a word of excuse or explanation or hell, conversation.

I spoke with the person who made the guild for us, and he too, was unable to get any response out of them – in fact, one closed the chat window on him – until finally, on the second day, one of the recalcitrants gave in to the nagging and joined. His flippant excuse? Living too far away from the guild hall, and not wanting to waste the 25 minutes it would take to get there.

Apparently helping the group get organized was not worth that amount of time to him.

By now, my paranoia was in full swing. I was starting to imagine worst-case scenarios, which included things like those three members having gone on their own pilgrimage and all this being an elaborate deceit to stall us from even attempting ours until they had passed theirs.

The two missing members, who were related, and friends of abovementioned recalcitrant third seemed to have a new excuse every day for being absent and unable to join the guild. Day 1, it was a test to study for. Day 2, a friend in the hospital. Day 3, guests over. Yet, they had logged in every day.

Despite my misgivings, I pressed on and decided to schedule a time, chatting our absent members about it.

Here, I’ll admit that I didn’t give MUCH warning time. It was only about 10 hours away. But I was in a hurry, and new priorities had come up. I’d just been accepted into a big GW2 guild and there were Guild Bounty missions I wanted to attend on the weekend, rather than sit around in Egypt hoping on the offchance that these people might show up online.

That third person said it would be fine. He was online all the time, so could do it any time. He was sure that was within his two friends’ regular play times. We could go ahead, sure.

The scheduled time came, and you guessed it. The two weren’t online. The third wasn’t there. The third’s excuse? “Oh, they have people over, I think. Guess we can’t do it then. I won’t be wasting the 25 minutes to come over.”

And you didn’t tell us earlier? Or attempt to reschedule?

You just let us wait until the time, turn up at the agreed-on meeting place, and THEN drop the bombshell on us when we ask?

Boiling over, seeing red and generally pissed off and supremely paranoid about the very strange behavior shown by the three, I promptly moved coldly, efficiently and ruthlessly to Plan B.

Which I also had in mind, so I’m not a complete angel. Just human. And possibly over-reacting.

Plan B was simple. Cut the three of them out of the group. Bring in replacements. It wasn’t as if they had shown much interest in JOINING the group in the first place.

Fortunately I had chosen a prime time, so there were plenty of spare names that I had been eyeing as potentially more reliable pilgrim goers. Out went the chats, and thankfully, back came very positive replies.

I had to communicate the new plans to the other members of the pilgrim group who were there – and up came one more complication. On learning that I would be cutting out the third guy and the two that weren’t online, the guild hall builder balked.

The third guy was a member of another of his guilds. He would hear no end of it from the third guy if he went without him. Choosing the path of virtue, he decided to opt out.

Sheesh. I really didn’t want to cause drama here, but you know, you do what you gotta do. I respected the fellow’s decision. In another life, I might have done the same. But I think I’ve just gotten cynical about how ATITD’s tests are designed to promote maximum conflict, competition and drama.

That, and I had the Zeigarnik Effect BAD.

What the hell is that, you ask? The Psychology of Video Games blog explains it here. It’s basically that intrusive, dissonant feeling you get from a task started, but not yet completed.

This “Zeigarnik effect” subsequently entered the psychology lexicon to describe how we tend to find it easier to recall a task –and the details surrounding it– when we feel like we have begun to undertake it, but been unable to complete it. Apparently we as humans don’t like it when we begin something and don’t finish it, and such circumstances create an internal tension and preoccupation with the task. Completing the task provides closure, release of the tension, and –not to put too technical a term on it– goodie feelie type feels.

I needed closure. An end to the feeling that I had been left hanging and dangling on the hook for two whole fucking days. And I didn’t really care whose fucking feelings I hurt anymore when the whole situation had essentially gotten FUBAR.

(I didn’t understand what was happening to me then. But it makes a whole hell a lot of sense after reading the above blog.)

Except, of course, it was not. I was still in control. I moved on to the next guy on my mental list of people to recruit, he responded, and voila, about several hours later than originally planned, the seven of us – half of us completely new people – finished what had originally been intended to be a short pilgrimage.

Mixed in with the feelings of relief at finally getting at least the principles done – there were still ways for the test pass to go wrong – was the feeling that I might have overrreacted and treated the three people somewhat crappily, and inadvertently caught the fourth as collateral in a negative emotion blast.

I tat exceedingly well.

Also, there was an underlying fear that my overall reputation may have taken a hit if people talk. (And I’m sure people gossip in Egpyt.)

Still, what’s done is done.

I sent all four parties who missed the group one last chat to briefly apologize for essentially doing the pilgrimage without them, sent them the remaining names on my mental list of ‘folks who might be interested in pilgrimage’ and wished them good luck.

(Enter brief spurt of fear and cognitive dissonance again that they might just outcompete me. Except I wasn’t trying to compete, so that was not a logical feeling to have.)

((Trying to outthink and not get sucked into the inherent design of these Tests can give one an aneurysm if one is not careful.))

God knows what they think of me, but I guess when human beings come together, sometimes people clash. It’ll be nice if everyone could be nice to everybody, but sometimes it’s just not possible. Fast, done, nice – pick two.

Lesson learned: No more trying to prearrange PUGs. Schedule with friends, or pick up PUGs then and there.


With an amazing display of irony, the virtuous builder contacted the names I gave him – two of which are a veteran player pair – and that veteran player, who is understandably a lot more hardworking and actively competitive than I – formed a pilgrim group that outscored mine this week.

I quite expected that to happen.

(I hate losing, but knowing how ugly a person I can get when out to unabashedly win, I have to keep learning to swallow the bitter pill and re-fucking-lax.)

The virtuous builder also tried to get the third guy included in the pilgrim group – but as fate would have it, other more closely related friends of the veteran player apparently got first dibs at the pilgrim slot.

Which makes me chuckle. And feel just slightly more vindicated.

Guess we’ll see what happens next week.

For now, I’m just happy that I no longer feel compelled to stay online waiting for people to log on – something very antithetical to my nature – and am back following no one’s schedule but my own.