Retrospective

If there’s one thing I would not have predicted, so many moons ago, it’s that raiding in GW2 would successfully kill my desire to blog.

Not in the usual “I hate raids” hermit-y grouch sense, mind you.

It was a combination of things:

  • Yes, there was the tension between the hypocrisy of continuing to raid…

(reasons: a) no Legendary armor alternative; b) the -need/craving- to see all content successfully completed; c) maintain network of -competent- players in one’s timezones for future content, outcasting = no more success, d) yeah, the challenge / puzzle inherent in difficult content is somewhat entertaining, even if the need for 9 other people’s schedules to coincide is not)

…while philosophically being opposed to the divide that raids create. (More on that later.)

  • There’s my chronic allergy to all things drama.

I had long ago resolved that I would never write in fine-grained detail about anything that happened (good or bad) in my raid group, or the people and personalities and politics and stories of any other raid group I heard about, for that matter.

The Oceanic/SEA community in any game is a pretty small one, and when you compress it down to people that want to raid, even -smaller-. The raid guild I’m in appears to have subsumed a fairly hefty majority of this population.

Hell, I would not be surprised to find a fair number of this group have experienced the same Age of Conan/Warhammer/Aion exodus as I, just spread across various guilds and organizations. Bottom line, this is a very tiny community. Hardcore players talk and know each other, stories can spread like wildfire.

Some people love gossip. That’s not wrong. I don’t. And I choose not to contribute to it.

This does, however, pose something of a challenge to writing when you’re consciously stifling a part of yourself and your experiences, editing before word is even laid out on the blank page, so to speak.

It may not have killed the idea muse, but it did steal some of the desire to even sit down and begin.

  • There was the lack of positive feelings about anything Guild Wars 2, or a desire to promote it by writing about it.

I don’t know if any of my readers were tired of it, but -I- was tiring -myself- with all the negativity and complaining.

So I tried the ol “if you don’t have anything good to say, don’t say anything at all” routine, and what do you know… I ended up not saying anything at all.

Whoops?

You know, I don’t even think it’s the game at this point. I am sure many many people are discovering GW2 and playing it at different phases in their life and are having tons of fun.

-I- just seem to have boarded the down escalator to the burnout basement, and am just about treading water by raiding once or twice a week and then dropping the game like a hot potato before the burn hits the third-degree.

I was pondering why this was the case all throughout November and December, hoping to develop it into some kind of blog revelation. I did actually figure out -something- fairly revelatory, which is that…

  • The divide in GW2 has gone too deep. I can’t really relate to the current community. I don’t feel like a part of it anymore. This causes disassociation, from almost everything GW2.

In nearly every Reddit thread about GW2 lately, there is this constant conflict of “no, you’re wrong” sentiment from people in different camps.

I’m sick of it.

I don’t even care what the two camps support or hate any more. I just wish they’d stop sniping at each other all the damn time.

Except, of course, they won’t.

So the only way I’m not going to see any of their crap is to stop reading and stop participating in the community.

Hey, it works for me. It works for the argumentative guys. Maybe it doesn’t work for the devs, or maybe it does, but you know what, it’s none of my damn business.

So I’ve mostly stopped commenting on the GW2 Reddit, besides the odd craving to dispense sage advice to newbie questions or upvote-whoring sarcasm/jokes from time to time. I spread out and lurk in other friendlier Reddits and enjoy reading those posts instead.

On a less complaining but still worriedly alienating note, eavesdropping on much of my raid guild’s Telegram conversations (ie. a third party messaging app) also brought home some important thoughts to consider. Mostly, they ran along the lines of:

These are nice people, but these are not -my- people.

Let me explain. Age is a big factor. In the endless scrolling conversations of short pithy phrases, 90% of them Twitch memes or spamming of emojis (Telegram calls ’em Stickers, apparently), it is relentlessly brought home to me that I don’t get it, I don’t have the cultural context for this, we have moved from the age of the Millenials to Generation Z.

Being a cusper, I can usually get to grips with various generational tendencies without really 100% identifying with them, but you know, Gen Z has me beat. I have no idea what they’re saying half of the time. They’d rather use voice chat over the microphone than type anyway; reading is hard and text is for sticker spam.

That I can communicate enough to raid successfully with them is already a pretty hefty accomplishment, with a lot of generosity and goodwill extended across generation borders. (Hey, plenty of other groups will say, no mic=no join us, and so on.)

Then there’s time. Gen Z is in college. (Granted, half or more of my particular raid group is working, so we may be slightly older than average.) No, duh, why should we be surprised that the people with the most interest in raiding can spare (and spend) heaps of time in a game due to their real life circumstances?

I thought I played GW2 at a fairly hardcore level. The amount of time some of the people I eavesdrop on spend in-game boggles my mind. Not judging, mind you. I’ve had my heavy hardcore months in four years of GW2.

But lately, it’s just seeing other people do it that put a mirror in front of my eyes and the growing sentiment inside me is that I don’t want to spend -that- many hours in this particular game any longer, because I have other interesting priorities that would be shoved to the wayside if I did.

And there’s mindset. Challenge-seeking, continual improvement, competitiveness, optimal min-maxing, unsoweiter. Not everyone who raids is on one extreme – which is good, because otherwise I’d never get a spot.

There’s a spectrum. There’s people like me that espouse the above just long enough to break whatever necessary threshold there is to hit success before satisficing, and then there are the maximizers who never ever goddamn stop. (And those sprinkled in the middle, of course.)

Needless to say, satisficer and maximizer mindsets do not mix terribly well. I get where the maximizers are coming from, there’s a certain joy from doing what they do; it’s just that they do fail to understand now and again that others don’t share the same time or priorities as they – or perhaps they do, and they’re just willing to eliminate those others from consideration in their narrowing search to optimize further. Who knows. “Not my people”, so talk remains at a professional / acquaintance level.

For those reasons and more, November/December for me was spent in a sort of low-level gaming crisis of faith. I kept hoping for some kind of revelation to blog about, while experimenting in various directions.

Something did eventually come together, but strangely enough, I didn’t feel like I had the energy or motivation to blog about it until today, on New Year’s Eve.

It’s a combination of a few small-scale revelations, really:

  • Guild Wars 2 has become just another game among many. I don’t want it to be my life any more, aka not my “primary” game or MMO.
  • I may, in fact, give up “primary” game thoughts in order to visit more of my game backlog. Dunno. It may be just “play what I feel like” any given month and if something becomes primary that month, so be it.
  • I was getting really antsy about having too many tasks I wanted to do on my plate, and wishing that they were all magically done and complete without having to spend the time. An impatient pipe dream, yes. I needed to somehow resolve this so I could stop driving myself nuts.
  • Patient gaming is a thing. I ran into this concept idly trawling through Reddit – there’s a whole subreddit of patient gamers. They use the term mostly to describe those who lag months and years behind the wave of “new” before playing games. (Huh, I did that already. I did not know there were others like me. *subbed*)

What I’ve been doing this December is an odd foray into something beyond patient gaming – I would call it “slow gaming” except that phrase has been already snapped up by others to describe completely different things – slow-paced deliberate games, low-stakes idle interludes, a longer, sustained experience on an extended timescale.

It’s the last that comes the closest, the idea of extending the timescale of play.

You see, an inventory of tasks and projects suggested I had way too many priorities to keep in play at any one time.

I wanted to do stuff in GW2 like PvP more, learn/gear more classes for raids, collect legendary armor things, force myself to fractal, make legendary weapons, at the same time that I wanted to play Breach League in Path of Exile to death, continue with Terraria’s expert mode, re-visit Minecraft, dabble with other Steam games, not to mention catch up on some nostalgic gamebooks – digital and analog, think about solo playing some tabletop RPGs, catch up on digital magazines, read new books, explore interactive fiction, make my way through courses on Udemy and Coursera like programming and pixel art, exercise more, maybe with the help of Pokemon Go, prepare healthy lunches for work, find a new pottery teacher…

… clean house before the coming year’s super-early Chinese New Year.

Oh, and blog more.

Yeah, right. So going to happen.

I’m not a specialist. I don’t do deep-diving or seek mastery at one thing for 10,000 hours until I become an expert. Razor focus on one thing is not me.

Being a generalist, though, risks overwhelm. So here I am, idly flipping through one of Barbara Sher’s positive pep talk book for generalists with many interests, whom she calls “scanners,” looking for inspiration and advice. Then it hits me.

It’s not anything in the book per se, though there’s a lot of encouragement and cool tips and tricks that might work for some people or at different points in our lives. She suggests that certain scanners might be happy exploring different interests every month, or perhaps spending two years on one thing before going on to another.

The timeframe is too long, I think, and I have -so many things I want/need to do.-

But what if I bring it down to a week, and in that week, I don’t focus on one thing, but say, three things?

Three top priorities, in other words, and because it’s just a week, I can quickly elevate something else to be top priority the next week. The system supports fast iteration.

I can drop GW2 without too much guilt one week (beyond the bare minimum) and spend the time on other constructive pursuits; then the next week, I could PvP or catch up on Wintersday festivities without too much guilt that other things are not getting done.

Experiments in December have not been without its ups and downs (there was deliberate procrastination on one priority for at least two weeks, in part due to being plain exhausted from real life.) It’s a work in progress.

It does seem like something that might suit my particular patterns of cyclic interest fairly well, and more successfully, it has diminished the frequency of relentless restless “I wish it were all done, now” impatient thinking.

We’ll see how it goes for 2017.

In other news, I have run ManicTime (as introduced by Endgame Viable) for over a full year now.

jan-mar2016

  • Red – Guild Wars 2
  • Grey – Minecraft
  • Light Brown – Path of Exile
  • Black – Shadow of Mordor
  • Yellow – Stardew Valley

apr-jun2016

  • Dark Red-Brown – Total War: Warhammer

jul-sep2016

oct-dec2016

  • Green – Terraria

I chopped the looong graph up lazily, so there’s no more axis on three of the charts, but meh, it’s an amusing look at the games I spent the most time on this year.

There were plenty of less than 10 hour dabbling with other games, but I didn’t feel like mentioning those this post.

Big trends for me that I’ve noticed is that GW2 time stayed relatively constant across the year until it took a big hit in Nov-Dec during my little gaming crisis of the faith.

Total gaming hours also got whacked significantly in December (Nov was like a little practice run where I transferred my obsessive attention to Terraria before cutting back.)

Path of Exile is always something I can rely on to spread focus as well, played in spurts throughout the year.

Man, I want to play more Minecraft and Terraria. Maybe next year. 🙂

Two Things That Make Me Wonder…

“Is it too late to start?”

I visit Reddit a lot.

Every week, it seems like there’s another person asking a variant of this question for the two game reddits I visit, and probably more besides in the other game reddits I don’t visit.

What is the point of asking this, really, pray tell?

The only time a “No, it’s too late” answer is likely is when it’s an online game and the servers have shut down and/or there’s not enough critical mass of players for multiplayer matches (and even then, the players might try to get one more into the fold.)

Far more pertinent questions would be:

  • “How time-consuming is this game?”
  • “How steep a learning curve does this have?”
  • “How long would it take me to get on a level or competitive playing field with veterans?” etc.

in order to figure out the real question of “Is it worth spending my time to learn or play this game?”


 

“Yep, this really makes me want to buy Black Lion Keys with real money, stat!”

newblchest

Trust Guild Wars 2 to make me want to buy lockboxes…

…from a different game.

The point of lockbox gambling is the thrill of seeing something cool pop up, while consoling yourself that the worse the lockbox can offer isn’t too bad and can still be used/useful.

Not, oh my god, that is so shit that I got totally gipped.

The boosters, at least, had that opportunity for potential future usefulness.

I challenge anyone to look at the picture above and say with a straight face that “eh, it’s not so bad, they can still be used.”

Transmutation charges would have more freaking use.

A guaranteed wardrobe unlock item in the place of the booster would have been perfect.

I leave you with the video comparison of some poor soul opening 75 new black lion chests ($78.75usd in worth):

To contrast against a different game’s lockboxes (>$100usd in worth):

Study the emotional punch of opening one GW2 black lion chest vs one PoE mystery box and seeing what pops out.

One makes you feel “Cool, it’s not what I wanted, but I could use that. Probably. Eventually. Maybe another one will have what I want. Just… one more…”

The other makes you go, “Let’s open these as quickly as I can in order not to feel the figurative gut punch of an individual box that has nothing but shit inside, and hope that the aggregate adds up to something that won’t make me feel like I wasted my money.”

You’re selling an experience here, people.

I know which I’d rather pay for.

Disclaimer: I got my Black Lion Chest Key for free. That state of affairs is quite unlikely to change at this present moment in time.

The Parable of the Bad Pottery Teacher

I may have mentioned a while back that I’ve been dabbling with pottery lessons.

They started out great, staying that way throughout the six weeks of beginner handbuilding.

The teacher was appropriately attentive, both in demonstrating what to do with practiced hands and in taking a step back to allow the student to get the feel of the clay, while observing mistakes and offering tips and fixes to solve issues that came up.

Some time through the intermediate lessons, the teacher’s attitude inexplicably changed.

Perhaps it was me – maybe I unknowingly offered grievous insult to his honor with a humble jest that I -thought- demonstrated student modesty.

It was an offhand smiling remark to another student and him about how all the great bits of my piece were the mark of a master’s hand, after he had helped, and all the lopsided bits were mine.

Or perhaps it was him. Over the weeks of the lessons, he seemed perceptibly disinterested in teaching – complaining bitterly to older hands and partner potters that he had to rush to prepare for suddenly booked corporate events; that student works were piling up needing to either be kiln-fired or collected by beginner students who never returned after the first six weeks; bitching within earshot of existing students that the various newbies showed up with no or last minute notification or didn’t bother to attend lessons as they felt like it – and generally evincing distinct signs of burnout.

My last couple of intermediate lessons felt like an exercise in deliberate inattention.

He’d walk by to offer the odd word of advice to the one or two beginner students, then walk out the door and put himself incommunicado, leaving us to flounder on doing our own things.

Now and then, again in earshot of all the struggling students, he’d express his belief in his supremely hands-off teaching style to another obviously experienced artist potter who was just sharing the same venue.

“Give us time and space to make our own mistakes and screwups, and then figure out how to fix it for ourselves” seemed to be the general gist.

Inside, I was fuming with frustration.

No, really, I get the hands-off method.

I think it makes sense, judiciously applied, but:

a) the student has to feel that the teacher -cares- (the vibe I got was mostly laziness, judgmentalism and burnout)

and b) the student has to have some basic grounding in HOW to even begin looking for answers to fix the problems they’re having

With both missing, chances are fairly good that a sizeable subset of students will drown, for every one student who flounders on to reach shore, having figured it out for themselves.

Tossing people into the deep end of the pool after demonstrating a swim stroke once and waiting to see who comes out is -not- good teaching.

In my book, anyway. I expect a good teacher to be able to break things down for a student, encourage step-by-step practice and gradual progress, observe errors and offer guided advice on how to fix the problem and in general, scaffold the student’s learning.

After the end of my intermediate lessons, I took a short break and really questioned if I wanted to go on to the advanced lessons of wheel throwing with said less-than-good teacher, especially since he seemed to be doing everything in his power to dissuade me from even paying him for the next set of lessons.

Mostly, it was the sunk cost fallacy that did me in. The beginner and intermediate lessons were a prerequisite for the advanced ones. If I walked now, and sourced for another teacher, the effort, time and money sunk into the previous months would likely have to be written off, as I’d end up fulfilling said teacher’s cynical prophecies of a student that would never come back.

Also, it didn’t seem polite to end abruptly. Leaving after a beginning, middle, end sequence was another thing altogether. One could then seek out another teacher and say truthfully that one had completed a pottery course, but was now looking for further improvement and new perspectives from a brand new teacher.

So I went ahead and signed myself up for another six weeks of instructorial neglect.

Halfway through now, and it went about as much as expected. One demonstration and then left to one’s own floundering devices.

Maybe I frustrate him as much as he frustrates me. Maybe he just doesn’t know -how- to teach me.

I remember things slowly, especially when it comes to visual bodily demonstrations. Perhaps my mirror neurons are somewhat dysfunctional, I do not really learn viscerally. Dance, exercise, pottery, you name it, I cannot see once and automatically ape.

It has to be repeated multiple times. I have to preferably read it, in step-by-step fashion. I have to see pictures and photographs and rehearse placing my hands in the demonstrated positions. Theory must come before practice.

Instead, full of frustration, I’m often left googling up “pottery concept X” after the lesson that introduces the name of concept X and not much else beyond the realization that I’m making a right muckup of concept X because I don’t even know what I’m actually supposed to ideally do in the first place.

I learn more by eavesdropping. Imagine that.

Said teacher is having a extended cheerful conversation with another experienced potter, just chilling and hanging out and steadily ignoring me, and he pulls out his phone and shows her some Youtube video of an advanced technique from a potter of a different country. He does -not- show the video to me.

I make such a right muckup of concept X (centering, if anyone knows pottery) for hours and look so distressed and woebegone, that after the “bad” teacher has rushed out of the workshop to grab his lunch before his next batch of ungrateful students, that the other experienced potter comes over and offers me a completely free demonstration of the way she does it – and by the way, more emotional support in those five minutes than the last five weeks.

She then promptly screws it up with a perfectly overheard conversation to the teacher who just came back, expressing her own helplessness at trying to explain concept X to me, while he offers her a commiserating knowing smile and shrug.

I stifle an internal scream.

It isn’t until the lesson is over and I’m furiously googling again when I chance upon THE article that sings to me – The Clay Will Tell You How You Are.

Here is a woman who makes me feel better because she’s had an even worse time of it than me.

At least my piece of clay didn’t turn into a flying projectile, but just sat there as an insistently lopsided soppy wet yet hard and sandy lump that evoked the ever unproductive ritual question and answer from student to master:

“Is this centered?”

“Not centered.”

“Now?”

“Not centered.”

“How about now?”

“Not centered.”

I bite back on the words, “What the FUCK is centered then? How does it even look? What the FUCK am I aiming for here?” because I know I’ll get no words, just the guy’s hands coming down on my piece of clay doing magic stuff with me none the wiser.

I did learn one thing though.

When you have a bad teacher, the Internet is your best teacher.

After seeing the Youtube video being shown to the other potter, angels descended and sang Hallelujah in my head because my eyes were suddenly opened to the source of a DOZEN good teachers.

Ten Youtube video clips of “pottery centering” later, I had the foundation concepts and the scaffolding that I had not been privy to before this.

No one had told me that I was supposed to brace my hand against my leg, or that the wheel had to be at a decent speed, or that the idea was to push in one direction while easing up in the desired direction so that the clay had some place to go.

They knew how to do it, but they didn’t know how to teach it.

Those on Youtube did.

The following week, I magically produce a 98% acceptable centered piece of clay after a couple of false starts and self-experiments.

(No doubt I also just confirm in my teacher’s head that his style of teaching is perfect.)

Things go well until I run aground in the next progression step of “lifting the clay to make a tall cylinder.”

We engage in a failure cycle of call and response again until the end of the lesson.

This time though, I know what to do in order to progress my own learning next week.

cylindervid

So why I have spent 1400 words telling you guys about my pottery lessons on a -game- blog?

It strikes me that learning is learning, regardless of the subject.

It could be pottery, it could be Civilization 6, it could be Path of Exile, MMO raids, PvP or whatever.

We all want the ideal of the understanding good teacher that cares and knows how to break it down just right so that we can learn what we don’t even know, let alone don’t understand.

(Or maybe that’s just me. Maybe you have some other ideal of the perfect teacher that is just right for you. Goldilocks style, not too soft, not too hard.)

Chances are bloody good that we’re not going to get one.

We would be immensely lucky if we strike gold on the first attempt at sourcing a great teacher.

Chances are far more likely that we’re going to hit judgmental people; people too self-absorbed in their own lives to bother much about your learning; people far too ready to go for the expedient assumption of “unteachable, boot him/her out of here” much more often than a good teacher with a heart of gold. (The latter burn out real fast, I hear.)

They’re going to do shit things to your emotions.

But there’s always one person that -is- committed to your learning, and that knows -exactly- how you like to learn.

Yep. You.

Perhaps that’s the teacher to really have a heart-to-heart conversation with.