What Do I Have to Gain, And What Do I Stand to Lose?

With so many goals on my mind lately, it probably comes as no surprise that one of the books I’ve recently been reading is a pop psychology one by Heidi Grant Halvorson, pithily entitled “Succeed – How We Can Reach Our Goals.”

What I do like about it is that it’s an easy reading, almost-conversational-blog sprinkled-with-humor style summary of what appear to be fairly crunchy concepts in research, just distilled without having to wade through pages of jargon down to a level where a layperson can grasp the surface and make use of.

One of the more interesting summarized concepts was that a person can have a promotion or a prevention focus when it comes down to chasing goals.

Promotion-focused goals are thought about in terms of achievement and accomplishment. They are about doing something you would ideally like to do. In the language of economics, they are about maximizing gains (and avoiding missed opportunities).

Prevention-focused goals are thought about in terms of safety and danger. They are about fulfilling responsibilities, doing the things you feel you ought to do. In economic terms, they are about minimizing losses, trying to hang on to what you’ve got.

This goes a long way towards explaining my puzzlement at the odd sense of relief I get when successfully completing a raid boss, as contrasted by the elation I see other people experience.

When you set a goal for yourself and reach it, you feel good. That much is obvious. But what does “good” feel like?

When your goal is an achievement, a gain, you feel happy—joyful, cheerful, excited, or, in the vernacular of a typical teenager, totally stoked. It’s a high-energy kind of good feeling to reach a promotion goal.

It’s a very different kind of good to reach a prevention goal. When you are trying to be safe and secure, to avoid losing something, and you succeed, you feel relaxed—calm, at ease, peaceful. You breathe the sweet sigh of relief. This is a much more low-energy kind of good feeling, but not any less rewarding.

When I read the above paragraphs, I was amazed at just how right on the money it sounded.

Some of this subconscious choice of focus might be due to personality, or culture, or upbringing, but evidently I skew a lot more towards prevention where this is concerned.

(East Asians are enmeshed in a culture that revolves around saving face, it rubs off, even if you’d like to be optimistic and gain-focused. Singaporeans have the terms “kiasu” and “kiasi” – the Hokkien root word “kia” literally means “fear” or “afraid.”)

We could share the same goal of wanting to down the raid boss, but where someone else might be focused on the -gain-, on the prize and rewards and prestige and glory and satisfaction of a successful kill, my focus tends to end up on:

  • “I hope I’m not screwing up too badly, to the point that they kick me, cos that will mean more difficulty and obstacles in the path of Legendary armor collection” or;
  • “This group is not doing so well, we’re missing something, what are we missing, where is the flaw in the team that stands in our path of success, how can this flaw be fixed, either by the person responsible -is it possible to communicate this flaw without a drama blowout- or by me covering what’s missing.”
  • “What else can I be doing to ensure success? Am I making mistakes that I need to avoid or not do so much of? Am I fulfilling my roles and responsibilities in a raid without slipping up?”

Little wonder by the time a group I’m in first successfully downs a boss, I’m exhausted and relieved.

As for the opposite feeling, Halvorson had this to say:

The focus of your goal also determines the particular kind of bad you feel when things go wrong. In fact, Higgins first discovered the difference between promotion and prevention when he was trying to explain why some people reacted to their failures with anxiety, while others reacted by sinking into depression.

When you are going for gain, trying to accomplish something important to you, and you fail, you tend to feel sadness—dejected, depressed, despondent. As a teen might put it, totally bummed. It’s the low-energy kind of bad feeling—the kind that makes you want to lay on the couch all day with a bag of chips.

But failing to reach a prevention goal means danger, so in response you feel the high-energy kinds of bad feeling—anxiety, panic, nervousness, and fear. You freak out. Both kinds of feelings are awful, but very differently so.

Suddenly I understand why I ended up keyed up in a ball of nervous thwarted frustration in the early days, without the safety of a static group to fall back on.

I needed that safety, that ego defence of:

a) you have successfully killed all the bosses, ergo you do not suck,

b) you have a static group that can successfully kill all the bosses weekly, ergo your achievement plans are not threatened,

c) you have a respectable amount of face-saving legendary insights, sufficient to make Legendary Armor even if your raid group crumbles overnight (notice the urge to catastrophize)

From afar, it’s a little bit sad that my initial motivation seemed to stem more from a place of fear, of danger avoidance, rather than “fun” or gain-seeking.

It does help to explain why other people seem to get a lot more positive kicks out of raiding than me, though.

(That’s not to say I’m incapable of promotion-focused goals. I find I’m more able to focus on that kind of stuff -now-, after the “safety”/”avoid danger” bits are already resolved.

I’m more able to relax and look for gains and “fun” now that a lot less is “at stake” – even if the stakes only really existed in my head.)

The silver lining to this ever-so-slightly neurotic cloud is that prevention-minded pessimists like me are apparently very good at self-monitoring and future improvement. We can’t help but keep thinking of “what can be done better next time” and picking apart our mistakes like it’s the end of the world to commit one.

Optimists, on the other hand, are more liable to say, “well, it could have been worse if I had done this, or if that happened…” in order to make themselves feel better, which according to Halvorson, means they tend to blind themselves more to their own faults to protect their ego, and thus improve at a slower pace than worry-wart pessimists, if at all.

True, all the above is a simplification and a generalization. Optimists vs Pessismists or Promotion vs Prevention dichotomies don’t exist only in black or white terms.

In reality, a person can vary between being pessimistic and optimistic from one moment to another, or choose to be promotion-focused for goal A and prevention-focused for goal B, and it’s probably useful to be aware and consciously decide to do so.

But as a high-level concept, I thought it was fairly interesting to be able to categorize our tendencies to think along two major paths that way.

GW2: I Get It, I Suddenly Get Why Raids Leave Me Cold…

And the epiphanies come hard and fast all of a sudden.

Apologies for the clickbait-y title once more, but I got hit with a sudden revelation on reading the raiding retrospective on the GW2 website, posted by what seem to be the six primary members of the dev team responsible for creating ten-man challenging encounters.

(Of course, what they don’t mention is how many artists were utilized to make the concept art, scenery, boss designs, animations, textures, item icons, etc., programmers or engineers for whatever it is they do behind the scenes to make sure things work as expected, testers to debug and work out the kinks, etc. But I digress.)

The first post by Byron Miller is really personally eye-opening.

The language used is all about emotions. Creating some kind of emotionally thrilling experience, complete with really high highs and awful lows, so that people who enjoy going on an emotional roller coaster ride get the experience they’re looking for.

The trend continues in the later posts, briefly mentioned as an aside here and there, but the heart of it is in the first bit.

I look back on nearly eight months? of raiding and besides the really awful stressful emotional rollercoaster of the first two months or so, where I was extremely frustrated and fearful that I wouldn’t find and get into a competent enough regular team to even stand a chance at completion, I cannot say that the rest of my raiding time has been that emotion-based.

A fact of which, I have to add, that I am extremely thankful about.

No doubt, you can tell by my subjective choice to use the words “awful” and “stressful” to describe frustration – which, laughably, existed more in the LFG part of the equation rather than the actual raid encounter itself.

(And I really don’t want to experience it again, to be honest. I would be deeply tempted to quit than to jump through that hoop again. My commiserations to all those new to raids who -want- to get into raids and are struggling to find a regular reliable raid team. I can’t help you. I’m not sure I dare to wade out into that shark pool again myself.)

I think back and I really struggle to feel this crazy fiero that people keep talking about when they beat a raid boss encounter. I only get a sense of mild relief. A little high, a small peak on the emotion meter that is usually on even keel.

Low lows are when/if the raid group disintegrates into a ball of toxicity and blaming. I don’t like that one bit.

A minor low (more of a internal sigh of resignation) is when the team must show some manner of elitism, in order to actually be successful at a raid encounter.

Team wipes, mistakes made by random parties, don’t even register most of the time.

A minor low if I’m the one that made the mistake – just resolve not to try and do the same thing next time.

Pick self up and continue on. Rinse and repeat. Analyze a little more if my understanding is still not complete. Wait if it’s not my understanding at fault but someone else’s. Patience gets it eventually.

But I don’t get those big emotional swings, and honestly, I don’t -want- to experience those. So all that experiential design? I’m not the target audience. Thanks but no thanks.

I’m motivated by being able to see and successfully clear new content and by a sense of personal competency. The showing off part? Not really necessary to me. As long as I’m internally satisfied, aka I got the thing, I cleared the thing,  I’m good.

(If the team cleared the thing for me, but I don’t know what’s going on, I’m less good, but I’ll take it. Expediency, you know. I will figure out what’s going on eventually.)

I want to pull out MBTI shorthand again to roughly describe what I think is going on.

My personality type falls into the somewhat rare INTP category. I am primarily a Thinker, I make decisions based on logical thought, rather than be influenced by the emotions of the moment. I am very much an analyzer.

The raid encounter is a puzzle to be solved. It is to be broken down into its constituent parts – what does this boss animation mean and what does it herald? What mechanic is in effect now => what must I do in response? what is the most optimal thing that I should be doing? => trial and error at the early stages to experiment and/or follow the meta guide when the group just wants to clear.

What triggers does the boss have, eg. at 75% health, what happens? Are those increments 75%, 66%, etc.? Of all the possibilities GW2 possesses, what does the boss aggro to? What does this mean for control options and ultimately, strategies?

Unsoweiter.

As such, any raid encounter is most enjoyable for me personally when I can find a safe enough space to contently break it down until I fully grok it all, after which, it is just about performing and trying to execute what I now know and understand in theory.

“Safe space” in this case, mostly (75%) translates into, “won’t get immediately kicked.”

The other 25% of “safe space” means (to me) people not talking nonstop in a distracting fashion, not displaying rampant toxicity like pointing the blame finger, bullying tactics, or otherwise suffering from going on an emotional see-saw and causing drama, temper tantrums, argumentation and so on.

All of which I’ve witnessed while PUGing and on regular guild teams.

(The latter tends to be a more ignorable one or two random emotional events – which when you put ten people in a room with each other, is understandable that emotional fuses do get lit from time to time.)

I get it now, I suddenly get why these emotional events volcano up.

They’re being intentionally designed into the raid encounter.

It’s somewhat eyebrow raising from my quirky point of view, that the most disruptive things that could happen to raiding (feelings of divisiveness, of superiority and inferiority within a team that must successfully work together, etc.) are being triggered by the intent to create some kind of emotionally rewarding final payoff to those that crave such a thing.

Maybe the above isn’t quite phrasing it properly, I don’t know. The concept is not very clear in my head yet.

But I’m struggling toward articulating that it’s the emotion-based Feeling (in the MBTI sense) people who need that high high and low low to feel that “challenging content” reward triumphant payout…

…that probably also tend to be the most susceptible to becoming toxic… (due to emotions flaring up)

…or suffer most from becoming the brunt of toxic behavior (due to taking the feelings of other people seriously or being sensitive to the emotional mood of a group.)

A vicious cycle, in other words, that those who might be most drawn to raiding based on an emotional experience, might very well be the ones most prone to making it NOT an enjoyable experience for the very people they also need in order to clear an encounter successfully.

Kinda funny, and ironic, from a Thinker perspective.

GW2: Why I Haven’t Quit GW2 Raids Yet

Despite being rather sympathetic and in agreement with the general tenor that Heart of Thorns added a bunch of content that was pitched a little out there towards the hardcore (and frustrating those less so, encouraging thoughts of quitting,) I thought I’d try a smidgen of positivity today.

I’d like to point out what GW2 raids did -right.-

Or at least, right enough that I haven’t (yet) thrown up my hands in exasperation and hurled GW2 on the trash pile with the carcasses of pretty much all the other MMOs I’ve played, especially those that introduced raids late in the process.

Just as Bhagpuss finds that the phrase “the trinity” conjures up associated ideas that aren’t, strictly speaking, contigent upon having a trinity of combat roles, I tend to use the phrase “holy trinity MMO” as a shorthand for a bunch of inconveniences that I’ve decided aren’t worth putting up with in the games I’ve chosen to play.

Beyond the lack of pure, restrictive dependencies-on-others for specialized roles (which we’ve touched on in other rants):

  • No raid boss loot-based vertical progression

I just don’t do the hamster wheel gear grind. It doesn’t make sense to me that a player is defined as “good” or “bad” by the virtue of the stats he or she happens to have, as defined by their avatar being a coatrack for greatness.

It’s also very linearly simplistic and boring. Do X easier bosses first, to do Y middling boss next, and then when you’ve earned enough gear, then you get to do Z. Ugh. Can anyone say, artificial gating?

The ever-increasing gear stats also create a moving baseline that makes it difficult for newer entrants to get past the entry barrier. (Any game or game mode that discourages newbies is a soon-to-be “ded gam.”)

With the introduction of Ascended tier quality, GW2 isn’t perfect right now either, but at least it has (hopefully) reached the peak of what it can do, beyond some sneaky increases in stat numbers on four-stat gear like what we’ve seen in HoT.

A new tier would incite a riot, so thankfully, an exponential increase in power is highly unlikely to happen. (Unless the designers fuck up the next round of elite specializations to make them the only desirable ones.)

What this does mean is that raid difficulty can be held at a constant level of challenge without ever being diminished or invalidated by players growing exponential stronger stat-wise. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that ‘if a raid is conquered, it means something,” as has been used by a marketing spiel at some point, but I would say it shows that the players have gained in specific encounter / build knowledge in order to defeat that raid boss.

At least the baseline isn’t going to move exponentially stat-wise.

(Alas, players being players, they are still going to create their own fairly absurd entry requirements to pose a barrier to newbies.

The latest one I’ve heard about is to ping a certain number of Legendary Insights, which no doubt will turn into a catch-22 problem for newbies down the road, along the lines of “if I can’t get into any raid groups, how do I earn Legendary Insights in the first place?”)

  • The partial option to “selectively” choose a raid boss, and fight them in nonlinear fashion

Linearity is boring. If you always -had- to kill the very first boss of the raid wing in order to progress on to learning the rest, and if your group was unlucky enough to screw that up for a day or two, I can foresee some raid drama coming on in short order, as people get tired of being stuck at particular boss X.

It isn’t a full and complete option to select any boss in GW2 (yet), but there is at least some possibility for variation by joining a raid instance that has been opened to a specific boss (by said instance holder having killed the other bosses prior, within the week.)

Last week, our group actually did Spirit Vale backwards, as most of the group just had Sabetha to go. Once she’d died, then the group did Gorseval and Vale Guardian for the one or two members that hadn’t killed them that week yet, which was a somewhat welcome change from -always- doing the Vale Guardian fight.

  • No strict instance or boss-based raid lockouts. Only a loot-based lockout with a time period of a week.

The problem with the former kinds of lockouts is that they limit a player to -one- set specific raid group.

If one only gets one opportunity to fight said boss per week, the natural optimizer in many players will seek out the most competent group they can find, and to hell with the rest.

It’s that “to hell with the rest” that fosters even more divisiveness and toxicity and drama.

In GW2, if you’re willing to just fight the boss without receiving any further loot reward, you are not prevented by the game from doing so. This allows for players to help others run the same boss within the week, and/or fight the boss for the fun of it.

Much like the whole idea of node-sharing, this is a concept that screams, “Why not? It doesn’t hurt and only helps.”

  • Little consolation prizes for failure or repeat-killing of the same boss (up to a weekly cap)

You get a random number of 0-5 magnetite shards for nearly but not quite killing the raid boss, or bringing it to a certain phase, following some kind of completely opaque logic for discouraging purposefully fail-farming a raid boss, but encouraging people to make the attempt or help others succeed at killing said boss.

This caps at about 100 a week, not a huge amount, considering that most things cost at least 300-400 magnetite shards plus gold, but at least a small acknowledgement.

vendor

  • A token buy system, for the times RNG screws you over

Yep, on a personal level, I really need this one.

I’ve seen other people get a ghostly infusion pop worth hundreds of gold. The guild has been chattering about some other guy whose “selling” run popped -three- ghostly infusions, two for the members selling the raid and one for the extremely lucky buyer (who presumably recouped the fee with that pop, and then some.)

I’ve heard a guy complaining that he’s got three mini Gorsevals already, and here I am, looking at my still incomplete collection of mini Vale Guardians and just wanting -one- mini Gorseval some day.

All I pop are randomly named exotics of the extremely boring Prefix Affix variety (Weird-Stat Shortbow of the Blah Blah) and now and then, one with a unique name and skin that I probably don’t have in my collection yet (but could have bought on the TP for less than 2 gold, eg. Firelighter, Jora’s Defender, etc.)

For the moment, I’m still saving up the shards, since I have no idea how much, if any, Legendary Armor is going to need. But I wouldn’t be surprised if I eventually buy myself something pretty I want, when I’ve gotten tired of getting shafted by RNG drops.

  • No Need/Greed or Leader-controlled mob-drops-limited-loot systems, everyone gets personal loot.

This is a biggy.

This is, in fact, I think the biggest biggy as to why I tend to drop all other MMOs with raids and group-based content.

I have never played a single PUG dungeon in which someone (that wasn’t me) didn’t ninja all the loot with a Need roll.

Even after you give up and join all the rest in the perversion of rolling Need on everything, my perennial streak of no-luck means I get low rolls on everything and walk away from an hours-long dungeon with nothing. Zilch. No stat improvement. Nada. Waste of time.

All of the former kinds of loot systems end up with emotional drama from bringing humans into the equation, along with the fact that they’re competing for limited resources.

All of this is completely unnecessary competition. Cue the whole resource-node sharing, eradication of mob-tapping as a concept again.

Personal loot is where it’s at.

The computer knows that ten people participated in the fight. The computer says, ok, ALL ten of you get a reward. Now some of your rewards may be better than others, but I will roll it up for you and you WILL get it, and no one else can see what you got, unless you choose to tell them (which is your business.)

There is no human to blame in this equation. It’s just whether the computer RNG screwed you over or no, in terms of the jackpot or bonus prize you were hoping for.

But it also gave you something and didn’t let you leave home empty-handed.

  • No repair bill. No penalty for death besides failure to defeat the encounter and time spent.

This reduces player hostility towards others a ton, in my opinion.

This makes wipes and failures caused by other people or things beyond anybody’s control tolerable, without the sting of additional negative progress in some fashion.

It encourages players to be more open to experimentation, to be okay with trying things out for fun and not expecting immediate success every single go. It reduces the need for super min-max cookie cutter strategies, in order not to be penalized by failing.

  • Trash mobs scaffold and teach mechanics that will be necessary for the upcoming boss.

Unnecessary mobs in the way of the raid boss are just a waste of everybody’s time.

What mobs are present in Spirit Vale tend to have a purpose of introducing individual mechanics separately, before combining them all up in the next boss encounter.

There’s a certain admirable elegance to that sort of level design.

guildhalldeco

Don’t ask. Someone must have gotten especially creative with guild decoration limits to come up with this monstrosity made out of boss trophies.

What’s less admirable: I’m not really in favor of any story being gated behind these raid bosses.

And the jury’s still out on whether raiding is viewed as the be-all and end-all of the PvE world yet.

But we’ll save those criticisms for another day.