Bloggy XMAS Day 14: Community and You

I come across a very common theme when I read MMO blogs:

It’s a lament that someone is looking for a community to be part of, but somehow can’t quite find the right game or the right group, or can’t quite spare the time or effort or investment in order to belong.

It made me very curious about the age-old questions on “How do communities form?” or “How do we join a community?” or even “Why do we need community?”

Google, you may be surprised, was not much help.

I got a lot of hits on questions regarding forms, the word “community” just happening to be in some sidebar or other, whereupon which clicking will bring you to that site’s forums.

I got told that you can “join our community” by “clicking this button or this link!” (Yeah, right, as easy as that.)

And, of course, I start getting religion thrown at me when I ask Why questions.

I did, however, find a few interesting links:

  • Michael Wu differentiates between social networks and communities by specifying that an individual generally has only one social network of pre-existing relationships, made up of all the people you know, while communities of various groups of people are formed around and held together by a shared common interest.

He goes on to discuss the formation of relationships between two people and how a weak tie might become a strong one, as well as further overlap and interaction between social networks and communities.

  • Social Media course website provides further reading links, where communities are defined from an economic standpoint, with social capital flowing through the system.

Still, all of this theory doesn’t really answer my main burning question on how to help or encourage those who are seeking a community to find and join one – and just how precisely they should be doing that, since it’s much easier said than done, without clear and constructive suggestions on how to go about that.

Psychochild comes at the community question from the perspective of a game designer or community manager, which is rather fascinating from a non-developer’s standpoint, to see a dev’s take on things. He’s got a lot of grounded advice on how to create, manage and/or lead one.

But what about the just regular joes, the followers, the introverts, the socially anxious, or the players like me that are more than a little allergic to leading these days? The ones that just want to be part of something, and might even settle for a zerg or one of the faceless crowds in lieu of anything better?

Well, if it’s only introversion standing in your way, David Seah’s “Community Building For Introverts” is worth a read.

He finds that it’s worth standing up to lead and “be the mayor” because that way, it’s easier for introverts to control the extent of their interactions with people and who and how many get to enter their community. There’s always a lot more followers than leaders, after all.

What if you’re like me though, and have been so burned out by the effort of leading that any suggestion towards being a nucleus or the center of something makes you want to run screaming to hide in a deep dark quiet hole somewhere away from the hell that is other people?

You see, I got good news and bad news.

The bad news is, if you want to be part of a community, if you’re feeling lonely or just a wish to maybe feel like you belong somewhere, you DO have to make some kind of effort at it.

The good news is, you don’t have to be the center of attention, you don’t have to lead.

Here’s an inspirational idea from a TED talk on “How to Start a Movement.”

You can be the Second Man aka the first follower.

You can be the guy (or gal) to join the first crazy person and offer support and validation of that idea. That reassurance and support encourages others to join in.

Before you know it, a community has surrounded you, and phew, you’re still not the freakin’ center of attention. That’s the first crazy person’s job.

Personally, this appeals to me a lot because I like being behind-the-scenes and still a right-hand person sort of figure.

But what if you don’t have the time or effort to be the Second Man?

Well, you can still be the third, or the fourth, or the fifth, or the Nth person to join in.

The important thing is, you still have to show up.

If you want to be part of a community, you have to make the effort to be there somehow.

In order for others to recognize you, your name or your face has to turn up regularly enough for people to make a connection.

Watching TV doesn’t take a lot of effort, but you still gotta sit your butt on the couch at a certain time and turn the TV on. (Even in the days of Netflix where TV comes on demand, you still have to set aside an hour to watch that show, even if it’s at an hour of your choosing.)

No one’s asking that you jump in there and start leading or become 100% active in whatever community you’re after, but you can take small baby steps of joining and belonging.

Log in. Play for whatever set time you’ve decided. Take note of the people or guild tags that play at that time. Research a guild. Join a guild. Attend events. Participate.

It’s not necessarily a linear sequence, mind you. You might go back and forth for a bit. Some days you might just only be able to do one step or two. Or not at all. Just get back on the wagon when you can.

If it’s a blogging or forum or social media-y community, then y’know… Read posts. Make an account. Lurk. Toss in a comment or two when you can. Maybe even get around to full creation of a post when you have the time.

Sometimes it’ll involve a bit of personal sacrifice.

Tradeoffs of time where one could be sleeping, or doing something else equally tempting, and maybe even personally profitable over merely being social with the community.

But you know, social capital has value too.

Regardless of whether it pays off in just good feelings or the power of reciprocal relationships to get someone else to help you out with something you need or want.

If you want that sense of community, then invest in it.

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GW2: The Fine Line of Frustration

Look, ma, a pickup zerg killed Pyroxis!

It must be hard being a game developer.

Make things smooth and easy and players will steamroll through content, proclaiming themselves gaming gods and demanding more challenges NOW. Fail to sate them, and they sulk around, declaring the game boring and stagnant and having “nothing to do” and quit before you know it.

Make things difficult and challenging, and when players run into problems, the resulting frustration recoils and whiplashes around seeking any available targets. Forums explode into a frenzy of complaints and stridently worded requests for things to get easier.

I guess I’m watching the fallout from the Crown Pavilion changes and Queensdale champion train destruction with a sort of embittered fascination, rather than frustration, because I’m not very affected by either.

Some bloggers and regular readers may have noticed that I’ve been going around being a tide controversial and combative in their comments bar, for which I do apologize if I come across as an elitist arrogrant prick or argumentative troll.

I stopped to ask myself why exactly I felt prompted to act this way.

And the answer that came back was: I’m waiting to see if anyone gets frustrated enough to challenge me in reply, to stand up for their own argument and get a better handle on why they were feeling frustrated beyond “I tried it once. It was so much harder than I expected.  I felt bad. There was nothing I could do. I don’t want to do it anymore. I quit.”

Because frustration is normal when one encounters a setback and resistance to the fulfillment of individual desires.

Because it’s what different people do in response to frustration that proves interesting.

Four months ago, I was as frustrated as frustrated can be with regards to the Marionette.

There was a great deal of rampant zerg stupidity and much failure in the early days too.

Worse, there were achievements that I wanted to complete that were reliant on the bulk of the playerbase not being SO BAD at the marionette that I would never get the chance to enter the later circles to attempt the various dodging achievements with my piss poor latency.

I wrote a guide, and I tried to force it down everyone’s throats as blatantly as I could, advertising it on Reddit even.

I -could- have just given up, thrown up my hands in despair, wallowed in misery and written reams of whining complaints on various forums instead.

I’m sure my tiny guide was not the sole cause for the playerbase improving at the Marionette.

Many other people stepped up. Commanders tagged up and did their best to count and distribute people into five different lanes, regardless of the willful selective deafness of certain players. Others took it on themselves to broadcast and disseminate info into mapchat. Players who repeatedly attempted the Marionette took their individual steps towards getting good enough to reach a collective success indicator, wherever they were on that journey.

Did we lose some people? Very possibly there were those that just tried it once or twice, died repeatedly and decided, “never again.”

It stands to reason that they would not have gone back to the Marionette, and the ability curve may have adjusted itself upward a tide due to that too.

They were going to be lost anyway. One cannot help those that do not wish to be helped.

I see some interesting parallels between this update’s Champion Pavilion Boss Blitz, and the Marionette and Escape From Lion’s Arch events.

They all have a considerable chance for failure.

Failure induces frustration.

Frustration produces… ???

Complaints, certainly.

And counter-trolling in response.

Neither of which are terribly productive, but very much human nature.

Then again, in the Escape From Lion’s Arch, one super frustrated individual created an entire new megaguild called MEDX, devoted to rescuing Lion’s Arch citizens. An enormous number of people appeared to buy into that premise, perhaps wanting to be heroes to the NPCs or perhaps wanting chances at the great loot, and we saw that guild have some good times in parallel with our TTS community, as we hopped various overflows.

We saw various servers take on the Marionette, and start succeeding over time.

The two biggest differences that I see between then and now:

Megaserver  – We’ve lost our server communities. I’ve not been shy to criticize this as not the most ideal state of affairs ever. Everything is now overflow, filled with more aggressive strangers, given very little incentive to cooperate or communicate because they’ll probably never see each other again. Also, language barriers.

Where Have All the Leaders and Followers Gone? – With each patch that pushes more coordination and communication, anyone who has had the slightest bit of self-interest and sufficient motivation to do something constructive about it has self-organized. They’ve found their communities, that come complete with people motivated enough to lead, and people with enough self-interest to follow.

Those left behind do not appear motivated enough to do anything beyond complain and feel helpless and sorry for themselves.

No, really, it’s not hard. Help is but one Google and some typing away.

I read a random post on the GW2 forums, and I see someone from an EU server talking about GW2Community. Google it.

NA server-wise, TTS is the name on everybody’s lips, but there are undoubtedly others. Just off the top of my head, Attuned does Wurm and so on.

Network. Reach out to people. Send a whisper and ask for an invite to an organized instance if you wish it. Numerous guests and friends of friends have jumped into these events and had a great time.

Nooooo….. but I don’t wanna join a guild or a community! I don’t wanna change instances! I wanna log in and immediately have the world revolve around me and do what I wish and give me loot!

It reeks of being unable to adapt or change. It also suggests you don’t necessarily want it badly enough, and would prefer not to have to interact with a community (some of whom may be people you dislike personally) – in which case, it’s a personal choice and your tradeoff is that you don’t get the reward that you also wanted.

Everything is about tradeoffs.

Still, I see the beginnings of a little bit of hope this time around…

Tarnished Coast WvW used to have what was known as a case of “celebrity commander” syndrome. Jadon, Nightlight, Odinzu, Deyja. The militia would flock to them. Anyone else who tagged up had a much harder time.

But times change, and these commanders moved on, and mostly dropped into various personal guilds, away from the public eye, or transferred away. For a time, the militia ran around lost, helpless, frustrated, losing structures like unthinking headless chickens who couldn’t even find a feather on their bodies, let alone an arrow cart.

Some militia individuals, away from the zerg mind, did their best or what they could, improving their game, be it siege or roaming. New individuals stepped up to command and rally the unthinking zerg.

Out of frustration, very possibly, but they did, because they were motivated enough.

Tonight in the Crown Pavilion, while just cranking through a bunch of my Queen’s Gauntlet tickets for my sick and twisted lottery attempt at the Choice of Lyssa recipe (will never happen, I’m sure, but well, Gauntlet Chances are easier to feed a gambling urge with than lockboxes that require paid keys), I overheard an individual being very chatty on mapchat.

Said person was rallying others, updating on boss percentages, being very friendly and unassuming but being very -present- and indicating signs of activity, and said person had a commander tag.

I looked down through the railing at my feet as someone in the cage I was spectating fell over and died to Liadri, with a grumbled “lag” as I rezzed him, and lo and behold, there was a group of 7-10 people at the centaur boss under us, and over to the left, another group that seemed to be working on ogre with another commander tag in play.

My FPS was 12-14, and I decided the other 40 odd tickets could wait.

I got down the ramps in time to see that two bosses were left, and that this plucky group of pickups was busy taking turns to fall over to Pyroxis’ bouncing projectiles and get rezzed.

Oh, what the heck, I thought. And went to join them.

45 seconds later, I was backpedaling out of combat to put on wall of reflection and shield of the avenger because there didn’t seem to be anyone in the group putting those up.

I was the sole source of reflects for a minute or two, but a few more people started trickling in, attracted by the fight.

Someone else stepped up and spelled it out. “Use reflects on him.”

My one pathetic wall of very sporadic reflection was suddenly joined by a second, and a third, staggering themselves out appropriately. Later, there was a mesmer feedback around the big scorpion destroyer.

We still took turns getting mauled by the bouncing unreflectable lava projectiles, and getting rezzed.

I worked on improving my personal game by getting better at dodging them when I saw them coming (the ones that come in from the sides or behind though… grrr…)

Surprise, surprise, I was having fun.

The other boss must have died at some point, because our group of 10ish suddenly ballooned to 20-25 as a second group appeared behind Pyroxis.

Steadily, his health bar dropped and the meanie scorpion poo-head died.

And we all got a reward chest.

Bronze, yes, because this was cleanup after some other group prior had left the instance at 4 bosses.

But my point was that this one person rallied a map that were willing to sit in an instance left at 4 bosses, doing their own thing, and performed a successful clean up. Said person had to leave to go to work, so there was no further attempt. Still, it’s proof of concept. Proof it can be done.

There have been heartening posts on Reddit that some commanders got together and tried rallying a map – some with positive results, silvers, with eyes towards gold, feeling it almost within reach.

There has been the case of AARM, and another guild on Northern Shiverpeaks whose name I unfortunately forget, who decided to “host” a map. They bring in 30-40 odd guildies, and like magic, when those around them see that a serious attempt is being made, also start to cooperate and coordinate out of peer pressure and self-interest.

Since we now lack server communities, perhaps this is where some guilds may find a niche to step up and step in.

The magic of MMOs is in community, after all.

And sometimes players need a little push before they care to talk to others.

The key, really, is that no one is forcing anybody into this. The rewards are available elsewhere and not exclusive.

Abandon the map if you truly hate it. Abandon the game, even, if you’re that bitter.

But if you’re frustrated enough by the thought of not being able to achieve gold or silver on one tiny piece of temporary content, then maybe start thinking of ways to be part of a community that can manage to do so.

That community might be a guild, a cross-server community, that very map instance you happen to be on, or the GW2 community at large.

GW2: Needs of the Many, Needs of the Few

Random picnic party

I’ve had some great reactions to my recent musings on raids.

Syl posted a nice response, and one of the things she mentions is what she misses most about raids – that sense of steady group progression with a well-oiled and well-groomed team that trusts each other implicitly. I can’t help but draw some parallels to a very tight knit WvW zerg busting guild (though the inclusiveness or exclusiveness of each guild differs by individual guild culture.)

Murf shared some of the things he enjoyed about raids as well.

I’m especially amused by some of the comments over by MMO Gypsy who automatically assume that I’ve never raided, and thus my opinion is invalid or *shrug* raiding is not for him, period.

Or was somehow spurned by an elitist raider once upon a time and thus carry an awful grudge against all raiders, lumping them together as evil elitists, boo hoo. Go cry somewhere else.

Ok, I’m exaggerating for effect, I don’t actually think any of you guys meant that, but I see similar simplistic comments carrying that essence of trolling on forum message boards all the time, probably due to the subject being endlessly debated back and forth.

And there were plenty of other reasonable rational responses, which we will try to touch on later, but ask yourselves, WHY did your mind immediately flow that way?

It’s due to what we understand ‘raids’ are, especially if we come from a World of Warcraft background.

It may surprise some of you that pretty much my only activity for the past three days in Guild Wars 2 has been camping out as part of a huge group of 100+ people on a map, listening in on a Teamspeak, occasionally wandering off AFK for the 1.5 hours between exciting fights (of a world boss raid attempt) or enjoying some of the social aspects if the crazies happen to be in the same group together.

In fact, I’ve chosen to do this non-profit activity over other more lucrative options – such as running around in a mindless Frostgorge champion zerg or participating in a marionette fight that caters more to players without sufficient time or the inclination for organization on a massive scale (that rewards a regular stream of silver/crafting materials/lucky drops and a less regular stream of blues/greens/yellows respectively.)

A little background:

The Triple Trouble jungle wurm in Bloodtide Coast is a new world boss in the Origins of Madness update that has been specifically designed for hardcore groups that are all about the organization and figuring out the strategy and tactics.

At the same time, the Living World content involves the Twisted Marionette boss fight that involves -some- coordination but not as much. It’s on a scale where random overflows might conceivably achieve full success, whereas the intensity and complexity of the jungle wurm fight pretty much requires hefty leadership and organization.

It’s provoked some hefty discussion over why these bosses exist in open world zones instead of private raid instances, given the level of intended coordination involved.

One subset of players are in favor of exclusion by private raid instance, where they can invite their friends and players they trust have the level of ability required to produce serious attempts on the raid bosses. It wastes less time for the lucky collective, and makes it easier to control the group and organize specialized builds and functions, since there is always the threat of outcasting. It produces less frustration for these players as they don’t have to endure interacting with others who don’t match their unique criteria of worth, whatever it may be.

On the other hand, we have the existing case of open world bosses, where people in the same Reddit discussion thread linked above are giving examples of how they organically stumbled onto an organized group attempt, met up with nice people, joined their Teamspeak and had their eyes opened as to how rewarding such ‘hardmode’ content can feel, as many raiders already know.

We also have the rare maniacal leader-types that love the “extra work” that comes with guiding others, improving team work and progressing together. For these treasures, there is an emotion called naches, where they take pride in the achievement of those they have so patiently grown and trained from the ground up.

On the NA servers, the founder of the TTS community, Ahlou, can deservedly indulge in this as he created something that had never been seen before. A server-agnostic collection of 11 guilds, dedicated to being inclusive and take down hard mode raid bosses in GW2. It has a waiting list hundreds of people long, only stalled out by the lack of leadership types that have stepped up and volunteered their time. We’re blessed as it is that a small council of 10+ leader types stepped up to support and grow Ahlou’s vision, with a minimum of ego and drama.

(I believe an equivalent TxS community exists on the Euro servers.)

The sad truth is, there is still unavoidable exclusion.

A map is hard capped at 100+ players. (I don’t know the exact number, but it’s around there.)

Exclusion is by a sort of lottery, whoever is first able to zone in to the maps where there is sufficient leadership to attempt the bosses get to do it. Those who can’t zone in, for whatever reason, are shit outta luck. Until the next time, anyhow.

It also favors those who have oodles of time to stand around waiting for the next spawn, even if it is an hour and a half away.

It favors those who are willing to make the effort to download a voice program and join a Teamspeak, if only to listen in to leader commands, as taxis are first offered by voice to those gathered in the channels.

It favors those who are ballsy and persistent, observant and determined enough to read guild member rosters and note down the names of leaders and those who commonly taxi into instances and pretty much blindly /join and wiggle their way into the instance, as long as checking on Teamspeak reveals that an attempt is going on.

It favors those who are dedicated and driven and -crazy- enough to sit around for an hour spamming right-click on a party member’s portrait, clicking “Join party member in X zone” repeatedly, for a chance of merely participating in non-guaranteed discovery attempts at the correct tactics and strategy, leading up to a potential world first. Loot is not at all guaranteed, but potential fame and glory.

It’s produced quite a number of indignant complaints from those who feel excluded, since they don’t have sufficient time for such madness, or can’t be arsed to go through all that kind of trouble for a non-100% chance at good loot.

You may be surprised, but after some thinking it over, I am more or less okay with this particular sort of exclusion in this particular set of circumstances.

Me, the champion of being philosophically inclusive.

I think, in the end, everything seems to be about tradeoffs. We exclude one group of people, at the cost of another group that don’t meet some set of criteria.

We endure mind-numbing wait time for the potential memories and social connections we build through people being bored out of their skulls.

Deathrifyerr Cobalt team synced /rank on an unsuspecting Crimson.
Deathrifyerr’s Cobalt team synced /rank on an unsuspecting Crimson.

But maybe only a hundred people (and probably less since a good percentage may be AFK) got to enjoy such socializing, compared to how many people playing Guild Wars 2 at any one time?

Is it fair to cater to the needs of the few as compared to the needs of the many?

Should we be concerned about being fair? Or making sure that there’s something for everyone?

In this particular case anyway, it’s probably a temporary state of affairs.

The TTS leaders (and probably a decent amount of its members) share and espouse a very similar sort of inclusive philosophy as I do.

The jungle wurm is in a “discovery of strategy” phase, not an “on farm” phase. There’s insufficient leadership to spread out to create multiple overflows, as was promptly done once an effective strategy to down Tequatl was found. Then information spread out and disseminated as experienced leaders and members felt confident enough to teach the strategy to others.

It’s most likely the case that the same will happen with the jungle wurm once some optimal strategies have been found. More space will open up. Anyone who wants to attempt the bosses will be invited and taught, as long as they open their mouths and ask, and even those who randomly stumble into the boss being taken down by the group will get a chance.

The danger, of course, is when designers tweak up the challenge to a level where only certain groups have sufficient stats or builds or reactions (or whatever form of player or character ability) and other groups simply don’t, regardless of how much teaching and training and information dissemination is done.

The automatic response of players optimizing for the best solution is, naturally, exclusion of players who don’t meet those criteria.

You may ask, why do I feel that this is such “a danger” given that I have accepted that -some- kind of exclusion is likely to happen, no matter what kind of raid variant is designed?

Well, part of it is naturally self-centered. I personally have a better shot of seeing raids completed in a TTS-style organization than your typical raid organization. They match my on-again, off-again type of scheduling. I like that I can just jump in when I have the time to one of the scheduled raids, and as long as there’s space in the overflow, I get a spot.

Whereas I would simply go nuts in a dedicated raid style organization. What? Perform the same role over and over? Prepare laboriously for days before the main event? Set an alarm clock to raid at a certain hour or let down the group of people that are counting on me? When real life interrupts, I can’t just sneak out of the raid and let someone else who desperately wants in get in? Do the same thing over and over for WEEKS and MONTHS?

I’m an explorer. I like the new and shiny. I’m crazy enough to enjoy the discovery aspect of developing a strategy. That’s why I’m camped out at the jungle wurm, giving up loot and gold earning time from all the other alternatives I could be doing. I KNOW I will get bored within three months once the thing is on farm. Like how I can’t endlessly show up in WvW night after night doing the same thing over and over. Fixed schedules and me don’t really mix well. They lead to obligation and obligation leads to erosion of fun, for me.

The other revelation I’ve had is that I’d personally much rather enjoy raids as a social club, not a competitive sports club. I don’t mind having the leeway for 30 to carry 10. Because after all, we are all good at different things. And there’s no chance to learn and improve if you aren’t allowed to keep practicing something for fear of wiping or letting down the team.

The other part of it is what I think it implies for the overall health of a game.

Closed raid communities become insular, deriding PUGs as part of a very human ‘us vs them’ tribal mentality. It becomes hard to penetrate into such social environments. Sure, the community is GREAT once you get in and stay in. But can your average newbie or person with irregular time schedules get a chance at it?

A more open and inclusive raid community allows for penetration. It makes room for those who just want to or have time to show up for one kill, just to say they did it or saw it or whatever. It makes room for those with irregular schedules. It still gives the crazy dedicated a chance to shine, especially by leading and organizing or just staying longer for insane amounts of time, at the cost of them occasionally having to put up with the company of those they consider ‘lesser’ than them.

It promotes a culture of positive behavior, of friendly encouragement to each other, cheering each other on, rather than a toxic mindset of blame and shame and only interacting with a special select group, reducing the occurrence of a negative hostile atmosphere that discourages new people from participating.

I’m not going to ask which game will have a larger population over time or be more successful.

Folks can point to World of Warcraft and Eve Online and demonstrate how they are thriving and doing great, despite the reputation of a toxic, hostile culture. Hell, for that matter, look at the success of League of Legends.

But -I- know which game I’d rather be playing and supporting.

Signing off,

Your neighborhood carebear furry blogger.

P.S. The last thing I sort of wanted to say regarding the needs of the many and the needs of the few.

I think there’s room in the MMO gamespace, and indeed in each MMO as multiple activity types, for many options and alternatives to cater to all sorts on whatever spectrum you draw up. Hardcore or casual. Time-plentiful or time-starved. Competitive or cooperative. Inclusive or exclusive. Hard difficulty or easy. Majority or minority.

But we need to stop assuming that what we have is all that will ever be.

That raids are THUS, as defined by World of Warcraft, or Everquest. (And I’m sure connoisseurs will tell you the differences between both games’ raids.)

That if you don’t like it, shut up and go to your solo leveling corner of the world, you antisocial excuse who should be playing a single-player game instead of whining.

Instead, we need to break down all the aspects of raids that we like, and all those we don’t like.

So that a creative team of developers out there can start taking a little of column A and a little from column B and glomming them together to give us new raids and new challenges that we haven’t seen, that cater to different groups of players.

Only then will we see progress and innovation and novelty.

GW2: Today I Smiled (And Yesterday Too)

Quick, hide behind that tent!

Yesterday, I had one of the best social experiences in Guild Wars 2 that will be etched in my memory’s hall of fame.

On a social level, it matched the first time I ever encountered the Font of Rhand mini-dungeon while leveling with the first wave of GW2 fans.

That was the time when six of us met, seemingly by chance, and in truth due to cunning dynamic event design, and explored it together, steadily solving all the puzzles until we reached the final boss.

Where upon we endured wave after wave of death by roasting, one last survivor swimming out to the outer chamber to break aggro and stealthily swim back to manually rez the others, trying to free Rhendak the Crazed from his glitchy insistence on swimming into the ceiling, blowing up repeatedly from his steam/fire bubbles which no one had a clue then how to read and dodge/advoid, and FINALLY, wearing down his hp and defeating him.

To be surrounded by a sea of chests, one for each person that was present, collecting with glee all the blues and greens until our bags were overloaded and amazed by the bountiful haul.

(Oh, how times have changed now.)

There was mass love and bromance by everyone present, excitedly friending each other. They were the first people I put on my friends list in GW2.

(I still see one or two of them around to this day. One is ironically in the same SEA guild that I joined. The other is a massive achievement hound, too hardcore for me to feel comfortable socializing with – but is also in a TTS guild – who mostly serves as my distant barometer of how high the bar is now for maximum possible AP.)

It matched the most memorable and social WvW experiences I would ever have, coming in to Tarnished Coast as a wide-eyed newbie, getting educated in all manner of tactics during the age of celebrity commanders and siege masters.

Fer instance, there were the multiple times people would lemming off a cliff following Commander Jadon and laugh uproariously at the aftermath. The intensively detailed siege placement and mortar usage trainings of Theongreyjoy, the ‘balls deep’ charges and ‘playing zombies’ zerg vs zerg learn-by-doing trainings of EP’s  Odinzu and CERN’s Nightlight. The defiantly masterful map-hopping and outmanned last stands utilizing chokepoints during offpeak hours of the then PiNK’s Deyja.

Deyja, especially, provided some of the best times I would ever have. As far as I know, he’s gone now, having seemingly gotten burned out PUGmandering and first spending a lot of time enjoying more individual style PvP on the WvW maps, then joining KH and maybe moving with them to another server or having quit the game entirely. Completely understandable and natural attrition over time.

The guy deserves a tribute for the good times regardless.

Notoriously foul-mouthed and with a drill sergeant style of commanding that no doubt got him at odds with certain more thin-skinned people, he had a great sense of wry humor and a good heart that was audible in his tone, despite the expletives peppering every other word.

He had also an UNCANNY knack of reading the enemy, making fantastic tactical calls, and was a natural leader, knowing how to keep morale going in the darkest of hours when 10-20 lone stalwarts faced the teeming hordes of other servers outmanned.

We would hide in corners that most zergs would naturally fail to check with their eyes focused ahead on the prize, and plow them over from behind before they even knew what hit them. When all else was lost, instead of crawling away with our tails between our legs, Deyja would lead his ragtag group and set up defiant camp in the lord room of hills keep, spamming AoE and siege with such fury in the chokepoint that whole 80 man zergs would bog down for 1-2 crucial hours, stuck outside, trying and escalating one siege tactic after another to break the encampment.

And there was the crowning classic moment which etched into my heart how to never give up if you don’t want to.

Our zerg, such as it was, had dwindled down to a mere five people.

This was in the days when during late Aussie/SEA hours, you were lucky if there were ten people on all the maps. Deyja switched tactics without hesitation and took us skirmishing. We’d swipe a supply camp, try a ninja here and there, and when the opposing zerg came upon us with righteous fury, we ran.

But did we run like chickens?

Hell, no. His voice kept us together. Paraphrasing, it was something like “Ahhhhhh, fuck, FUCK, run, run, you bastards, run! Follow me, keep up! You get caught, yer screwed. Run like the wind!” But said with a grin in his voice that you had to be there to hear.

We ran like fucking SAMURAI.

We strung the enemy out.

“Wait for it… wait for it…” he said, as we dashed into the outskirts of the hylek camp. Just as we cleared the second exit, “NOW,” he said, “TURN AROUND.”

And the three of us that remained ganked the three fastest pursuers that had thought they were going to get easy outmanned kills.

Not at all being a professional PvPer by ANY stretch of the imagination, and being scared to death that I would let the other two down, it was one of the most adrenaline charged experiences (and victories) of my GW2 life.

Of course, we booked it out of there before the rest of the zerg caught up. And broke up shortly after as there was nothing more he could do for us. But I learned a hell of a lot that fateful day about keeping morale up and ending on a high note.

Yesterday’s social experience was also all about morale.

And a great leader.

Ironically, it was during one of the times I dread most. Playing the WAITING game.

Y’see, it starts with dance offs.

There are three teams that deal with each of the jungle wurms. Crimson, Cobalt and Amber.

In certain TTS runs, a crazy asura named Merforga (he of the Tequatl pre-flight briefing fame) leads the Crimson team.

Every time Amber and Crimson meet up to take down the first wurm, there is a small waiting period while the poor Cobalt team walks their long scenic beachfront route with an NPC who loves to sidetrek off crabs, risen and anything red within his sights.

During this time, Crimson and Amber face off with each other and DANCE. In a zerg, then in lines, and then with synchronized /dance * and even /rank offs.

Things soon evolved during the one and a half hour long wait in between jungle wurm spawns, when one team commander (I have no idea who first came up with the idea) decided to take his zerg on a showy synchronized movement display in circles around the other two stationary teams.

You know, the sort of thing all WvW zerg commanders do – “stay on my tag and follow.” Easily performed by anyone not AFK.

So, very soon, each team was taking it in turns to orbit each of the other two stationary teams, everyone cackling madly.

In all good nuclear escalation scenarios, princess doll tonics are involved.

Crimson popped a trading post and members gleefully spent 16 silver on a belated Wintersday celebration. I’m sure you can guess what happened next.

Circular orbits with jumping princess dolls!

(If you’ve never heard them screaming, you can check out a sample in this video here. Now imagine about 20 of those running around in circles.)

The flock heads back after a job well done. (I clean forgot to screenshot during. Too busy laughing.)
The flock heads back after a job well done. (I clean forgot to screenshot during. Too busy laughing and circling and screaming like a demented little girl.)

Then yesterday, Merforga decided to bring a music bot into the Crimson team’s teamspeak channel. Where a gleeful half hour was spent in intra-team trolling of fairly ridiculous songs pilfered off Youtube. (Yes, there were rickrolls.)

And then there was Hodor.

Before you know it, a brilliant plan was hatched to rename the music bot Hodor and send it into the other team’s channels, merrily singing Hodor!

While they suffered a stampede of dolyaks.

Screen cap off Merforga's Twitch stream - You can watch the whole gleeful setup at http://www.twitch.tv/merforga1/b/497725115
Screen cap off Merforga’s Twitch stream – You can watch the whole gleeful setup at http://www.twitch.tv/merforga1/b/497725115 – the sound is a little screwed up by “User Joined/Left Your Channel”, folks who turned off that audio messaging got the full effect.

(And a naked tiger charr whose only excuse was that yours truly couldn’t open the trading post. It was down for my client. Much sadness. Still, on fours and hairy…)

I haven’t laughed as hard for a very very long time. I’m sure I’m not the only one.

It’s gotten me thinking very hard about the pros and cons of wait time, and creating experiences meant for very organized groups as opposed to the general majority. I’ll try to cover that in my next post – The Needs of the Many, The Needs of the Few (coming soonTM). (Update: Post is now here.)

GW2: Morale and The Psychology of Losing

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.