A Guide For Every Season

This post was sparked by a thread that popped up over at the Guild Wars 2 Guru forums.

(I know, I know, it is a cesspool compared to the official forums, which aren’t much of an improvement either, but drama at a distance is sometimes entertaining and one gets the occasional news/valuable tidbit that one has not heard about.)

Some guy asked for a leveling guide from 1-80 for Guild Wars 2.

Of all the-

I don’t even-

Hello? This is an MMO with a completely FLAT leveling curve! It’s meant to take an average of 1.5h per level.

It is clearly marked on the map which zones are appropriate to which level range.

Which is infinitely more sensible than a list going Plains of Ashford 1-15, Diessa Plateau 15-25, etc. because you don’t even see or know the name of the zone on the map until you venture into it.

The game downlevels you in any zone you’re too high leveled for, so that there is some difficulty/challenge remaining. You can practically go anywhere if you don’t like the proposed paths.

Hell, if you don’t want go anywhere and have other characters to be your materials supplier and gold daddy, you can CRAFT your way from 1-80. (Refer to ubiquitous crafting guides online, I suppose.)

Guides That Are Really Walkthroughs

Of all the ‘guides’ that pop up for various games, I honestly fail to understand leveling guides the most. What kind of person requires someone else to hold his hand, set his goals for him and tell him exactly where to go on each step of his journey to max level? Is it that hard to figure it out for yourself?

This is a rant against those who don’t want to think for themselves, who eschew discovery and learning, slavishly following other people’s instructions on how to do something.

There is an amazing number of them, just going by the number of hits I get on my page that is a simple map and directions and answers the questions “How do I get to Blue Mountain in The Secret World?” I fail to see how someone moving around the map doing quests can miss the Blue Mountain exit, but evidently, people do.

Little wonder why people put up all kinds of crap guides on websites, lace them with tons of ads to generate revenue, and let the Googling masses loose upon them.

Guides That Are Really Cheats

The countering defense to this is that for some people, they say that they are looking for guides that will show them the optimal path. They’re on a search for efficiency, the speedrun way.

A little questioning in the thread I brought up reveals that the original poster really wants, not just a leveling guide, but a FAST leveling guide, a power-leveling method. He wants to get his alt to 80 as uber duper quick as possible. He wants to find those weak spots of a game, such as a continually respawning dynamic event that will yield an abnormally higher rate of xp than the average, or perhaps mobs that return lots of experience to farm, and so on.

To me, it sounds like he’s looking for someone to share (ok, too kind a word, to give) knowledge of a near-exploit or a loophole for rushing to max level as fast as possible.

Putting aside the ‘why rush headlong into boredom and burnout quicker’ retort for now, we run into the ‘how stupid do you think those in the know are, that they will share this with you in a public setting, so that the developers can close it in the next patch?’

Little tip: Follow the bots. The gold farmers know where to be. It’s more than a game to them, it’s their livelihood. They -know-. And because of the way xp sharing works in this game, you can make use of their leet multiboxing hax skillz to kill stuff at a vastly accelerated pace.

Caveat: The above tip segues immediately into the ‘how much do you value your account’ argument, because ArenaNet is pretty fond of the banhammer for stuff they deem as exploiting and 72h suspensions for mere infractions, and they don’t even have to worry about losing your sub fee.

TL;DR: Follow my tongue-in-cheek suggestion at your own risk.

Guides That Are Really Guides (And Those That Are Not)

Ok, we cannot expect everyone to be number-crunchers or systems explorers, so there is some validity to the argument that writing guides that explain numbers and stats, esoteric knowledge, and shares and teaches strategies and general philosophies are kosher on the quest for the holy grail of min-maxing.

I don’t actually have an issue with guides per se. Especially if they are written with an intent to teach, or share, or discuss strategies or builds or what-have-you.

I tend to have a small issue with guides written like they are the be-all and end-all of all possible knowledge and treat-me-like-holy-writ-or-else, but I suppose if authors need that egomaniacal boost in order to get them to write in the first place, we can give them a little leeway for that.

But I do have big issues with people who do take them verbatim and everybody else is WRONG and we must all DO IT THIS WAY or else the sky will fall down and the earth will be swallowed in a pit of hellfire.

And there are an amazing number of people who don’t want to think and just want to follow someone else’s checklist or directions or list of ingredients or goals. Why in the world is that the case?

I don’t understand leveling guides, I think I’ve said that before. I find it terrifying to think that someone needs to be led around by the nose in this fashion. How are they going to manage more complex parts of the game? Find more walkthroughs? Pay someone to play for them?

I’ve taken a look at the odd crafting guide before, mostly from WoW, and some from GW2. A lot are just shitty terse checklists. From X to Y, do this. From Y to Z, do that. The only valuable thing in them is possibly that someone has counted up the number of materials you’ll need beforehand so that you can gather them first or buy them wholesale from an auction house, and one has to block a whole lot of ads to get that one sentence.

Probably the most comprehensive guide I’ve seen on the subject is an LOTRO guide for the Scholar, which besides an FAQ, includes suggested crafting node locations, though there is a hell of a lot of ingredient lists that are probably better off on a wiki somewhere.

I could point to the ATITD wiki for what proper crafting guides should look like, but practically no other game has that kind of complexity. Maybe Puzzle Pirates.

See, the really cool thing about this sort of guide is that even after reading it, it is not an instant “I win” button, you still have to put in time and practice to increase one’s performance, armed with better knowledge.

If, after reading a guide, you could program a bot or get your cat or parrot to do it and still attain 100% success, something is dreadfully wrong somewhere. I’m not sure if one should blame the game’s design, or blame the majority for wanting mindless button-pushing achievement.

A Guide By Any Other Name

I guess part of the problem is that every player’s definition of what is a useful guide differs.

I assume that people write and make the guides that they themselves would prefer. Which doesn’t bode well for the theory of crowd intelligence or humanity as a whole, given the number of cheats and straight up walkthroughs out there.

Either that, or they take the lazy way out and write down the least amount of words necessary, which boils down to a terse laundry list of “go here” “do that.”

Maybe the lazy man’s guide explanation is why there are so many unedited video ‘guides’ which are just playthroughs of a particular sequence. Extracting benefit is left as an exercise for the viewer to manage for themselves, which can be either slavishly aping what has been done, or pulling out the general principles to understand, utilize and possibly apply elsewhere.

Perhaps ‘a magician never reveals his secrets’ may be a reason why some people just write out the bare bones of what to do in order to gain the desired end result. They know that that’s what most people just care about, and in that way, they keep the superior edge of true knowledge.

But it really bugs me that so many people just care about the ends, and couldn’t care less about the means. This is why we have gold-sellers, why we have folks asking ‘where is the loot’ and looking for the next developer created shiny carrot to lead them on to the next, following guides written or filmed by other people.

Taken to an extreme, one may as well sell one’s copy of the game and just watch other people play the game from start to end for you on Youtube. Gaming as spectator sport.

Why? People, why? How special does it make you feel, if none of it is really what you accomplished on your own?

It’s borrowed fame. It’s pretense.

I can understand not wanting to reinvent the wheel from time to time, or even ‘skipping content’ to get to the good bits (though I personally think you’re skipping faster to burnout) now and then, but it’s so easy to run right down the slippery slope of not-wanting-to-do-anything-at-all-without-a-guide-showing-you-how.

TL;DR: Use Guides in Moderation

Ranting aside, at the end of the day, I guess I have to come to one of those Zen conclusions you tend to find on my blog.

Guides, like guns, are tools. It’s how you use them that really matters.

The objective and the intent behind using the guide is a big deal, and can lead to healthy or unhealthy consequences.

A little bit of self-discipline goes a long way to using them properly, and the lack of it leads to lazy dependency and misuse.

When in doubt, anything taken to an extreme is nuts.

Go play, and have fun.

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GW2/IF: Back on the Narrative Hunt – Emily Short and Fractured Fairy Tales

One of the things I started missing while enjoying Guild Wars 2 was narrative. Huh? Doesn’t GW2 have narrative?

Well, yes, and while I don’t mind the later personal story as much as some, and I appreciate the branching choices involved in creating that personal story, one of the things I did feel about it was that it was very… fractured. You’re not meant to go on it non-stop, you’re encouraged to take time out for hearts and DEs and what-have-you.

As a result, I feel a little less story continuity than say, in GW1, where you get to go on a nonstop story mission ride until you get bored, then you go off looking for trouble with side quests and back alley zone exploration and vanquishing. It’s nice enough, for what it is, and I appreciate seeing some of my chosen allies along for the ride in the higher level stuff (though I really miss my first NPC companion Maverick, whom we never see again past level 30.)

Ditto the dungeon stories. I did them completely out of level order and it’s a bit… hard to put them back together in any semblance of plot order. It’s not really a spoiler to say that Destiny’s Edge fights and squabbles a lot in the earlier dungeons, then they kiss (ok, not really) and make up and learn their lessons in the later dungeons, in time for the final big fight.

The world stories are okay, when you talk with the NPCs, it’s pretty entertaining, but there’s not much of a “me” story when wandering the world. Or rather, nothing terribly interesting to relate.

Who wants to hear the story of me following a trail of mithril ores until I got to a cypress tree, slaughtering drakes and wolves and polar bears along the way, until I found an orichalcum ore, yay, then I saw a rich mithril vein and had to figure out how to get to it, and it was guarded by a veteran something or order, and hey, there’s a cave there I never saw, so I went down it and saw stuff, and oooh, a chest, and oh darn, wasn’t I meant to be completing this zone, except by now the vista I was wandering to is somewhere southeast of here instead of northwest so I guess it’s time to head back in that direc…eep, a DE just exploded on me, ok, fightfightfight, and now this escort DE wants me to go that way (looks longingly at the vista)… oh screw it, the vista is always going to be there, trots off after the mass of people following the NPCs…

I guess it’s a narrative, and it’s a player-engendered one, which is sorta kinda sandboxy but not quite, but it’s also the same as what most people are doing, just not in that precise order. It’s a bit more meta-gamey than roleplay-ey, I guess.

There’s perhaps more unique diversity of experience in more sandbox games like Eve, where folks can be isolated in one tiny corner of the universe and have their own special adventures brought on by their self-chosen goals, but for myself, I’ve never really liked the idea of being just a small insignificant cog in some vast machinery understanding only a little part of the overall big puzzle. Fun for a little while, maybe, but I don’t have the patience long term for it.

No, the kind of narrative that will offset the lack of it in GW2 nicely would be short, bite-sized stories where I can take on a role and immerse in a world given to me by the author, and make meaningful choices to drive the story forward, and possibly have it branch out into significantly different endings and consequences based on what I chose to do.

That kind of narrative is best found in interactive fiction (IF) games.

And since GW2 does so wonderfully visually, the perfect yet different complement is literary elegance.

Every year, around this time, I start getting an itch for IF, because of the anticipation of Ifcomp, a yearly competition of interaction fiction (or text-adventure games) where you get to play a bunch of them for two hours and vote on your favorites. I’m about two weeks early, as the voting starts October 1st and authors are just submitting their games in September.

So I decided to check out a bunch of games I haven’t played, and my go-to author for IF is Emily Short, a true master of this medium.

If you haven’t played text-adventure games in a long time, or at all, do give them a try. It’s moved on quite a bit since the stilted unfriendly two word parsers which make trying to solve the game an exercise in authorial mind-reading and walkthrough following. The best of the lot are very well-written, technically clever and conjure up fantastic worlds and characters and dialogue in text.

I first fell in love with Emily Short’s work playing Metamorphoses, which I don’t really recommend to start with for IF newbies, but heartily do for those used to the genre. It’s mysterious, literary, figurative, symbolic, and very very well-coded. The puzzles involve transforming objects into different materials (hence the name of the game) and there are alternative solutions for each puzzle and stuff reacts in a way very consistent with the materials they are made of. It’s very impressive for what it sets out to achieve, and demonstrate what IF can do successfully.

Instead, for newbies, I’d suggest something I just tried a couple days ago and found quite doable. Bronze, part of her Fractured Fairy Tales series, is a story of Beauty and the Beast. It’s notable for having a novice mode, which explicitly helps out those new to the entire genre. It’s anything but a simple story, though, as you explore through the Beast’s castle, you will learn more of the history of its inhabitants and form your own opinions and emotions up to the point of the ending(s) where one can choose to have vengeance on or save certain characters (for whatever reasons or morals or ethics guide your hand.)

For the ultimate in super-short entertainment, A Day for Fresh Sushi is what is known in IF as a “one-room” puzzle, apparently solvable in three moves. As far as I understand it, this was a speed IF, coded in two hours, so it’s not as comprehensively parser foolproof as most of Emily Short’s other works but it’s amusing five minute entertainment to read the snark of the titular evil talking fish character while you’re trying to feed him. Low investment entertainment, worth trying, just don’t expect anything resembling perfection, but pretty funny.

Eg.

>x fish

Even if you had had no prior experience with him, you would be able to see at a glance that this is an evil fish. From his sharkish nose to his razor fins, every inch of his compact body exudes hatred and danger.

The fish notices your gaze; makes a pathetic mime of trying to find little flakes of remaining food amongst the gravel.

Best of Three is a very interesting simulation of a conversation, as a girl meeting someone you once had a crush on in high school, realistic to the point of awkwardness. It’s amazing how differently you can choose to react. I spent one game just gabbering on about anything under the sun, barely shutting up once. And another where I was silent through most of it, leaving the old flame doing most of the awkward filling in of the gaps until he eventually gives up and takes his leave. And I don’t think I’ve seen all the possible endings yet.

Bee is also realistically interesting. It’s different from the others in that it’s not in Inform format, but in a web form called Varytales. You play a girl who sets out to win the National Spelling Bee, but will lose, someday, somehow. But the reasons and motivations for the above are what is really important here. (It’s got a lot of resonance with my previous post on thinking about why we game. And what we consider winning and success.) There are some major major themes running through this story, about home-schooling, about parents, about work and play – friends, homework, school and siblings. How you define success, and how you define learning. Oh, science and religion. Big themes. Very worth a read. Or two.

(And it’s in web format, so you just click, rather than typing, if you’re scared of the IF parser.)

For those not impressed by overly flowery words, I’d recommend something not-Emily Short, but hilariously funny. Lost Pig, in which you play an orc, who has lost a pig and must find it. If you get through this one without laughing or liking it, you are beyond saving.

Eg.

Pig lost! Boss say that it Grunk fault. Say Grunk forget about closing gate. Maybe boss right. Grunk not remember forgetting, but maybe Grunk just forget. Boss say Grunk go find pig, bring it back. Him say, if Grunk not bring back pig, not bring back Grunk either. Grunk like working at pig farm, so now Grunk need find pig.

The whole thing is written from Grunk’s POV. It’s crazy fun.

There are a lot more good ones that Emily Short (and others, not mentioned here) have written, Galatea, Flashpoint, Savor-Faire, City of Secrets, etc. that I’ve played ages past before, but I mainly wanted to cover the four less-known ones I just played, Bronze, Sushi, Bee and Bestof3, in this post. The other two are classics that have etched themselves into my brain and must recommend.

And how do you play IF, you may ask?

Well, in all the games I just linked, in the top right hand corner, there is a little button that reads, “Play Online” which you can just click and the game will start and you don’t have to do any more worrying than that.

If you’re more of a hardcore fanatic and develop a taste for this sort of thing, there are interpreters and clients that you can download (click on “Show Me How”), and the game files from that archive, and then you can play the things offline. Z-Code and Inform games run off something called Frotz, there’s a bunch of variants.

And there’s an app in the iStore called Frotz which works for iPad and iPhone, more or less. This is my preference these days, as it’s more portable than sitting in front of a desktop (which dangles Steam and other MMOs oh so temptingly.) It has a bit of a tendency to crash or stall in mysterious fashion with bigger, more sophisticated games on my ancient iPad 1, at which point, I just switch to online play versions, but works all right for 75% of the games I’ve tried.

The basic conventions for IF are as follows:

EXAMINE everything. Just type ‘x’ followed by a noun. Eg. ‘x cat’ ‘x cupboard’ ‘x drawer’ etc.

Moving is usually via compass directions. North, south, etc, and shortened to N, E, S, W, NE, SW, NW, SE, etc. and there ‘s occasionally up and down, in and out.

To see what you’re carrying, INVENTORY or ‘i’

From there, just try anything and everything. Push, pull, touch, feel, hit, kill, whatever verbs shake your boat. And you can always try HELP or HINTS if the game provides for it.

TSW: On the Believability of Mobs

One of the things I’ll say for Funcom, they really know how to set up their mobs for immersiveness.

Even in Age of Conan, I was especially taken with the way a pack of wolves would be feeding on a kill (before you ignobly interrupt them by walking by) or how a whole family of lion, lioness and cubs would be patroling around their territory (the same functional threat could be executed with a pack of identically skinned hyenas, or even lionesses, so why bother to model male, female and babies?)

More so than other MMOs, it seems to me, they don’t mind placing these things to make sense, rather than follow an “accessibility” or design rule that says, mobs or clumps of mobs must be spaced out at regular intervals, and all roads must be kept clear, yadda yadda.

While it makes their zones potentially more treacherous, it comes across as very believable.

The Secret World is no exception.

Clumps of zombies feed on corpses. Corpses you think are corpses will get up and vicously raven all over you.

Wendigos lay traps and ambushes for unwary travelers, yes, even along roads or paths.

Everybody knows the Ak’ab shuffle dance (step to the left! turn around! step to the right! turn again!)  and the layout of their burrows by now, no doubt. Broodmarks slow their prey along the outskirts, where hunters will come to check on them. Sentries surround their burrows, while groups of their young scurry about. And right smack in the center, their royal burrow and queen awaits. By showing, and not just outright telling, you easily understand that Ak’ab are bugs, of a very annoying kind.

Recently, I spent a good half an hour watching Draug in Blue Mountain (thanks to a ‘kill lots of them’ quest) and I was amazed at how I failed to take note of what they were up to in Kingsmouth and the Savage Coast (I always gave them a pretty wide berth, especially all the areas with brood pods and tons of incubators.)

Incubators. They’re human-sized, with a brood pod-y growth lanced through their stomachs and out their backs. In other words, they were probably humans once. Hopefully taken from dead ones, but who knows, the horror of it could be that they were still alive when the Draug got hold of them.

If you give them some unmolested time, they reach a stage of their development that makes them do this.

They squat down and… metamorphose into this.

OMG. Through all of Solomon Island, I’ve been shooting dozens and dozens of these brood pods to stop Draug from hatching out of them, but it wasn’t until I watched the entire incubator cycle that it really hit me where the hell these brood pods COME FROM.

Again, if you leave the brood pods unmolested for a time, they will promptly hatch (or is the correct term ’emerge’ from their pupal stage) into full ‘adult’ Draug, indistinguishable from the maulers and broodwitches and so on that hang around the beach.

And of course, which most people have experience with by now, the brood pods will react to your presence (or attack) by attempting speed hatching. Destroy them fast enough and a dead newlyformed Draug something will fall out of the ‘cocoon.’

If not, then a weaker in hp version, prefixed by the words Newly Formed, Draug will pop right out and start attacking you in self-defense.

Now isn’t that a whole lot more interesting a cycle than a mob with a differently-colored skin just appearing out of nowhere and pacing all of six inches from where they spawned in?

Making People Group – GW2 vs The Old Way

I’m a month late to reading this post on Guild Wars 2, where Milady expresses an argument that defends “forced grouping” as having significant benefits for players to make social connections with each other, and suggests that GW2’s new system of incentivizing sociable activities makes the actions players take comparatively more meaningless than in the traditional forced group MMO setting.

I beg to differ.

You can motivate people by forcing them somewhere with a stick, or encouraging them to approach with a carrot. Personally, I know which one I’d prefer.

One liners aside, I’d agree that “forced grouping” does provide a compulsion to interact with others, and an opportunity (in that there is a captive audience) for those who would like to exercise the free choice to socialize with people.

However, there is another not-inconsiderable-in-number subset of players who do take issue with the compulsion and the “force” because it reduces their freedom of choice – to make game progress with whomever they want, alone or with others. By feeling like they have no choice in the matter, there’s even less incentive and desire to connect with others, beyond making use of them to get to wherever they want.

In a scenario like this, it becomes important to be able to tell these players apart and not befriend them overly, because you run the risk of getting stabbed in the back and having trust betrayed when they ditch you for greener pastures, possibly making off with all your items or what-not.

I’d argue that in Guild Wars 2, far from making social interaction an automatic meaningless reaction to get rewards – the aim of all the incentives, all the systems working in tandem, is to move past all that in-group out-group nonsense by making everyone on your server in-group.

Everyone is a potential person that you could make the free choice to open up to, chat with, and befriend. There is no lack of free choice with GW2’s system either.

I believe the degree of incentivization may be crucial as well in helping GW2’s system function appropriately.

The default option of many MMO players (especially if they’re trained by WoW) is to go their own way and solo. (Among just some of the in-built incentives to this option: not needing to wait for someone else, can pause or sidetrek at any time, no exposure of vulnerability to other players required.)

If you over-incentivize with a carrot, say if you gain a lot more xp in a group than you would solo, then yeah, you’d see lots of people clamoring to get into groups and travel together. But no deep social interaction occurs – people group, farm xp, leave when their objective is achieved with nary a word.

Some people may take advantage of this enforced audience to build social connections, through chatting, through personal exposure, through performing a group combat role well, through good leadership, etc. but there is free choice at work here. Others may very well not bother to connect.

Very soon, the over-incentive to group is perceived as “forced” grouping. I may want to solo, but I cannot progress my character at a good clip without “having” to group up. Free choice is lost. And then people complain.

There’s also the real force with a stick option. That’s the typical raid mechanic. If you don’t participate in this group activity that -requires- such and such amount of people, no progression for you. Or to take xp as an example: no xp when alone, you only get xp with others. Do you have any choice in the matter? Only a very binary one, play it and get the reward or not play and forgo the reward.

But what if you defuse some of the built-in incentives to soloing by providing (approximately) -equivalent- alternative options  to gain rewards with other players?

At any time, I can choose to walk away from other players and solo and gain a set rate of xp and rewards. In most typical MMOs, if I choose to walk towards other players to group, my set rate of xp doesn’t change much, or it may even go down – “omg, u’re killstealing frm me.” To maintain or slightly improve my xp, I’d have to pause, invite everyone to the same group, lead, converse, organize and keep talking – that’s an increased amount of effort for not very much reward.

Milady argues that putting up with this mild disincentive proves how worthy a “friend” another player is, because they’ve made the choice to value a social connection over self-progression. Fair enough, if your criteria for friendship is only with people who don’t mind un-optimizing themselves temporarily in order to connect with others. That’s one way of forming an in-group, only connecting with those who think more of the good of the group than personal gain.

But why would we want to lose out on the opportunity to build connections with the rest? Plenty of people balance both community good and personal gain.

In Guild Wars 2, the aim is to remove the disincentivizing barriers to grouping with others. If I walk toward other players, and help out on their mobs, I’m not taking away any xp from them, and I’m helping them kill faster, benefiting all. Social interaction doesn’t have to be a zero sum game – I put up with irritation in order to help you more? Both of us can benefit from the interaction in GW2.

Rezzing people is not the only way to gain xp in GW2. If it was, then yeah, I’d say that would promote meaningless exchanges because everyone would be racing to rez people for progress. Rezzing people is an option, and by performing it, you gain a reward. You could also happily ignore the dead person, and continue to swing away at the dynamic event boss, because when he dies, you get a big reward. That small reward for rezzing people just provides positive reinforcement, a ‘good job!’ signal for people who make the free choice to reach out and help someone – often facing the risk of coming under fire in combat to do so.

I actually think there are a couple more critical factors in this rezzing mechanic than just reward optimization encouraging automatic behavior. As Chris Bell proposes at GDC, social interaction requires vulnerability in order for people to become open to trusting another. Being defeated and about to die is about as vulnerable as it gets without harsher mechanics like the risk of item loss or permadeath. Naturally, you take note of those who come to your aid, rather than the rest of the masses who are still unthinkingly automatic firing at the boss. A little bit of trust and respect is built, paving the way for more chances at future social interactions.

I’d argue that by encouraging these sorts of iterative and positive small gestures in a game, it has a subtle effect on the entire community of the game. It becomes more welcoming, more willing to respond to someone in need and help, rather than taking the default option of treating others like a stranger who will bring more trouble than he’s worth. City of Heroes was a much nicer place when people ran around giving out free money to lowbies because they had no other use for it, instead of now being incentivized to hoard the cash to buy better loot for their characters.

As for the not-so-good apples, or those who put personal gain over anything or anyone else, Guild Wars 2 actively strives to ensure that they can never perform actions that harm others while doing so. Whatever they do, will still indirectly help others on their server.  That’s a far better design goal than tacitly permitting them to do harm.

Is it crucial to be able to tell them apart in order to judge who is worth being “friends” with? I don’t believe so, they likely have very little interest in getting to know you anyway, so they won’t make the free choice to open their mouths and interact, or even bother to travel together with you.

Guild Wars 2 is the next stage, the next experiment, in players socially interacting with one another. To move from a system that has less “I win, you lose” interactions, and more “I win, you win” ones. It’ll be interesting to see where it takes us.

Why You Game – Think About It

Today, I’m going to advocate the unthinkable, I’m going to suggest that more people should emulate griefers.

WHAT?

In one important aspect at least: to have examined your own motives for play, and be clear about your own objectives.

We get angry with griefers because they spoil our fun. They’re not playing the way they’re supposed to. They’re not “following the rules” of the game, and their objective is often diametrically opposed to most other peoples’ goals in the game. They’re out to make people angry, frustrated, ragequit, or get some manner of reaction in some way, because they find it fun to mess with people like that.

But one of the things they subconciously (or purposefully, if they’re the type to think through and articulate their reasons) do  is become very clear about what they want to get out of “playing” the game (their way,) and defined their own victory conditions (number of people getting angry or ragequitting or comment threads or attention paid to them or whatever.)

Of course I morally disapprove of griefers for two main reasons – I don’t think their chosen behavior is healthy for themselves, and certainly not for other people either. It doesn’t seem like a long term strategy for getting along, just a short term “one-upping” that has to be constantly repeated for kicks, and turn into a bad habit or addiction. For me, it’s a real world philosophy seeping in – I think it’s dysfunctional and small minded for people to be happy when they are making other people unhappy. I meet some people in the real world like this – they need to put others down in order to make themselves feel better, they demand attention and get loud and strident when ignored – and it just leaves a nasty taste in my mouth.

Essentially, they’re playing a very zero sum game. I win, you lose. In their minds, they can only get ahead of others if you’ve lost. If they lose and you win, then they just get more furious and pissed off and try even harder to shift the balance to the other side of the slider.

Thing is, the world isn’t so two-dimensional. There’s another side of the matrix. Too much of the above kind of fighting and it all becomes “I lose you lose.” In which case, no one wins, no one had fun or a good time, and the net misery level of the world went up (which is all very well if that’s specifically your goal, but I’m not that nihilistic, even if it’s 2012 and the Mayans tell us we’re doomed.)

The old prisoner’s dilemma thing – which we will touch on more in ATITD related posts – and the trust factor.

There’s also “I win you win,” the last corner of the matrix,  and “I get by, you get by” which is sort of the middle path, an emergent property from the win/lose matrix.

Griefers are an extreme case. If we dial back several notches from chaos (from not respecting other players or the game’s rules) and into lawfulness, we land in the territory of competition.

Now competition is a necessary and healthy counterpart to cooperation. Without that drive to be the tiniest bit better, to improve one’s self, we’d probably be back in the Stone Ages or likely dead as a species. The force of evolution works by only keeping those that are a bit better than the rest, so it’s no wonder it’s ingrained in us to not be the last guy that gets eaten by the sabre tooth cat.

Looking at the amounts of Achieving going on in MMOs, of  in-groups of raiders or PvPers, matches and tournaments and leaderboards, suffice to say that competition is well and alive in MMOs, reflects much of our real world competitive psyche, and is a source of fun for many people.

But I’d like to ask everyone to pause here and reflect for themselves if this really is the case for them specifically.

Why am I so obsessed with this? It has to do with my prior history in games.

When I first began playing online games in the form of a MUD, I fell hook line and sinker into the stated premise of the game. Get more levels and hit max level. The faster you can do this, the more “pro” and hardcore you are. The more characters you have at max level, the more respected you are, you must apparently know so much about the game and have so many tools you can use to overcome game challenges. Join newbie guilds to get to know people, and you might get invited to a more elite guild type known as an “Order” if you are a promising young padawan. At max level, and with groups of people, you can go on “runs” to defeat big bosses (essentially raids in simplified form) for better gear, which would help you to kill bigger mobs until you get to the (current) ultimate big bads of Seth and Merlin.

In addition, the MUD had ‘quests’ which were human-created, they were essentially competitions run by volunteer player staff known as “immortals.” These often comprised of answering trivia knowledge questions about the MUD and its areas and mobs and lore, or running around the world killing special quest mobs or picking up special items – whose locations you would put together from given clues and also tested MUD knowledge. Again, I fell into this by chance. It so happens that I type quite a bit faster than most people, and maybe pay a bit more attention to the words on a screen that formed MUD ‘rooms.”

As a newbie, I started winning these competitions, and started gaining a reputation to the point that some people would see my name appear and go, “Dang, there goes my chances of winning.” As I got into more runs and joined an elite Order, my gear got better and better, making quest mob kills easier. I learned from my idols and heroes at the time, veterans of the game who were better than I, and strove to emulate them. I started leading runs for newer players, then leading quests, and even leading a guild (while maintaining my connection to the elite Order so that we could feed in the promising players into the Order.)

Our Order in turn took off from the ground up to become pretty much the ultimate (or penultimate, there was one more secret Order that never let on what they were up to, and contained a lot of old immortal player alts – they kept themselves to themselves, and stayed out of the MUD grapevine, possibly because they didn’t want accusations of cheating with their immortal characters) guild. We had our own ‘server first’ by being the only guild that could get to and kill Merlin for quite a long period of time.

I basically bought into the fame and the image that others had and expected of me. I had responsibilities, and expectations to live up to. And winning has its dark side.

This article in particular – How to Lose at Golden Demon – spawned my post today because it resonated so much with me.

After you win, and have a series of wins under your belt, comes the fear. The fear of one day losing. Of not being good anymore. No one wins forever. One day, some new and younger person turns up to upstage you. Your limelight is gone. Your self-image, which you constructed from the surface impressions of other people, shatters or at least takes a heavy beating.

Every loss makes you more focused to win once again. And danger of dangers, you end up focusing on the goal and the end results, rather than the means or the present activity. Therein lies “grind.” Therein lies the threat of not respecting anything or anyone other than the altar of first prize. I turned pretty ugly in those days when a guy showed up who managed to upstage me a few times. Though I tried to control it, I have been guilty of lashing out once or twice at fellow guildmates whom I thought “slowed me down” at the time and let the other guys win. Temper and obsession do not a pretty picture make.

My ruthlessness even shocked a fellow guildmate when we were having a friendly in-guild PvP tournament, and when there were three of us left, I concocted an alliance with the other person to defeat him first because we knew he had the best gear of us all. He never quite got over the revelation of how calculating I was and focused on “playing to win.”

Competition can change you. Take a look at these Neptune’s Pride epic diaries from Rock, Paper Shotgun and Electron Dance. It’s interesting to see how different people react to competition. One or two simply shut down and become avoidant (Me, I don’t think that’s a fair way to go about it, because I would respect the rules of a game if I decide to play it, but hey, it worked for them.) Some just do their best but balance their real world and game time. And a few gamers (and I empathize with them because I have those tendencies) get really deadly obsessive and they can even frighten themselves in retrospect.

There are positive aspects to competition, don’t get me wrong. It makes for high drama, and good memories and a grand story to be told at the end. There is an adrenaline rush that can never be replaced. It makes you push yourself further than you would go on your own, left to your own devices. It offers a good challenge, the opportunity to test one skills, etc.

But it’s also easy to glorify competition in our society. Which then leads to getting carried away by competition – it’s the nature of the beast. There’s a very male monkey hierarchy thing going on.

And in the end, it behooves us to take a step back and examine ourselves to see if that’s really the way we want to keep going.

We don’t have to go to extremes either way. I’m not saying that oh, all competition is bad, and we should become communists and hold hands and sing “Kumbaya” together. That way doesn’t work either, not all of us are cut out for hippy commune living.

But we aren’t -just- monkeys all the time. Life works on a balance of competition and cooperation. Human society succeeds with a fair share of altruism, connected groups may get ahead better. (In later posts about ATITD, we’ll touch more on this, ATITD reflects life in microcosm really well.)

Brian Campbell from the Escapist Magazine suggests we might be able to let up once in a while and be a little altruistic even in our competitions (as long as it’s not a professional tournament where folks have to be serious and such.)

Even Sirlin quantifies that playing to win doesn’t have to be ALL THE TIME, ALL-OR-NOTHING. There’s also putzing around for nonproductive fun or experimentation with strategies that can be a balance point to being competitive.

And he also acknowledges that for many people, playing to win isn’t everything in life. He writes his stuff for those who have decided and articulated the goal they are striving for, to improve themselves and win tournaments, which to me is fantastic – all power to them, and it gave me insight into a way of thinking that is personally quite alien for me.

I finally realized this, based on examining my experiences. When I bought into the goals of the masses on the MUD, I became another person. It was someone with all the trappings of success and had reached the top, but secretly, inside, I was not happy. I was proud, fearful, and most of all, lonely. There’s awfully rarefied air at the top. You push away connections or they push away from you. They put you on a pedestal to be admired and become distant. Your in-group becomes very small, as you stomp on others to get up there, and everyone else is out-group to be despised or feared or hated or looked upon as a threat. And in turn, they don’t like you much either.

For some, while I’ve been saying is probably unthinkable. “Why -wouldn’t- you be happy when you win? -I- love winning!”

Possibly it’s like winning the lottery, you won’t know until you’ve been there. Turns out we’re poor estimaters of our own future happiness as hedonistic adaptation kicks in.

Or maybe you really are different from me, and your brain is structured in a way that really enjoys those kicks of winning and you love the spotlight of fame and it would never make you lonely or miserable or sad. In which case, all power to you, if you’ve examined that for yourself. There are games out there that really suit you.

But please, do take time to examine your motives and goals to see if they are your own, or someone else’s or what society (in-game or real world) thinks you should be doing.

It’s too easy to get caught up in what the game says you’re supposed to achieve, or what other people expect of you, and end up striving to match those expectations. Ultimately even if you achieved them, they may end up feeling quite hollow if they don’t match with your internal compass.

For myself, I feel happier when I’m helping others, teaching them, expressing understanding and loving-kindness and patience. I feel happier when I’m improving my own skills and learning at my own pace, rather than feeling obliged to keep up or match some standard of achievement. I feel happier when I’m playing for the sake of play, to experiment, to wander, to wonder, to discover and marvel.

Striving against obstacles (people or computer controlled or inanimate) to achieve a victory state is core to many games. But I treat this Achievement or rather the act of achieving (we too often focus on the end result these days, and that leads to “grind”)  as just a subset of my play. Now and then, I indulge it, because that’s also a part of myself that I must acknowledge. I enjoy the dings and the progress bar increments and even team-based PvP match “wins” from time to time. The sense of fiero as a reward is fun, but I remain aware of it and am careful to avoid jumping down the pit of the dark side. Been there, done that, really didn’t like it.