Thursday, May 28, 2015

4.38. Server First

As the level cap is removed, Syrophenikan surveys the
guild XP and those available to begin the grind to 25,
Tol Barad


10:51pm. Early. Upstairs, the kids slept. I heard Jul's footsteps as she passed by the computer room, leading the dogs out into the backyard. A few minutes later, she rapped on the heavy oak door. "Heading to bed. Good luck!"

"Night, hon. See you the morning."

Behind me, lights flicked off. The steps creaked as my wife headed upstairs. Shuffling. Water rushing through the plumbing in the hundred year old walls. And then, the house was still.

April 4th was an hour away, but in the World of Warcraft, the new day wouldn't truly begin until the clock read 3:00am.

Within hours of Cataclysm's launch, a limiter had been installed. It was an 11th hour band-aid to prevent expansive rosters from stomping over smaller guilds as we ground towards level 25. Nearly any guild related activity earned XP, so guilds of DoD's size and motivation could make short work of any fly-by-night 10-Man operation.

But that just wasn’t "fair".

Blizzard insisted on leveling the playing field; a guild's preference shouldn’t be held against it when racing to level 25. Each week, DoD capped guild XP a few days after reset, then waited patiently for the others to catch up by the following Monday. When 3:00am rolled around, we'd see just how level the playing field was.

Midnight. I carefully opened the computer room door, taking care to lift as I pushed, trying not to let it scrape across the floor. I snuck into the kitchen where an orange prescription bottle waited. Popping the lid off, I pulled the daily dose out, shooting the tiny pink tablet with a glass of water.


"I want to be clear that this is not a reflection on his intelligence; he's exceptional, particularly with reading. I love having him come up to the front of the class and read. He tells me his Grandmother taught him."

"Shawn spent a lot of time with her because I had to work, not having a husband to support us."

"He's been reading fifth grade content to a class of first graders, easily in top percentile for his age group. But, Shawn's also having a tough time staying focused, his mind wanders during focused assignment work, and is very easily distracted by the other kids..."

"That sounds like a problem with the other children."

" well as being a distraction himself, Mrs. Holmes. He also has a tough time completing tasks, he tends to rush through them..."

"Well, that's probably because he's got video games on the brain. Taking them away should give him more than enough time to do his homework."

"...I can appreciate you wanting to solve this entirely in the home, Mrs. Holmes, but I would still like to have him assessed. There is a possibility that he may need help that is beyond your…"

"Mr. Bergink, my son doesn’t need any tests or any drugs to get what he wants out of life. My father was a foreman on the Canadian National Railway for forty years and was still able to raise three boys and a daughter. And he sure as hell didn’t do it with any medications. Do you think I don’t know what’s right for my son?"

"Mrs. Holmes, I apologize. I never meant to imply that…"

"What he needs is discipline, and that's something I can handle. So you can take your assessment, and give it to some of the other 'distractions' in your classroom."

"He's got a healthy lead on his peers. If we don't take steps now, that gap is going to close, and Shawn’s very likely going to be left behind."

"I'll handle the steps from here on out. And for the record, it’s 'Ms.'"

I wouldn't find out about the conversation between my first grade teacher and my mother for another twenty-eight years.

Channels Forever Flipping

Jul had me pegged within the first year of marriage. She, like Bergink, noted the inattentiveness, the inability to follow-through on long projects. Discussions around menial tasks exploded in violent outbursts: dishes, laundry, cooking, doing the bills: bamboo shoots under my fingernails would've been less painful. If it didn't interest me, it was torturous, so I gravitated towards work I loved. Employers always had the same stance. Too fast. Not enough attention to detail. I was always rushing, always with one daydream on the brain.

Video games.

It took twelve years of persistent, gentle reminders from my wife to get me in to the doc's office. Diagnosis: "Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder". Symptoms included a shortened attention span, challenges with focus, forgetfulness, and a noticeable acute case of my Mother rolling her eyes. The doc started me on 20mg that day, which I popped on my way back to work. I couldn't recall if she'd mentioned any side-effects. My mind had already drifted back to the guild, to progression, to Kael'thas, to Ater leaving for Illinois. Channels forever flipping in the TV of the mind.


If you've never written a line of code, I envy you. This must be what it's like to learn to read and go crazy at the same time. Staring at unintelligible squiggles that mean nothing as your brain tries to make sense of the curves and shapes and patterns that you were certain made sense an hour ago. I never had the luxury of illiteracy. As long as I can remember, I've been able to read and write. Coding must feel like those first years of learning to read. Even on your best days, you catch yourself baffled by your own writing, wondering just what in the hell you were trying to say.

I rattled off another few lines of code, saved, alt-tabbed, refreshed my web browser, and confirmed the last change. Finished. An unexciting drop-down menu with a list of restaurant franchisee owners stared back. Perfect. Just as the spec dictated. Done and in the bag.

I lingered.

I stared at the list of fictional names, then flipped back to the spec...then back to the list again. I popped the menu open, then closed it. Again. And again. This isn't right. The menu sucked. I hated it. I looked at the spec again. The spec sucked. The whole damn system sucked.

It sucked because it wasn't usable.

The channels in my mind stopped flipping. I tore down the entire interface and rebuilt it. Someone, somewhere, was eventually going to have to sit down and use this thing. Something compelled me to make it right. I sat there, without distraction, until it was right. Until it made sense.

Years of darkness now bathed in the full glow of a halogen lamp. But for the love of God, man. How the hell do you turn it off?


The clock glowed 2:30am. I was wide awake. I tossed. I turned. I fumbled with the pillow. I kicked the covers off, then pulled them back up. "Delayed Release" was what I missed the doc saying, distracted by the flipping channels, the video games, the WoW. A 20mg capsule of Adderall specially engineered to deposit medicine into the bloodstream, well into the evening, was strangling me awake.

Beware the dangers of taking your ADHD medication late in the day. It is insomnia in pill form.

Unless, of course, that’s what you want.

Voluntary Insomniac

3:00am. Twenty DoDers were burning the midnight oil. Invites went out. Dungeon groups formed. Pipes unkinked, the golden guild XP flowed once more. Any guild participating should’ve hovered at the tail end of Guild Level 22. At 3:30am, we broke 23.

As the early morning crept in, twenty players dwindled to five. I carried on, bursting with energy, never blinking, chipping away at the guild xp bar, through 4 and 5 am. Those late night players, having dropped from exhaustion, were replaced by morning people, guildies who got an hour of dailies in before my alarm clock buzzed. I tagged in the early morning stares and kept the guild XP flowing.

I hopped up for bio breaks between these dozen-dungeon-streaks, slurping coffee and wolfing down snacks, but was never away from the keyboard for more than a few minutes. 7am became 9:30am, and 9:30am became 11, hour after hour, lost to a blur of guild activity. As the sun rose, guildies continued to log on. There were always faces, waiting and willing to contribute. By noon, I felt like a million bucks. I needed no break. But I was curious how long it would last.

It was around 2:00pm that I began to feel the effects of being awake for thirty-one hours solid. Exhaustion is one thing entirely, something you come to recognize when your hobby is long-distance driving. The reduced reflexes, a bobbing head, slurred speech. Eyelids of unbearable weight.

This time, exhaustion came in an unfamiliar form. Instead of heavy eyelids, my eyes themselves felt like glowing rings, two halos propped open by a ghostly apparatus. My faculties seemed intact, my reflexes were ostensibly still sharp, my fortieth clear of Blackrock Caverns no slower than the first. But a disturbing feeling set in, one of mindless automation. If a soul exists, it had retired twelve hours earlier, and some unearthly fuel now powered an empty husk, clicking buttons, tapping keys, zombified. Nothing more than a calculator executing instructions.

Even now, it’s difficult to describe how I felt. But it wasn’t good. The longer it went on, the more I wished never to swear that curse upon my worst enemy.

At 3:42pm, in the middle of the Stonecore, a message flashed up on the screen.

Descendants of Draenor has reached Guild Level 24!

[Mature][Guild Chat]: I think I need to lie down.

I trudged upstairs to the bedroom, sparking neurons still firing as I tried to math out what time I needed to be up by. 3:30am to 3:42pm got us one guild level. 12 hours. One level. I need to be up by 4:00am, then. No. 3:00. Better make that 2:00. Yeah. Then I can help wrap this up. Mm, but wait, more peeps logging in. Which means they'll be grouping more. So...more dungeons, no no...less. Less dungeons. Faster. Because...they'll be earning faster. Yeah. That's right.

I think...

...the sky outside was dark. Did I miss work? No, that wasn't right. But the read 8:36pm...


I rolled out of bed, shot down the staircase, and swung into the computer room. Moments later, I was back online, surveying our status. Guild Level 24 was rapidly reaching its end. Three times as many players were now online, navigating down the white water rapids of guild XP. I hopped back into the fray, by 9:00pm, we were 60% into the level. An hour and a half later, the bar bled past the 90% mark.

Did we have an hour to go? A half hour? It didn’t matter. We didn’t stop. The evening was a blur of Deadmines, Stonecore, Grim Batol and Lost City of the Tol’vir. By 10:30pm, we had 74 guild members online, all running dungeons, bouncing between gearing alts, knocking out achievements, working their way through Vortex Pinnacle, Halls of Origination, Throne of the Tides…

[22:51:26] [Descendants of Draenor] "Descendants of Draenor" has earned the achievement [Realm First! Guild Level 25]!

It was our one and only server first. The hardcore raiding guilds, destined to forever beat us at raid progression, somehow slipped behind. And despite a guild leader's terrible pharmaceutical decision, DoD won the day.

I never did find out if it was a photo finish. I like to imagine other guilds weren't close at all. For a single moment in DoD's history, cliques melted away, petty arguments were pushed to the wayside, raid teams carried no weight, and the chain-of-command meant nothing. That day, every single member of DoD contributed, regardless of rank or status, a juggernaut that smashed its way to a landslide victory, and no one individual was the deciding factor.

I like to think that, because the alternative is bound to keep me awake at night.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

4.37. The Sad and Sorrowful Tale of Aetherknight

You don't even know me!


This is a tale of woe, of inside jokes, mockery and profanity. You'll learn the value of a quality Richard Nixon impression, uttering the words "I SHOULD DRIVE THE SIEGE ENGINE." You'll feel the exhilaration telling a guild leader to fuck himself and his guild vault. You will come to appreciate the notion that some people are not meant to play World of Warcraft. And you will, from this day forth, see footwear as nothing more than a meme. But this is a tale of revelation and of self-awareness, so I warn you, dear reader, that these tales do not often have a happy ending. Our story begins as all poignant tales should: it begins with a dude falling off a horse.

Late into the evening of October 12th, 1947, a 24 year old pilot crashed to the ground without an aircraft in sight. A closed gate and a horse with bad eyes resulted in a mid-fence collision, catapulting the rider off. When the World War II vet hit the dirt, the force cracked two of his ribs. But rather than go directly to the local hospital, he dragged his busted insides to an out-of-town veterinarian, taping up Chuck's torso as best he could. Only two people were privy to the accident: Chuck's wife, Glennis, and a close friend, Jack. The secrecy was essential. History was at stake.

Two days later and in excruciating pain, Chuck suited up at the Muroc Desert Test Center, and climbed into an experimental XS-1 aircraft. Debilitating pain couldn't risk the mission, which is why he smuggled a broomstick handle onto the runway. Pulling it from his flight suit, Chuck fashioned the handle into a makeshift lever and used it to seal the hatch of the XS-1. And on October 14th, 1947, Captain Chuck E. Yeager took the XS-1 to an altitude of 45,000 ft, pushed the experimental aircraft to Mach 1.07, and became the first human to break the sound barrier. With two broken ribs.

Six years later, he more than doubled his previous record, reaching a speed of 1,600 miles/hour.

Chuck's a master with an aircraft because he's attuned to limits: how much pain he can endure, how much stress an aircraft can withstand, how insane an experiment might be. Being able to pinpoint a limit is necessary in order to push beyond it. It's how you turn good into great, forgettable into memorable, and a good ol' fashioned flight mission into aeronautical history. The first step to becoming "great" is be able to first recognize what's "good", so you have a line in the sand to push past. An expert knows when s/he's about to make a bad decision. But it's not enough to simply be an expert with your craft -- that's only half the game. You need to be attuned to your own limits.


One of the ways we can understand our limits is by turning to what we like. Gamers have preferences: in their mind, they know what's fun and what isn't. If they love cartoons, kitty cats, and inhuman levels of pink, you can expect them to enjoy Hello Kitty Island Adventure. But if they get an adrenalin rush from punching the skin clean off a demon, they may be more inclined to choose Diablo.

Preferences are knit very closely to limits: force a Diablo player to sit through Hello Kitty, and there's a very real possibility that they walk away in minutes -- they've had all they can handle. It's knowing and interpreting one's own limits that shape future decisions; it is the seed from which preferences grow. Hey, Diablo player, interested in Hello Kitty II? "No, thanks." There's no need to even attempt the experimental flight. They know their Hello Kitty limit, and it's already well into the red.

Preferences are established across a wide variety of attributes: we favor one visual style over another, enjoy some genres more than others, crank the game music or silence it, and care deeply/not at all about the story and characters. We have preferences on the platform (PC MASTER RACE UNITE!), and even prefer varying degrees of difficulty. If we crave a challenge, we'll dive directly into the molten hellfire of the hardest mode. If we prefer taking things slowly, we'll opt to take an easier route, ramping up the difficulty over time. At some point in our lives, we've set an internal marker for each feature, a slider on a ruler indicating 'safe' and 'not at all safe'. And as we walk the multitude of features in our mind, the slider extends far into the distance for the types of things we love, and shores up tightly for things we loathe.

Our preferences are nothing more than inverted views of our limits -- we tolerate the things we like much longer than we tolerate things we hate; it's how a handful of my guild enjoys playing Diablo, but have since moved to something else while I continue to grind up the ladder. We all think Diablo is fun, but grinding is something they're unwilling to tolerate as much as a crazed lunatic like me..

So, if we are in agreement that our preferences are really just another way of looking at -- of understanding -- our own limits, then it is time to turn this story toward a paladin named Aetherknight, to see how well he understood his.

Aetherknight (as Grzzloc) lies dead as the 25-Man
finishes off Anu'barak,
Tournament of Champions

The Burning Man

As the summer of '09 bled into our darkened, flickering caves, a new recruit found his way into our roster. He called himself Aetherknight, and was fresh off of a guild named Immortals, looking to make a name for himself in DoD. Aetherknight's timing was good; he joined DoD right about the time that Cheeseus was mitigating drama with Divineseal. This plan succinctly demonstrated the DoD 2.0 strategy: if you can't solve your issues in progression, eventually, we'll replace you. We gave Divineseal the tools to fix his issues, and if he couldn't (or wouldn't), Aetherknight would be next in line.

Aether's first opportunity to strut his stuff came thanks to a simple misunderstanding. Word trickled down from Annihilation's Alt-25 that a "pally was sucking". I assumed the pally in question was Divinepants, leading me to direct Cheeseus in pulling Aetherknight off the bench. It wasn't until Aether had been signed and rotated in that the name of the paladin was finally confirmed. Lo and behold, Divineseal was innocent: the toon in question was named "Wes", played by none other than SeƱor Riskers.

"He should stick to DPS," Cheeseus typed into IM, "Riskers is a solid rogue."

"I'm a firm believer that some people do not do well in certain roles," I added. "Look at Ekasra. He busted his ass all through The Burning Crusade to try to be a half-decent healer, but just was always very sub-par. Wrath comes around, he switches to Warlock...boom. Top of the charts. Sometimes you have keep trying until you figure it out."

Aether's first runs with progression weren't awful, but they weren't exactly stellar, either. It takes time to acclimate to an new environment, new guild rules, new players. Cheeseus and I kept our eye on Aether and watched for that moment the paladin would hit his stride. He had June and July to adjust.

Instead of adjusting, he went missing.

Aetherknight made an annual pilgrimage to Burning Man every year, and '09 was no different. He gave me the heads-up preceding his week of uninhibited revelry. But when the week turned to two, which then turned to three and then four, I wondered if he would ever come back at all. By the time he showed his face again, Aether was no longer the new kid on the block, and other candidates stood squarely in his spot. Losing his place, Aether returned to the back of the line. His next opportunity would be much longer in wait.

To make a name for himself, Aetherknight turned to the various 10-Man groups to provide healing services. Joredin led a team that needed healing assistance, but once inside, Aetherknight's MO was mediocrity. They struggled. Aether's skills as a Holy Paladin only went so far when paired with a Disc Priest's shield-heavy heals. Joredin was kind, confiding with me behind closed doors; he chalked it up to the unfortunate pairing of heal types. It would've been nice to see Aether hit the drawing board, figure out what he needed to modify, in spec or in style, to synergize with Disc.

He did not.


On an otherwise unmemorable night, Aetherknight assisted Team Starflex in a 10-Man run of Ulduar. Jungard, now my melee officer, had more than enough hands-on experience to be leading his own team. Yet something inside the paladin compelled him to speak up during Flame Leviathan vehicle assignment.

"Fred, you can go in a cycle this round, I’ll drive Siege, let's get Randy in a Demolisher…"

"Actually, you should put me the siege engine."

Jungard, one of my more politically minded officers, remained respectful while questioning Aether. "OK? Any particular reason why?"

"I have the highest ilvl boots out of all of us."

One of the downsides of using something like Vent to communicate is that you aren't often aware of the snickers that go on behind your back. Nobody really presses their "key to talk" to let you know they're laughing at you. Aetherknight was oblivious to the meme taking root, a hyper-extended long /u/, muttered as if it came from a zombie bearing down on its cerebral dinner:


By the time Jungard floated it back up to me, the meme was firmly was the guild's opinion of Aetherknight.
Hanzo receives more fan mail from Aetherknight

No Hammer, No Nails

Aether's complaints exhausted me, because each time felt like the first time. Always projecting his failures onto other people, he failed to see his own issues, red flags that stared back at me from those emails.

His newest concern was how Blain was mistreating him, insulting him, making him feel unworthy and stupid. Blain didn't insult people, it wasn't his style. Others had claimed similar mistreatment. In all of those cases, reviewing the fine details always revealed a nugget of info, conveniently absent from the allegation.

Failing to heal with any notable significance, Aether turned to DPS, bringing a warlock named Grzzloc to our runs. And, as Blain is apt to do, called Aether out an his awful presentation of skill. Astronomical damage means little if you can't control it, and if bosses are consistently turning their attention to you, how can you expect to do exceptional damage if you're dead?

"I think the problem at hand," I typed back to Aetherknight, "is that you are suffering from the same problem that plagued Divineseal. He considered himself an expert player, and gave advice every chance a question popped up in guild chat. The problem was: he wasn't qualified to give advice because he was a bad player. And while he may have put effort into improving his play, he put no such effort into his attitude."

Explaining common sense to a person carries with it an implicit contract: once delivered, you must also provide instruction. By explaining right from wrong, you're proving a point. They don't get it. But if a leader can't provide a concrete solution, that leader has nobody to blame but themselves. "I told him to fix his shit, but he never wanted to!..." is not enough. It isn't a question of not wanting to fix what's broken. For most of DoD, it was often about stopping players from hammering nails with their bare hands.

Aetherknight had neither hammer nor nails.


I made my list as palpable as I could, and focused on limits...both in-game and in-mind.  Here’s how you’re going to solve this problem.
  1. Improve your DPS and survivability, plain and simple. Tweak your gear and spec. If you're dying too much, play more conservatively. Pick more defensive talents. 12th place with 100% uptime is better than you hitting 38k DPS, pulling aggro, and dying.
  2. Take responsibility for your deaths. I don't ever want to hear in Vent "I dunno what happened there" or "This doesn't make any sense." From now on, I want you to look at the combat log, identify what you died from, and own it. When you speak in Vent, say, "This here is what killed me. Will be sure to not let this happen again." Don't let Blain call you out. Call yourself out.
  3. When a conversation about DPS or survivability is carrying on in Vent, don't talk. Listen.
  4. Try some humility. If you see yourself as a beginner, the guild will be primed to give you more leeway when you make mistakes. But if you carry yourself as an expert (and continue to make mistakes), they'll consider you a pompous a-hole, and be less likely to forgive accidents.
I gave Aetherknight the same tools I gave Divineseal, but its effects only lasted a few short months. Aetherknight spent most of his time on the bench, throughout the remainder of 2010. Over time, he became that voice in the crowd, offering random opinions on things he wasn't qualified to give advice on. When he died due to his own negligence, he owned nothing, opting instead to stay silent. It was as if my email had been written in another language. But he was always quick to send an opinion my way:

"I thought you ran a civilized guild."

No hammer. No nails.


December 9th, 2010; two days after Cataclysm's launch. DoD bustled with activity. In Vent, players were chatting about everything new, mixing in-game discoveries with queries about the latest round of changes to DoD's governing ordinance. Aetherknight inserted himself into a conversation in progress; I stayed quiet to hear what revelation he had for us this evening.

"I don't know why you think this is going to change anything, progression will always play favorites to the officers' best buddies."

"I’m...pretty sure Hanzo just finished saying that the rotations are based on proven performance. You gain a spot by proving you are reliable and deliver consistent numbers that steadily improve."

"I've been steadily improving for the last year, but I'm not getting any spots. What I am getting is a lot of grief from Blain, which just proves my point. I shouldn't have to prove myself to anyone, and that's the problem with DoD."

Some of the vets began to question why Aetherknight was choosing to remain in DoD, or even continue playing WoW, if he was so unhappy -- questions he conveniently dodged. I popped open the guild panel, grabbed his name, and demoted his rank to "Janitor" -- a rank that swapped his speaking rights with a different perk: go to the donations tab in the guild vault and clean out all of the junk that players dump there. All actions have a consequence...especially the bad ones.

"I spent the last year trying to give you advice, Aether, but you're not getting it, so maybe it's time you took a breather and cleaned the junk out of the guild vault."

Aetherknight pushed the mic close. "Hey! I have a better idea, Hanzo, how about this? FUCK you...and FUCK your guild vault!"

The guild panel was already open, so it was easy to click the button.

Aetherknight has been removed from the guild.

Cheers filled both Vent and chat as the paladin took his leave. When Blain caught word of Aether's undoing, he rewarded me with 300 forum Karma, relieved to at last be rid of the paladin unable to learn, improve, or simply cope.

Some people are not meant to play World of Warcraft, but it isn't why you think. It's not because they're bad at healing, or bad at tanking, or bad at DPS. All of those things can be fixed with dedication and practice. WoW is about more than just healing, tanking and DPS, it's about interacting with other players, communicating with living, breathing people, and even that is something that can be taught. 

The saddest part of this story is not that Aetherknight was bad at WoW and bad at people. He was bad at limits. Somewhere, deep in that subconscious, his ruler had no slider to mark a threshold. He had no hope of ever pushing from "good" to "great", because Aetherknight had no means to identify what he could withstand...or what we could.

And that, dear reader, isn't anything you or I can hope to teach someone else.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

4.36. Hypocritic Oath

Mature assists Bonechatters, Turtleman and
Volitar (Toadie) in wrapping up "It's Frost Damage!",

The Cut-Off Point

Herp Derp was no longer a team, a fact dictated by Blizzard long before I had any say in the matter. To resolve conflict, I erred on the side of skeptical optimism; hoped for the best but planned for the worst. I liked Riskers, and believed he was capable of making the right decision. I also knew that the psychological drain of people management took finesse. He deserved the benefit of the doubt. But when it came time to declare an officially sanctioned team, Blizzard called that shot, and left me no choice but to circle back and plug holes I’d left open in DoD's code of conduct. It sucked. It had to be done.

Herp Derp definitely met my criteria that called for a named roster, an advertised schedule, and had an official Tactician leading the group.


But thanks to Falnerashe's abrupt exit, the roster was now a 7/3 split. And while DoD held the majority share in that team, it wasn't enough for World of Warcraft. Achievements required 8 of the 10 players present to be part of a single guild. The moment Fal parted ways with DoD, the Herp Derp clan went from an officially sanctioned 10-Man team to little more than a random group of guild members helping a handful of non-guildies.


Riskers wasn't making it a huge priority to solve the issue; as the responsible party, I expected a much quicker turnaround. But I didn’t expect miracles. The likelihood of Riskers being able to convince Drecca, Ben and Fal to return to the guild seemed exponentially monumental. And it's probably the reason he made no headway. I made it clear to Riskers that he wasn't expected to move mountains, only to the solve the problem at hand. Get them back, or replace them...whatever works.

It wasn't happening.

What was happening was their regularly scheduled raids, because boss killing and loot grabbing took precedence over mediating melodrama. I didn't blame him for not wanting to sink his teeth into a task most players would avoid faster than an LFD group dumping out of The Oculus. But Riskers' indecision was infecting the guild with dissent. It was a growing audit trail of absent leadership, lumped in with moments like his defense of Ben when the guild attacked.


The window of opportunity to make a decision narrowed, but I could do little else for Riskers. It was his team, his responsibility to make the call. All I could do was ensure that DoD was prepared for the fallout, leaving little-to-no room for excuses when everything blew up in Herp Derp's face. DoD was the priority, not a random group of players that were proving to me that guild integrity was far less important than a 10-Man Heroic Cho'gall.

"10-Man Heroic". LOL. Stop it. You're killing me.

Mature, Bonechatters, Turtleman, Volitar and Dewgyd
race to Vanessa Van Cleef in under 5 minutes,

Guild Plumbing

Tacticians were the conduit between their team and the guild. In exchange for their administration efforts, I hiked up their access to the guild vault, so they could distribute repair gold and provide raiding flasks/food to their team. To cement DoD's commitment to the 10s, I gave them an additional perk: BoEs procured by the 25-Man progression team would go to the vault, offered up to Tacticians on a first come, first serve basis. The hope was that it might help take the edge off whatever difficulty their teams were experiencing. Primarily, this perk intended to narrow the raid qualification gap for new recruits, or to stave off the often streaky, horrific luck of Blizzard's RNG. Plugging the 10-Mans into the DoD framework in this way not only allowed me to hold a named individual responsible for their team's actions, it provided a clear means of rewarding teams that played by our rules....and if not, it was a valve I could easily shut off, until their options dried up.

It wasn't until I reached for the valve that I noticed the gaping hole in the pipe.

10-Man teams shouldn't need a legal declaration, their definition is baked directly into the title: if you have 10 people, you have a 10-Man team. Some teams have more, choosing to sit a bench just like the 25-Man progression team did. As WoW interest flares and subsides, a 10-Man team may find itself short a head or two, as well. If a Tactician is actively recruiting, however, absenteeism is justifiable. But if there is no forward movement on recruitment attempts, intentionally or otherwise, a 10-Man team can't be called what it isn't.

I didn't think I would have to go to such lengths. Then again, I also didn't conceive of a hypothetical future in which several guildies would defy our rules, and the person in charge would not make a swift decision. Had someone in, say, Bovie's team, or Jungard's team, or Joredin's team did something equally foolish, I was reasonably confident violaters would receive a swift kick in the ass to shape up or ship out.

...but I also never suspected Riskers would be the type of person to drag their heels. And in that moment, I realized I was making an assumption that any of them would act as quickly.

Yet you were intimately familiar with the ‘psychological drain of people management’. Nice work setting expectations.

What I was left with was a Tactician, seemingly incapable (or uninterested) in mediating, yet kept all the perks flowing back into his team while it remained in a pseudo-stasis, not recruiting, not replacing, but still raiding, using guild repairs and flasks, and wasting achievement after achievement due to their 7/3 split.

To light the fire under Riskers, I amended the requirements of Tactician to enforce the completeness of their respective 10-Man roster. It had to have 10 people, minimum, which qualified them for guild achievements. And if not at 10, they had to be actively recruiting, and I needed to see the evidence of it: posts on their team page, and working with me to recruit the necessary people for the role. Riskers had to have an officially sanctioned 10-Man team in order to keep his rank and to keep those perks flowing back into the team.

Once updated, I politely reminded him of my initial two week window, and encouraged him to be more aggressive in his approach to solving the problem. A few days later, a fourth Herp Derp member, Phame, left DoD. And every day Riskers said nothing to me, I felt awful. I liked him.

But I didn't like who he stood for.

As Sir Klocker begins 25-Man invites, Mature, Onionscoop,
Beefysupryme and Lix barely pull off "Headed South" in time,
Lost City of the Tol'vir

A Compromising Position

As March’s weeks bled into April, I continued to recruit, discarding nearly every applicant that arrived in my inbox. I was convinced that my then-age requirement of 23 was liberal enough to keep reasonable amount of new faces flowing into the guild, but it simply the wasn't the case. Email after email went to the trash, as 16, 17 and 18 year olds continued to submit applications, ignoring the first rule I laid out at the top of our application page. Occasionally, I would hit paydirt. Finally! An applicant able to comprehend my restrictions!

...only to find out the player was into heavy recreational drug use -- a habit that doesn't play nicely with reliability.

The masochist in me wasn't ready to take guild leadership to a new level of pain. Back to the drawing board I went, reviewing underage apps, then discarding them. Eventually, I backed down from my age requirement. For a temporary amount of time, I pitched a "guild promotion" to allow normally excluded applicants to be referred to DoD. If it was a decent app, they came in on solid footing, and were sponsored by a veteran, I agreed to waive the age requirement. We saw a few new faces during this period, but it would take time to determine if there was any value among these kiddies. Besides, there were more immediate hurdles I needed to vault.

Both the underage newbies and our existing legitimate apps had trouble climbing the DoD ladder. The steps were as easy as I could make them. You started as a Recruit with limited access to our forums. It was just enough to introduce yourself, but not enough to inadvertently say the wrong thing in the wrong place, wasting the time of the forum moderators while simultaneously making you look foolish. 

Over time, you worked your way into the system until you qualified for Guildy, which is when the raiding forums became available (in read-only mode). If you were interested in pursuing a raid spot, you didn't need to ask questions or harass players for more info -- everything was laid out in a set of crystal clear steps. Fill out your profile on the raid tool, make sure you log out wearing your best gear so leadership can verify the fundamentals: ilvl, gems, enchants, spec. 

After Raider qualification, you could sign up, were rotated in, and the game was afoot: you proved to us you were ready for the long haul. If you chose, you could push up into Samurai, gaining even more spots, being exposed more forums. Eventually, you were looped in to the Samurai peer review process, participating in a committee with personal investment in shaping who they played with, week to week.

This was simply all too much to handle.

They didn't know what to read, or where to go to find the right info, or why they couldn't create a raiding profile in our signup sheet. When they were made Guildy, they didn't know why they were unable to ask questions in the raider forum, and the concept of rotations eluded them -- even though it was painstakingly detailed in our guild policies and procedures. My gut told me they just needed to read, to use some of that elbow grease to get the brass ring. But as their inability lingered on, I suspected the answer was more dire: they read it...and legitimately did not understand a thing I asked of them.

This new generation of recruit wasn't one that plagued us in Wrath or earlier; inductees were pointed to DoD's steps-to-raiding, and players figured it out. And because of the limited bench, I couldn't waste time circling back, pointing and re-pointing and re-re-pointing to the same instructions over and over until it was jackhammered into their skull. The roster lacked faces. So, I did what I expected most guild leaders would do in a signup crisis...

I backpedaled.

New recruits to DoD were fast tracked into raiding, rather than forcing them to go through the motions. It required excessive micromanagement to ensure each and every one of them knew what was expected of them. In Wrath, if they didn't read the rules, didn't understand what I asked of them...they simply didn't get in. It forced players to re-evaluate their comprehension of DoD policy, and they either improved or withered away. With the roster sitting at 24-25 heads (barely) each week, there was no room to play games. I either accelerated the promotion rate so they could join the 25-Man, or there would be no 25-Man.

There is nothing quite like the feeling of drawing lines through your own hand-crafted rules; a signed confession of a hypocrite.

No, I did not envy Riskers' position, faced with a team that was actively betraying his own beliefs, yet simultaneously aware of his own participation in it. I did not envy him, but I understood his hesitance. And I felt awful for him. And for his end game.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

4.35. The Silence of the Crickets

DoD kills 12 aberrations in under 10 seconds
 during the 25-Man Maloriak encounter,
Blackwing Descent

The Mirror

Where is it written that the best players must also be the shittiest people?

I'm sure there are exceptions; there's always exceptions. Yet whenever I look from a distance, it's easy to spot the douche-canoes pulling ahead of the flotilla. Finding a solid gamer that's also a decent human being is an achievement by itself. Egomania is too often the bastard stepchild of proficiency.

Perhaps it comes from who we are as gamers, why we turned to this as a hobby in the first place. Cast out of social groups at a young age and mocked for our ability to geek out on subject matter too niche for the general public: ham radio signal frequencies and 'handles' imprinted onto license plates, the collected works of Rumiko Takahashi, an admiration for the aesthetic of a twenty-sided die. When the Nielsens reported a drop in Twin Peaks ratings, we leaned in further. This is us: gamers, geeks, nerds...shunned by the jocks and the preps, the popular and the masses.

Kids and adults handle us very differently. Playground bullies take to name calling and pantsing to prevent us from knowing the truth: they have no idea what you are talking about. The workforce demands a little more tact. Colleagues smile and nod gracefully, but you can see the milky glaze of their zombie-like stare while you ramble on about Buffy and Firefly and why you think there's a polar bear on the island.

After a time, any interest in mingling with them far outweighed the effort of dumbing down our conversation...or we simply didn't care to risk additional mockery for our less cavalier interests. We grew thick skins, shielding us from the ignorance of the others, saving us from having to carry on a meaningful conversation about what's important to us, what we need, what we are missing in lifeIn turn, we lost our shot at honing the tools necessary to persuade, communicate.

We withdrew to our darkened amphitheater of gamedom, flashing bytes of color narrating week-long binges of Mega Man and R-Type and Phantasy Star II. We ranked each other by who beat Battletoads, and our struggles with humanity were digitally obscured by the universes we occupied: the empty solitude of Fallout and the corporate greed driving Ultima into the ground. Stories in games may have exposed us to alternate perspectives, not unlike those of L'Engle, of Lewis, and of Herbert, but at least the bookworms could carry on a healthy debate about the work with their fellow readers. There's few opportunities to learn that your words and actions have a lasting effect on another human being...when you're busy memorizing all of Shang Tsung's transformations. Debate devolves into nothing more than who wins and who loses.

Our only means of relating to people was through games; we saw interaction itself as a game. Watch how fast I pick the gamers out of this crowd. The spirit of competition compelled us to seek perfection in our own technique, always refining, always going for the high score. Winning came with a convenient kickback: we surrounded ourselves with more like us, more gamers that thought and acted and behaved like us. A fortunate echo chamber of support, distancing us from anyone who didn't fit the mold. Oh, you're a gamer too? What's your favorite game? Madden?!? Please. Don't make me laugh.

We never notice the reflective sheen of the wall, even well after it is complete. As we engage in the one thing we do well, the comfort of our own perceptions bounce back at us, reminding us of how good we are, how right our decisions feel. We're kept blind to what offends, what intimidates, and what inspires. Alternate perspective, morality and ethics, personal preference -- these are all just hurdles in the way of winning. Theorycrafting and min / maxxing prove those inefficiencies aren't worth the time or energy. If we ever doubt ourselves, well...the mirror is quick to remind us how soft we've become.

In the end, we're reduced to "winning" as our only defining metric. Beating everyone in line at the Mortal Kombat machine. Earning the most kills in Deathmatch. Defeating Sephiroth. Killing Diablo. Coming out on top of heals at the end of the raid. Winning is the only safe way we can connect with others; it is how we both gain and measure credibility. And so, the mirror stands, a reflection of what confirms our trust and our judgement. It allows us to sort people out easily, at face value, read as easily as a position on a ladder. And as we continue to win, we're reaffirmed that we're right...

...but not necessarily that we're decent human beings.

Mature assists in a 10-Man kill of Al'Akir,
completing "Defender of a Shattered World",
Throne of the Four Winds

Mistake at the Lake

I caught myself second guessing my decision to make amends with Falnerashe. We had history, a blemish on the DoD timeline not easily forgotten. Nor should it have been. But we could at least forgive, accept we made mistakes in judgement and move forward. Better to be in a group of similarly-minded folk than to be off alone, roaming Azeroth, exiled to a life of pick-up groups and battlegrounds whose ever-changing faces ensure no history...nor any opportunity to write one. On that day, back at Lake Wintergrasp, I meant what I told Falnerashe. No player should be forced into that Hell of anonymous pugs. Even players that prefer to be off, doing things on their own, can appreciate the value of a familiar face...if for nothing else but to vent a shared opinion.

When Fal finally decided to give DoD a second chance, things went smashingly well. The excitement of fresh content mixed with an augmented roster sparked guild chat into a wall of solid green text. We ran dungeons, ground out rep, pieced together what armor and weapons we could salvage in preparation for the 25-Man kickoff. And all the while, I reminded Fal of our agreement: I don't want things to ever get as bad as they did in TBC. If you are being pushed aside, mistreated, or have an issue with anyone in this guild, you can come to me directly and I will deal with it. Even if you think it’s not OK to bring up -- I’m letting you know: it is.

She was a star healer in those first weeks of January and February, granted every rotation she signed up for. Even when other DoD vets bitched and moaned about having to re-qualify for the Raider rank at the start of Cataclysm, Fal checked every requirement off the list without so much as a complaint. She took pride in her gear and her skill; she was the kind of player a guild leader scours forums for. And while others may have questioned "Why do I have to do this?", Fal's response was always: "Why aren’t you?"

Inside those raids I monitored chat very carefully, listening for her in Vent and watching what she typed into /raid and /dodhealers. Was she rebutting a healing assignment, or merely seeking clarity? Did I detect some snark, or was it an innocent observation? Were remnants of her bitchy, passive-aggressive tone creeping back into the conversation? Or was she merely pointing out possible reasons we wiped as a means to educate? I analyzed every sentence, every phrase...every single word she typed into chat, while considering her personality, her history, her possible targets of resentment.

If I were Falnerashe, who would disgust me?

The first to mind was Lexxii, healing officer and self-appointed podium of Priests. She was a veritable megaphone of opinion whose style had a tendency to grate on you. She'd proven herself a capable healer during Wrath (in Fal's absence), but my decision to put her in charge of the healers rubbed a few people the wrong way...some of which ended up in Herp Derp. More recently, Lexxii had a growing tendency to stick to obsolete specs and tactics -- ones formerly accepted as gospel during Wrath. I wasn't sure exactly why she seemed incapable of retiring these beliefs. Stubborn? Self-esteem? Lazy? Afraid to be seen as a fraud? An unquenchable hunger to be right? Whatever the reason, this risk was the same: an expert player like Falnerashe would see through her like a sheet of plate glass.

Fred was a potential second candidate, a dedicated, enthusiastic member of the healing squad. He backed opinion by quoting articles and research but struggled at the performance part. Fal might have seen Fred as little more than a dilettante, the likes of which Fal would chew up and spit out when put to the test. I imagined Fal sickened with just the thought of having to play with wannabe-professionals, and watched their interactions carefully.

The riskiest of all was Rainaterror, the enhancement shaman with all the personality of a tamagotchi missing its battery. Raina liked to question every single adjustment made on each boss attempt. Excessive tactical scrutiny implied a deeper understanding of the encounter's mechanics, but her line of questioning removed any doubt from our minds:

"Why are we standing here again?"

"What is the point of having me interrupt this?"

"Why is it essential I join the add group?"

It's the kind of paradoxical malaise that some players feel compelled to express. In my mind, I could feel Falnerashe dragging her nails across her wrists every time Raina opened her mouth.

And yet, each time I'd ping her, Fal was amicable, perhaps even (dare I say it) pleasant. The plight of the intractable, the ignorant, and the incompetent didn't seem to be getting to her. We were going to have folks like that, a fact that all guilds must deal with. She took in stride and with each passing week, I felt more optimistic about Fal's state of mind. In fact, I didn't even care when she mentioned she was putting her alt into Drecca's 10-Man.

But that was before the event.

After the event, every day that passed with Fal's absence on the sign-up sheet found me second-guessing the decision to bring her back into the DoD fold.

Good. You should be second-guessing yourself. It’s only a matter of time. People don’t change.

DoD defeats Halfus Wyrmbreaker in Heroic: 25-Man,
Bastion of Twilight

And Then There Were Seven

I told myself it was simply an oversight -- players did have a tendency to forget to sign-up from time-to-time. Even Blain had me automatically sign his character up in advance; this is why I kept a close eye on the roster and spammed guild messages / forum posts with reminders. We're fallible, we forget. It happens.

I doubted the reasoning was steeped in disgust. We had a good roster, with a few fillers here and there, but it was nothing like the days of Wrath: whole groups of players of each class, vying for a spot in the 25-Man. Progress was admirable: we were through tier 11 normals, and Blain was ready to push into heroics. But we would need our best and brightest to do so, which is why I eyed Fal's missing sign-ups with optimism, yet dreaded the root cause.

You knew this was coming! Wow. You must have been really desperate to get those Lake Wintergrasp achievements knocked out.

The day before the March 18th raid weekend was set to tackle our first heroic encounter, Falnerashe exited the guild of her own accord. No note. No goodbye post. No forum PM. No text message. When word got to me through the officer chain, my first instinct was to ping her SO, Teras, whom I had a connection with on Facebook. What had happened? Had something transpired while I was away? Could it be resolved?

LOL. Why are you even bothering? You know exactly why she left.

I was surprised...and then discover that Teras himself had no idea she left. He was equally stunned, stating she hadn't expressed any discontent to him...or to anyone, for that matter.

Big surprise there. Why should she share her plans with him? It’s not like they’re dating or anything. God forbid any kind of communication goes on between her and people she gives a damn about. Maybe that’s it! Maybe she doesn’t give a damn about anyone! ...except herself.

I wanted to give her the benefit the doubt, walk the walk of judging each action independently -- one thing doesn't have anything to do with the other. People can change, people experience challenges in their lives and grow all the time. This could very easily have been a real situation that needed my attention. Perhaps Bulwinkul had gone off on a drunken tirade again, or she had words with had to be something like that.

You give the gal too much credit. Anni was right all along. The cricket stops chirping when you get too close. But you had to push, had to keep checking in on her, checking to make sure things were all warm-and-fuzzy, all up in her face.

Teras didn't know. Riskers didn't know. Nobody knew...nor would they. Not until the commotion died down and they all went about their business. A cricket needs time for things to settle. Too much activity forces them into a defensive position, unable to cope. Leave them alone, let them step away, and the stridulation is sure to follow. You'll get your chirping, about how your guild has become "too big of a crowd for their personality", or that they "shouldn't have been passed up for a promotion". It'll be then that you'll understand why it wasn't worth it, all the time and energy you sunk into making them feel like they were a part of something bigger, something great, something that mattered.

When it is all about them, what they are a part of never matters.


The 25-Man team went into Bastion of Twilight on March 18th and defeated Heroic Halfus Wyrmbreaker without Falnerashe. When the raid finished, I returned to the forums, opened up the guild rules, and added a single requirement to the rank of Tactician:

- Must have an officially sanctioned 10-Man team.