Thursday, July 23, 2015

4.42. Fear of the Unknown

LinkedOut

Neglected software teetered precariously like a Jenga tower, each brick an absurd joke played on the company. Dunning-Kruger was alive and well, running amok behind the corporate curtain. There was no excuse. You didn't even have to hit Barnes & Nobles up for a book. The power of Google was at your fingertips. Everybody needs to start somewhere, but the point is to move onward and upward. Each line of code I read caused me to question humanity. Where was the pride? Where was the motivation to improve? To grow? To arrive at a place slightly less shitty than yesterday? It sickened me how some programmers treated their job as menial labor. You're creating something. Put some effort into it.

One of my first repairs required little more than what it took to install a WoW addon. Examining the code around a malfunctioning search field, I noticed its library was severely out of date. The last time a human being had put eyes on it was early 2008. It was like trying to get CT_RAID to work in Cataclysm, then realizing the addon hadn't been updated since The Burning Crusade.

All hail jQuery, a JavaScript library leveraged by web developers around the globe. Competent web developers. jQuery did the heavy lifting. It masked the complexities of browser incompatibilities so that a developer could focus on getting things done. When you hear the expression "Work smarter, not harder", but aren't exactly sure how to do that, jQuery is a fine tool to have in your belt.

It took five minutes to download the latest version, drop it in place, and change a few calls around the search field. Just a little effort. That's all. Was that so hard?

A normal person might sit back and bask in the glory of their cleverness, but I couldn't leave it alone. When someone's boneheaded move nearly kills you on the freeway, a rage begins to seep through every muscle that grips the steering wheel. Suddenly, you are compelled to pass the offender. You have to see their face, to see what kind of imbecile they would have to be. You have to give them "the look". I hate you.

I had to see the face of the person who left this code in a state of disarray.

This person, who we'll call The Brosef, was no longer around. It required little detective work to figure out who he was; his pathetic few code comments were initialized, leaving a breadcrumb fail trail. Cross-referencing with a few folks around the office confirmed The Brosef's identity, and within minutes, googling led me to LinkedIn. Seeing his face didn't help, and seeing his activity on the social network only made things worse.

There he was, actively participating in answering programming questions from the community. Only they weren't "answers", so much as they were complete and utter bullshit. Unlike Stack Overflow, where your accuracy is vetted by anonymous peers, LinkedIn provides no such mechanism. You can be as right or as wrong as you wish, and nobody knows the wiser. The people that "vet" you on LinkedIn are the professionals that know you personally, that have worked with you, the sorts of folk whose names appear under the "References" section of your resume. Having a network of professional references is an excellent way to help nail that interview shut, but it's not how you gauge authenticity of someone's skills. When it comes time to answer a skill-testing question, are you going to have your ex-boss come in and take the test for you?

I scanned The Brosef's posts until I couldn't take it anymore. Either wrong or contradictory, his answers infuriated me, until all I could do was just stare at his profile photo in abject disgust. Staring back, with his too cool-for-school sunglasses and smirk of proud accomplishment, his photo seemed to say, "Yo. Looking for a new programmer? Hey...your search is over."

Just like your career.


Talking Tech

Soot stormed down a hallway that had been carved out of the ocean floor, charging the Faceless Watcher, his death and decay rippling and boiling in a familiar circular pattern under their feet. I kept my distance, lighting the mobs up from afar with Syrophenikan's Multi-shot.

"So, Soot...I hear you're like my alter ego, but in the .NET world."

"Yeah, that's right. What's yours again? ColdFusion, right?"

"Allegedly."

"Heh," he paused between pulls, "Yep, web dev is my game. For quite a few years now. Well, these days it's really more about architecture and specs than actually coding."

"I see," purposefully changing my tone to exaggerated disgust, "so you've become one of those people."

Soot laughed, "Management is not all that bad. I mean, think about what you do now, you're coding off of a blueprint that you write…"

"...that you never end up writing," I said. The wicked problem. Software development demands well-defined rules before you sit down to type the first line of code. Yet, few developers actually end up writing specs. They're boring. They're inaccurate. Nobody reads them. It makes people in suits feel good because they like to see a plan; ask any programmer how much they love to bend over backwards for incomprehensible corporate demands. Nerds just want to be left alone to code.

Of course, these are all excuses for the real answer: many programmers don't know how to write specs.

"The old joke, yeah," Soot agreed, "Well, when you have a staff of offshore developers, you have to write the blueprint. It's a non-negotiable. And I'll agree it may not be as exciting as writing the actual code, but you're still in charge of how it all comes together. You're still designing. You're calling the shots. But without all the stress of late night and weekend bug fixes."

I'll admit, it had a certain appeal to it. Briefly.

"I dunno, chief. I don't think I could trust other developers to do it correctly." I spasmed, flashing back to the audacity earlier in the work day, "It feels like senior level folks are consistently doing junior level shit. Take today, for example. Some rook left a jQuery library outdated for years on this one search field. Seriously! How hard is it to fold library updates into your build process?"

"Ah, I love jQuery," Soot said, "makes things so much easier."

Just then, Lexxii's voice piped up in Vent.

"I dont' use jQuery at work. I really don't like it at all."

I'd completely forgotten that Lexxii was also a web developer. I hadn't really discussed work topics with her in the past, so this was a first.

"Why?" I asked, taken aback, "jQuery is industry-known and tested. At the very least, you gain maintainability through it. Other devs know it, they can come in and pick up where you left off."

Soot politely played devil's advocate, "There are some other solid libraries out there. What's your preference?"

"None. I don't use any libraries. I write all my script from the ground up."

What.

"Hold up. You don't use any library? You write everything from scratch?"

"Yup. All the time."

Soot and I stayed quiet a moment, waiting to see how Lexxii would justify so much extra work. What insight would we glean from her revelation that the developers of 7 million other websites hadn't collectively figured out?

"When I write it by hand, it's way faster."

"...what is? You mean the code executes faster in the browser?"

"No, I mean I write it faster. Faster and easier to write."

Soot said nothing. I stared at the screen a moment in stunned silence.

You know, you could probably build a house faster, too, if you didn't use any concrete, insulation, nails, roofing materials, tile, cabling or plumbing...and just leaned a bunch of boards against one another. Like a rook.

Off and into the dark recesses of my mind stretched an unending series of red flags into forever, flapping violently, harbingers of the forthcoming disaster.

The Grand Ol' Sharpshooters of Texas

You choose people to take care of matters you're unable to. I knew my strengths weren't in raid leading, which is why I put Blain in charge of PvE strategy. I couldn't be in all places at all times, which is why I had role officers. My perfect choice for each promotion was someone whose knowledge surpasses mine in the given area; I don't want to tell them what to do, I want them to tell me what we should do.

In that decision making comes a risk: you don't know what you don't know. You could be putting someone in charge that seem like they're an expert. Beware the illusion of manufactured proficiency, residue from the Halo Effect. Your expert may seem like the sharpest of shooters, when in fact, it is you simply painting a target around the most convenient bullet holes.

DoD rode a successful wave of recruitment during ICC, snapping up names like Lexxii and Bullshark, players that topped meters on day one...and stayed there. Fast-tracking them to Elite served two purposes: it acknowledged their exceptional play and sent a message to core: this is the kind of competitive play you need to aspire to. But the Halo Effect clasped its golden grip around me, manipulating my emotions and decision-making. It led me to believe things that weren't proven, that perhaps a player like Lexxii was a profoundly awesome player and healer, and that her successes weren't simply the result of riding the coat tails of her former guild. That she was an expert player because of her skills, not despite them.

The evidence of a freshly painted target dripped its red-and-white evidence over every early decision I made regarding Lexxii. I picked her for healing officer not because I was convinced of her ability, but was unconvinced of Fred's. Fred struggled with healing and survivability; to Lexxii, it came instinctively. Yet, I was having a difficult time pinpointing in my mind an exact instance where Fred had died in an amateurish move. By contrast, Lexxii had been dying a lot in these first few months of Cataclysm raiding.

And how closely had I ever examined those meters? Lexxii preferred Holy, choosing Disc only at particular moments near the end of Heroic 25-Man ICC. I hadn't boned up on specs, since ironically, this was what I put her in charge of. But in my brief research of 4.1 Priest theorycrafting, Disc was dominating. That wasn't to say holy priests were bad, but in order to pull holy off, you had to be good. No coat tail riding allowed.

Some saw through the facade early on. But as luck would have it, the types of people complaining the most about Lexxii were the sort of people whose opinions deserved to be ignored. If naysayers wanted to choose the cynical route, they were free to. In my mind, Lexxii earned the chance to prove them wrong, to prove she was competent.

Competency, however, is not enough of a qualifying factor for leadership. It's barely enough to put you in the running.

---

Neps filled in the blanks, pointing out how effectively I'd painted the target around Lexxii.

"We've chatted a few times. It's not great," he said, referring to her spec. Neps always tried to be polite when discussing the captain of a failboat. I listened as Neps picked apart her spec, talent by talent.

"And you've recommended these changes to her?"

"Yep. She doesn't seem that interested in changing."

"She give you a legitimate reason why not?"

"She gave reasons. I don't know that I'd call them 'legitimate'."

I took a deep breath, that one you take when you come to the realization you've made a bad judgement call, "What's your take?"

Neps thought a moment, then spoke, "I don't think she's comfortable trying anything new."

Thursday, July 9, 2015

4.41. We Run S#!t

"Blizzcon Sketchbook: At Least, In Theory",
Artwork by Mike Krahulik
Copyright © 2005 Penny Arcade, Inc.

Reboot

"He can be...difficult...to work with."

"He can be pretty demanding."

"He overwhelms you."

I sat in a conference room small enough to double as a broom closet. It was barren and white. Dry board eraser chemicals hung in the air, burned under florescent bulbs. An easel pad of blank paper stared back from the corner of the room closest to the door. Outside, I heard the faint rattle of mechanical keyboards.

Blue, black, and yellow cables snaked down through the base of the conference room table, burrowing into network jacks and power strips. I clasped my hands on the table, then decided to fidget with a pen, only to put the pen down moments later. I stroked my chin, took a deep breath. Where's that damn coffee? I caught myself tapping my foot, and stopped.

He overwhelms you.

I recited these opinions, judgments barely two weeks old, and braced for the door to burst open.

A notepad next to the laptop bore the letterhead of the healthcare company I now served. Three painfully long interviews later, I made the cut. Or rather, I cut it pretty damn close. Three months had passed since packing boxes of computer equipment out of my old job's network room and into the trunk of the Civic. Contract agency jobs filled the gap while I pounded the pavement, leading me to this temporary solitary confinement. Attuned to explosions, dragons bellowing, and drama forever unfolding, the silence of this room rang in my ears.

My first assignment: assess the situation with a "Bio-medical Administration Repair Tracking" app. Fixing bugs and coding features dominated my career for fourteen years. My attention should have been focused on the tech. What's the language? Who built it? What's failing? But as I sat alone in the conference room, my mind drifted back to the judgments. The concern. What was it about this guy that left so many people uneasy? Before knowing anything else, how dire or trivial the actual situation may have been, I couldn't help but feel like an analysis of the app was ancillary. This was about rebuilding a relationship.

The first face through the door was Fred. He was slightly taller and had a few years on me, his dark hair receding in middle age. A scan of his business casual attire put my mind at ease. I tend to feel overdressed, even when actively choosing to do so, no doubt the result of my last boss's advice: "Dress better than everyone around you." I'd met Fred only once before, when the company flew me out to El Segundo for orientation. From that introduction, I knew he was a family man, had kids of his own, and coached them in little league. I also picked up on his distaste for some of the other parents involved, and that the stresses of work, life, and coaching little league were vented through a habit of chewing tobacco.

Everybody's got a vice.

Fred smiled, greeted me, then shifted to the side in the doorway of our less-than-spacious morning accommodations.

"Hey, good to see you again! I'd like you to meet Arch."

Arch was even taller than Fred, a large man in his early to mid-fifties. His grayish silver hair was longer and swept back, and his mustache instantly reminded me of Sam Elliot. He had a wide smile, was dressed more casually than Fred and I, and when he stretched out his hand to greet me, his grip was like an iron vice.

"Shawn. Pleasure to meet you. Sorry I missed our first opportunity back in Cali. Last minute flights and meetings have a way of messing up my schedule."

His voice was deep and deliberate, filling the room as a subwoofer might. Arch's casual speaking tone wasn't unlike that of a military commander. A direct order felt imminent. Fred was already sitting at the conference table, setting up his laptop in what could be described as a subdued panic.

I don't get it. No negative vibes. None at all.

"No worries, Arch, Ted gave me a great overview. I have the gist. I'm ready for every last detail."

Arch smiled at the sound of Ted's name, "He says you're the right man for the job."

The same El Segundo trip also introduced me to Arch's superior, Ted. I got a vibe that theirs was more of a working partnership than a commander / subordinate relationship. Perhaps the further up you go, the more these lines blurred, I pondered. Not unlike a guild leader and a raid leader. In Cali, I'd given Ted all that I could, selling it just as hard as when I was being interviewed. I fought technological fires.

"I'm up for the challenge. Give me everything you've got on this app."

Still not getting any weird vibes. Not entirely sure what everybody was freaked out about.

Arch took a blue marker in his hand, and opted for the paper easel. Just before taking off the cap, he turned to face me, then froze in position a brief moment. His eyes darted to the side of the room.

"Ready, Fred?"

Fred pounded a number of keys on his laptop. "Uhh...one more second...yes. Ready."

The Chocolate Factory

Just as server blades in server rooms power Azeroth from many remote locations around the country, medical equipment powers the healthcare industry. And, just like those server blades, which need the constant attention of system and network engineers to ensure they are running smoothly, the hundreds of thousands of medical devices scattered across the nation must be inspected, maintained, and repaired and replaced, if necessary. No server blades, no Azeroth. No medical equipment...no us.

It falls to a team of men and women in nearly every state in the country, charged with daily quests, to determine what gets serviced and where. These bio-medical repair technicians log in to an online system, which presents them with a list of possible tasks to choose from, based on their position in the world. Then, task by task, they travel to various locations, inspect the equipment, solve the puzzle, and move on to their next location.

Arch was to this repair system, as the game designers were to Azeroth.

The easel paper filled with shapes, arrows, and labels, as Arch pulled back the curtain and painted an intricate picture of the system's many moving parts. Each time he filled a page, he paused a moment for Fred to catch up, then flipped the paper over, filling the next page anew. At each pause, I gestured to him with a nod. I'm good. Keeping going. I'm eating this up. Some kids are content fixing their gaze on row upon row of candy, but a select few of us cherished the thrill of learning secrets of its manufacture -- getting a tour through the machinery, seeing how that wonderful candy gets made, wanting to duplicate it, to master it. Improve it.

Trade secrets rapidly unfolded amid Arch's hand gestures. Often, he'd stop drawing on the easel, choosing instead to diagram in the air, pointing to invisible buttons, levers, and dials as if the entire contraption sat in the room with us. And throughout the presentation, I noted each time his voice rose and his eyes narrowed, speaking of issues that frustrated his team -- problems he wanted solved. While Fred frantically typed up notes, I'd push Arch. Why this direction? Did this choice make sense? Are we going mobile? Every answer got right to the point. No bullshit. No politics. This is how it is.

By the time Arch was finished, nearly two full hours had elapsed, and the system was imprinted in my mind. I began to see all the moving parts, each interface, each screen, each button. Most importantly, I saw Arch's team interacting with it on a daily basis. I saw what was working for them and what made their jobs miserable, and was already formulating a plan for what needed to be fixed first, second, third, fourth...

...yet, still there were no uncomfortable vibes. Not a single red flag in the room.

"We might as well do lunch," Fred tapped his wrist-watch, "I think Yard House is in order."

A sports bar. Brilliant. You can be sure to dazzle them with your infinite knowledge of professional football.

"Done," Arch said, "gives me an opportunity." He discreetly tapped his pocket. Fred nodded.

"I'll join you," I said.

"Oh! You…?" Arch asked, stopping short of actually mentioning the C word, as if the very mention of cigarettes might trigger a team of SWAT to burst through windows and drag us from the premises.

"Socially," I said, "but really, it's just an excuse to keep the questions coming."

Yard House at Colorado Mills, Lakewood, Colorado

When the Dam Breaks

The Yard House lot was unusually packed, forcing us to park away from the restaurant. As we walked the extra distance, I pried further, trying to get to the bottom of "the mystery".

"So, Arch, what do you like to do in your spare time?"

"I like a good motorcycle. Have a fine appreciation for a well-manufactured hog. I also collect exotic birds. Wife and I have a number of 'em. And I have been known to spend my down time gambling, though I really need to keep that in check. It's fun, but it has a way of emptying your wallet."

"Everyone's gotta have a vice."

The restaurant was packed. Narrow, taller tables were jammed together on the checked floor, circling the bar in the center of the room. Above the heads of the various bartenders, glasses hung upside down, glowing with a faint blue light that came from under a visor-like hood. At various spots among the glasses, TV screens were affixed. We were seated in one of the booths along the main dining area's extremities, remaining within eyeshot of the various screens depicting baseball, basketball, football, and so on.

Immediately after being seated, Arch excused himself to the boy's room. I sat in the booth across from Fred. After the waitress left to bring drinks, Fred checked in.

"Well?" he asked, raising his eyebrows, "pretty intense?"

Intense? Sure. Difficult? Demanding? Overwhelming? I don't see it.

I offered up my 2 cents. "He cares about the app. Honestly, it's refreshing to see a stakeholder really own their stuff. Y'know? I mean, really want it to work well. Trust me: you don't want apathy from whomever runs the show."

Fred nodded in agreement, and glanced over at the myriad of screens. ESPN logos flashed, sandwiched between shots of baseball players blasting home runs into bleachers. Moments later, Arch returned. He took a seat in the booth opposite me, as Fred slid toward the wall to make room.

Arch placed his hands on the table, palms down, and looked directly at me.

"How much do you remember?"

I winked and tapped my temple, "Oh, I got it all safely up here."

"Good man," he said, glancing at the monitors, with their flashing sports logos and Gatorade sponsorships. Just then, the screen near us went dark. In the place of stat sheets and rotating profiles of athletes, a scene faded in revealing a surreal series of events.

Military helicopters flew over a war torn landscape. Soldiers began to emerge from the rubble. Wait. Not soldiers. Civilians. A woman in a business suit lifted an automatic rifle, firing it into the windows of a burning building. Schoolkids fired shotgun blasts at a doorway, while a man in a hospital scrubs tossed a grenade through the fragments. A construction worker unleashed a stream of bullets from a side-mounted chaingun hanging out of the exposed door of a helicopter, only to be taken out by a surface-to-air missile directed into the craft's tail. As the camera panned out, fiery explosions bordered the screen, framing a single message: "There's a soldier in all of us". Then, the final image changed to a game box cover. Call of Duty: Black Ops.

Arch turned back from the screen.

"Shawn. I have a confession to make. I have another vice I haven't mentioned."

I sat up. For a moment, I thought I caught a glimpse of Fred wincing, as if preparing for the hit.

"I like to play video games. A lot. Some console stuff, but mostly computer games. One computer game in particular, as a matter of fact. You may have heard of it…"

Well, well, well. Everything makes a bit more sense, now, doesn't it?

The dam burst forth. Poor Fred succumbed to the waves of geekdom pouring out of both Arch and I. What do you play? Priest! Paladin! What's your spec? Disc! Holy! Opinions? Wrath of the Lich King. 10s? 25s? Both! PvP? Arenas! 2v2! Unbalanced! Play the Auction House? Corner the market! Gold on multiple accounts! Dominate the server! What about you? Shaman! Shadow Priest! Death Knight! Raiding? Guild Leader! Since when? Vanilla! Old School Raids? Hard as hell. Loved it. Illidan? Archimonde? Vashj? Kael'thas? What do you like now? Ulduar! So great. Icecrown? Awesome.

Horde or Alliance?

HORDE.

The conversation felt like it would never end. We shared tales of each other's experiences in Azeroth. Every so often, I stole a quick glance at Fred, and watched as his eyes glazed over.

---

As I steered the Civic through rush hour at the end of the day, I found myself behind a school bus full of kids. The kids at the back of the bus peered out at me, their thick-rimmed glasses and anime-themed shirts continued the time-honored tradition of stuffing the nerds in the back of the bus. Too much to handle, to difficult to deal with. Too overwhelming. They appeared excited at seeing me, a stranger, perhaps in their own revelation that I might, in fact, be one of them, with my own thick-rimmed glasses.

I remembered a Penny-Arcade strip from years earlier, the one where Gabe and Tycho return to their high school to lecture the next generation of nerds. I pointed to the kids at the back of the bus, then myself, then mouthed the punch line of that comic strip.

We Run Shit.

The bus pulled away, and I watched as the kids in the back of the bus lost their minds, screaming and high-fiving one another into oblivion.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

4.40. Last of the Brohicans

Omaric's final post to the Descendants of Draenor
guild forums.

The Softening

Herp Derp was gone. I'd had high hopes that they'd change their tune, that at least one of them would show a shred of decency by standing in defiance of their team's decision to split from DoD. Loot is what matters most, more than any sort of human decency one might be compelled to demonstrate during a guild division on moral grounds. After all, why does it matter how we treat each other in a virtual gaming world, if we'll never end up having to account for our behavior? If this was really about raid size preference, they could've walked away the day Azeroth cracked open.

The wound closed up. Those who remained could focus undeterred on the road ahead, hoping to get significant work done in 25-Man heroics...preferably, before the release of Firelands. I wasn't pleased with the outcome of the Herp Derp ordeal, but was relieved that it was over.

Of course, it wasn't.

---

Omaric was an old-schooler. He didn't have the tenure of folks like Klocker and Neps and Blain, but coming in at the tail end of The Burning Crusade still granted him the gift of sight, to see WoW as it had once been, in its raw, most unforgiving form. When raiding in WoW was an exclusive experience, where any instance you stepped into demanded discipline, patience, coordination, and skill. When you relied on your guild for progression, and there was no contingency plan for gearing. Omaric never got the opportunity to drag his bloodied knuckles with us through magma-drenched depths, insect infested catacombs, or a floating necropolis whose arachnid trash squashed you like a bug. But he still got a small taste of what it was like. Enough of a taste enough to grant him perspective. Or so I thought.

Omaric had no problem gaining ground in Descendants of Draenor. He planted his foot firmly into Wrath's progression and kept it there, dividing his time between the 25-Man and his 10-Man membership in Eh Team. And when Cheeseus' curtain call came at the end of Ulduar, Omaric teamed with Bretthew to lead the 25-Man progression team through both Tournament of Champions and Icecrown Citadel. No easy task, especially considering the opinionated crew we brought to the plate. Omaric came away from that experience with a new respect for players like Cheeseus and Blain, Leading players is hard.

Leading people is hard.

When the Eh Team bomb dropped, Omaric was in the middle of blast. Having been a raid leader, I assumed he'd take ownership, make a call, shut it down, loop me in...something. Every single player in that group lost credibility with me in an instant. I vowed never to put them in charge of anything ever again. Recent events, however, caused me to reconsider the loot collusion story, as well as the major players involved.

Pawns on the Board

Omaric was one of the deniers, thrown under the proverbial bus during Bheer's grand confession. I'd known Bheer longer than Omaric, and simply defaulted to trusting him. This was a mistake. Over the last few months, I gained a profoundly new perspective of Bheer. For someone perceptibly distraught at playing a part in sweeping collusion under the rug, Bheer demonstrated little remorse in pilfering the guild vault or indulging in self-righteous statements like demanding I be the one to apologize. He was also quick to finger Crasian as the core conspirator, even though I knew the truth (and got a confession of my own). A moral compass spinning out of control, coupled with an apparent vendetta for Crasian, made little sense -- unless, of course, one might consider an alternative motive: revenge.

Bheer had a problem fitting in. He demonstrated it in the awkwardness of his constant gem cutting between pulls, long after raiders like Kelden had blown their stack in annoyance. But Bheer's struggle to find a place among the group went much deeper than Ekasa's lisp or Sentra's douchebaggery or Divinepants' all talk/no play attitude -- his vulnerability stemmed from a deep-seated lack of self-esteem, a reason many of us turn to video games in the first place, free from judging eyes and cruel words at the sight of us.

When I met Bheer face-to-face, witnessing his girth with my own eyes, my suspicions were confirmed. People were cruel. I didn't have to ask if he'd been bullied as a kid. It's common sense. What isn't necessarily common sense is how the effects of bullying manifest in you as an adult. A lack of trust in others. The inability to open up about problems, out of fear of ridicule. Doing whatever you can to ensure you are included in the group, desperately avoiding being cast out, being alone. No wonder Bheer approved of my "guaranteed raid spots for Elites" rule in Wrath, then masked his disgust for the change in that same rule under the pretenses of "loyalty". No wonder he went with Drecca in Herp Derp, where his spot was guaranteed and safe. To Bheer, I was just another bully, just another person in his life telling him his place in DoD was in jeopardy. His spot was never in jeopardy, but the horse blinders of his bullying years narrowed his focus to the most important issue: removing threats to exclusion.

The dysfunctional relationship between Crasian and Bheer made more sense every moment I reconsidered the story. I knew they didn't get along. But Crasian was popular, well-liked, and one of the best-geared, best-played DKs on Deathwing-US during Wrath. And, being roommates with Bretthew strengthened that popularity within DoD's circles. What kinds of conversations did Crasian and Bretthew have about Bheer behind his back? A kind of paranoid insecurity must have set in. As Crasian's popularity increased, Bheer's place in Eh Team grew more tenuous. The constant clash for melee dps loot added to the strain. Then, Crasian threatened to re-assemble Eh Team, sans Bheer. This devastated him, causing Bheer to grow so averse to the thought of Crasian, he couldn't even bring himself to read a private message from the guy.

He'd be willing to be do anything to be rid of Crasian. Perhaps, even, to embellish the collusion story and pin it on Crasian.

When viewed through this new lens, the yarn of Eh Team's collusion seemed far less hyperbolic. Did it happen? Yes. Was it wrong? Absolutely. Was it borne of malice intent on wreaking havoc within the very fabric of the guild, the goal of which was to pull DoD apart, strand by strand?

Probably not.

But blowing it out of proportion seemed the most logical way to inspire me into kicking Crasian out the door. In this new light, Bheer seemed no better than Crasian. In the end, they were both loot whores. The difference was that Bheer was smart enough to get to me first, "helping" me remove the necessary pawns from the board.

Helping Friends

Eh Team's habits were nothing more than typical gamer malfeasance. But of course, all of this perception came long after Omaric's promotion to ranged DPS officer. That happened at the start of Cataclysm, while the blood of Eh Team's betrayal was still fresh on Omaric's hands. I had no choice. Better to have a proven raid leader in charge of the masses, than to have an amateur lead them over a cliff. Omaric's position was structured so he couldn't take advantage of the guild, even if he wanted to. Now, after seeing Bheer's story from a different angle, I had renewed faith that Omaric wanted the best for DoD.

Until I found out about his alt.

By day, Omaric played the elemental shaman Zuzax, but by night, he was moonlighting as a death knight named Raradina, helping a group of friends with various 10-Man raid achievements, acting as a filler when needed.

You get one guess as to which 10-Man guild he just happened to choose to help.

It wasn't enough that Omaric was helping them on the side, he had to physically move his alt from DoD into their guild in order to ensure they had enough players present to qualify for guild raiding achievements. I'll admit I wasn't pleased with his choices, but just as it was with Riskers, I had no business telling him who he could or couldn't play with.

I could, however, remind him of the dual-guilding policy, in place well before he ever set foot in DoD.

"Other players are dual-guilding, so this is really kind of a double-standard, Hanzo," Omaric's voice was thick with disgust.

"If they are, I don't know about it. As soon as I do, I remove them."

"Well, you know about Insayno's two characters in Quit Your Job. Why aren't you kicking him out?"

"We're not in competition with them. We're not a PvP guild. This is something I've stated since the very beginning. The hard feelings come about when people put alts in guilds that compete with us. Lots of people have come to me over the years to ask if they can have an alt in a friend's guild. I'm not heartless. I take these situations on a case-by-case basis. But the general rule of thumb is, you don't do it if they are the competition."

"So I'm being punished for choosing to play with my friends..."

They're not our friends. They're the competition. Get some ethics.

Before I could respond, Ventrilo exploded with the sound of Blain's voice.

"Just MAKE a DECISION. SERIOUSLY. Ok? This has gone on long enough. We were finally able to put Herp Derp behind us, and now you are just DRAGGING IT BACK IN."

Wide eyed, I shut my mouth, just to see how far he'd take it. God knows how long this had been pent up.

"I don't really care what you want to do, Omaric. Play with Drecca, stay in DoD...do whatever you want. But MAKE a DECISION. Sick and tired of all these distractions. It accomplishes NOTHING. If you don't like Hanzo's rules, leave. But don't waste our time with this."

The rest of the officers and I sat quiet a moment while the dust settled from Blain's mini-explosion.

"Alright, well. I guess that settles that. Thanks...for everything...I guess!" Omaric tried to stay chipper after the Blainslamming.

Pfft. He got off easy.

---

Omaric didn't quit the guild right away. He lingered in the roster well into the evening, struggling with the decision. Perhaps he was trying to convince ex-Eh Team members to go with him; perhaps they were trying to convince him to change his mind. Whatever the case, my pitch was done: Stay with DoD and be a part of one of the last few guilds on the server focusing on 25-Man content, or take the easy way out, with a handful of players that epitomized everything wrong with the gamer stereotype.

He was gone by the morning, marking the end of the third exodus of DoD.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

4.39. True Colors

Gods Will Be Watching

"So, what's the status? It's been several weeks. Are you changing the line-up?"

Sir Klocker, Neps, Jungard, and Blain remained silent while I drilled Riskers in officer chat. I made a concerted effort to keep my tone in check.

"I don't really have a lot of options!" He sounded frustrated and defeated.

You have options. You just don't like any of them.

"You've been trying to get them to return to DoD?"

"Hanzo, let's face it...they're not really interested in that. At all."

"I completely understand. Not everyone is going to agree with my decisions. So, recruitment then? Perhaps replacing them is the better option?"

He sighed into the mic.

Go ahead. Say it. Tell me how this situation is completely unfair. That I did this to you. Tell me it's all my fault, while all of the officers are listening. I know you want to.

"I...can't really replace them. It's not an option for this team. We just wanna play, and we're getting things done."

"Not guild achievements," Neps and Sir Klocker both piped up, nearly in unison.

"You're getting things done," Blain added, "but they aren't relevant to DoD."

Silence lingered a moment. I took a deep breath.

"I know you're not dumb, Riskers. You know exactly what we're dealing with here. We have a 10-Man team comprised of guildies that are checked out, and non-guildies who have publicly wiped their asses with DoD. All eyes are on Herp Derp, now. ‘Why are they posting kill shots in the forums?’ ‘What’s being done about them?’. This is my life right now, Riskers."

"The people in this guild want to know why I'm still putting it up with it. And the reason is: You. You’re a good player and a good guy; you've contributed to DoD since as far back as Wrath. You know the ropes. And you've been given a raw deal, here...which sucks a lot. But I wanted to give you a fair opportunity to make it right."

Pack your bags. We're going on a guilt trip.

Riskers still had no options. He hadn't recruited, hadn't changed anyone's mind, so why were we going through this charade? Because I honestly thought he would've walked away from them, after seeing their behavior, their treatment of DoD.

I want to tell you that he did. I want to tell you that Riskers defied the gamer stereotype of cruel incivility, of unadulterated selfishness in the name of phat lewts. I want to tell you this, but I can't...because it isn't what happened. 

"Hanzo, whatever rift you and Drecca have going on, that's none of my business. I don't feel it's fair that you're putting this on me, and now I should have to deal with that. I just want to play the game and not have to worry about any of this."

"...and in any other situation, this would not be an issue. I hope you realize that. I mean, I'm really trying to make sure you do understand that. I don't think it's right for me to sit here and try to dictate who plays with who. You're right, that is none of my business. Players decide who they want to play with, not me."

Just put him out of his misery and be done with it. Quit dragging this out.

"But how this guild is treated by current and former members is my business. If I found out a group of DoD was running with a ninja-looting guild for pick-up runs in Tol Barad, do you think I would let that slide?"

"No."

"Damn right I wouldn't! We're better than that. Grouping with douchebags isn't a prerequesite to enjoying this game. So, why would I treat this situation any differently? When a few good folks like yourself are actively grouping with players openly disrespectful toward all of us?"

"To be fair, I don't think they appreciated being called parasites."

It isn't slander if it's true.

"I'll admit that announcement was a little emotional, but I hope you can see where I'm coming from. That team is using up guild resources now on every run. Guild repairs, flasks, etc...and contributing nothing in return. No achievements. No camaraderie. Nothing. Behaving like nothing is wrong at all. But we know something is wrong. Something is eating away at this guild. And we need to put it to bed, today."

Stitching the Wound

When Riskers parted ways with DoD, those in Herp Derp that bore the DoD guild tag were stripped of their Raider ranks, disallowing them from accessing any further guild resources. Within a couple of hours of the demotions, they left the guild on their own. There was no public outburst or profanity-laced insults, nor fanfare. They left quietly and without fuss. 

Later that evening, Neps informed me that Bheer managed to scoop out a healthy chunk of raiding materials from the guild vault before losing his rank.

"Drecca did the same on the Alliance side," he told me.

Wow. Stealing from Neps. Did they stop to kick an old man down a flight of stairs, too?

I questioned Neps as to whether or not he'd heard any justification for the final 'fuck you' flipped our way.

"Mmm, not sure who said it, but it was, like, ‘Well, if Hanzo's going to call us parasites, then I guess we better act like it'."

---

As so many players come and go in WoW, I doubted their departure would have an emotional impact on anyone but me. Annihilation, ever the faithful representation of DoD's idealism, took it to heart. I didn't want him to shoulder this petty load. His time was best spent elsewhere, enjoying the game, not repairing the guild leader's failed negotiations.

"Anni, if you really feel like you think you can talk some sense into them, be my guest."

"I just want to try. Whatever it is that they're bent out of shape over can't possibly be that bad. Maybe all they need is a mediator."

"You've been mediating for damn near eight years. At some point, a retired officer needs to not worry about guild administration shit. You don't have to do this."

"Kerulak, you know me. You know I can't let shit like this just drop."

Annihilation headed off to Herp Derp's vent server, with the hope of bringing back some options.

He couldn't.

But what he did bring back were a few quotes that guaranteed entertainment, particularly when considering the sources. I asked Annihilation what they said to him when he began his pilgrimage to resolve this inter-guild rivalry. And this is what they said to him.

A History of Histrionics

Bheer. A player who was in my guild as far back as Molten Core. A player for whom I carved a spot out in progression for, recommending a shift from druid to shaman in order to best get his raiding needs served. A player I promoted to Elite, only to then deal with his absence after he chose to leave progression without fair warning or explanation. A player I welcomed back to the guild without hesitation, defending him from alleged harassment from player like Crasian. A player who gladly accepted all this support, then thanked me with a single night of raiding in Cataclysm as a "courtesy", blaming rules he helped to shape as his justification for such decisions.

To Annihilation, Bheer said this:

"If Hanzo wants us to return, the first thing he's going to have to do is apologize."

Falnerashe. A player whose skill with healing was no match for her skill in judging others. A player adept at blaming failure on others with cruel insults, but rarely able to acknowledge her own incompetence at human decency. A player who stormed out of my guild, filling our forums with vile hatred toward a group of online strangers that chose to open the door and invite her in. A player whose people skills were so vast and immeasurable that her next home bled out until it was a guild of one. A player I decided was worth a second chance, because we are all human and make mistakes, that somewhere there was a shred of decency, that she was worthy of forgiveness, so that we could start fresh. A player I knew deep down wanted to play with experts, suffered no fools, and understood that our common top-end raiding culture had already begun to decay. A player that agreed to let me deal with drama, so she could focus on enjoying the game and not have to interact with idiocy; to let me push annoyances and ineffectuals out of her hair, so she wouldn't have to. The player who agreed to all of these things, and then walked away, and all of that effort wasn't even worth a single sentence explaining her exit.

To Annihilation, Falnerashe said this:

"I was expecting an officer position."

If Anni told me what Drecca said, or what Riskers said, or really any of the rest of Herp Derp, I've forgotten. I know that it was dismissive of the original issue, that they simply were tired of the fighting and wanted to get on with the playing. Which I think we can all agree is the end goal...just not at the price they were willing to pay.

But there is one more thing I remember about the quotable quotes that Anni's mediation attempt brought back. And it was really the one person I was most interested in hearing about, more than Falnerashe, more than Bheer, even more than Drecca. I was most interested in the person whom kicked this entire ordeal off. The person who gave me many opportunities to kick him to the curb (he made it very easy). The person I chose to invest in, kept working with, getting him to be more communicative, more accountable. The person who went from no-shows to texting me when he'd be a few minutes late, getting him to keep his shit together, getting him reliable, a skill far more valuable in real life than behind his shadow priest. The person I gave enough of a shit about that I constructed a new guild rank specifically for him, to make his raid life a little easier, then watched as he never even bothered to step one foot into that role, not even for a moment.

For that person, what he said to Anni spoke the greatest volume of all, because it confirmed every gut instinct I ever had about him, every red flag I chose to ignore, believing instead in the ability for a person to grow and take responsibility for their actions; to understand this was a game built on human interaction, and that we needed to rely on one another to achieve a common goal -- something he was bound to use in real life one day.

To Annihilation, Ben said absolutely nothing.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

The Team Mentality

Hanzo levels his Paladin alt, Laire,
The Violet Hold
The following post was made to "Announcements" on the Descendants of Draenor guild forums on Wednesday, April 13th, 2011, at 6:09pm.

---

When I created the guild Descendants of Draenor at the end of November 2004, it was with several real-life friends I had been LANning with in the Denver, CO area. It should come as no surprise that this is often the main reason any guild forms; a group of people who know one another and get along well...decide to group up and continue playing together. It is a very simple premise -- to play with folks you enjoy spending time with.

Over the course of the next six years, that small group of people I formed with began to expand and grow, and we have had the opportunity of meeting some very diverse (read: STRANGE) individuals. I joke; in reality, we have come across many different personalities and welcomed them into the DoD family with open arms. Those players, in turn, sacrificed much of themselves to help me make this guild a better place for all, one we can all enjoy being a part of. It was because of their joint contributions that we were able to refine just who we were as a guild, and what we stood for, while sticking to my original ideals. We were to be successful as a raiding guild, and we would do it in a respectful manner, treating each other with dignity and fairness.

Name another guild on Deathwing-US that does that.

It has not been easy. We've struggled. We've wiped. We've had great players come...and go. We've had petty politics and we've dealt with them, and learned...and grown. We continue to do so every day. I was very happy to have been a part of, most recently, an online discussion in Vent where the 25m raid team actually got up and voiced their opinions...and were heard! The team and raid leaders spoke, discussed their issues, and modifications are going into play as we speak so that our players continue to have fun playing WoW, and raiding with one another.

I want to focus in on that last part for just a moment, as it is the concern of this letter. I am proud to have led Descendants of Draenor for as long as it has been around, and I enjoy spending time online with both new and old alike -- that's what makes the game enjoyable for me is the social element. I've had many guildies come to me and tell me "If it wasn't for DoD, I wouldn't be playing WoW any more..." That tells me we make a real difference -- we give a shit about the people in this guild and want to make sure they are having fun and being acknowledged, which in turn, keeps them coming back, building and maintaining our DoD community and culture.

---

It has come to my attention, most recently, that there are a number of people who no longer fit into this culture. When questioned, responses we've received are: 

"We are no longer the guild we once were." 

"The guild has become a sea of rules and regulations, and there is little room for anyone to relax without fear of going against something that might 'piss Hanzo off'."

"We are no longer a family."

Today, I'm here to address these issues.

First and foremost, if I didn't believe we were a family, enjoying each other's time online -- and being respectful of one another's time -- I would have dismantled the guild long ago. In response to the claim that we have too many rules and regulations, I say that it is a compilation of all the unspoken, common-sense things we have all come to agree upon -- that simply need to be written down for new members, and....well, those who lack common-sense. I know, it may seem silly to you to even consider for a moment trying to raid in green quality gear with empty sockets and no enchants...but you would be surprised how often new players think that is OK. You'd also be surprised how often people think it's OK to suddenly not show up to a raid without speaking to anyone about it...as if their spot is magically filled by someone else at random.

The long-term players (or Vets, as I often refer to them) shouldn't need to be stressed out or worry too terribly about the sea of rules -- they helped create the rules. They are already following the rules on a day-to-day basis. Families need rules; expectations need to be set. My kids have a bed time and they know they need to go to bed at that time; my wife and I have an allowance and we know if we overspend, we're not eating! Again...it sounds silly and common-sense...but sometimes, people still need to be told these things. You shouldn't take offense to them, but rather, be thankful I took the time to write them down, so that some alt doesn't come into a raid, and accidentally roll/win an item you've been working towards for the last 3 months.

So, families have rules and families contribute. We're all a part of what makes DoD tick; it couldn't have been demonstrated any better than by the mass rush to 25 last week. It took a joint effort to pull that off -- and not everybody could contribute due to their own schedules, but many did any little thing that they could. And I appreciated that effort. It was done -- because the folks here in this guild cared about DoD and wanted it to be a success. For that, I'm very thankful and honored. Think about it, a good majority of you are officially still strangers to me...yet you have made DoD your home and your priority...and you helped turn this into a place everyone wants to be. I'm very honored by that.

Hanzo continues to grind out levels on Laire,
Gundrak
---

Just as families need contributors and rules to guide them along -- families have bad eggs, and they need to be addressed. I shouldn't have to explain to you what happens when you put a rotten apple into a basket of perfectly ripe, fresh ones -- but I'll tell you anyway: Mold grows off of the infected fruit and rots the entire basket of apples. The sad fact is that over the course of six years, we've had to deal with rotten apples; players who superficially want to be here...but could care less about contributing, and want nothing more than to suck the guild dry of its people and resources like a parasite. In many cases, it's due to either laziness or a sense of entitlement.

I have no interest in supporting either mentality -- and the poor decisions of players who could give two shits about us -- are negatively affecting those who stand for the guild. I should not have to name names, but if you take a moment and reflect on the speed-bumps of our past, it should be obvious to you what types of behavior I frown upon, and the people who made those rules famous:
  • Talking shit about other players/other guilds. It's disrespectful and immature.
  • Raiding to loot gear with the full intention of quitting. See above.
  • Gearing to the tooth and then disappearing, leaving a huge hole in our raid team, without giving any thought as to how you have negatively affected many other players and their schedules.
  • Using our guild resources (gold, repair money, flasks) etc. to fund the progression of another guild -- or simply to fund a group of individuals that do not contribute in return (5s, Guild Achievements, etc.)
  • Using exploits, either in BGs, or in a Raid Environment, to accomplish progression.
  • Being blatantly bad at your class while simultaneously denying any such imperfection, thus negating any opportunity to improve.
  • A self-righteous attitude, as if your shit doesn't stink, and that you cannot be told...nor be in a position to learn...anything. Nobody is perfect.
Most recently, a new type of rotten apple has emerged that I feel compelled to add to that list:
  • Choosing to prioritize 10s over 25s, not due to schedule, but rather, out of spite, as if to 'teach the administrators of the guild a lesson'.
It's painful for me to have to deal with issues like this. Some of the people I've had to cut from the guild due to reasons listed above are things I think about every day. Two separate occasions stand out in my mind the most when thinking about ejecting players from DoD, and I gotta tell you...they were hard fucking decisions for me to make. It wasn't as simple as kicking a Paladin-who-shall-remain-nameless-that-likes-Burning-Man, where everyone cheers and posts massive CONGRATULATIONS / THANKS posts on the forums.

No, it was more like me having to listen to a grown woman cry her eyes out, begging me to reconsider my decision and that she had absolutely no control over the behavior and attitude of her significant other, and that we meant everything to her -- she considered us family -- and wanted desperately to find a way to make it work...to solve a problem that was unsolvable.

It was also like me having to take one of my best friends aside, whom I confided with on a daily basis, and whom shared many of my own best interests in the guild...and tell him I had to remove him because he could no longer keep up. It was difficult, because I know exactly why he could not keep up; he had a new born baby, new job, and new responsibilities to deal with, and his poor play was only getting worse. I could have kept him, it's true -- but I also need to think about what is best for the guild. And to provide a positive, fun progressive guild, I needed quality players as well as quality people...and if he had stayed, I'm certain we would not have gone quite as far in WotLK as we did.

I struggle with those decisions every day. All of those decisions to remove people have been hard on me -- because of the fact that I consider you all friends...and family.

And so, I will not stand by, and allow dirt to be kicked in my face, and in the face of the rest of the guild, while players continue to make statements about how we have become a faceless, rule-governed guild, while they hypocritically suck the life out of us and our resources, taking advantage of the very rules they themselves helped to create in the first place...while contributing nothing in return...because they feel justified in their decisions -- and it's more convenient to just "not be online" when I'm in-game.

DoD means enough to me that I will do my best to protect those whose intentions are aligned with the guild's -- no matter how difficult a decision it becomes. You have busted your balls on my behalf to remain here and make DoD the best damn guild on Deathwing-US.

And to those players who couldn't give a shit, let this be a warning: it is time for you to pack your bags, and hit the road. Or I will be packing it for you...

...and it is going to come a hell of a lot faster than the 20 day idle mark.

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

Priorities

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."

"...as 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 clock...it read 8:36pm...

THE GUILD


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!

Yeagermeister

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 Battle.net 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:

BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOTS

By the time Jungard floated it back up to me, the meme was firmly established...as 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.