Thursday, September 25, 2014

4.8. They Shot Jane Fonda, Didn't They?

Guild Leader in training,
1983 (8 yrs. old)

Arbitrary Math

The keepsakes in my mother's hope chest smelled of wet newspapers and old people. I stifled a gag while sorting through bags containing personal history I preferred to ignore. Down the hall, in the living room, a faint outline of my hand could be seen on the wall above the TV, visible only from a certain sunny angle. A dufflebag containing my XBox and laptop sat near the base of the TV stand, neglected. Wishful thinking had led me to pack them, even though, deep down, I knew.

I wasn't entirely clear why Mom asked me to rifle through my childhood memories: an old Boy Scout uniform, various bowling trophies, photos of me in the little league softball and soccer teams. A never-ending stream of activities designed to keep me out of the house. All I wanted to do was to sit down and play a video game, uninterrupted. There was no evidence to that in this wooden box. Her and I had a difference of opinion on what constituted time well spent.

Wandering the house of my youth felt strange. Flowery patterns lined the walls on the way to my former bedroom, long stripped of its plastic cartridge smell. I'd spent many nights there devouring Sonic the Hedgehog, Street Fighter II and Samurai Shodown. It was in that room I wrote a FAQ about a fighting game which, in turn, led me to make new online friends, one of whom was Zoid. It was my first glimpse outside the tiny world of of Qualicum Beach. Holy shit! There were actually other people like me: gamers who recorded themselves playing video games and preferred Yuzo Koshiro over Metallica or Smashing Pumpkins. But with the joy of having a Sega Genesis, a NeoGeo, a SuperNES and more, came with the apprehension that my mother had the power to take them away at any time, for any reason. It was leverage she liked to hold over me.

Groundings were a battle of wits in my teen years, once the leather belt stopped working. The most miniscule infraction would send her into a rage. Like a child, I'd be forced to put the game console high up on the shelf in her bedroom closet. She suspected I hooked it up when she was at work, sneaking game time, so she one-upped me by placing a penny on the console. She'd leave for work, I'd grab the console, and the penny would fall silently to the floor. She'd come home and accuse me of defying her, I'd deny it. The groundings were endless. As of this writing, I'm still serving several grounded for life sentences.

I continued to sift through the items buried in Mom's hope chest, stopping to consider the room I was in. The ol' 286 used to be in here. It was a piece of shit computer that was the cheapest available. High school friends were up to 386s by this point, and Ultima VII was all the rage -- that, and Wing Commander II. I couldn't run Ultima VII on my 286, missing out on perhaps the best game in the series, and as for Wing Commander, well...this was the room she had once caught me playing during a lunch hour break. She saw the strategy guide laying next to the computer, and tore that book into a million pieces.

Yeah, it was a piece of shit computer, but I found a way to make it work. After winning the childhood-long battle of convincing Mom that I could use a computer for things other than games, the truth couldn't have been far from her mind. Mom was always watching, always waiting for me to mess up the rules. One hour of homework + One hour of trumpet practice = one hour of computer. I ended up pitching the trumpet, one of the few classes I enjoyed and excelled at, in my quest to balance the effort with the reward. One hour of studying for one hour of games, Mom. That's how it should be.

Mom's arbitrary math was yet another tactic, and one that had a way of grinding any lasting enjoyment out of anything I took pleasure in. Several years before giving up music, she caught me sneaking by the local arcade, trumpet crammed into the back of my bike's newspaper baskets. The "Fun Center", owned and operated by a sweet elderly couple, had come to recognize me by the trumpet case. Always friendly, they called me by name as I meandered through the darkened room, eyes on games like Renegade and Rush 'n Attack.

Mom had a hunch. One day, she played some of the kids I hung around with, getting them to cough up hints about my possible arcade shenanigans. She called the arcade and sweet-talked the couple into giving me up; they never suspected her ulterior motives. Mom had a way with people -- she not only read them like a book, but could adjust her demeanor with the ease of a professional actor to get what she wanted. The Fun Center debacle mathed out as follows: Five visits to the "smoke-filled", "drug-infested" video game shithole, multiplied by the three lies I allegedly told -- denying my having ever been there -- which brought the grand total to fifteen leather belts across the ass.

My newspaper delivery went slowly and painfully that week.


Nearing the bottom of the chest, I pulled out a worn plastic bag with a few elementary school books inside. One revealed a piece of history I'd sooner forget: my fifth grade report card. Fifth grade was the most hellish year of school in my academic career. A fat, bearded man with a British accent and an obvious distaste for children drove every student’s grades into the ground that year. Even Nina, the star, straight A student, earned Cs and Ds. There was no hope in Hell for me. Driscoll had done me one better, though, making sure to twist the knife. I flipped the card open and reread his comments, even though I’d committed them to memory years earlier:

Shawn would do much better in class if he spent more time on task, and less time drawing pictures of video game characters on his notebooks.

At the time, I knew what kind of punishment those words would bring, and I remembered how Mr. Driscoll knew so little of the impact of his comments. I held the report card at my desk as tears welled up in my eyes; he looked down at me, all smiles and hand gestures as he described the examples of Mario and turtles I sketched into the corners of my math and English papers, as if I didn't already know. I was certain to see the belt that night.

Mom remembered the report card -- there it lay in her hope chest, her wooden box filled with her precious memories of the myriad activities I was never interested in. The only evidence that reflected my actual interest -- video games -- was a piece of paper that fueled her suspicions that games would somehow, undoubtedly, ruin my life.

I bundled up the childhood artifacts and stuffed them into an old grocery sack, wondering when it would be, exactly, that I'd get some time to myself.


Mom kept me busy the entire time. If we weren't taking care of dishes or walking the dogs down to the park, she was encouraging us to go out, to go show the kids the beach, to let them roll around in the sand and collect up shells. Take them out to the mini-golf where you always used to go. Take them out. Go. Do. Enjoy the fresh air, the warm breeze, the sun, the sunset. Enjoy life. Enjoy it, son, before it's too late.

Her distractions were grating on me. I wanted to write. I needed to write. My guild rules needed revising and this was when I had intended to get most of my work done. I was out of the city, away from the game, on vacation. Yet as each day plodded along there was more to do, more to see, and more to keep busy with, thanks to my mother's unrelenting schedule. There was no time to work on loot guidelines. No time to write guild rules. No, there was never time for that.

Our first day there, while Mom was at work, I thought I'd hook the Xbox up. While reaching past the stereo equipment to plug the cables into the TV, I lost my balance and caught the wall for leverage. I thought nothing of it. As luck would have it, the living room patio door faced west, allowing the sun to beam in at the end of the work day. Anyone entering through the front door had a perfect view of its light reflecting off the wall, catching my hand print in the process. And in a disappointed tone, Mom reminded of how the wall was ruined, and would have to be re-painted and papered. Ever melodramatic.

Family Tradition

The extra baggage I returned home with,
following the summer vacation of 2010
The relationship I have with my Mom, now in adulthood, is quite awkward, offset only by her slightly twisted sense of humor. We have little in common, although we both love music and movies. We can even joke about how awful Joan Crawford was, what with her whipping her child with coat hangers, yet mentions of the actual movie Mommie Dearest always hung heavy with a deep unsettling irony. I avoid discussing topics surrounding video games and tech in general, yet any time my career comes up, she responds inexplicably, "Son, I always knew you'd do well in computers." It's laughable. Still, I can't quite brush away those years of brutality that put Mortal Kombat to shame.

Toward the end of the vacation, I still hadn't had an opportunity to gather my thoughts about WoW, yet there I sat, compelled to spend another evening discussing movies with my mother. I suddenly remembered something she had once told me as a child: the worst movie she had ever seen.

"Didn't you tell me...this must've been years was something about shooting horses?" I asked, bringing it up.

She let out a single laugh, "Ha! They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? Absolute worst movie of all time, son. It was awful. Just torture to watch."

The title was misleading. It had nothing to do with horses. Instead, it told the story of a dance marathon held during the Great Depression. She nodded in agreement, "Yes. Yes, that is exactly what it was about. Your Grandfather and Grandmother dragged me to that, son, and I had to sit through the entire two hours of it. Around and around they went, over and over. It was ridiculous. Complete waste of time and energy."

I never understood why, until I did some arbitrary math of my own. Pollack's Academy-nominated film came out in 1969; Mom would've been fourteen years old. I imagined a rebellious teenage girl, forced to sit in a theater, as Red Buttons and Jane Fonda circled the dance floor for two straight hours. I imagined her agonizing, wanting to be done with the horrific nightmare so she could return to her bedroom, with its dangling spiders and black lights, to crank Iron Butterfly and Jimi Hendrix and forget the insanity of the movie. I pictured her withdrawing from her parents, wondering Who are these people? and Why the hell did this guy just blow Jane Fonda away? And I could see Grandpa and Grandma sitting there, taking it all in: family time at the movies. Because they could. There didn't need to be any other reason. They were in charge.

Just like she was.

Just like I was.


The morning after I arrived home from vacation, I took the bag of belongings pulled from my mother's hope chest and hung it in the closet. Then, I sat down at my computer, opened up my State of the Union draft -- wherein I proclaimed the death of the 10-Man teams in DoD -- and deleted it.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

4.7. Disturbances of a Brownish Hue

"WoW Bosses - Halion"
Artwork by Carlos H Reis

The Lies I Tell Myself

It was going to suck. A lot.

My plan was to be as painless as possible: post a State of the Union, and thank the many of them for their exemplary contribution. Then, drift casually into metaphor, talk about the setting of the sun on one chapter of the guild, the sun rising on another. Talk about how Cataclysm's landscape demanded an entirely new level of focus, one requiring total alignment and dedication to the goal. Make them believe we were counting on them.

It was the kind of sappy writing you expect from a company suffering from post-merger mismanagement. Their best solution is to downsize; eliminate the extraneous positions while wrapping the message in a pretty pink bow. Who can we afford to lose while still maintaining? Eyeballs turn to the slackers, the troublemakers, the opinionated people, those who challenge the status quo, the ones picking at the loose threads with the intent of unraveling the tapestry.

Mom had a classy name for these people: shit disturbers.

My initial drafts read like a slap in the face. Each night I'd go to bed thinking about the current draft, then awake the next morning and cut out major chunks of text. Rewriting, again and again, like an addict trying to scrub off imaginary creatures. I wanted to be rid of the task and moving on to more important ones, working through the necessary rule changes. Yet, I couldn't even scribble notes without the draft picking away at my subconscious, distracting me. This is the best you can do? What a way to say thanks to players that carried your sorry ass for six years.

The State of the Union had to be completed first. Keeping the guild in the dark wasn't fair to them. Making them think we were cultivating their 10-Man raiding preferences would be especially two-faced; I'd learned this already. I set a deadline: have the draft wrapped up before the summer vacation. There, uninterrupted, I could complete the rule changes -- no more distractions. Through gritted teeth I returned to the draft, layering on politically correct cheese until it read like the mission statement of a motivational poster wholesaler.

I stayed on task by lying to myself. They’re not lies, they’re harsh truths; a pragmatic way of dealing with the problems Blizzard’s about to serve up. I told myself I was empowering them into making their own decisions; it was no different than players filling out the raid slot template at the start of Wrath. The shifting message from Burning Crusade to Wrath was "I'm not going to tell you what class we need, you're going to tell us what class you want to play." The tactic was enormously successful, solving the issue of lackluster performance from players begging to raid, switching to roles they weren't capable of fielding. But, let's not mince words: it was a spin on what was really changing in DoD: Half-assed players are no longer welcome in our raids. They take our raid progression and flush it down the toilet with their incessant whining, nonsensical excuses and insistence on watching Nip/Tuck during raids. They are a burden and a disease.

This was really just more of the same, right? A clever use of textual mechanics. Rephrasing the problem so that it sat on the shoulders of the player. Doing so made the decision become their burden, not mine. It freed me to ride my high horse toward that cheese-dripping new horizon, and if you chose to make the 25-Man your priority, then saddle up, partner. I made it about them making the right decision, and not about me deciding their actual fate. Plunging the blade in felt a little less like actually sawing flesh.

If only I had known about an impending reveal as I prepared for my summer vacation, perhaps I would've returned home with a different mindset.

The 25-Man progression team defeats Halion, earing
"The Twilight Destroyer (25 player)",
Ruby Sanctum

Hearing Them Out

I had my own shit disturbers to deal with. Bulwinkul tried to pin me down for several weeks so that he could issue an apology for his behavior. It wasn't me he needed to apologize to. True, I was disappointed in his decisions, but my personal approval of the guy wasn't the matter at hand. There was a rule in the guild, he broke it, and I administered the punishment. The person's whose feelings mattered were Lexxii's. He had no right to treat her that way. So he could apologize to me all he wanted, but I wasn't keen on granting a reprieve. I did like Bul (even though I didn't like his choices), so I heard him out.

"You really laid into Lexxii that night. Way overboard, in my opinion."

"Yeah, well…"

Bulwinkul stopped short of adding "but..." He wasn't an idiot. He knew it meant passing the blame back to Lexxii. This wasn't about her. It was about him.

"…what can I say? Y'know? I'm sorry. It was a shitty thing to say."

I appreciated his candor and recommended he issue that apology to the person it was owed to. I didn't guarantee his return; he understood that it wasn't an expectation, but thanked me for listening. I tried to convey to the guild that I would hear them, regardless of issue. Bring it to me. Let's talk it out. Let's find some common ground that we can decide will work best to remedy this situation. In doing so, I hoped to foster an environment where players didn't feel the need to go behind my back on things. Perhaps by making it a bit personal, I made the DoD feel more real to them, that we were more than our avatars, we were people with feelings. We didn't deserve to have our shit disturbed.

Some, like Bul, expressed remorse over their bad behavior. Others liked to strut around in full denial, completely incapable of seeing the fallacy of their own illogical stance. My super duper most favoritest thing in the whole wide world was when, in the face of all rational evidence to the contrary, some people still held fast to their story.

"I don't have any clue what you're talking about. Probably some made up shit."

"So, you're saying that you caused absolutely no loot drama in the Alt-25 last night at all. None whatsoever. Not even a little bit."

"Nope. Can't say I did."

So my officers are just making up stories, now? To waste my time?

Sentra, Nerffmeh, and Mature defeat their opponents,
pushing their inappropriately-named team to 2000,
Blade's Edge Arena

Water Off a *uck's Back

The report came over instant messenger via Jungard, an officer known to pull punches when delivering harsh truths to people. Sentra was caught bitching about not being able to bid equitably against the regulars in the Alt-25. His claim failed to consider the single reason why he was unable to participate in the bidding: his lackluster DKP pool, the result of inconsistent participation.

"You realize that the officer that reported you has absolutely nothing to gain from this, right? He's one of the most sincere guys in this group. He's never bullshitted anyone for any reason."

"Honestly, I don't give a shit who said it."

What was it about Sentra that he was cool in just letting it all roll off his back? Was it that whole PvP mentality, rife with trolling and shit talking and calling your opponent the scum of the earth as you pummel them into non-existence? Was it the day-to-day gamer life that built up a skin so thick that nobody's opinion mattered but their own?

Or was he just an asshole?

I thought he might throw me a bone since we had been participating in an arena team for months. No dice. The guy was completely comfortable in his stance; he was the one being wronged. Apparently it was easier to believe that there was some conspiracy afoot to paint his credibility in a poor light, rather than simply admit to a team partner that his temper got the best of him. Any hope of breaking down those walls via arenas had proven a waste of time. He wasn't budging, and there was no conspiracy...but wouldn't that have been grand?

"Look, Sentra. You said you wanted more raid time. I rotate you in. You don't show up. I tell you we don't tolerate drama regarding loot. Then I get reports that you're causing problems when loot doesn't go your way. I question you. You deny it. If you want the goods, you need to step up and take some responsibility for yourself. You're running out of chances, chief."

He laughed. It was all a joke to him, "OK, man...whatever. We done here?" He dismissed himself before waiting for an answer, off to harass players on Deathwing-US. A reminder popped up in Chrome. It was one I set for myself a few weeks earlier:

[Help Sentra with game card??]

I clicked delete.


Two days before the summer vacation, a message popped up on Facebook from my sister.

Bret’s been in an accident. Dad wants you to give him a call. Don’t think we can do the visit this year.

Dad's voice was always a low monotone, that thick Canadian accent ever present. Yet even now, with the sighing, the pauses...concern, stress, fear. Fear of the unknown. He was upset and rightly so. It was too early to tell if Bret was going to suffer any long term brain damage from the accident. I gave him as much support as I could over the phone, and reassured him that things would be OK, that we'd reschedule our trip for next year. When he agreed, it was in that same low monotone, but I could tell it was tough for him to say it.

In the span of 30 some-odd years, Dad and I were more strangers than family. I'd spent the first 20 years of my life apart, raised by an overprotective mother that had difficulty with the world, difficulty seeing anyone's side but her own. I barely knew him. But, I was thankful that in adulthood, we still had a relationship. The summers were all we had now, and I cherished what small amount of time I was able to spend up there. No stress. No judgments. Instead, a warm welcome and some fatherly observations and life lessons along the way.

The life lessons I'd been raised on came from a very different point of view.

I sighed, pulled up Google Maps, and plotted out a new route for the drive, one that snaked up in a northwesterly direction. I was heading home, and dreaded what awaited.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

4.6. Alignment or Death

Sir Klocker displays his Tabard of the Lightbringer, while
Neps and Ben (Aeden) stare into the light,

Doing the Devil's Work

Preoccupation defined the weeks ahead. Mapping it all out helped focus on the solution, rather than languish on the inevitable. Getting the dots on the page, connecting each one, painting the picture of where we were, and what we were about to take on. I followed in the footsteps of my Wrath rewrite, building on what had already proven successful. A bump to the minimum age requirement. The handling of the 25-Man progression team. New ranks. Loot rule revisions. It was the path to Cataclysm; the mother of all to-do lists. Knocking out a bit each night was also healthy. Idle minds are far more sinister than hands, and mine had a tendency to chip away at positivity. Keeping busy kept the inner voice at bay.

If I wasn't raiding, I was back in Google Docs, scribbling digital notes, analyzing lessons learned from Wrath. How had the Raider / Elite ranks worked out? My gut said overwhelming success, but there were still edge cases like Ben: expertly played, yet still immature enough for me to exercise restraint in promoting. The shadow priest that was equally loved and loathed in DoD struck me as a kind of gun-for-hire, showing up conveniently at Lord's behest, then exploding enemies with an ear-piercing digital scream. He had his own code, but honored DoD's as well. Romanticizing Ben's loyalty might have been a stretch, but there were hints of a Samurai in there. The prospect of a third rank warranted further investigation.

Thinking of Ben chained into thoughts of other candidates rising above, particularly the warlock Mangetsu. His bursts of silliness macro'd into raid chat were mixed wonderfully with steadfast determination at "rocking the meters". I dropped the Alt-25 on his shoulders and he rose to the occasion, not only taking it on, but cultivating progression-quality expectations in the process. He took a rag-tag bundle of players not quite ready (or able) to hit progression, and schooled them in the ways of the guild. Mang was professionally played, yet humble. Serious enough to lead, yet loved laughing and making people laugh. Officer material, but not an officer. Something needed to be done, because there were more like him. Most notable of these newer faces was the paladin Drecca.

A meteoric rise to stardom wasn't pushing it. Drecca joined DoD at the most opportune time: Bretthew was "done" at the wrap of 25-Man ICC (normal), leaving Omaric to shoulder the raid-leadership load by himself...and not the easy part. He tired of his tanking role and I wanted to free him to join DPS, but that meant a dedicated tank filling that spot...and certainly not one that required training. Drecca required neither training nor flexibility in his schedule: he began one Friday and was present every progression night from that point forward. From the moment we hit go, Drecca behaved like the most expertly played folks in the guild. It wasn't long before you couldn't really tell the difference between him and a long-time, weather-worn veteran of DoD.

Team BoA Alliance defeats The Lich King in 10-Man,
Icecrown Citadel

Push It To The Limit

Drecca's dedication wasn't easily rivaled. He quickly offered his services to Mangetsu in assisting with the Alt-25, carrying with him that same DoD mindset: expect more from yourself, put in a bit of effort, do a little reading, a little gear tweaking. There are no excuses for bad play, so get in, and get going. Drecca's natural tendency to take charge, clean up mistakes, and point people down the right path eventually freed Mangetsu from having to be present at every Alt-25. For many that ran it in those later months of 2010, the Alt-25 was, for all intents and purposes, Drecca's raid. This worked extremely well, as putting all the eggs in Mangetsu's basket would've left the Alt-25 hanging, if the off chance something horrific were to happen to the 'lock.

In a guild where there is no mandate to be online for x amount of hours, I was very thankful for the select few that were always available, and Drecca was certainly near the top of this list. Beyond his participation in both progression and Alt-25, the paladin answered Neps' call in joining up with a group of similar hardcore folk. Neps' challenge: roll Alliance alts, and with BoA gear, grind them up to 80 and knock out ICC again. And so with names like Phame, Moolickalot, Fishee, Sarge and others, Team BoA Alliance wrecked the Lich King by bringing three bloodlusts. In Drecca's words, it was an "undeniably pro strategy." It was fair to say I was colored impressed:

Hanzo » Drecca: (+5) For being hardcore enough to level Alliance characters and kill the LK again.

Drecca held the limelight so well, I wasn't even aware that Neps was the one responsible for the idea.


"You really have him wrapped around your finger, don't you?" said Blain, catching me off guard.

"What's that supposed to mean?"

Blain noted the green text of guild chat. People were up in arms over the proposed incoming changes to Real ID. In typical form, players that didn't understand what was involved were bent out of shape. It appeared Drecca's stance was that of my own: It's a bit too early to be freaking out over any proposed sweeping changes. Nothing's in stone. Keep calm and loot the hound.

"He uses your name like you're the leader of a cult."

I continued to scroll through guild chat. Yadda yadda yadda, I agree with Hanzo. Yadda yadda yadda, Hanzo's got a post on the forums. Yadda yadda yadda, if you don't believe me, check with Hanzo.

"So what? He's keeping the peace. It's nice to see players moderating. Guy's only been here a few months and already knows what's inappropriate to be bitching about."

"I changed my mind," he added, "I don't like him. He's too negative." Negative about what? Blain was being indignant. Or jealous. He of all people should have known that hard truths don't often come with a silver lining. It struck me as ironic that Blain, who had been called 'dictator' by those unappreciative of stark criticism, was telling me that a practical rebuttal was coming across as 'negative'.

Why obsess over things that might be? Let's solve problems we face in the here and now. I could spend these next few months buried beneath layers of doubt and depression, wallowing over what might transpire in Cataclysm. Or, I could sit down and attack it with every bit of energy at my disposal. We might go down, we might not...but we wouldn't be doing either without a fight.

I needed pragmatism now. I needed folks to be the pillars of DoD by marching forth with solutions, not long diatribes on how Blizzard's great conspiracy is to rob people of their money or their privacy. That meant calling upon anyone in the guild that could act as the best and brightest of us, reinforcing what it means to be in DoD. That you give a shit. That you're not looking to make excuses. Let's all be on the same page.

And if players like Drecca chose to invoke my name to add some punch to that reinforcement, so be it.

Blain summons Mature for tanking duty,

Corporate Misalignment

I faced a sickening decision: banish all 10-Man teams from Descendants of Draenor. The thought crossed my mind increasingly as summer vacation approached. 10s had traditionally been an afterthought in DoD, so much so that our earliest 10s managed to send hardcore raiders scurrying to new guilds. Lesson learned: don't forsake its importance in progression if the 10 and 25 are tightly coupled...say, for example, on the off-chance Blizzard randomly decided to include tier 4 tokens in Karazhan.

Luckily, I was able to side-step administrative scrutiny of the 10s in Wrath, thanks to Blizzard's very clean, well-drawn line in the sand. 10s and 25s were two different worlds. Different effort, different reward. All my focus could therefore be poured entirely into the 25-Man. Aside from general guidance, I left the 10s to fend for themselves. And they performed admirably, I might add. Aside from the occasional misunderstanding regarding poaching, the 10s managed themselves. Starflex did its thing independent of Eh Team, which in turn had no need to submit to the whim of Si Team or Cowbell. They set their own schedules, their own priorities, their own loot systems. As long as their overarching goals remained aligned with that of DoD's, they required no intervention.

The thought of potential 10-Man administration in Cataclysm gave me pause. Not many details were yet in stone, so I worked with what was available. The most recent reveal came a month earlier, providing insight into a concept the community referred to as downshifting. 25-Man raids would gain the ability to split into multiple 10s to further their progress. Additionally, the raid lock system would gain flexibility in that Raid IDs would be as tradable as Pokémon cards, freeing players to move from one lock to the next in order to proceed through the instance. On top of all of this, Blizzard clarified once again that while 10s were intended on being easier in Wrath, this was not to be the case in Cataclysm.

Piecing together a solution was difficult, as little of it made sense. Would it become commonplace for players to hop Raid IDs, exacerbating the potential for poaching? It certainly could! I would have to put rules in place to govern how the 10s interacted with one another, carefully outlining the etiquette for exchanging members without burning bridges. Would the 25-Man progression team start spouting excuses on "why aren't we just dropping to 10-Man to finish this?" Blizzard claimed the two difficulties would match, but would my most hardcore raiders be convinced? The 25-Man raiding rules would have to include clarifying text: "Dropping to 10-Man will not be considered as an option to overcome obstacles". I suspected many would secretly think it, whether told or not. The one thing players were good at were giving me reasons to doubt their alignment with the guild -- so much so, that an entire rule was crafted to shutter the lack of common-sense.

None of these changes (and their to-be-determined solutions) spoke to an undeniable fact: as long as loot/rewards remained equal, the 10s would forever undermine the work that was being done in the 25. I already learned this lesson when adopting The Five Dysfunctions of a Team into Why Raid Teams Fail. Two different levels of contribution with one set of rewards produces resentment, hatred, in-fighting -- all viruses to team health. Yet, this is what I was facing. Preference A vs. Preference B. Old-schoolers vs. scrubs. The personable vs. the awkward and anti-social. The rep-grinders vs. the altoholics. The gamer mentality vs. "I prioritize real life first!". Solutions vs. Excuses. The melding didn't strike me as an incredibly alien concept -- it happens in the real world all the time. When it does, the results often end so predictably bad, it's a running joke in professional circles. Alignment seemed nigh impossible; a stretch, at best.

So...set a new rule to cut that 10-Man cancer out before it spreads? Or become the cliché mirrored in corporate America?

Thursday, September 4, 2014

4.5. Slay It Forward

The DoD guild forums, displaying the karma leaderboard

Your Name In Lights

Along the top of the forums were a list of names, each paired with a conspicuous number. Every day the numbers changed and the names shifted positions. The first few weeks saw the greatest fluctuation as the guild gradually dipped their toe in the karma pool. As one traversed a forum topic, each entry displayed two new buttons: one labelled +, the other, -. Clicking them produced a message, "Here you can explain, or write a reason why you are increasing or decreasing this user's karma". Most important of all was the public record: clicking a user's name allowed you to access their karma changelog, an audit trail of goodness. All the info you needed to battle your way on to the leaderboard was to see what others were doing, then take the initiative yourself.

I scanned through the list of recent adjustments:

Goldenrod » Dalans: "Because this linked me to the Mega Man hoodie, which I will be buying." 

Jemb » Randyflagg: "Made a very lovely CSI image of me, props to him :D" 

Kedavra » Omaric: "Mad rapping skills"

Klocker » Bheer: "Dear lord cat is funny." 

It was good to see them taking to the tool, playing with it, experimenting in trading karma for cat pictures. But there was so much more potential buried there. The course of action I knew best was to lead by example, so I joined the karma pool party.

I issued my first karma reward on the 8th of July:

Hanzo » Kizmet: "for filling an empty spot in the raid."

In a not-completely-hardcore, not-quite-casual guild, roster backfill was a weekly necessity. A slow, deliberate re-education brought the guild to a point where Raiders just knew to be online at invite time. Standby was their best shot at getting into a raid they couldn't commit to. And while my Elites' competitive drive was the fundamental force in our raids, it was the Raiders that were the unsung heroes of progression. They were the battle tested, loyal members of our guild who waited patiently at the sidelines to fill, not always gaining a spot, nor proclaiming to be entitled to one. Thanks to karma, I was now able to issue a public thank you to those who helped make it possible...and the public record helped remind others of its importance.

The guild wasn't often privy to the level of effort necessary to maintain itself. People gave up their time slaying internet dragons (or the Alliance, depending on your preference) to sit down and work out the kinks with me...and these weren't always officers. Cheeseus and Bheer both spent a hefty amount of time testing the forum karma implementation, coming back with display issues that needed fixing, numbers that needed tweaking, and suggestions that polished off the rough edges. For this work, I issued out karma as well:

Hanzo » Cheeseus: "For contributing QA to me on the Karma implementation."

...and received karma in return:

Bheer » Hanzo: "Yup, the post box and + - buttons all look perfect now. Well done sir!

And... How am I the first person to have given you karma? :p"

It was only a matter of time before those investigating the leaderboard began to get ideas of their own on how to make contributions of value.

The administrative view of forum karma

How Do I Love Thee?

The first signs warmed the cockles of my heart. I found guild members thanking those who gave of their extra time to provide more raiding options to the guild:

t@t » Mangetsu: "for doing the alt run."

There were examples of selflessness between players with regards to loot:

Helmeron » Deathonwing: "For the great action of passing loot on when he could've had it!"

Officers thanked non-officers for officer-like behavior:

Jungard » Joredin: "Doing a good job keeping our 10-man raid information organized here on the forums."

Fellow raiders thanked one another for insight into the wonderful world of theorycrafting...

Bheer » Jemb: "Useful posts are useful." well as acknowledgement of expertise at the wheel:

Drecca » Blain: "For being Blain, a rogue that actually knows how to use tricks of the trade"

This exchange of make-believe points for qualified effort soon reached beyond the confines of the guild. DoD took karma a step further, and used it to thank people for helping with concerns not bound to the guild or even World of Warcraft:

Goldenrod » Omaric: "Help with my computer"

Random acts of support and encouragement:

Riskers » Lexxii: "Good luck with the grant!"

People that had otherwise never met each other before in real life offered their beds up for BlizzCon:

Moo » Goldenrod: "Um, that is such a nice gesture. I have accommodations but i just think it's really nice of you and your girlfriend to be so generous. I look forward to meeting you both!"

The members of DoD laid their feelings bare like never before:

Borken » Larada: "Because I love you."

Jokes aside, it was encouraging to see the guild treating each other with that kindness and respect I had hammered home for so many years. I resisted considering forum karma anything more that a fun toy, but watching those initial exchanges gave me hope that the guild really did consider itself an extended family. It was the bond of family that was going to have to carry us through an approaching storm.

Any opportunity that arose to supply positive feedback, I jumped on it. If players advocated for DoD, I rewarded them for selling the guild. If officers moderated the forums, I thanked them for their work. If I messed up the raid rotations for the week, and players corrected me, their honesty would not be taken for granted. And if they invoked concerns of their class or upcoming changes in Cataclysm with care and insight, rather than blatant whines and complaining, I was certain to reward that good behavior.

Anyone was capable of good behavior, with just a touch of effort:

Hanzo » Ben: "For being passionate and vocal about the Shadow Priest situation. Now, go tell Blizzard."


Forum Karma was a great addition to the DoD boards. It was fun, inspired the guild to spend more time participating in discussions, and acted as self-perpetuating conduit of positive guild culture. But forum karma had one other unintended benefit buried in its use: it gave me a window into the guild's state of mind.

Lexxii and Immortalus prepare to run
 down Dirty, while Rainaterror looks on,

Cake and Eating It

When Bonechatters approached me with the option of bringing in Rainaterror's shaman for a solitary achievement, I hesitated. What was intended as a gesture of kindness could easily be perceived as selfishness by others. A loose set of attendance restrictions was already a courtesy DoD extended to Raiders that couldn't...or wouldn' their real-life schedules around our raid times. Fair enough, that was their choice. But to duck out of raids, yet still want help to wrap up an achievement felt very much like the proverbial cake, complete with a layer of entitlement-flavored icing. DoD's mission was to go above and beyond for one another, so this decision teetered dangerously between helping out a guildy and supporting lazy selfishness. I deliberated briefly, then told Bonechatters that I was fine with allowing it, but that there were no guarantees we could fit her in. Secretly, I suspected this wouldn't go over well.

I wasn't too far off.

Neps, an officer known for sardonic yet lighthearted wit, pulled no punches in his criticism of Bonechatters' request,

"Aight, I'll be the assholedickpieceofshit again. I love you, Bone, but there's no way in Hell you're bringing her toon. I hate being mean and shit, but we can't be carrying peeps to get drakes. I know a bunch of raiders will agree with this too. If people miss runs or are just bad and don't get to come again, then we shouldn't be going out of our way to get them some drakes that the rest of us put in a shit load of time to get. I just don't like giving peeps free stuff that we we're working so hard to get. Sorry."

Drecca was next to respond, "I don't really want to raid normal modes for people who were/are too busy to raid with us most of the time, or got rotated out for whatever reason. It's completely unfair to the people who've spent months, nonstop, in ICC and still continue to do so."

Pulling back the curtain mirrored these sentiments. A flow of karma issued to Neps reflected that same mentality:

Bheer » Neps: "Karma for this. Holy shit, you're always the nice guy Neps!"

Ben » Neps: "I think you know why."

Jungard » Neps: "Good point. We aren't exactly worried about the status of players like Raina and aether on drakes lol."

Randyflagg » Neps: "FATALITY!"

Klocker » Neps: "For bringing sexy back."

All doubt on which side of the fence this issue fell was obliterated in that moment. The reason why didn't come to me until I chatted with Jungard on the subject later.

"Yeah, I wasn't too keen on the idea, but I also felt the guild had a bit of an obligation to at least extend Boney the option. Seeing your response in Neps' karma history lumped in with everyone else helped set the record straight."

"Oh, that's public?"

"...uh, yeah. Didn't I show you this part? See, you can list Neps' entire history from his profile."

"Hm, I don't think so. This is a pretty cool feature. can see all the karma changes and reasons and such?"

It appeared that some people still thought their karma exchanges were private.

In "public", out on the forums, guildies would be more inclined to edit themselves, or often just go with the flow. If they had a mechanism to keep their opinions private, however, they might be more inclined to speak the truth, without fear of repercussion. And if by chance, it wasn't entirely well known that every guildy's history was accessible, then taking the guild's temperature via karma carried a lot more weight.

I kept further announcements about the karma mod on the down-low, watching and waiting to see what they would do next, while I brainstormed other ways to take the guild's pulse. Knowing where their heads were at was vitally important to a decision I was giving serious consideration to: excising the 10-Man teams from the guild completely.