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.


Anonymous said...

Ah yes, the ones who accept responsibility for nothing and feel they can do no wrong, the bane of a GMs existence, and the greater of the guild toxicity generators. Your reserve of patience was apparently far greater than mine ever was. Immediately after being summarily dismissed by Sentra in that manner, I'd have hit the /gkick button.

Question I've not posed before: How did leading a guild for so many years affect your enjoyment of the game? I ask because while I find many similarities between our situations and can relate to many tales you have told, I led for far shorter a time than you, but by the end of my tenure as GM I felt like a wet dishrag and loathed logging in. I ended up making a separate BNEt and WoW account so that I could noodle around on an alt and escape from time to time.


Shawn Holmes said...


I'm not going to lie, it took its toll on me, I had a very different outlook on the state of the game by the end. If you re-read those early posts, it's all about the excitement of exploring a new world, meeting people online, and the thrill of defeating major villains with a huge group of those people.

By the end, it was people management, day in and day out. Dealing with shit attitudes. People taking a back door out. Excuses. The bad had always been tempered with the good. Sure, I had admin duties to fulfill, but when the weekend rolled around and we tore bosses a new a-hole, it was still fun. Unfortunately, the elements of the game that were once fun...also changed in Cataclysm (I'll get to them).

One of the underlying themes in this final Part IV of the blog is that as long as I felt I was making a difference, that DoD was offering something of value to the pit that was Deathwing-US, it was worth the effort, and the cons diminished significantly.

Fixing things that are broken takes a level of focus not many choose to bite off, and I was surrounded by broken guilds/disrespectful players. To me, having DoD stand out as something different was the fuel that kept the fire burning...

...and when I felt I was no longer able to make a difference, the cons outweighed the pros.

Sarge said...

Another reason i hated arenas. Immature team names like in that screenshot. How you were never issued a 72hour suspension over that is BEYOND me shawn.

Shawn Holmes said...


Completely agree, though I expect that as time went on, it became more difficult for Blizzard to police it. There had to be actual reports being made, and I think the frequency that players actually reported such names tapered off.

Which begs the question, who would've been banned? The members of the team? Or the person who created the team? Logically, one would hold the team creator accountable, but aren't the members just as accountable for clicking the "Yes, I agree, go ahead and add me to this team that's completely inappropriately named..."

Anonymous said...

I'm curious as to why you would join (or create?) a team named that. Seems like it goes against your ideas of holding your guild to high standards and representing themselves well.


Shawn Holmes said...


I covered the reasoning in 3.60 "Dead Men Do No Deeps"

TL;DR: I was attempting to break down some barriers that traditionally walled PvPers away from me. If I could relate to Sentra, I reasoned, it would help me with people management issues down the road.

...and the first step of breaking down those walls wasn't going to be "Uh, yeah you're going to have to change that team name immediately." Sentra would have said: "Uh, screw you, I'm not doing anything you tell me..." which would have made for a very short and unsuccessful attempt.

Anonymous said...

Hah, we were on the same Battlegroup, actually recognize one of those guys. Friend of a friend or a random guy who was a jerk etc.

Heh, lotsa people in that battlegroup.

-Catelina, KT Alliance Holy Priest

Anonymous said...

Er, OF a random guy. Gah, spelling, blargh.

-Still Catelina