Thursday, April 23, 2015

4.35. The Silence of the Crickets

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

The Mirror

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mistake at the Lake

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

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

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

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

If I were Falnerashe, who would disgust me?

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

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

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

"Why are we standing here again?"

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

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

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

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

But that was before the event.

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

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

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

And Then There Were Seven

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

- Must have an officially sanctioned 10-Man team.


Aktauren said...


Reading all of what you have written over time and then coming to this post, just now, today has me so nostalgic it isn't even funny.

Thank you for cataloging all of this - as you said people grow and that's what I've found in my life now as well, but I still come back to DoD's armory page every so often, I read these posts and I check the DoD forums as well. It's just a great feeling to know that, at some point, I was part of this group.

So again, Thank you for providing the means to which I could enjoy the game as much as I did.


Anonymous said...

I cant believe I just binge read all the way to current posts. : D Official approval of these ten mans seems like it would be a great choice can't wait to see what happens!