Thursday, May 7, 2015

4.37. The Sad and Sorrowful Tale of Aetherknight

You don't even know me!


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

The Burning Man

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

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

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

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

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

Instead of adjusting, he went missing.

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

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

He did not.


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

No Hammer, No Nails

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

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

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

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

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

Aetherknight had neither hammer nor nails.


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

"I thought you ran a civilized guild."

No hammer. No nails.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aetherknight has been removed from the guild.

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

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

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

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


klocker2003 said...

TLDR: Blain is a dick.

<3 and miss your sexy ass :(

Aubiece said...

"A man's got to know his limitations"

Harry Callahan in Magnum Force

Fred said...

Being in vent for that, it was very awkward. IIRC, someone even joked "it's ok kid. Daddy still loves mommy"

Jungard said...


Hahahaha, I'm glad this week's post is about him.

Blain said...

Hi klocker i miss you too. ;)

At least I'm an equal opportunity dick.

Dalans said...

That's right; you can't single someone out when you are an asshole to everyone! ;D

Anonymous said...

Hahahaha Blain, great read this week. Where has Blain gone :(


Abrinis said...

I miss Blain being a dick. Honestly miss you all.


Littlebear said...

I remember being in the thick of this.

Aetherknight was complaining about some change that had happened, and presenting it as an either/or scenario, when I popped up and asked him why he could just do both? I don't remember what exactly it was, but I remember thinking that the solution was blindingly simple.

I was the one he was going off on, when you pulled the trigger. I was still fairly new, and was really taken aback by the turn of events.



Benjamin Riley said...

I didn't think you were a dick Dan! I thought you were pretty damn adorable!

Benjamin Riley said...

I didn't think you were a dick Dan! I thought you were pretty damn adorable!

Joredin said...

There were definitely nights where my team needed to fill a spot in the roster for any number of reasons. Having a well-geared Holy Paladin myself, I thought grabbing Aetherknight to fill our 2nd healing spot was going to be rewarding for our team since we always struggled to fill that role. We ran lean with only 2 healers for most bosses.

After a few weeks running with Aether and myself as heals, I just couldn't do it anymore. I began to realize that regardless of how badly we needed to fill the spot, I was not willing to subject my team to a 4 hour wipe fest while trying to carry 2 Tanks and 6 DPS. Being a warm body was not enough.

As Shawn recounts, we tried to guide Aetherknight through his difficulties, but as it has already been noted...

No Hammer, No Nails


Kedavra said...

I'm going to post my obligatory "yeesh! Where the hell was I in all this goings-on?"

Anonymous said...

Hello is anybody there?

Shawn Holmes said...


Can't talk. Writing.

Zanshin said...

As a reader, I saw this one coming from back when Shawn put out the survey asking who people had issues with in the guild, and this unfamiliar name came up repeatedly :P