|Descendants of Draenor's final 25-Man raid,|
December 9th, 2011
Out of OptionsThree weeks went by. December 30th/January 1st was also a wash -- too many people with New Year's Eve plans to assume the raid would get off the ground. In their minds, committing to a "maybe" raid was a foolish endeavor. They played it safe and bowed out, forcing me to begrudgingly cancel the raid from the sign-up sheet. It was the longest DoD had ever gone without raiding in seven years.
I took every opportunity to hammer home our restart date, there was to be no guesswork nor excuses when it came time to verify the date as players meandered around in-game. Announcements in big, bold letters were plastered all over the forums and sign-up sheet. The guild message-of-the-day was updated: January 6th/8th - Dragon Soul. I whispered people. I texted people. My harassment went to such extremes, I felt like a headhunter demanding attention on LinkedIn. When notifications alerted me that players were logging in, I'd re-edit the Guild MOTD just to make sure it flashed on their screens -- that single line of green text, telling you to pay attention to something important.
Please. Sign-up. Do whatever you have to do. Don’t let it end like this.
12:31pm, January 2nd -- four days before the return to raid progression.
Amatsu's still in-flux work schedule risked keeping him from being available at the start time. Fred was out for surgery and was playing the weekend's sign-ups by ear, though he promised to keep me apprised of his situation. I desperately needed him, but assured him that we would make it work if he wasn't well enough to arm his keyboard and mouse. Thankfully, Fred didn't ask me how I would have made it work.
I wouldn't have had an answer.
1:52pm, January 4th -- two days before the return to raid progression.
I was treated to a PM from Goldenrod offering up his two weeks notice, stepping down from raiding and officership. Fuck. But, wait...that was still two weeks away, right? We were still short only on account of his not signing up for this week's, right? Quickly, I flipped to the raid signups and noted his original sign-up, then cancellation. Oh, I see how it is. The subtle yet important distinction was just enough fuel for me to fire off a response I'd later regret.
I was going to write up a "sorry we're losing you, best of luck to you with your schooling, we're very grateful for having you thus far" post, but then I noticed your note on the cancellation of Friday's Raid, which hasn't officially been announced either way.With or without Goldenrod, I still couldn't complete raid rotations. At least ten people were missing.
I was disappointed.
Officers are expected hold themselves to a slightly higher standard than the remainder of the raiders -- not "everyone's gonna go do this one thing so I might as well..."
Especially someone who was granted a legendary first-in-line above everyone else on the basis of said officership.
9:53pm, January 5th -- one day before the return to raid progression.
My tone on the forums shifted from diminutive pleading and harassment to flat-out commands dressed up in passive-aggressive guilt,
It's up to you. I can't make people magically sign-up. Holidays are over. It's time to return to progression.Turtleman made an off-hand joke alluding to Star Wars: The Old Republic as the reason for everyone's absence. Not amused, I shot back a response,
It's nice to know Star Wars was the reason behind flushing a successful seven year run down the toilet with a bunch of random no-shows and no communication to me about their departure.Blain called me out on my digital temper tantrum,
Actually, with the exception of Insayno and Amatsu (who just forgot to sign up), the rest of our normal raiders quit the game before the holidays. That, along with a massive number of unexpected cancellations. It really has nothing to do with Star Wars.He was right. But it was much easier to blame Star Wars. Much easier to fire off a hateful PM to an officer who'd been dedicated and loyal to DoD. Much easier than facing the now unavoidable, grim truth.
|Fred shares his raid availability with Mature,|
The End6:55pm, January 6th -- five minutes before first pull.
Fifteen of us were online. Every Friday and Sunday for the past seven years, like clockwork, DoD had enough players in-game to field a raid. Even under the most dire circumstances, someone was still available. Unlike those countless raid days gone by, however, there were no more fillers on this evening. No more people to call, no remaining bench to text. No crazy PvPers hanging out in another Vent channel that we could lean on in a pinch, and no fresh recruits waiting patiently, eager to prove their worth on the front line of 25-Man raid progression. All that remained was an incomplete contingent, a mere handful of players. But a handful does not a raid make.
The final roll call consisted of:
1 tank: Blain. DoD's longest running raid leader, forced in year six to cut over from melee DPS to tank, due to an overwhelming shortage over a role nobody wanted to play.
5 melee: Lead diligently by Bonechatters, he took the reins from Jungard and wrung as much blood from a stone as his strength allowed. Hells, Dewgyd, Insayno, and I rounded out the melee.
3 healers: Still partially out-of-commission from a surgery earlier in the week, Fred nonetheless mustered the strength to be ready to give us what he could. Joining Fred was Sir Klocker, one of DoD's longest running vets (and longest running healers). Last, but certainly not least, was Vexx, a healer that felt DoD was important enough to be a part of that she was willing to withstand a sixteen-hour time difference and the latency that comes with playing on a North American server from Australia.
6 ranged: With no officer leading them, the six ranged present were disciplined enough to sally forth and carry the 25-Man torch. Mangetsu, the waifu loving warlock; Turtleman, the veritable master of fire; Littlebear, the once-green-now-competitive Hunter; and Blackangus, our sole Boomkin, stood ready for the return to Dragon Soul. Even former Eh Team members Larada (via his mage Doja) and Bulwinkul (via his Shadow Priest Stimpi) were present, demonstrating a stalwart dedication that far outlasted their Wrath-era critics.
These final fifteen players were all that remained; not enough to power through. In our heyday, we snuck by with 24...on a very rare occasion, 23. But not tonight, not with a raid as aggressively overtuned as Dragon Soul. Weeks earlier, a full heroically-geared 25-man battalion, armed with the legendary staff Tarecgosa's End still wasn't enough to defeat a normal-mode Spine of Deathwing. We weren't getting anywhere with fifteen raiders, no matter how well played.
I stood in Orgrimmar a moment, staring out across its once busy streets, waiting for the reality of the situation to set in. The activity of the horde capital had always conveyed the immediacy of World of Warcraft's success: a city packed full of residents going about their business reflected a thriving, robust server population. Dragon's heads were plunged onto massive stakes and you might be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of a server-first raider decked out in gear so powerful, the only thought filling your mind was how can I get my hands on that?
In the place where Orgrimmar's streets once bustled, there remained only ignorance and depravity. The top-end raiders were long gone, replaced by players hopping stupidly between the auction house and the bank, the names floating above their heads unapologetically disrespectful. These players of unknown origin bore the armor and weaponry of Dragon Soul, of LFR, and either belonged to guilds of one or swore allegiance to no guild whatsoever. I stared at them in seething contempt, imagining them chatting away with their friends about nothing of importance, mindlessly rapping on their space bar while blathering on about bikes and gnomes and scarecrows. They personified everything World of Warcraft had become.
My jaw relaxed. I took a deep breath and spoke into Vent.
"Ladies and gents, it's been an honor. Based on the circumstances...and the hand dealt to us today, I think it is time we officially close this chapter on DoD. For those of you who stuck it out, I thank you. The 25-man progression team is done. Thank you for your loyalty and your service."
The response was equal parts denial, bargaining, and anger -- emotions typically reserved for that moment one stares into the abyss. The guild was moved at the loss of something that, at the end of the day, we all agreed was just a video game. But their seriousness didn't match the situation -- nobody I know ever shed a tear over their last game of Civilization or Dungeon Keeper. Why would they, or anyone, demonstrate such alleged grief over the loss of a game. We'd been losing (and winning) at games our entire lives!
Your mind clouds over with a million thoughts. You find yourself brokering internal deals like this can't be happening, I wasn't prepared, there must be something I can do, someone I can call, one more switch in the roster I can make. Perhaps we could have called another person we didn't think to call. Perhaps we might have tried a little harder to find a filler, some random pug we knew nothing about that was geared and ready to go. Before long, you realize you're not internalizing it at all. Those aren't voices in your head, they're human beings on the other side of Ventrilo, struggling just the same as you. In that moment, you're reminded that it isn't the loss of World of Warcraft that's sending you spiraling down this path, it's the loss of the people you play it with.
For a group of individuals known notoriously to be awkward, anti-social loners, a loss of online gaming relationships hits with the force of a nuclear blast, its impact all-consuming, and its mercy relentless in its choking grip. We won't admit we care, opting instead to take to the forums or the comments section and double-down on our denial. But the empty isolation of absent relationships is something gamers know all too well -- it's why so many of us turned to gaming in the first place. We leave the confines of the physical where we are nobody, unaccepted and ridiculed, and join a virtual fantasy world where we are somebody, accepted and have a social status. In a world that fails to acknowledge our leadership ability, we can be guild leaders.
I don't condone a gamer's tendency to violently defend their hobby, but I can understand it.
I stood up from my desk, dropped my headphones on the chair and walked out to the living room. Julie was watching some TV, and glanced up at me as I spoke.
At first, her brow furrowed, working through my melodramatic ambiguity.
"...Oh! The guild. Oh, no. Oh, I'm sorry...what happened?"
It all spilled out. Fury. Rage. Guilt. Frustration. Disgust. Disappointment. I blabbed on about what must have sounded foolish, referring to a "journey cut short." Everything I'd attempted to keep things together and how it all ended in a colossal failure. The ignorance of former guildies. Blizzard's new fangled framework that made it nigh impossible to repair the damage. How a hole in my stomach was growing, a hole in which all the self-doubt and mistakes and guilt was drawn in, vacuumed into a ball of queasiness that grew worse as I continued to spit on the furniture. The weight hadn't been lifted from my shoulders -- it merely changed places, now resting comfortably in the bowels of my gut.
I had to give her credit. My relationship with World of Warcraft over the span of seven years and two months was contentious, particularly when considering how often it drove a wedge between my wife and I. Yet through this entire emotional collapse, she was never cruel or dismissive. There was never a snide "grow up" or "It's just a video game." She of all people had every right to verbally assault me -- God knows she'd earned it. Thanks to my decision of being a WoW guild leader, I forced her into putting up with its constant presence in our lives, always taking precedence...far more than it needed to.
But she did not deliver any such verbal assault. On a day where my wife had at least a thousand different openings to take a cheap shot, Julie took none. Any relief she felt at the announcement of my guild's end she kept to herself. Instead, she sat and listened, taking it all in, bearing the full brunt of my barrage on unfairness amid an inferiority complex. And when the chamber was empty, she stood up and offered a sympathetic embrace. After everything I'd done, all the jeopardy I'd put our family in, this act of unconditional compassion and support overwhelmed me. I hugged my wife tightly, and broke down.
No, Julie. I'm sorry.
Life After WoWSkip, skip, skip.
I did not do well in the weeks that followed. Trying to stay busy to keep my mind off of World of Warcraft was like trying to take a test during the blast of an air raid siren. I was constantly interrupted at work, but not by co-workers or muddling micro-managers. No, my own fragile psyche compelled me to continually alt-tab to iTunes and skip to the next track. Every ten minutes it happened, though honestly, it seemed twice as frequent. The reason? I couldn't get through ten fucking minutes of my own iPod without coming across a piece of music from World of Warcraft. A little over two-thousand individual tracks, all hand-extracted from WoW's MPQ data files, continued to come up during random play. Hearing them made me sick to my stomach.
Skip, skip, skip.
Weekends were the worst. As the clock ticked up to 6:30pm Friday evening -- the time we'd be getting logged on and ready for invites -- a gaping absence emerged, ripped from my once structured schedule. I wanted to play something else, but all gaming paths led back to my PC, back to a filthy keyboard and mouse whose insides were caked with years of grime, dead skin, and sweat. Even clicking on the desktop was an ordeal. Launching another game meant glancing at a sea of icons, which in turn, meant giving the Battle.net launcher more attention than it deserved. I couldn't set foot in my computer room without instantly thinking of what used to be, what we had. What we lost.
I took solace in the familiar voices that gamed on through defeat. True, WoW had been our mutual online gathering location for years, but so too had our Ventrilo server. If nothing else, I could log in and hear their voices without having to step into Azeroth. There, familiar conversations carried on, unaffected by the collapse of the 25. Annihilation going off on one of his rants about people being too uptight. Hellspectral's recognizable self-deprecating style layered underneath a thick Brooklyn accent. Jungard's familiar warm, friendly tone as he and Team Starflex sallied forth into 10-Man Dragon Soul. I didn't even want to hear the words "Dragon Soul" at all. But I stayed and listened. Their camaraderie trumped my contempt.
Both Julie and an old friend urged me to put a digital pen to paper. So, when Friday and Sunday rolled around, instead of wallowing in self-pity, I wrote. I wrote and wrote and wrote. The first document I drafted, aptly titled "The End," was a concentrated outpouring of emotion, a result of the death of the 25-Man progression raid. It may not have been grammatically correct, or even coherent. But it was accurate. It was a start.
Eventually, my computer room nausea waned. I returned to keyboard and mouse (now cleaned), looked at every single video and computer game that had been released since November 2004 and vowed to play through all the games I'd ignored as a result of World of Warcraft's dominance over my attention. There were plenty to choose from: Fallout 3, both BioShocks, Grand Theft Auto IV...I even commandeered my son's Minecraft account for awhile. He still bugs me to finish Borderlands. I'm getting to it! Have you even played Bastion yet? As is the life of a gamer, the list of games to play continues to grow. There are far more unplayed titles in my Steam library than completed ones. All in due time.
I received a generous gift: a Rock Band 3 Squier Pro. Time to take it to the next level. Put down the plastic toys decorated with multicolored buttons and learn to play a real guitar. I picked up enough of the basics that the constraints of RB3's interface felt like they worked against my progress. So, with all the nervousness of a teenager buying his first car, I threw down a wad of cash at Guitar Center, bought the real deal, and plugged directly into Rocksmith. I'm terrible, to be clear, but on a good day I can knock out a 94% on Muse's Supermassive Blackhole. When the imposter syndrome creeps in, I'll unplug from the XBox and go directly to an amp, just to make sure what I've learned is applicable in the real world.
And yes, World of Warcraft's music found its way back into my playlist where it remains to this day. No skipping necessary.
|Months after the end of the 25-Man,|
Mature returns for unfinished business,
We Slew DragonsI've moved on. Whatever loss I felt at the collapse of the 25-Man is now long behind me. Telling my story was immensely therapeutic, so if you're reading this, give yourself a round of applause. Also, let's cut the shit: writing for yourself is great, but stories can't be told if there is nobody to listen. If you're a gamer, you probably picked a side long ago. I've had plenty to say that's alienated both sides of the casual / hardcore spectrum, so if you made it this far, kudos to you. And if you're not a gamer, I hope my story gave you some perspective into this bizarre culture that keeps creeping up in the media. It's not just about gamer rage and cleaning yourself of Doritos overflow...though that does take up a pretty significant margin of our time.
Not a day goes by that I don't think about Descendants of Draenor. Thankfully, those memories no longer encumber me. To the contrary, I look back with fondness about the entire experience. What we accomplished fills me with a great deal of pride and satisfaction. The things we saw, treasure we collected, and dragons we slew are all testaments to the dedication a bunch of random online strangers had toward one another. When I consider the logistics of it, how an online game renders personal responsibility nearly impossible to enforce, the fact that each and every one of DoD's members could flip it on and off like a light switch -- but chose not to -- is the biggest achievement one could hope to ever unlock.
My four months of EverQuest in the fall of 1999 were awful, not because EQ was a bad game, but because I didn't get the MMO genre. I'd come from Donkey Kongs and Outruns and Sonic the Hedgehogs and Street Fighters and DooMs and Quakes and Team Fortresses and Counterstrikes -- all games that can be played with "friends optional." Those in this list that are playable with friends share an interesting trait: the fun factor tends to go up. But, as any good introvert knows, sometimes its best (even preferred) to be alone. Having that choice is important, whether your game of choice is a platformer, a racing game, a fighter, a first-person shooter, or even a strategy or puzzle game.
MMOs are different.
The MMO genre was never meant to be experienced in isolation. The clue you seek is buried in the acronym, self-describing this key requirement: It is a game that is massive, is multiplayer, and is online -- three words that, when combined, are the very antithesis of single-player. My own gaming ego couldn't reconcile the dissonance I experienced in EQ. I considered myself a hardcore gamer, but any player wandering the vast polygonal Norrath -- absent guild mates to group with and internet dragons to slay -- was not hardcore, not by any definition. There is no single-player mode in EQ.
An MMO comes alive because of its players, not despite them. Whatever a game company's motivation eventually becomes when attempting to grow its customer base, take comfort in knowing that the motivation began in the right spot; they needed us before we needed them. Once I became a guild leader in World of Warcraft, the importance of the players themselves immediately became clear -- they were as integral to the game as the steering wheel on a racing game. And every day I worked to ensure that there were guildies present, to keep that raid machine well-oiled, I gained invaluable insight into the motivations and the nuances of the human beings behind the paladins, the warlocks, the warriors and the rogues.
Game designers have a tough job. Trying to land a role at a AAA game development shop must be a lot like becoming a famous Hollywood actor -- you keep waiting tables while auditioning for that one big break that makes you a celebrity. If you're one of the lucky few, congratulations, you're now cursed to balance the weight of your corporate overlords with the "needs" of a furious, entitled horde. Fold in nearly year-long crunches, along with your public life scrutinized for every misstep you make balancing a game, and you get a job that reads more like a punishment than a career. I'm thankful they do it. I have a great deal of respect for the people who man the ship, and even more respect for those whose tight grip on the wheel can keep the boat steady through storms of discontent.
The motivations of game companies to innovate and change their product, much like the motivations of players to raid in guilds (or not), aren't always clear. People aren't clear. Intent stated in public isn't always true, just as a player's commitment to the raid can't always be as easily confirmed as checking a box off a list. Continually trying to convince yourself that you're entitled to know is, to quote myself, a complete waste of time and energy.
There is another way.
Arm yourself with knowledge and tools to stay out of the fire. Just as add-ons help with whack-a-mole healing, the info we've data-mined on human beings thus far is a great aide to keep us sharp when dealing with other people. Come to terms with the fact that while people can change, you can't change them...and attempting to do so is fated to end poorly (for you). Instead, use the tools you've acquired to construct appropriate guard rails, keeping them on a fixed, straight-and-narrow path. And above all, practice being critical without being disrespectful; being inclusive and demanding excellence are not mutually exclusive -- a point that both gamers and game developers should make note of. Whether we prefer the speaker-breaking screams of a 40-man raid, or the quiet isolation of Farmville, eventually, we all have to deal with other people, and when that day arrives, I firmly believe it is in your best interest not to attempt to hammer any nails in with your bare hands.
You're going to need that clicking hand when the internet dragons arrive.