Mages, ten-man raiding, and other things that are awesome.

Posts tagged ‘good things wow does’

Dear WoW Insider

Yesterday, I was reading a book and learned a new word. Or rather, I read an old word used in a way that was new to me. It was “condole,” as a verb, as in “I’ve come to condole with you.” We’ve all heard “My condolences,” which is one of the things it’s socially acceptable to say to someone when they’ve suffered a loss. I wish condole was still commonly used, though, because I like that it’s active. To give someone your condolences is nice, but it’s generally passive, since you can say it and move on. When someone is dealing with grief, it’s much harder to be with them and grieve as part of an active process. It’s hard to open yourself up and experience that feeling.

Right now, everyone in the Warcraft (and MMO community) is dealing with varying degrees of feeling about the fate of Joystiq, and by extension, WoW Insider. I can’t speak for anyone but myself, but I have a complicated relationship with WoW Insider. I loved it unabashedly as a new player and looked up to the people I really didn’t know who wrote there. Later, I got to know some of them half as well as I would’ve liked because I did work there for a brief and important time. That time was a stepping stone to more writing, although I had to work through my own feelings after budget cuts caused them to have to lay off class columnists and other writers. It’s a strange place because I can relate to their loss but it’s not wholly my own. Even my feelings about working there weren’t simple. I used to hit the submit button with a frisson of pure terror. I read the comments on my columns with great anxiety (after having Rhidach and Vosskah tank them for me), and even now I can’t bring myself to reread the articles. Looking at them makes me queasy. Perhaps I would’ve grown more comfortable there in time, but writing for such a wide audience was stressful for me personally. “Thick skinned” isn’t really anywhere in my personal descriptors.

The loss to the Warcraft community is a more clear-cut thing, and it’s significant. Over all the years that I’ve been playing WoW, WI was special. It wasn’t like Wowhead or other sites because they didn’t have the same goals. (I could write a love letter to Wowhead and how important they are to the community as well, but that’s for another post.) Yes, ostensibly they are all “news sites” but WI had editorials and opinions. It ran features on the people who play this game that make it special, guild leadership, comics, snapshots from Azeroth, heck even baking and crafts. Sure, it would publish patch notes because patch notes are important to read. But later that week or the next, a writer would weigh in on interpreting those notes for the rest of us. What did this change mean for warriors or priests or whomever, going forward? PvP articles talked about issues in battlegrounds. WoW Insider wasn’t Elitist Jerks and it didn’t want to be. Its audience was anyone who played and loved the World of Warcraft, whether they were completely new to the game (WoW Rookie) or had been playing for many years. It included blog events, Blizzcon meetups, and a sense of cohesive community that’s hard to obtain elsewhere.

When I first took over the very dusty mage column, there was a deluge of comments welcoming me and celebrating that the column would be written again. People were so happy. The mage column itself had been made by Christian Belt into a place where people went just to joke with and be in the company of people who shared a class with them. They’d keenly felt its absence. (It had absolutely nothing to do with me). On that same column I received the following comment, which I will honestly cherish from now until I’m too senile to use a keyboard:

Archmage Pants.

Archmage Pants.

Christian Belt read my column and he liked it. He gave me his blessing. I’d been reading him for years, and it honestly meant so damn much to me. Which really taps into the greater feeling of loss that hangs like a pall right now over our community. I’ve seen people saying some pretty nasty things and that’s really disappointing to me. You don’t have to approve of everything WI ever did to appreciate that 1) there are people whose livelihoods have been affected by this and also 2) WI is an important part of the WoW community whether you like that it is or not. If the former doesn’t move you, the latter definitely should. We are all poorer for its absence. I’m going to miss it and everything it was over the years.

I don’t even know what I want to save from all the articles I’ve read over the years that I loved. Should I save my favourite Arcane Brilliance columns written by Mr. Belt? I saved all of my own, for resume purposes more than vanity. What about every Sunday Morning Funnies that linked to From Draenor With Love and helped our readership grow? I saved all of the ones that used my art in the header. I wish I could find the one where someone wrote that they loved Four as a character and that she’d made them understand why people might want ogres as a playable race. Will those people who followed from WoW Insider still read our comic if they aren’t reminded to every Sunday? Who will feature new WoW comics and where will people find out about them now?

It’s pretty obvious that subscriber numbers notwithstanding, the community has contracted over the years. Bloggers I loved have perhaps stopped writing or write infrequently (myself included). I haven’t made an effort to find more bloggers that I love although I’m sure they are out there writing great things. It’s inescapable. I can’t imagine many people are still following this blog since I hardly write in it at all. To me, WoW Insider felt like an anchor. No matter what was going on in the larger community they were still there, toiling away. For a brief moment I contributed to that and it was important to me.

To everyone, past and present, who wrote for or contributed to WoW Insider and made it what it was: Thank you.

To Alex Ziebart and the editors who chose to let me be a tiny part of it: Thank you.

To everyone who ever commented or cared, submitted something or linked something to their friends: Thank you. You’re what created a community that I largely took for granted, assuming it would always be there. You all have my condolences, or if you prefer – I am condoling with you, as we’ve all lost something great.

Why MMOs Are Good For Your Children

These aren't actually my kids. Especially the pale one.

In a society where headlines tend to favour the sensational, you don’t hear much about the good things video games can do. We’ve all seen news articles and television features about the negative effects of video games. A search on Google for just that yields no shortage of results. As an avid gamer (and someone who has been an avid gamer from a very young age) I think it should come as no surprise that I’m going to go the other way with this.

First of all, I feel I should explain my point of view. I’ve been playing video games since Frogger was a big thing. I saved my money from my paper route to fund our first Super Nintendo. The plain old NES belonged to my brother – and I hated that he got to keep it in his room! I had to get his permission before I could play Bubble Bobble with my Mom. I spent hours watching him play Zelda. Later, I owned a Playstation, a Playstation II, and then a Playstation III. I played the old Sierra Games (So You Want To Be A Hero?) I don’t believe that playing video games has made me a violent person. It has made me a more imaginative person, and it definitely helped my hand eye coordination.

Criticism of people who play video games goes hand in hand with other tropes about loners, nerds, geeks – social deviants, aberrant, homely people sitting in basements because they can’t interact with “the real world.” At its core, most gaming is a solitary pursuit, instinctively mistrusted by folks who think you’d be better off joining the local bowling league or “getting some fresh air.” I don’t subscribe to the notion that some hobbies are “better” than others. They are just different. Obviously moderation is the key, here. When it comes to children, one criticism leveled against video games is that kids should be engaged in more physically active pursuits. On the one hand, I agree. Game systems like the Wii that involve movement are well-suited to kids and can help combine those two goals. But don’t forget, I grew up in an extremely Northern climate. When it’s minus fifty degrees Celsius outside, you don’t send the kids out to play. Winter lasts a really long time.  My brother and I fostered a lifelong love of video games, and I’m going to tell you why that’s not a bad thing.

Socializing

Obviously this is dependent on the age of your children. You don’t just want to set your kids free to talk to any stranger they meet on the internet! Game responsibly, people. But socializing, as you know, is a major aspect of any MMO. I have known people who played WoW with their appropriate-aged children, and either joined or created a family-oriented guild. There’s a story on the Warcraft site about a grandmother who plays with her kids, and her grandkids too. This touches on a recent Breakfast Topic over at WoW Insider about using WoW to keep in touch. I know that I read recently about a grandmother who was playing with her grandkids over a long distance. Speaking as someone whose grandparents lived on the other side of the country, I know it can be tough when you don’t get to see them and really, it’s as if they are strangers. As long as parents are keeping an eye on how the game is being used, I can absolutely see it as being a great tool to interact and spend time with family and friends. It’s cheaper than a phonecall and cooperative, too.

Sharing

Anyone who has read some of my pug horror stories knows that some people playing this game aren’t necessarily poster children for Ms. Manners. However, think of the last time you encountered someone who you thought exhibited bad manners. I’m a firm believer that most social behaviours are learned ones, whether you’re learning them in real-life or in a virtual world. If someone rudely Needs on loot or makes an unsavory remark and the rest of the group reacts in a civil but disapproving manner, there’s a message being sent. Even though you might think the teenagers playing this game don’t pay attention or don’t care, I might be a hopeless optimist to think that some do care, and some do notice. I meet many more polite and friendly people than I do real jerks. I’m not even convinced that the jerks I meet are actually young people.

Especially if you play along with your child and demonstrate these positive behaviours, MMOs like WoW are constantly providing opportunities to learn about fairness and sharing. Jimmy lost the roll on that sword? Well, better luck next time, but that’s fair. Everyone in the group worked to earn that loot. Another time he will win something that he wanted – and the group will congratulate him and he can thank them, graciously. Hey, it’s not just reading and math games that teach lessons!

This one isn't mine either. They're a bit gawky when they're young, aren't they?

Teamwork

I don’t know about you, but I wasn’t much of an athlete when I was growing up. I grew tall very quickly and it took me a few years to coordinate everything. (Read: stop tripping over my own feet). I did eventually participate in some sports – mostly track and field.  My point is, while I’m sure WoW has its share of natural athletes that play – it might be fair to say that on average most players might not be. (Notice there’s many qualifiers, because I’m sure Awesome Paladin Tank who is ALSO nearly a pro football player will comment! Of course, I’m generalizing.) The point is, that many kids who might be drawn to MMOs may not be naturally inclined to team sports. Like me, they may have had an awkward stage. Or, to be perfectly honest, just not be much “into” sports.
I wasn’t even good at group projects or any other kind of group work. They always frustrated me. I wanted to do things by myself – this held true even into my college years. I think it wouldn’t be an exaggeration at all to say that end-game experience in Warcraft has given me a new found appreciation and facility for working with others. Other people may eventually get this of necessity from a job or other task. Perhaps I just came to this understanding late in life – but I have found that working with a group of other people can be a great deal of fun. It was a skill I had to learn – and I think that it’s a valuable one. I wish I’d figured it out at a younger age – maybe if I’d been playing more social-based video games, I would have!

Organization and Leadership

I remember reading about Tam’s guild in Never Never Land. The majority of the guild was between the ages of 16-19, generally. I don’t remember what I was doing at that age (err I was on the yearbook committee?) but that’d be the closest thing I ever came to the elaborate HR Resource Management game that is running an (apparently successful) guild in WoW. Whether or not Tam actually stuck around, I think it’s still a pretty amazing testament to what a positive thing the game can be. These are teens who were scheduling raids, making sure everyone showed up to raids, leading those same raids. I think that’s fabulous! Whether you are leading them in a game or elsewhere,  that’s a valuable experience. Tam also mentioned that these folks had some of the strictest rules about respecting other people in the guild and not making belittling, racist, or sexist jokes. Even better.
At one point in our raiding career, Voss and I were raiding with a paladin and his two young brothers, a rogue and a mage. They were very much younger brothers to the paladin’s twenty-something, being eleven and thirteen. They  seldom spoke in Vent at all, and he helped make sure that they knew what their jobs were. His whole family played Warcraft so his mother would listen in on our raids from time to time. (Initially, to make sure that we weren’t crazy people). I’ve never known raiders more polite and appreciative than those two fellows. They were never greedy about loot. They were always on time. They never failed to thank us at the end of the raid. For the time we raided with them I think they were afforded an opportunity to raid with adults and their brother in a respectful environment – and they definitely proved that they’d earned the right to be there.

Accomplishment

There are some who might scoff at “accomplishments” in a video game. I don’t think any of them are reading here, though. Just recently I wrote about how thrilled I was to finally down Firefighter with my guild. We all had a rush of happiness and pride after killing The Lich King. That sense of setting a goal, and achieving it – whether it’s a holiday achievement, killing a rare spawn, or even just to hit max level is something that people of any age can appreciate and take pride in. Setting a goal and then figuring out the steps that will lead you to it is another valuable life skill. Obviously it isn’t one you can learn only from video games or MMOs, but it’s definitely a powerful incentive. The same young men I mentioned previously, who raided with their older brother – I remember one of them had more pets than anyone I’d met previously. He was especially proud of his Kirin Tor Familiar. This is a pet that takes a significant investment of time and planning to get! I still don’t have it with my own main! (I am just one book away, though. Just one…more…book!) I don’t think anyone held his hand through that achievement. He must have looked it up on Wowhead or perhaps Warcraftpets.com. to find out where the books would spawn. Maybe he discovered the Bookclub channel on his server and joined it to coordinate with others. In any case he was definitely taking initiative to meet that specific goal, and he was rightfully proud when he did. I like to think that he applies the same spirit to school projects or finding ways to raise money for a new bike.

You Kids Get Offa My Lawn

Kids that play video games are clearly violent malcontents who will amount to nothing in society. Or, it could be that they are learning things about team work, research, setting goals, and social interactions through interacting with their peers and adults in a cooperative environment. Who’s to say? I’m sure that many “studies” have “proven” the negative effects of video games time and time again, but until then, society at large will forgive me while I remain politely skeptical! What do you think?

Flee, flee, little ones!

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