Monday, December 1, 2014

It's Okay To Be "Bad" At Games

The following video contains an extremely long lecture in the style of previous "rants." As I mention in the video, this was intended to be a detailed article covering various acts of toxicity (and elitism, which probably falls somewhere under toxicity) but I decided to condense it into a semi-informative lecture. I originally wanted to try to improvise the entire rant, but due to recording errors and personal assessment of the clip, I decided it was better to tackle with a rough transcript instead of a brief outline. If you plan to watch, be prepared for the long haul, since this video is over an hour long.
If you wish to see the transcript I used while recording (though I didn't read directly from it too much), click the cut below:


Hello there everyone - it's been quite a while since my last rant. I was going to do a rant on online personas and it was going to come out within a week but things came up. Aside from work and Thanksgiving, I decided to tackle a much larger topic. It is one that I've been working on for a while and I was working on an article about it but the project turned out to be a monstrous endeavor. Therefore, I decided to just let loose about it in the form of a long-winded rant so I could get it all out of my system. This topic also has the benefit of being related to the rant regarding online personas so I can use this as a point of reference, hopefully.

While the title of the video "It's okay to be bad at games", or perhaps the more PC term of "It's okay to not be good at games", could yield a brief discussion, the related issue certainly goes a lot deeper than that, delving into player behaviors and even reaching into the realm of real life. This was initially inspired a while ago when someone close to me was criticized for her playstyle.

The "Inspiration"

She typically plays games on the easy setting to experience the story and character development since she mostly plays RPGs. This is understandable, since many games have this lower difficulty setting for exactly that purpose, such as Dust, An Elysian Tail. Having such a difficulty toggle makes the game more appealing to more audiences.

However, when she played a game that was recommended to her and she found it boring due to story and characters, she was immediately told that she should stop playing on easy mode since that's why the game is boring...*sigh* Where do I even start?

First of all, a game can be boring for reasons besides its gameplay. If a game does have poor storytelling or other non gameplay-related design at either the objective or subjective level - for instance, the storytelling style of a game like Golden Sun, which uses a heavy amount of dialogue, could be seen as unappealing.

Second of all, gameplay can be boring for a variety of reasons. Difficulty settings could be deceptive and the easy setting doesn't actually make the game easy *cough* Fortune Summoners *cough* or the game is simply unfair and punishing. Controls could also be poor, making the game difficult to play or unplayable since you may end up taking actions in the game that weren't intended.

At the end of the day, this sort of criticism holds no water and is an incredibly elitist point of view. At the single player level especially, it's not really hurting anyone if someone decides to constantly jump into a pit on Super Mario or choose to play on the easy setting. It is that player's choice of interaction and has no direct bearing on another person's ability to play the game. What sort of right does one have to dictate one choice of playstyle over another? More than that: Why are people so quick to criticize others for their shortcomings and failures and mistakes?

Multiplayer Games: WoW

This only gets worse at the multiplayer level, where the latter question becomes far more relevant. For instance, I've been playing a lot of World of Warcraft lately and running heroic dungeons - dungeons that are more or less new to most of the playerbase, and within a matter of a week there's already an expectation to know every encounter and players who "underperform" or mess up are instantly subject to ridicule and removal from the group.

This is sadly very typical behavior in World of Warcraft.

I feel this has notably gotten worse since the addition of Dungeon and Raid Finder. While these features are very convenient and an otherwise excellent addition to the game, it has helped to promote a behavior that involves rushing through dungeons and raids with little socializing so that one can get their loot and rewards and leave to do the next run or attend to other business. However, if the run isn't smooth and quick or otherwise ends up derailed due to an innocent mistake or perceived underperformers, then some players get upset and take it out on the group.

Thankfully this is rather uncommon. While players may be in a rush, some are patient enough to account for human error or realize players may underperform and thus the run still goes smoothly, albeit at a slower rate with some possible wipes. However, even though it is likely a majority of players have this sort of tolerance, it only takes a minority - just one player exhibiting negative behavior towards the group out of frustration, to ruin the experience.

The perception and expectation of performance and knowledge has a huge factor in this. To a point I can understand this line of reasoning. In a multiplayer setting, interactions between players will have direct and indirect effects on others. For instance, a player can get another player killed through any number of means, such as wiping the group due to under-performance. This means that there should be at least some level of expectation for other players since if someone is truly abysmal skill-wise, they may end up intentionally or unintentionally ruining the experience for others. However, as reasonable as this ideal can sound, it's subject to a lot of issues:

For instance, one can set their expectations way too high and expect all the damage dealers to do 13-15k DPS (or something like that - it's about what a typical heroic geared damage dealer could do) or have a tank that never dies. For a heroic, this is actually a lot more than each damage dealer needs to do. It's probably possible for each damage dealer to do about half that much DPS, and, while the run would be slower, bosses would fall and people would get their loot.

There is also an expectation for players to automatically have knowledge of encounters and the like, as I mentioned before. Given that most encounters, especially at the heroic 5-man dungeon level, often borrow or build upon existing encounter design mechanics, such as harmful ground effect (the "fire"), interruptible skills, and add spawns, it is understandable why this expectation is formed.

However, new players who have only recently joined may be as well versed in those mechanics, if at all. While dungeoning at the lower levels could help develop experience, it's possible to skip dungeoning entirely with the way Warlords of Draenor works. A new player could potentially purchase the game, boost a character to level 90, then level to 100 by questing rather than dungeoning (especially since dungeon experience yield isn't that great and the quest design is a lot more streamlined and engaging than before).

The player then may do some normal dungeons (or quest for rewards that allow them to meet the item level requirement for heroics) and do Proving Grounds. The Proving Grounds is a helpful place for players to practice their mechanics, and all players must demonstrate some level of skill in order to enter heroics by earning the Silver medal in the role they want to queue as, thus fulfilling the requirement of showing some level of performance as determined by Blizzard.

While for experienced players, getting a Silver medal is a breeze, it's quite possible (in fact, I am almost certain that) a newer player would have trouble since they probably won't know how to output damage or healing as optimally and they have to learn about some new mechanics. This is even accounting for guides, which are a helpful resource, but are certainly not a replacement for raw experience developed through hours and hours of gameplay where players can fine-tune their usage of skills and understanding of the game and its gameplay.

Given that Warlords of Draenor has a lot of evidence of being a fresh start to appeal to newer players, it is apparently that Blizzard accounted for this by helping to ease newer players in by teaching them about their skills (since boosted characters gradually gain skills doing the Tanaan Jungle starting area) and then putting it to the test in the Proving Grounds at level cap to ensure they are at least somewhat prepared to do heroics, which is essentially the second stage of entry-level content, meaning by this point players will still have a LOT to learn.

The Proving Grounds aren't intended to be an end-all, do-all piece of content that quickly teaches players everything they have to know about PvE content. The endgame beyond is also a source of developing experience and skill. If, for instance, a completely new player fresh out of the Proving Grounds were to die or fail at some boss mechanic in a heroic dungeon, he or she could learn from it and try better next time. Maybe it takes more than one attempt for them to realize what they're doing wrong, but in the end, they might achieve success and be just a bit more knowledgable as a result. This knowledge and skill would then develop over time as they ran more and more heroics, LFR, and even Normal raids or above until they become an experienced, veteran player themselves...

In short, the general "heightened expectation" that I have described is to essentially develop knowledge and skill overnight, which in most cases is impossible.

Speaking of normal raids (and above), there is a learning curve there as well, hence the term "progression". Raiding guilds often end up doing an encounter repeatedly, learning more about the fight and developing strategies until they get it right. That in itself essentially shows that the development of knowledge and skill is ongoing, no matter how experienced a player is. I will admit that often in a raiding setting there is a bit of an expectation to perform, but that's a bit more understandable, since the encounters often require a lot more coordination and more optimal performance, especially when advancing to the heroic and new mythic tiers.

Despite all of this, I will, however, say that it is acceptable to remove a player from the group if the need is great enough, such as if a player is underperforming so much that progression is (nearly) impossible (for instance, they are AFK or literally using the same skill over and over as a class that can't get away with that, like Burning Crusade's Beast Mastery Hunter).

There may also be the rare noob (n-o-o-b), a player who performs poorly but doesn't believe they do (more on this later) due to delusions of grandeur or incapability of judging oneself, etc. In addition, they are also prone to taking constructive criticism as a personal insult. In a way this is a behavioral extreme similar to the idea of prosecuting players for their poor performance, regardless of whether they stubbornly believe otherwise or are earnestly trying to learn, the latter of which is a newb (n-e-w-b).

It is refreshing to learn at least, that players who show toxic behavior are also sometimes removed from groups as well, since they clearly harm the multiplayer environment through social interaction as opposed to gameplay.

League of Legends

League of Legends is a good source of finding clearer examples of such behavior. The game and its community are infamous for it and the developing company, Riot Games, coined the term "toxic" to bundle the various types of negative behavior (mostly associated with gaming), such as being rude,  harassing, and griefing into a single word. They also attempt to reduce such behavior in the game through the use of systems such as the Tribunal and by being public about some punishments and otherwise generally using facts and examples.

Anyways, the typical League of Legends associated example is the term "blame the jungler." While this term is somewhat specific, it captures the essence of negative player interactions through the key word of "blame" and implies blaming someone else. This behavior is understandable. It is difficult to judge oneself due to ego. However, deflecting any responsibility of blame away, especially in such an abrasive manner, leads down a road of negative behavior, with personal pride and anger at the forefront. This leads to the abandonment of composed criticism and the chatting that results is the equivalent of yelling at someone...or perhaps there was no intent to offer criticism to begin with.

For instance, let us pretend that a player playing Amumu is the jungler and I'm a mid laner. When Amumu tries to gank, I ignore what's going on and continue to farm while Amumu nearly kills the enemy mid laner, but dies under the turret, I yell at him, saying something like "You fed double buffs to my mid you scrub jungler gtfo and don't ever gank again." While this is a bit extreme (even by League's standards), the point is that all thoughts of attempting to offer constructive criticism or acting like a decent human being are thrown out of the window and by saying this, I could easily start a heated argument in chat or seriously hurt the Amumu player's feelings.

Hurting someone's feelings over the internet may not sound like a big deal, but it is. They are, after all, another human being. People might say that one has to grow a thick skin, but I, like Trump in his cyber-bullying video, disagree with this stance because having to grow a thick skin betrays the underlying issue of negative human interaction. By showing apathy to such interactions, it just continues an endless cycle of abusive behavior and uncaring for the abusive behavior. Besides, even with the "thick skin", someone's berating still hurts, even if we try to ignore it.

This sheer lack of caring for others is a core part of why players believe they can freely act in such a manner to begin with, such as berating someone for a mistake or distributing unnecessarily harsh punishment.

"Stupid" Questions and Dumber Answers

Moving along, when an inexperienced player wants to learn more about the game they're playing, they'll likely end up doing research and asking questions. The latter is a common behavior since there's a readily available chat or forum where one can hopefully be heard. However, the prospect of getting a question answered is hit or miss. Sometimes, there will be someone around who answers your question in full, but other times, you'll run into the person who treats your question as a "stupid question" and thus provides an "appropriate" answer (so to speak).

First of all, deeming a question as "stupid" is heavily subject to opinion. What may seem like common, well-known knowledge to you might not necessarily be so for the person asking. The question is often a completely innocent one that certainly doesn't harm anyone, so why is there a tendency to shun the question and the inquirer?

For example, I often see in Trade Chat questions like "where is this NPC" or "how do I get garrison resources/other currency?" on World of Warcraft. While some people answer, just as often, if not more so, I see people answering with "Google will help you" or "use Wowhead" (which is the WoW equivalent of Google, even if their home page isn't of that style anymore). I can sort of understand these answers because if one independently does research they develop vital skills for narrowing down their search and answering their own questions. However, that doesn't completely justify this kind of answer.

This is because such an answer essentially is the equivalent of saying "find out yourself" or "do it yourself." It cuts off any chance of conversation or discussion. More than that, the answer is lazy, easy to throw out, and places the burden of finding the answer on the person willing to ask people who to him or her are probably strangers. It gives an impression of being unwelcoming. What's even more inane about this practice is the answer is usually straightforward as well. This is essentially what I call "providing a generic answer."

A very extreme example of this was when I saw a post about someone asking whether a beta test invite was legit. Considering beta tests for WoW are a massive source of phishing, it was reasonable to ask about the veracity of such an invite. However, one person came into the thread and essentially told the guy to go to the site. When another person responded that telling someone to essentially get their computer hacked was a dick move, the first person responded that "stupid questions deserve asshole answers." The top level comment and the response have since been deleted, likely due to moderator intervention.

Anyways, to a lesser degree, copypasta answers are a bit lazy. For instance, if someone has some technical issues on World of Warcraft or doesn't understand a feature, there are usually articles on them. However, when a person goes around asking about the issue or feature, sometimes the answer given is just a link or the same answer provided by a GM or the like (such as "delete your WTF"). These answers aren't necessarily bad - they do answer the question oftentimes, after all. It does come off as informal, however, and again it can give someone the impression that they are unwelcome because they're essentially being answer in a methodical fashion  - almost as if they were answered by a robot.

As for more open-ended inquiries, I often see questions getting asked on the Wowhead forums I frequent. Usually when I see questions that are commonly asked, like "what class do I play?" I often see it followed by a post saying something like "roll a dice." This sort of answers the question and admittedly, it can be amusing, but it provides minimal depth and no information. In addition, it's similar to the lazy, generic answers much like "go Google it" because there's pretty much no effort made to provide a more detailed or informative answer.

In addition, when a question like that is asked, the person is usually looking for information and opinions and form that they can then take into account to form their own opinion. Questions can even be the start of an engaging and rich discussion but they are promptly shut down by such an answer.

Ultimately, I've got to ask: Why even answer the question at all? If the question bothers you because it's been asked so often or it reveals someone's lack of knowledge (or makes them look dumb), it's possible to look the other way and not provide an answer at all. Someone else might come by to answer it and there's definitely no one forcing people to answer the question. If someone wishes to withhold knowledge, that's up to them, but withholding knowledge and essentially shunning and/or sabotaging the efforts of someone trying to seek the knowledge is an incredibly selfish, hurtful, unprofessional endeavor and were enough people to adopt such a practice in real life, I'd doubt that the progression of humanity would exist.

For instance, let's pretend that there's a trucker traveling through a town he doesn't know about, but he needs to find a grocery store to get some food. He finds a group of locals and asks them for directions to a grocery store. A few locals provide directions to a nearby grocery store, while others choose to stay silent. Still others say they do not know and are sorry and then there are a few that deliberately provide the wrong directions, essentially getting the trucker even more lost. Some tell the trucker to use his mobile phone to find a nearby store and to leave them alone.

In this example, the latter two groups of people provided pretty questionable answers. It's nice that there were some good Samaritans who helped the trucker out, and others just opted out of answering the question or didn't know (even if they did). There's no harm done there. However, deliberately getting the trucker more lost is plainly harmful and malicious.

As for the last answer, telling someone to use their phone isn't necessarily an unkind one. After all, the trucker may also not know his phone had such a feature just as much as much as the people answering didn't know the state or condition of his phone, assuming he even has one. However, since I want the situation to be more like a typical interaction on the internet, I also had to add snarkiness to the answer since oftentimes, telling someone to "Google it" is associated with disrespect and arrogant superiority (much like this or this). By adding this tone, the answer goes from being a potentially helpful answer to one that is spiteful.

To better draw parallels, consider the "roll a dice" answer I mentioned earlier and imagine that the trucker now has three paths he can take to reach a town. While all of them eventually reach the town, one is a pleasant drive on flat roads, while another is on a rough, rarely traveled road, and the final road is an extremely steep grade that is impossible to ascend with a truck.

In this situation, asking he trucker to roll a dice to choose their road has a chance of resulting in a successfully "good" answer but it also has a chance of screwing over the truck driver (the rough roads would damage the shipment and maybe even the truck itself while a steep incline would mean the driver wastes more time returning to the fork to try another road). The answer is pure randomness, and thus it is unhelpful and possibly even intended to be.

While a question that is more ambiguous like asking what class to choose, there's still the problem of randomness that fails to account for the person asking the question. What if the person has certain playstyles but forgot to mention them. Maybe they have an innate fear of Paladins but have long since suppressed it, thus they didn't bother to mention it. Joking aside, the point is that answering ambiguous questions with an answer like "roll a dice" or "flip a coin" or with an answer that is otherwise ambiguous or down to random chance isn't really an answer so much as a possible method of choosing.

Potential? And My Story

What bothers me about all of this behavior, this attitude to pick on the inexperienced and the new, is that it might drive off potential. While I wouldn't be so optimistic as to say every new player is going to become a future pro gamer or the like, they might end up developing a decent amount of skill and gathering knowledge. If they were helped in the past (or maybe not), they might pass that knowledge forward, creating a potential cycle of positive behavioral habits instead of negative ones. They may end up becoming a person you find yourself wanting to group with more and more because while they didn't do so well in the past, now they do well.

In the case of a forum community or the like, a player who is welcomed is far more likely to end up becoming a regular and possibly an integral part of the community. On Wowhead, some users use the Wowhead client to gather data from WoW and upload it to the site, helping to build the database with their contribution. What if a new user ended up making those contributions? All that potential could be lost just because someone decided to give a snarky answer to one of their questions.

To be honest, I think it's a damn shame...

Back when I started playing World of Warcraft during the Burning Crusade, I remember I had a blast delving into the game that I thought was intricate in numerous ways. However, I was also a terrible player and it showed. When I got into groups on my Hunter, especially within premade groups in guilds, I was often looked down upon for my performance.

To be honest, besides what could I'm assuming was poor DPS, I was unsure what exactly I was doing wrong and no one offered any critique. It meant I was condemned to spending the expansion rarely doing endgame-level raiding and mostly doing dailies. I was at least fortunate to get to do some raiding of lower level content, however, thanks to a very level-headed raid leader.

At the end of the two-year span, I got an opportunity to learn to play by participating in the Wrath pre-patch on PTR. It was enjoyable to be able to join groups and not feel like I would disappoint anyone since people were just having fun screwing around on PTR, not to mention the pre-patch changes and raid nerfs that came with it made for a far more casual environment.

This continued into Wrath of the Lich King, but I also noticed that was performing better, at least to the point I became a part of regular, weekly raids. It felt very satisfying to be accepted and able to contribute and further improve.

Fast forward to the present day and I would say that my performance is acceptable. Maybe it's just a personal ideal to be overly humble or at least try very hard to not make myself for more than I am, especially since I'm not too big committing to a guild to raid with and spend most of my endgame group play with complete strangers or possibly acquaintances. It's been a long run and I probably spent far more time learning how to play than I could have were I given an ounce of constructive criticism, but in the end I did make it thanks to some players who were willing to invite me.

Final Statements

So what is there to take from this? As I said before, if you need to remove or avoid someone grossly underperforming, that is fine. I would like to add that in general it's important to add constructive criticism. After all, removing someone from the group without warning or after berating and/or providing general statements about poor performance without elaboration isn't going to help them.

If anything, they may end up either quitting the game or avoiding dungeon queues or bringing their inexperience to another dungeon run. I listed the latter scenario because while it's not necessarily bad or avoidable in either case, it can be reduced and possibly eliminated if a player is allowed to develop experience through group play.

If you can't add constructive criticism, then, much like with answering a "stupid question," just don't say anything at all. Players aren't forced to give praise or positive feedback unless they want to, and that also applies to negative feedback too.

Also, when it comes to "toxicity" I'm not talking about infrequent offenders who most likely get caught up in an emotional moment or had a bad day. Just like players can make a mistake that wipes the group, someone can make a mistake and say something they don't actually mean either. I'm more referring to players who are "toxic" on a regular basis. I believe most of the people who happen to watch this will probably fall into this category, and if that's the case, I would recommend the following course of action:

Try to be as tolerant and patient as possible of newer players. They are, like yourself, part of the gaming community and, more importantly, a fellow human being. Also, if possible, try to quash negativity where it sprouts up. A new player can improve, but a negative and possibly mindset, worldview, or attitude takes a lot of work to change. Definitely don't just kick such players though - constructive criticism is important and just like with major underperformers and by providing more feedback than just a kick or berating, you help to break the cycle by giving them a chance to change while not continuing the cycle by perpetuating negative behavior and practices.

I also have this to say, though it's a bit more directed at potentially "toxic" individuals:

I am willing to admit that this is all an expression of opinion. I would love to say this is somehow objective reasoning but while I've seen other people adopt practices of prioritizing removing players who strictly exhibit poor attitudes over players who only perform poorly, I don't know how large the group of players that does this is.

Like I said one can't force themselves to give positive feedback, constructive criticism, or negative feedback (in the form of the various aforementioned behaviors often associated with toxicity), I can't force someone to adopt my point of view of having some level of compassion for fellow players. I can, and do, however, recommend that one tries their best to stop the toxic behavior and stop this neverending cycle of intolerance towards the new or inexperienced or those who make innocent mistake or are otherwise considered "inferior" in some way. It is quite possible that someone who experiences such a negative behavior gradually adopts it and exhibits it themselves.

I am hoping that through these ideals, the WoW and League community can improve as a whole, if not the entire gaming community or parts of human society itself.

I hope I'm right. I would like to think something positive comes of this rambling pseudo-rant. If you watched (or perhaps listened) to this from the beginning to the end, I greatly appreciate it. I know a lot of this stuff has been mentioned before in some form but I really wanted to get this out.

* One thing I forgot to mention: For people asking the questions and receiving an undesirable response, try to act graciously as well. By lashing out or reacting negatively, you may just be doing what the responder wants.

** Another thing I forgot to mention: I didn't really make it clear that while there is some overlap between stupidity or ignorance and a bad attitude, it's quite possible for people to have either quality and not both, often simply being ignorant or stupid about something but not unwilling to learn, meaning it's possible for them not to be ignorant or stupid or the like. The problem is that there's often a mistaken correlation between these qualities. The problem is more the negative attitude that people exhibit as opposed to ignorance or stupidity.

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