Friday, February 27, 2009


1. The twisted interview
If you were a piece of food found in Azeroth, what kind of food would that be? Please note the verb in this question: what food do I want to be, not serve. I was quite puzzled when Bre, one of the wonderful hosts of the Twisted Nether Blogcast, put it to me. I won’t spoil anything by telling you my answer on forehand. But I can tell you as much as that I didn’t settle for a sour goat cheese.

The interview was made a week ago and now you can hear it in episode 36 of TN. I haven’t yet assembled the courage to listen to myself yet, but I hope that they’ve cut me down a bit. I was surprised to see how much crap that came out of my mouth in an endless stream – I really ranted my heart away that night. I don’t know what came over me there, but I blame Bre – she’s just such a great person to run a conversation with – you never want to quit once you’ve started.

Anyway, it’s out in the ether, nether, whatever and there’s no return, no regrets. Thinking about those smart things you should have said is a bit pointless. So go ahead, download it if you want to hear the voice of your innkeeper and get to know me a little bit better. Don’t expect any insightful comments about the mage class. It’s rather the usual ramblings I’m serving.

2. The twisted gift
Talking to Bre felt kind of twisted. She isn’t an NPC, she exists for real! The other day I had similar twisted moment when I received a beautifully wrapped package from Japan. It looked just as exotic as you could imagine, with those strange signs all over the place and a paper with some Japanese flower pattern. Indeed it had taken a long journey, if not by caravans and ships, so not far from it. On the cover my name was printed, with the addition: “a.k.a. Larísa”. Then I knew.

This was a gift from a fellow blogger, the in every aspect awesome Ixobelle. A while ago I wrote something about how I wished that I was a bit better at the lore part of WoW and that I thought about reading some more Warcraft novels to improve my knowledge. Ixobelle noticed this and contacted me, offering me to take over a bunch of novels from his collection. He had read them and was happy to pass them on to someone else. The cost for sending the package probably was horrendous, but that didn’t bother him the slightest. I accepted his offer, but I had completely forgotten about it, so the books really took me by surprise when they turned up.

In one of the books was a handwritten note with a greeting from Ixobelle. I can assure you that he writes in a beautiful style, which really isn’t surprising. His posts often show signs of artistic talent, as when he presents ideas for new raid encounters.

Why did I find this package and the note so twisted? Well, It wasn’t only that it was sent from a land and a culture that I don’t quite understand (I imagine I would be quite as lost as Bill Murray was in Lost in Translation if I ever went there). I think it had to do with the fact that I had a piece of physical evidence of the existence of Ixobelle in the real world in my hand. Even though we only know each other in cyberspace, through our thoughts expressed as pixels, he is a person of flesh and blood just like me. If we only lived at the same continent it’s even possible that we could meet one day and have a beer, not in the Pink Pigtail Inn, but in a real pub. Through the book package we could at least pass a physical object from one hand to another. It’s really cool to think about it.

So thank you Ixobelle! You really made my day. I can’t wait to escape into Azeroth in offline mode.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Mage spells – the ones I’ve forgotten and the ones I'd like to see

I don’t know how it is for other classes, but being a mage, I’ve got a huge spell book. And that is just as it should be in my opinion. Mages are spell casters, wizards by definition, with a superior intellect - of course we should be able to memorize an abundance of magic tricks.

As a newbie mage I found it a bit frightening. How was I supposed to understand and recall the use of all of those buttons? When you’re fighting a mob there really isn’t any time to read the tooltip and analyze whether to cast this spell or another one.

After two years of wizardry I’m not quite as confused. I’m rather a bit lazy, sticking to just a few spells and buffs that I use every raid. I guess more of them would come handy if I was into PvP, but with my raiding focus, I must admit that most of my spells currently are collecting dust, which really is a pity.

Spell wishes
When I was interviewed by Twisted Nether last week, they sent me some questions in advance, in order to give me the chance to think a bit about them. One of the questions never turned up in the show – I think I talked too much so there wasn’t any room for it. They were wondering: if I could make up a mage spell of my own, what would it be like?

I did what I think most other players would have done; I immediately started to think about awesome stuff that other classes do that I would like to do as well. Healing, managing other pets than a water element, tankinglike abilities… whatever. Don’t we all nourish a secret wish to become overpowered (preferably without anyone else noticing)?

But then I came to my senses. The idea of WoW is that we’re playing different roles. (Or at least it was, before they started to hand out class specialties to others, thus making the classes less distinct, under the slogan “Bring the player, not the class”). Deep inside I don’t want to make a mage into something else. If we were to be given new spells, it should rather be spells that fit into the mage concept and the role we already play.

The never used spells
My second thought pondering upon the subject was: do I really want another spell? When would I come around to use it? I’ve got tons of spells I rarely use, if ever. Wouldn’t it be great fun if the encounters were made in a way that you actually were rewarded if you looked deeper into your spell book than to just Arcane Blast and Arcane Missiles, occasionally broken up by Frost nova or Blizzard?

Gone are the days when I was required to sheep, spellsteal or counterspell. And I have yet to see an encounter in WotLK where Amplify or Dampen magic will come in handy. Actually from a RP perspective, Larísa should be required to go back to the mage trainer to learn those spells once again, she’s quite likely to have forgotten the formulas completely after not using them for so long.

Using my imagination
Finally I did what I suppose the intention of the question: I tried to use my imagination to think up something new, something not overpowered, something fitting a mage. I came to think of the new buff food that you can play around with, making you smaller or bigger. Wouldn’t it be fun if you could shrink or enlarge NPC:s as well as other players (PvP)? It doesn’t necessary have to affect their stats and abilities any way. The amusement and confusion it would make would be enough for me.

Then we have the ability to fly. It was first brought up by Gnomeaggedon when we were discussing our ideas of class specific mounts. He suggested that mages should be able to fly without using any mount at all, moving through the air by magic. I agree totally. It would suit us much better than this stupid carpet, which will crash any moment since it obviously isn’t intended for gnomish pilots – my sword is cutting a hole right through it.

Then there’s my love for pets and critters. You can make critters to your pets nowadays, but the cost of the critter food is horrendous considering the effect only lasts 2 minutes. I think mages should be able to do funny tricks with the little creatures. Perhaps we could get one at the time without using the buff food – or we could transform them into something else, just for the fun of it.

A last idea is that they could develop one of the latest additions to our spell books a bit further: Mirror. The idea is nice, they look awesome, but they lack any kind of intelligence and situational awareness. Even the slightest possibility to control the actions of our little helpers would be a great improvement.

Now fellow mages (and everyone else who shares our interest for the arcane teachings): how would you have answered the question? What spell would like to add to the repertoire of the mages?

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The increasing reluctance to decide things in advance

Something has happened with the way people look on their calendars. I see it in real life and I see it in Azeroth. People just seem to be more reluctant to make commitments and set arrangements than they were a few years ago. When I ask my kids what plans they have for the night, their answers generally are pretty vague. Their main priority is to keep all alternatives open, not closing any door unless they’re really forced to. Maybe something more fun will turn up an hour later? If they say yes to something they’ll have to say no to something else. It’s as if they can’t bear the thought of missing stuff. The sad thing though is that this behaviour often actually leads to that they DO miss things, since they made up their minds too late and the moment has passed.

Change of mindset
It’s a change of mindset, and even if the kids are worse, I see it a lot from people in my own age. The fact that we’re always available to each other through cell phones and Internet access for some reason this gives us an excuse to let everything float and postpone our decisions to the last minute.

This way of seeing things actually clash a bit with the mechanisms of a raiding guild. Coordinating the schedules of 25 people (or rather 35-40, since no raiding guild can exist without some extras) isn’t easy to begin with. And it certainly doesn’t get easier if people wait until the last moment to declare their intentions – if they’ll be available to the raid of the night or not.

The problem is that this indecisiveness has a huge impact on a lot of other people. It happened the other night when we were 21 signed up, a few sign offs and a whole bunch of people who hadn’t left any hint at all whether to attend or not attend as late as an hour or so before the raid. Eventually we managed to assemble 25 players and got our raid going, but we were pretty unsure until the last moment what to do. Go for the 20 man achievement for Sarth? Or Sarth +2 dragons? That was the question. Who would be in the raid, would there be any raid at all? Our GM and RL got pretty pissed off and wrote a flame post about it on our forums and I really don’t blame him.

The problems
If you want to leave all your options open to the very last second, you certainly keep your own freedom, but you’ll do it at the expense of the freedom of other people. Of course we all have different life situations. Some people have few real life obligations and don’t mind to switch raiding night whenever it’s required. For others - players like me - every single raid takes quite a lot of planning. We negotiate with other family members so that our plans don’t interfere with theirs. There are kids that need to get rides to their activities; there are parent meetings, schedules at work and other things that must be settled in advance.

Another aspect is preparation. OK, the raiding content now is pretty easy if you don’t go for the hardest achievements, but it still takes some preparation. You need to fresh up your memory taking a quick look at the planned boss fight of the night. Even in the era of “Bring the player, not the class” you still have to pay some attention to the setup. Depending on which players have signed up you’ll adjust your destination for the night.

Of course things may change. Of course real life may intervene and you’ll have to make a late unsign due to the boss requiring you to work overtime, illness in the family, a computer breakdown or other misfortunes. But to neither sign, nor unsign until the very last moment…? That kind of “playing-whenever-I-happen-to-feel-like-it-attitude” is exactly what PUGs are for. But it's not the way to go for a steady, healthy, progressing guild.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

My fascination for group dynamics in WoW

Gevlon is running a campaign trying to prove that progress and success in WoW hasn’t got anything to do with social aspects and the ability to create a well functioning team. He has also set his mind to pug his way through the game in a strict, effective businesslike manner. I’m honestly a bit sceptic to the idea. It may work on the not too hard raid encounters that Blizzard currently offer us, but if Ulduar will turn out to be the challenge we hope for, pugging will probably be quite frustrating. But I’m not afraid to admit I’m wrong, so good luck in your mission Gevlon; it will be interesting to follow. Maybe you’ll invite a concept for successful pug managing that others can copy.

Group dynamics
If you ask me, the social aspects and especially the dynamics of developing a well functioning group is one of the things that make WoW so interesting. I can’t imagine living my days in Azeroth without it.

Strangely enough this idea doesn’t seem to be so widespread. Generally the websites, blogs and forums about WoW deal with game mechanics. If you want to find information about how to make the optimal spec, spell rotation, gear, raid setups and boss strategies you’ll find a wealth of knowledge. What you often forget is that you can be an expert in all of those areas and still fail miserably at creating a guild or a raid team that will work in the long run. There are exceptions, of course. Matticus has had quite a few posts where he discusses the development of a group from a management perspective. But I still think there’s a lot more to be said in those issues.

I think the lack of awareness of the lifecycle and mechanics in a group is one of the reasons why so many guilds will fail and disassemble. Often they have spent ridiculous amounts of time on underlying unresolved conflicts, stealing energy and focus, resulting in a lack of progress. Seeing the stagnation members will leave and the guild will be thrown into a downgoing spiral, where the constant exchange of members will be a hindrance of getting back on track again.

I wish I had some miracle cure to offer those suffering guilds: do like this and everything will turn out well. Unfortunately I don’t think there is any. But just acknowledging that social skills and the ability to be a teamplayer are just as important – or more important – than the positioning on the dps charts – is a good start.

FIRO theory
Some ten years ago I attended a week long leadership course, which was mostly inspired from a theory about Group Dynamics called FIRO. The course had been developed from a concept used in the Swedish army and was very demanding, to say the least. Twelve complete strangers were put together in conference centre in the middle of Nowhere, completely cut off from the world (no cell phones allowed). We experienced the process of developing a group, going through all the stages within a few days.

I often recall what happened there. We started out on a tea party level – small talking, but hardly an effectively working group.

From that we entered the next stage, the one of conflicts and role seeking. Who was in charge? Did we all feel that we belonged to the group and were counted on or was anyone excluded? What different roles did we play? It’s very much possible to actually get stuck in this phase. Dysfunctional groups tend to do that, which clearly will show in their results. We managed to get passed it though.

By giving feedback, saying things aloud, bringing the conflicts to open daylight, we could sort them out and enter the lovely phase three, the one of mutual dependency. We were back to the friendly atmosphere as in the first phase, but with the difference that it now wasn’t just superficial. We all knew where we had each other - everything had been exposed. Now we could focus on the task, knowing that everyone was to be trusted and that there were no hidden motives to fear.

The week with this group changed my views on groups and my own role in them forever. Of course it was pain to work our way through the conflicts. But I learned that it isn’t such a big deal that we make it to, that there’s no reason to fear it. It’s a natural step in the progression of any group – not the least to a guild. Once you’ve made your way through it the group will turn into something else. It becomes like a living organism, an unstoppable force, ready to climb any mountaintop in the world.

Far from easy
Now, improving the efficiency of a group, to understand the dynamics of it, to work actively with tools such as frequent feedback and open communication is far from easy. It takes skill and intuition and a lot of situational awareness. I think that in WoW the challenge is even bigger than in real life, since the turnover of members often is much bigger. Easy come, easy go. People vote instantly with their feet and don’t have incentives like a salary to motivate them to hang around and live through the difficulties. And every time an old member leaves or a new one comes to the group, it will be thrown back in its development. The risk is big that you have to go through the role seeking once again. A comforting thought though is that the process usually goes much quicker the second time if you have a previous experience of being in a group in phase three and know what it’s like.

I’ve worked in leading positions in real life for a few years, but I still feel like an apprentice when it comes to the management of groups. There’s always more to learn and I think that WoW is a very good sandbox to test your tools and abilities. I can’t give you any easy how-to-do-it recipe to follow. A good beginning is probably to put on different glasses, to try to see things from a little distance and understand what really is going on beneath the surface in your officer team, raid group or whatever group you have.

In my two years of WoW playing I’ve changed guilds a few times, every time for a good reason. I’m not a guild hopper in its true sense, but I’ve made too many switches to be really happy about it. It takes a while to fully get to know a guild and become incorporated in it, rather than a temporary guest. Hopefully my restlessness will change in the future.

The other day I realized that I’ve never been as long in a guild as I’ve been in my current. I joined last summer, I’m still around, I have no plans of leaving and as far as I can tell the guild is stable, healthy and will remain active for a long while more.

I think that we as a group has passed the first polite small talking phase. Sometimes we mess around a bit in role seeking, but often we actually jump into phase three, at least for a while. I must say that I’m really looking forward to the journey that lies ahead of us, struggles as well as victories. It’s a dimension of WoW that I wouldn’t like to miss for anything.

How fun is it to defeat Sartharion + 3 dragons if you haven’t got any friends to share the sweetness of the victory with?

Monday, February 23, 2009

Short break for technical support

One day you’re the merriest little gnome in the world. And the next day you just want to pull the blanket in your bed over your head and stay there forever.

Friday night was a happy one. For the first time in a few weeks I managed to get into a ten man raid during an offnight and we downed Malygos, which gave me another achievement (I had only done him in 25 man raids before). There wasn’t any loot for me, but that wasn’t interesting to me. What counted was that I had done it – and that I had survived it too – I still lack a bit of the 3-dimensional space awareness that this fight requires. It was clearly a step forward.

And after Malygos I spent an absolutely wonderful hour in company with Bre of the Twisted Nether Blogcast, who interviewed me as a guest of the week in the next show. I don’t think I said any cleaver stuff, I just ranted my heart out, but it was really a pleasure to have a chat with her.

Saturday I was still happy, looking forward to the Sunday evening raid, when I was supposed to try Sartharion with 2 drakes for the first time (the guild had made him the week before)

Sunday morning I turned on my computer and within a few seconds the smile on my face disappeared. It wouldn’t start and it turned out that the operative system had had a major breakdown. Zakehs, an angel in disguise, spent hours and hours of helping me to restore it. But finally we had to wipe it to reinstall Windows, and quite a lot of things – from half-written posts to World of Warcraft itself were gone, just like any sandcastle I've written about before. WoW could be restored (except for all my settings and addons), but the blogpost couldn’t.

Yes, I know you should back-up everything. And I know you should excersise often, eat healthy food and brush your teeth very carefully and often. But sometimes I fail.

I still have to do a lot of work on my PC before everything is back to normal. This means that I probably won’t keep up my normal frequency of four blogposts a week for a little while. We’ll see. Just don’t get the idea that this inn has closed. It hasn’t. It’s just going through some plumming and cleaning.

Don’t you hate computer trouble by the way? It reminds me of toothache and car breakdowns. It gives me pain in the stomach, bad sleep and an empty wallet.

PS Bre, don’t worry about sound the file I’m supposed to send you. As by a miracle I managed to save it in spite of the PC breakdown!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

To my mimeo with love – a few words about my fannish origins

OK, this post will be slightly out of topic, since it’s not entirely WoW related. It will also be insanely long, so be warned!

I mentioned earlier in a post a couple of days ago that I used to be active in the worldwide community of Science Fiction fanzine publishers, known as Fandom, some 20 years ago. Spinks from Spinkswill became curious about this and asked me in a comment to tell a bit more about it. And since she’s a valued guest and I’m a service minded innkeeper, I thought I should give it a go. Even though World of Warcraft wasn’t invented at that time, I can see some resemblances, which I guess is one of the reasons why I feel so much at home in the WoW blogosphere.

I joined this community in the middle of the 80's when I was 17 years old. I had read science fiction for many years; it was a heritage from my parents, who offered me a diet of classic authors like Bradbury, Clarke, Asimov and Heinlein. But the thought hadn’t occurred to me that there could be a network around for likeminded people, so when I stumbled upon my first science fiction fanzine it was like a new world opening up to me.

Where it started
The origin of Fandom actually goes as far back as to the 20's, when the first Pulp magazines, such as Astounding Stories, appeared. Those magazines had departments for letters to the editor, where the readers started to contribute quite actively. In the 30's some of those commenting readers began to publish their own amateur magazines and that was the beginning of Fandom, a sort of loosely connected network for geeky people with a taste for science fiction and writing.

Except from publishing fanzines and trading them between each others, those fans also networked in other ways – by forming local clubs and arranging conventions – small and local as well as huge world events. And even though the means have changed a bit – as far as I know there aren’t many fanzine editors who stick to mimeographs in these days of online publishing – Fandom still is pretty much about this.

Sercon and fannish
So how should I describe those fans? Well, as with WoW players, they come in different shapes. The “sercon” fans (abbreviation of serious and constructive) are focusing pretty much on the science fiction genre. Some are more into movies and TV series, but the branch of the movement where I dwelled engaged much into written literature. Those serious fans often write book reviews, articles about certain authors or themes in the science fiction literature or reports from science fiction conventions, referring the most interesting panels and speeches. They know everything there’s worth to know about the genre – seeing sercon fans in a quiz competition at a SF convention is just amazing.

The “fannish” fans are of another kind. They too normally have read and loved Science Fiction once upon a time, so the origin is the same, but it isn’t necessarily their major focus right now. They’re more interested in fans, fanzine making and Fandom as such, seeing each other at fan gatherings, having fun and making friends in a very relaxed and geeky way. I must admit that I was leaning more towards this faction. Even though the title of my fanzine was “The mystic planet” you wouldn’t find much hardcore science fiction content in it. It was more of personal reflections about everything and nothing, just like PPI is today.

Lore of Fandom
Just like WoW has its own vocabulary, Fandom has developed a lot of concepts and lore that are hardly understandable outside of the community. For example the fans “worship” (in a humorous way) an imaginative god (or I should say “ghod”, it’s a fannish practice to put in a lot of unnecessarye “h” in words) in the shape of a beaver called Roscoe, who was celebrated on the 4th of July every year (yes, the US origins were quite obvious sometimes.)

There were a lot of cryptic abbreviations you had to learn as a newcomer, just as in WoW. A BNF was a Big Name Fan (the equivalence if Big Red Kitty, Tobold or Matticus). FIAWOL (Fandom Is A Way Of Life) was an expression used by the truly dedicated fans, while FIJAGH (Fandom is just a goddamned hobby) was preferred by the casuals. If some one for some reason left the community and went back to the world of normality, this was called GAFIA, meaning Getting Away From It All.

All of those words and many others are explained at The Fancyclopedia, which contains a wealth of knowledge about Fandom.

The mimeos
A favourite topic of discussions was our mimeos, mostly loved, but sometimes hated when they didn’t behave the way we wanted them to (destroying a whole edition of our fanzine with leaching ink for instance.) Making a good looking fanzine using those unsophisticated tools was an art in its own. The stencils could sometimes break and every typo you made with your typewriter was something of a disaster. They made holes in the stencils that needed to be mended by a pink, smelling fluid, called “corflu” (with our vocabulary). Talented fanzine producers could make illustrations, which required you to put a rugged surface under the stencil and very carefully draw the picture using a special pen. In the printing process the ink was pressed through the small dots in the stencil. Making a fanzine was far from the rather sterile task of blog publishing. You could smell it and literally feel it when you picked the papers and joined them with a staple. This was crafting.

The mimeos were so important to us that they almost became like persons and you often met fans who had given their duplicator a nickname. Sometimes people made songs about them, “filk songs”, which were performed at the conventions, preferably at late hours under the influence of huge amounts of beer.

Trading fanzines
The fanzines were normally published in rather small numbers. I think the fact that you had to pay for the stamps limited the editions quite a bit. It was normal to reach about 50-100 readers, rarely more. Fanzine editors used to trade their work with each other for free. (Non publishing fans could subscribe for them at self cost.) Another variant of distribution was the forming of APAs (standing for Amateur Press Association), where several fanzine editors agreed to distribute their publications together with a common send list in order to save work and above all cut the costs for distribution.

The frequency and the length varied a lot, just as it does with blogs. I guess a pretty average fanzine would come out with a 20 page issue every second month or so. Some ambitious fans experimented doing daily fanzines, but usually they couldn’t keep up with it for more than a couple of months, it was too much work with the printing and distribution.

But this didn’t’ stop us from interacting a lot and commenting on each others fanzines, just like the WoW bloggers do today, only that it took us a bit longer. Sometimes we made up fictive conflicts, “feuds”, just for our own entertainment, just like the mage battle that we’ve been running here for a while. It happened that we went more seriously annoyed with each other. At those moments you could put your fiend in “blockage”, meaning that you refused to send him your fanzine and trade in the normal way.

Closeness to the authors
I’m really losing myself in nostalgic memories, but if anyone still is reading I’d like to way a few words about the conventions before shutting up. Those conventions were arranged for fun rather than for profit, and always by the fans themselves. The size, style and quality varied immensely. I’ve been to small, local conventions with about 30 participants, which were more or less disguised excuses to see some other geeks and get drunk together. And I’ve been to more serious national arrangements with a few hundred of visitors and several international Guests of Honor, usually pretty well known science fiction authors. The world conventions on the other hand are huge events with thousands of participants from all over the world (unfortunately I’ve never been able to attend one myself).

What was special about the cons I’ve been to was the atmosphere, the very relaxed and intimate relation between the authors and their audience. I’ve had dinner and talked to people like Brian Aldiss and Harry Harrison. I’ve never been to a Blizzcon, but I doubt it’s possible to get as close as that to the game developers (with the exception for the famous Ghostcrawler perhaps?)

From Fandom to WoW
So now you’ve heard the story about my years in Fandom. I haven’t been active in this community for many years now and I have no plan of going back. I spend so much more time playing WoW than reading SF novels, and even though I’ve got some fond memories of my mimeo I wouldn’t dream of going through all that hassle again. The PPI serves me fine as my fanzine of the 21st century.

I’ve found my new Fandom in the WoW blogosphere. Quite a lot is the same. We like to escape into other worlds. We like to write. We like to network and we like to challenge each other, exploring our ideas and views in a constantly ongoing discussion. We haven’t got any beaver ghod. But honestly I can live without him.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

A screenshot from an everyday adventure

OK, don’t blame me for this silly little post. It’s all Maiara’s fault, the editor of the blog Voodoo Ventures, which recently came back from the dead by some magic spell.

Maiara has tagged me, asking me to publish the sixth image in my WoW screenshot map and write something about it. I don’t know if Maiara knows it, but long time readers of PPI have no illusions about my talents for taking screenshots or making anything good looking out of it.

Bad photographer
To be honest I’m the worst photographer of the world. I always press the print screen key at the wrong moment, half a second too early or half a second too late. If people aren’t closing their eyes, they’re always just about to run away, turning their backs towards me. And I don’t have any cool image making program like Photoshop to manipulate it afterwards.

But you asked for it Maiara, and here it is, the image that happened to be number six (which by the way seems a bit odd since it’s quite recently taken, I don’t quite follow how identity numbers are given to the images, if there’s any kind of system in it.)

When I first looked at it I just couldn’t understand what it was and why I had taken it. Where was I? What was all this green stuff about? Was I paying a visit to some tree living night elf ancestor or what? But there was some kind of building in the background, much bigger than the ones you find at Kalimdor….

Finally it dawned upon me. This was the result of a mishap. It would have been a cooler story if it was on purpose, but it wasn’t. And at the PPI you won’t hear anything but the truth, so here we go.

Falling from the sky
The image is taken in Dalaran, probably two months ago or so. I was flying into the city, forgetting about the restrictions and suddenly found myself slowly falling to the ground in a parachute. To my surprise I didn’t land on open ground. Instead I landed high up in a tree which, if I remember it rightly, stands in the backyard of one of the inns. I was a little humiliated, but most of all I was delighted. So I spend a little time up there in my solitude, climbing the branches, sitting, dancing, eating, doing all sorts of stuff to entertain no one but myself.

I think I enjoyed it even more when I realized that there was no way that you could access this little spot of the world if you tried it from the ground. Landing in the tree with a parachute is the only possibility to get there, as far as I can see. Then the idea crossed my mind that it would have been fun if there had been an achievement for it. Probably it would have taken a bit of practice to get it. You have to make the bird throw you off at exactly the right spot, or your parachute drifting will make you land in the garden and not in the tree. Now there wasn’t any achievement around but I took the screenshot since I didn’t expect to come back anytime soon.

Share your stories
So this was the story of my sixth screenshot. It represents somehow the everyday adventure I see in the game, one of the big reasons why I love it so much. There’s always another place to explore, although it sometimes isn’t in a far away corner of the world, but in a backyard in the major city.

Now I don't normally tag other bloggers. Chain letters just clash with my principles. But it was actually pretty fun to take the challenge to write about a random picture. So I suggest that more of you bloggers out there join the party and share the story of your sixth screenshots.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Gender once again

It goes in waves. Every six months or so the topic of men and women in WoW pops up in one blog, gets a ton of comments and inspires more bloggers to make follow-up posts. Is there any difference between female and male players? And are they treated the same way in the game or do female players still, after all those years, have to fight prejudices and stereotypes.

I hesitate every time the subject is brought up. Should I write a post or shouldn’t I?

Reinforcing sterotypes
The thing is that I really care a lot about fairness, in real life as well as ingame. This doesn’t mean that I’m a socialist (on the contrary). I don’t think it’s possible to arrange perfect justice, because life isn’t fair and we all have our mountains to climb, some with greater difficulty than others. That’s how things are. But at the same time I think that we as far as possible should give everyone we meet a fair chance, to try to rid ourselves from the stereotypes and prejudices that are so easy to embrace.

I care about the gender issues because I hate to be judged and too quickly dismissed, no matter if it’s for my gender, my age, my looks or my social position in society based on what job I have. And I don’t want other people to be judged either.


Here comes the “but”.

Is it really still necessary to fight prejudices and stereotypes about women in WoW? Aren’t we like five years beyond that stage? I wrote about this topic almost a year ago, so I won’t be long here, just repeating myself, but to put it shortly: I’ve never ever felt that I’ve been treated differently or looked down upon in the game because I’m a women.

Actually the only place I ever see the stereotypes is when they are listed in this kind of posts, which are meant to proof them wrong. There's nothing bad about this actual post, it's brilliant and I agree with most there is in it, but it makes me wonder: is this really the best way to fight them? I actually think we can make prejudices come alive and increase their importance by constantly talking about them.

Think about it. If you meet a person and the first thing he says is: “I’m not a drinker”, wouldn’t you think that he probably has a drinking problem?

Science Fiction movement
I remember when I joined the community of Science Fiction fanzines editors 24 years ago. There you could talk about getting attention and special treatment if you were a young lady! At the conventions in Sweden, the ratio was about 1 girl on every 50 guys, and hardly anyone of those boys had ever dated a girl. They were the geekiest of the geeky, highly intelligent, pale skinned and if not shy, at least not social in the normal sense. If a girl landed in their universe it was almost like a visit from Mars. You definitely felt appreciated joining those circles. But I also must add: respected. I think the only difference there was in the treatment of the female Science Fiction fans was that it was easier for us to find contributors to our fanzines (the equivalence to guest writers of the blogs of today). I never felt like I was anything else but “one of the guys”. You were never judged for anything but how you performed – as a writer, panel member or general contributor to the community.

Not so odd
The WoW community isn’t exactly the same as the SF community, but there are similarities. However, after all those years things have changed. The geeky subcultures aren’t as odd anymore and there is no “men only” sign posted outside them. Even though online gaming isn’t completely socially accepted yet, there are at least many more people doing it, some openly, some in secret. And with volume comes diversity. The gamers come in all shapes – young and old, female and male. Seriously, being a real life woman in Azeroth isn’t that special anymore. There simply are too many of us. Gone are the days where you could feel special – being an adored princess or a misunderstood and despised martyr, fighting to get respected.

We’re all players and we’re all human. Some of us are kind hearted carebears. Some of us are jerks who don’t give a shit about other people. This isn’t determined by our gender, our skin colour, our nationality or if we prefer cats to dogs. We’ve all got a free will.

The less we speak about the prejudices that may have been in the past, the quicker they’ll disappear.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Hanging around in the name of love

My bag problems which I wrote about last week reached a new level when I entered the hunt for the seasonal achievement title. Curse you Blizzard for putting this plague upon me! But trust me: I’m going to throw every single piece of junk you’ve forced upon me away when it’s over, except for the picnic basket of course, which I always carry round since the same event last year.

Shortly heartbroken
This whole love event is a little bit broken, at least from a pseudo RP perspective. Love is serious business isn’t it? If you’re heartbroken, shouldn’t you be that at least for an hour or so to make it at least slightly credible? Now it really felt kind of silly. I gathered with everyone else in the open area of Ironforge, hungrily looking around for another broken heart to mend. Not because I cared about the heartbroken character, but because I wanted to get the achievement done. When I saw the crowd I came to think of those aggressive birds which harass popular tourist spots summertime, constantly preying for another hot dog or ice cream to snap out of the hands of an innocent child.

Spending so much time just “hanging around” in the capital cities is a bit strange to me. Normally I don’t do that a lot. When I play I do things. I raid, I quest, I PvP (a little) I gather, I even visit AH sometimes and craft a little bit (not enough to get wealthy, but enough to support myself.) I’m not one of those people who park themselves between AH and the Bank, jumping around, sending off rockets, dancing and filling general, trade and every other available channel with nonsense.

But I had to put my normal interests aside, since hanging around obviously was the way to go if you wanted your achievement. So I looked for broken hearts and for warlock gnomes and I shot arrows, and once I’d collected the cards and other stuff I needed (well much more than I needed actually) I restricted my harassment of the guards, declaring them my love only once an hour.

To be honest it bored me a little bit. I can now completely understand why those people who spend most of their time online hanging around keep throwing out statements like “I’m bored” (are they expecting someone else to come to their rescue and amuse them?). If this was how I normally played WoW I wouldn’t just get bored, I’d go nuts. But it’s their choice.

Camping Horde district
The “hanging around” wasn’t restricted to Ironforge. Between the cooldowns I also took trips to Dalaran, parking myself just on the verge of the Horde district (keeping a safe distance not to be stunned by the guards). At some points we were quite a big party of alliance players, standing there, like the visitors at a zoo, eagerly hoping that one of the rare spawns would turn up so that we could sprinkle them. And if they did show up, you had to be quick, because generally they were in a hurry, mounted and on their way to the flight point.

One of the hardest things to find seems to be a troll rogue. People have been hunting all over the server to find one, without any success. Finally a player grew tired of it and made one for us, using his second account. He named this guy “Achievements” and then he had him summoned to Dalaran and parked, kneeling like a statue, just where we were all hanging around. Then he announced it in the General chat, so that anyone feeling an urgent need to throw flowers over such a creature could do so. He did all of this without any other intention than to be nice to his fellow players. So cheers for Jonta, Night Elf hunter of the guild “No Mercy” at Stormrage! This action of kindness didn’t make you rich, but at least you got my gratitude and appreciation.

I did what I could do to contribute by throwing up a picnic so that anyone who needed a romance could get it easily while waiting for the rest of the horde guys to turn up. Actually doing something for other people made the hanging around a little less boring. It was kind of cute to see all those little romantic encounters that Larísa got involved in.

But the Undead Warrior refused to visit us, even when I extended my hanging around to Undercity, Wintergrasp and all sorts of Battlegrounds. My co-players in the PvP spots must have been a bit annoyed with this little gnome who obviously didn’t care much about killing the other players. I was occupied clicking on every single horde player to see if it was the right kind.

As I’m prewriting this Friday afternoon, I still haven’t got the last candy heart I need and I’m starting to get a little bit worried since my playing this weekend will be rather limited. The time restrictions for this achievement are far from generous, considering the drop rate of some of the wanted items and the idea that you should be able to log on every single hour for the cool down.

Oh well. If I don’t get the achievement it isn’t like the end of the world after all. I’ll probably be stay in Azeroth another year. Just hanging around a bit.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Why bigger bags don’t solve my space problems

I admit it. I’ve already broken the resolution I made for 2009. On December 31 I published a post where I declared that:

“I will get my bank and bags in better order. The first step is to stop jamming it. I’ll stop keeping tons of junk there “just in case”. The starting point will be a big sellout at AH, and after that I’ll ALWAYS see to that I have at least 10 empty slots in the bank so I easily can clear my bags if I’m in a hurry and don’t have time to make decisions about what to do with items.”

Now it’s mid February and I have yet to see that fantastic sell out. There definitely aren’t any 10 empty slots available in the bank. And I’ve got plenty of strange quest items in my bag, which I have no idea of if they’re still relevant. Do they belong to a quest I still have in my log? Is it a quest I really want to do for some reason, something that will be hard to find again? Maybe it’s the part of an important and interesting quest chain? I have no idea and I’m too lazy to check it up.

So in spite of my good intentions I keep taking panic actions like taking out a few non-soulbound items and then throwing them away in a letter to an alt just to get them out of the way. In the worst cases I get them back a month later, since they never were opened. So in fact I don’t only have a mess in the bank – I even use the mail box as an extra storage for more crap things.

Larísa, seriously, sometimes you disappoint me.

Exclusive bags
Now there is a quite tempting solution to the space problem. You can always buy yourself out of it. Suddenly the need to clean up isn’t as urgent as it was and you’ve found an excuse to postpone that boring homework once again.

Currently there are three available alternatives: Pit Lord’s Satchel, which I roll on every week in OS (no luck o far, but I guess I’ll get it eventually), the “Gigantique” Bag sold at 1200 g by Haris Pilton and The Glacial Bag, which I’ll soon be able to make myself, I’m just a few skill points away from it and I’ve already got the Sons of Hodir rep needed.

Those bags look shiny and epic and of course I’m a little bit tempted. I definitely wouldn’t turn it down if the OS bag was offered to me. But somewhere I realize that two more slots won’t fix my space problem in any way at all. The problem isn’t lack of space. The problem is my attitude.

I don’t deny that there are classes that really need a lot of space. I feel sorry for the poor warlocks and there soul shards, which must be gigantic (something that doesn’t make sense to me. If you’re carrying around an extra shield it surely will take space in your bag. But a little shard of a soul? In my world it’s tiny, like dust, and of course it should be stackable. Other classes need several sets to switch between for different purposes. Hunters have carried around their ammo for a long time, even though this will come to an end now. So I have respect for the bag needs of others.

But when it comes to me, a simple mage, I have no valid reasons why I should need more than the hundreds of slots I already have if you put the bank and the bags together. Honestly, if I was just a little bit more disciplined I’d probably go around with 16 slot runecloth bags in every slot just as well. The more space I get the more will I fill it with junk. That’s how I work.

Real life hamster
And it isn’t any different in real life. Whenever I have moved from a smaller flat to a bigger one, it has brought forward the hamster within me. I keep holding on to all sorts of junk from different periods of my life out of some vague nostalgic reason. And yet I know most of it will probably be thrown away eventually the day when I die. I’m just leaving the decisions about what to throw and what to keep and how to store it properly to the next generation. Is that really a nice thing to do?

Sometimes I think I should get a bit stricter with myself. I just don’t know how to get there. How can I convince myself to devote a night to just cleaning up bags instead of running instances or raiding or levelling? By brute force? Maybe I should switch my 18 and 20 slot bags for smaller bags? Then I wouldn’t have any choice but to trash away and sell things to adapt. And once this was done I could go back to the bigger bags again, now with plenty of space available? It sounds silly, but maybe it’s the only way I can make this notorious junk collector Larísa to comply.

Bigger bags won’t solve my space problems. Only I can do it.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

My love for things that don’t carry yellow exclamation marks

The first thing I met when I entered Azeroth the very first time two years ago in the shape of a completely clueless paladin was a yellow exclamation mark. I didn’t know anything about MMOs or even about gaming, but still I was sort of drawn to that yellow sign. My intuition told me I should interact with it somehow and soon I was off questing my way through Azeroth.

Ever since that moment my WoW experience has pretty much been dictated by those marks. When I’m not raiding or gathering supplies I turn on my internal radar, look for the marks and do what they tell me to, mindlessly. You know the drill. Click mark. Get an assignment. Perform. Deliver. Get the reward. Repeat until fed up.

Too obvious
Don’t misunderstand me, there’s nothing wrong with it. Especially these days, when the kill-12-pigs quests are less common than they used to be and we’re treated with sophisticated inventions such as and vehicles, phasing and even little movies. The yellow exclamation mark often leads to some sort of entertainment.

Still there’s something about the yellow exclamation marks that turns me off a bit. I can’t put my finger on it, but I think it’s the fact that they’re too obvious. Yellow, big and shiny to make sure that not a single newbie player will miss them. And so are the quest items since last year I think it was. Sparkles all over the place, more or less shouting to me in red letters: “hey! Don’t look there, look here, pick me, I’m all yours!!!”. It’s convenient. But it lacks the taste of discovery.

What I like are the hidden things that there’s no way you’ll find out unless someone tells you about it – or if you’re really curious minded, constantly experimenting on your own and have oceans of time available to explore every little corner of the world. Like the hidden Westfall Chicken quest. I love it. OK, there’s a quest mark there, but it won’t appear unless you do something really silly. (I can’t help wondering who found it out in the first place, before there were guides on the Internet which told you to go there and fool around like a chicken. They surely must have got the hint from somewhere?)

Recently I saw another hidden jewel, revealed to me thanks to Letters from Birdfall – the little drama taking place if I bring out my brand new Stinker when there’s a Bombay Cat around. There’s no exclamation mark anywhere, no sparkles. The only reward from it is the smile you get on your face (until the poor creature is heartbroken), but that’s good enough to me.

The hidden jewels
I simply adore those little hidden jewels in the game and I think it’s an example of what makes WoW so great. The developers don’t only care about making up huge, impressive Raid encounters. They care about the art of clam opening and they sprinkle the whole place with small scenes, full of humour, without any other purpose than making us smile.

I’m absolutely convinced that there are a lot more of those “secrets” out there that I don’t know of yet. Have you got any that you come to think of? Feel free to share your exclamation-mark free surprises in the game! I want to make more of those discoveries.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The lagoon is lonely now

Do you remember Riplash Strand in Borean Tundra? Not? It was the place where you camped the mist wrapped beach in company with 200 other players, waiting for a certain naga to spawn so that you could kill him, thus helping a Captured Tuskarr Prisoner, who then would give you a quest.

The competition on this spot was insane. (And this is on a PvE server I can imagine how it must have been like at the PvP servers. It’s a wonder anyone managed to level at all). While waiting for the poor naga to make another futile try to survive more than a second, we all looked desperately for a mob to kill to keep our XP/hour rate. Time was precious and we all were eager to level up quickly. Idly standing waiting on the spot felt like a waste of time. But even though there normally are loads of Vikings running around in the area, there weren’t enough to keep us going. There was a quest where you had to kill a certain guy in a cave, and even though we partied to make it go a bit quicker, the chances were still pretty slim that someone in your party would be the first one to tag him.

A godforsaken place
Three months has passed and the other day I revisited the Riplash Strand for the first time since the release. I couldn’t believe my eyes. What used to be a crowded party room was now a godforsaken place with nothing but npc:s around. I could as well have been in Desolace or Azshara. This place had turned into one of those ghostlike places where the general chat is silent and no action whatsoever is going on, except for the one you cause yourself by attacking the mobs. My rogue alt killed the annoying naga spawn not only once, but maybe three or four times, since he came around and ganked me while I was killing other mobs. It felt strange and spooky, and to be honest I didn’t like it much.

It’s one thing to go fishing in a far-away area. It’s somewhat expected that you’ll be pretty lonely by the river and you can even enjoy the calmness, as I wrote about the other day. But to go questing is another matter. I don’t like to be completely alone where I quest. I don’t say that I like standing in the crowd at the release, but I certainly don’t like the opposite better.

A few people around will make the whole gaming experience so much more interesting. You can adore their pets, inspect their gear and talent builds and get ideas from it. You can party for group quests and you can grumble a bit when they’re a little bit quicker snatching the mobs that you both want. You can throw away a buff to them, just because you feel nice, and sometimes you may even chat a little bit.

The presence of other people adds clearly adds another dimension. They may be nice and friendly or annoying idiots, but at least they’re all for real – not programmed scripts, and therefore they’re always somewhat unpredictable. You never know what will happen next.

The wave is moving on
The lagoon is lonely now. I hadn’t thought it would go so quickly. It was somewhat expected that Outlands would become deserted (with the exception of the DK militia). But Northrend? Now? I guess it makes sense though – the first wave of levelling is over and perhaps people are still gearing up their mains and haven’t come around to start levelling their alts.

It’s the way this game works. There’s a lot of space for everyone, but we’re hardly spread out over the world. Most of us are members of a crowd, moving through the content like a wave. Still I can’t help feeling a little sad thinking about all the lonely spots in the game. There was a time when the yard outside of Karazhan was the meeting point for everyone. You ran into people you had once pugged with or ex-guildes, you hugged and waved happily and exchanged a few words before going in to see this week’s version of the Fall of the Maiden. Now she’s as deserted as Hogger, if not worse.

Time passes. Enjoy the party in Naxxramas while we have it. There will be a time when it will be deserted, when we’ve once again moved on to new and greener pastures.

PS. The title of this post isn’t my own. It’s shamelessly stolen from a book I stumbled upon 20 years ago, about the vanishing traditional lifestyle of the inhabitants of the Cook Islands, which are spread over a large area of the Pacific Ocean. The author Ronald Symes made a point about how the influence of the modern western way of life, brought there by tourism, not necessarily has improved the life quality of the islanders. It’s a beautiful book, although a little bit sad, bringing a farewell to something that is inevitably gone. The issue is double sided and there are no easy solutions to the dilemma of the effects of the colonization. But I won’t write anything more about it since it’s not WoW related. I just wanted to credit the author.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Our fear for class changes

So we’ve got our first little taste of the 3.1 changes. A few statements by Blizzard, quite vague if you look at the mage class, will now be debated and interpreted, syllable for syllable in hundreds of blogposts in the weeks to come. Have we seen it before? Oh yes. Even the tiniest little adjustment in the mechanics of a class will always result in an outcry of “OP!” or “Nerfed to the ground!”, depending on the perspective. It’s a ritual. You’re sort of supposed to build up your rage, so you can defend the territory of your class with teeth and claws.

Honestly, I’ve never been able to produce any aggression in those situations. Maybe I would care more if I was into PvP, where it probably matters more. But as it is now, news like this leave me indifferent. Even when they made my TBC Arcane raid spec impossible to raid with, I just shrugged, respecced fire and silently bided my time. Eventually things would work out, I thought. And of course they did. I’m now back to arcane, happier than ever.

Seriously, does anyone think that Blizzard would let a class suffer so much that it became unplayable, thus displeasing about 10 percent of the customers? Probably not. Changes are a part of the game and all classes will shine in some aspect sooner or later.

What really matters
Sometimes when you hear the outcries you get the impression that it’s a matter of life or death. It isn’t. I don’t think the minor tweaking of a class will decide if a raid will be a failure or a success – at least not in the casual-friendly raids that are offered in WotLK. The changes that are suggested won’t make any more impact than a few wavelets in the middle of a sea storm.

“Bring the player, not the class”, is the Blizzard mantra for this expansion. And I believe them. If I was a recruiter for a raiding guild, the changes in the next patch is the last thing I would consider when picking my team. What really matters is something else. What really matters is performance.

First: It’s about doing your job properly. Does the player do what he/she’s supposed to do – healing, tanking, dps? Does he move himself around correctly while doing so - be it the Heigan Cha Cha Cha or the dragon dance around Malygos?

Second: It’s about being a team player who doesn’t only follow the written rules, but also have a good judgement and some basic social skills. Does this player fit in to the puzzle? No one wants to spend 15 hours a week in company with an extremely annoying person, no matter how often he tops the dps charts.

The classes change a bit. Player X will make 100 dps more doing the same spellrotation as he used to before and Player Y will make 100 less. So what? Who cares?

What we are afraid of
I think the ones who care most are the ones who deep inside lack self confidence. If you’ve based your raiding spot on the fact that your unique buff is a “must” to bring to the raid, but know that you’re not quite as good at Cha Cha Cha as you should be, you’ll feel threatened. When several classes can bring the same utility – mana, cc, intelligence, crit buffs – the one thing that differs will be our ability to dance.

It all goes back to our basic instincts. It’s about our fear of being left out, our fear of not belonging to the clan and our fear of ending up unwanted and lonely.

Mae at Electronic Escape wrote about those fears from the perspective of a shadow priest the other day. Since I often indulge myself to sessions of frustration over my own incompetence I can very well understand the emotions. But seriously, aren’t they pretty exaggerated?

To form a well working raiding team is a long term project, which requires passion, commitment and an abundance of patience. You want to reach a level of cooperation where the raiding team seems to communicate almost telepathically. You know the feeling when everyone knows what the other players are about to do without having to say anything about it. But to reach there you have to play together for a very long time. I don’t think any guild that ditches well working parts of the raiding machinery in order to get room for more players of the Trendy Class/Spec of the Day will be successful in the long run.

So to the worrying shadowpriest and to anyone else out there, who now is trembling for upcoming nerfs of your class or buffs of other classes I just want to say: cut it! Worrying doesn’t take you anywhere at all. You can surely use your energy better. Turn your focus to The Big Things. Go take some dancing lessons. Do the daily dragon flying quest at Nexus to prepare for Malygos. Bite the sour apple and keep doing your homework. And I’m pretty sure you’ll keep your spot in the raid. Class changes or not.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Why fishing keeps us hooked to WoW

Sometimes I think that I think to little those days. Be it age or laziness, but I tend turn on the auto-pilot function and just let things happen and pass without reflecting much about it. Luckily enough there are other people out there who think for me, and who by provoking me a little help me to wake up as well.

Recently I ran into one of those wonderful people, the thinking-process starters. It was a few lines in an essay by the video game producer and writer Scott Cuthbertson, published in the book “The Battle for Azeroth” (2006), which made me jump. I’ll quote them and you’ll see why:

“Beyond the linear quests and scripted story events, World of Warcraft has one additional element that gives the game its life, and it’s a biggie: Fishing, my favourite in-game recreation. Fishing may seem insignificant next to the allure of those purple, orange and gold rare items or acquiring that full suit of well-matched armor, but it is, I would argue, the most important element of the game.”
My first thought was a complete disapproval. Was this man out of his mind? Was he trying to be funny somehow? Was he a liar? Had he ever tried to level fishing to maximum level? Now, this essay was written pre-TBC, so the fishing max level wasn’t as bad as it is now, but still!

To most players fishing isn’t something you do voluntary for any longer period. It requires more or less your full attention – if you’re tempted to start to read the chat window instead of staring at the wheel, you may miss your catch. So you stare and stare until your eyes bleed. And then you click, loot, swear a bit if it’s the wrong catch, and throw again. The monotony is only broken every ten minutes when you have to apply another lure. It’s not about skill in any normal sense. It’s about your ability to endure total boredom. How dare this Mr Cuthbertson suggest that fishing is the most important element of the game?

Then I read a few more pages and suddenly it dawned upon me that he actually may be right. It turned out that it wasn’t exactly only the fishing in itself that the author found so important, but the principle of it - that players are encouraged to take a break from questing and just relax.

Things to do
Side by side with the traditional questing and dragon killing, WoW offers us a ton of other “things to do”, where all the professions are a good example Thanks to those game elements we can enter the world even if we’re not up for anything particular exiting action. We can slip into Azeroth just to exist there, and we meet a living, breathing world, where we can participate as much or as little as we like. This may sound like common sense, but according to Cuthbertson, actually many other games have failed to adopt this basic level of good game design.

After reading those lines I’ve started to look upon fishing with new, more forgiving eyes. Actually it isn’t quite as bad as I’ve thought previously. Lately I’ve fallen into the habit to go for a little bit of fishing in Grizzly Hills, either before the raid, clearing my mind before what’s to come, or after it, as a way to wind down. I’ve tried not to stare quite so angrily at the float, waiting for it to jump, and not to swear when it lands outside of a pool of Glacial Salmon, the fish I need for my buff food. I try to let go of the instinct to try to be efficient. I relax, enjoy the surroundings, saying hi to the creatures passing by, emptying my mind from all burdens, for once not chasing for any kind of achievement. Because that’s not what fishing is about (unless it’s Sunday afternoon and you’ve joined the weekly fishing competition). To fish is to have an excuse to just be in Azeroth, not doing particularly much. And in its own way, it probably keeps me hooked to the game, either I believe it or not.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Finally a lovely wipe night!

It’s been long since the last time, but finally I got the opportunity to enjoy a raiding night with 20 wipes and not a single boss kill. And I enjoyed every single second of it.

It hasn’t happened since we were fighting Archimond last summer and I feel that I’ve missed it. Surely, conquering Naxx has been lovely in every way – especially for me, since I never saw the original Naxx instance. I can imagine it wasn’t quite as exhilarating for people who already have “been there, done that”. Going to a party in a dress you’ve had for three years never can give the same feeling as wearing a brand new one.

But even if Naxx, with all it’s variation of bosses and not too much of trash mobs to cut your way through, has been fun, something has clearly been missing. We’ve got it to farm status too quickly and we haven’t banged our heads into a wall many times enough to get the real super-cheer on TS when the bosses go down. Sometimes it’s more like a “meh”, “was that all”.

It probably sounds a bit weird to many of you, but I really like encounters that require you to suffer a bit. I also want fights to be varied, neither too short or too long (about 10 minutes is just fine) and not make me to corpse run over half of the continent or wade through a ton of boring trash mobs for every reset (thinking Kel Thuzad or the famous MH waves, sigh).

Malygos has got absolutely everything I could wish of a boss fight. The other night I saw him for the first time. This was the first time the guild devoted a whole 25 man raiding night to him, and we had some 20 tries, with the best one at 7 percent, before calling it night.

The first time we made it into phase 3 was the most exciting moment for me. Of course I had watched videos, but they could in no way describe the feeling I got when the floor suddenly disappeared below my feet, I fell in space, just to be picked up by a dragon. I swear - it was like running a rollercoaster in an amusement park. You got the same sensation in the stomach. Not to mention all the psychedelic patterns towards the end which the developers have thrown in, apparently with the intention to make people like me completely disoriented and seasick.

This fight was so fun and so varied from the beginning to the end, that I would have been pretty disappointed if we had killed the dragon him at first sight. I want to make this ride not one, but several times! What if we had gotten him early? That would have left us with three hours of raiding time but nothing more to raid (all other 25 man instances cleared earlier in the week). Of course I wouldn’t have regretted if he had died in our last beautiful 7 percent fight. It would have felt well deserved and put a perfect end to a night, where we learned, tweaked a bit and improved with every try. Still, when we called it, I had a big smile on my face.

The reward
Did I earn anything? Well, apart from increasing my DKP a little – nothing. I didn’t get any loot, just a high repair bill. Does it bother me? Not the slightest. I don’t evaluate the time I spend online in terms of efficiency. I don’t play WoW to gain gold. I play it to have fun. And sometimes the fun consists of wiping.

Now I’ll just practice my flying skills a bit more, doing Aces high. I haven’t yet quite got used to the idea of positioning myself in three dimensions and I think I’m not alone in this. But it probably won’t be long before we nail him. And what’s left then? I guess we’ll put up more dragons on Sartharion, waiting for Ulduar to come out. We are raiders. And raiders need a wipe night every now and then. That’s a part of our nature.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Happily building my sandcastle

Last week I wrote a silly little post about my troubles in choosing the right pet. I had a ton of comments for some reason – I don’t seem to be the only one, even though most players seem to let a randomizing addon handle it.

One of the comments however was a bit different from the others. A guy called “Ron” wrote a response, which he for some reason expected to be deleted (of course it wasn’t, I’m quite liberal about the discussions we run here), where he shared some of his pain in trying to free himself from the WoW. Ron thought that WoW occupied too much of his life, not only while playing, but outside of it, since he found himself constantly thinking about it, and he saw no other way out of it than to quit in a “cold turkey” way.

Preaching the truth
All this is fine with me. I fully respect for people who have problems to find the RL-gaming balance and therefore have to quit, often with a feeling of big loss and with “withdrawal” symptoms that causes them pain. I don’t belittle Ron and other ex-players who obviously are struggling. However I do have a problem when ex-players start to preach to the gaming community, trying to make them see the same “truth” as they do.

Now Ron isn’t the worst kind of preacher, he’s very reasonable and modest, so if you read this Ron, forgive me for picking you as an example. As a matter of fact I’ve seen much more fanatic anti-WoW-playing forum posts out there, posts full of hatred and despise, which I like many other active players mostly choose to ignore. But let’s say that your comments were an inspiration for me to this post, which will deal with some thoughts that have been bothering me for a while.

Where does it come from, this urge that some ex-gamers have to tell the people who still play that they’ve lost their mind and are wasting their life? Actually I think it’s got to do with the fact that those people are still fighting a hard, long and violent internal war. Their audience isn’t the gaming community. They’re just speaking to themselves. They still long back and they’ve got to do everything they can to convince themselves not to return to the game.

A waste of time?
Yet I think their general assumptions needs to be considered and discussed every once in a while and not just dismissed as poor attacks from WoW-hating people with prejudices. And that’s what I’m intending to do.

One of the most common arguments used is that WoW-playing is a “waste of time”, especially since you strictly speaking don’t “own” your character – Blizzard does – and since everything you’ve achieved in gear and fame is “wiped out” at expansion resests. (And as if that isn’t enough it’s all just pixels and therefore useless.)

The way Ron puts it is quite typical:

“In the end, when you spend too much time on this, the game ends up a black hole. Nothing you do in this game matters in the end, and it is even worse than most hobbies, where you might get healthier, or make connections, or create works of art, or learn a musical skill, anything that stays with you past the next expansion. In WoW, all you hard work, all your effort, equates to nearly zero when the next expansion comes out. And it is not like a 2 hour per day TV habit. You don't think and blog and research stuff about TV shows when you are not watching them.When I think of the time I gave to this game, I get scared inside, thinking of the opportunity costs.”
Other subcultures
I disagreed with Ron in several ways, which I also wrote in a couple of answers to him. One of my objections was that there are subcultures for anything you could think of. Including TV-shows. There are Star Trek fanatics, there are model railway collecting fans, there are people who devote every single free hour of their life to knitting patterns. And the most dedicated knitters think about knitting not only when they’re actually knitting, but at other times as well. It is possible that there are more WoW players who devote a lot of time to their hobby if you compare it to other hobbies. But that doesn’t make them to lost souls and helpless addicts.

I also argued against the statement that the playing doesn’t give you anything. It obviously didn’t give Ron anything valuable, but that isn’t true for everyone. During the two years I’ve been playing I’ve gathered tons of memories of friendships, of struggles, of victories. I’ve learned things about myself – how I act in a group, how I perform under pressure, about making goals and working against them. Through my blogging I’ve rediscovered my lust for writing and improved my English a little bit. I’ve freed myself from the stereotypes of what a 40 year old woman is supposed to do in her free time. I’ve overcome some prejudices I had about myself and about the gaming community.

I agree that my playing sometimes has put a strain on the relations I have to my family; however this has probably been for good. It was about time I started to free myself a bit and find a corner of the world where I see it from my own perspective, without any predefined roles that I’m expected to play. I have no regrets at all. And I certainly don’t see the big difference to WoW than to other hobbies, how learning to play an instrument could be more “useful” than learning how to play a mage excellently

Need of justification
These were my first objections to Ron, but I couldn’t let go of it after writing my comments. A vague feeling was nagging in the back of my head and finally I’ve become able to vocalize it.

What I realized was that it doesn’t make sense, this instinct I have to have to justify my playing by finding up all sorts of good effects from it. Why should I? There are a lot of human activities which we engage into without any other purpose than for pleasure. We’re living in a time where most people in the western world have the luxury not having to fight every day for their immediate survival. We have free time to spend.

The only person I know that constantly speaks about being productive and always getting rewards from things is Gevlon. But who else? Hands up, how many of you spend every single moment of the day, when you’re not tendering to physical needs (sleeping, eating) or earning money for the same reason, doing “useful” things, working voluntary to help sick people or saving the environment? Not many, I think. And if you did live your life that way, without any pause for total relaxation, I don’t think you’d last very long before you felt pretty much worn out, void of energy.

The sandcastle
There are a lot of things in life that we do just for fun. We make love, not necessarily in order to conceive children, we see friends just because we like each others company, we read fantasy novels, we paint pictures and we listen to music.

I suddenly got an image in my head, which I couldn’t rid myself of. It was the image of me building a sandcastle in the waterline by the sea. We make those constructions with the full knowledge that it will be “wasted work”. If you’re lucky it may stand up for an hour, at the most. But the result isn’t what interests you when you build it. You build it because you love the feeling of the wet sand in your hands, because you enjoy seeing the image in your head getting alive, however shortly. It will be washed away by the water, but that doesn’t matter. No one can ever steal your memories of that lovely afternoon by the sea when you and a friend enjoyed yourself building a sandcastle.

In WoW we build our sandcastles too. Guilds are born and flourish and succumb. We form our characters, we invent a role playing scenario, we develop master plans how to defeat the biggest dragon ever and we train ourselves in the art of duelling. It’s all fragile. It’s all sand. It will all vanish the day Blizzard turns off the last server. But that doesn’t make it less valuable.

Blade Runner scene
Another image which keeps coming back to me is one of the last scenes of my favourite SF movie Blade Runner, the one where one of the dying androids says his final words as the rain pours down:
“I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser gate. All those moments will be lost in time. Time to die.“
I will never be able to explain to my mother or anyone else I know how happy I was the other day when we killed Sartharion with one drake up for the first time. I’ll never be able to make her see what I see and feel when I take my fishing pole and sit down by the river in Grizzly hill, listening to the music, watching the bears passing by. I know this maybe isn’t as grandiose as to make real space travels, but my point is that we have no reason and no right to define what a “real life” is and mercilessly judge people who see the world through other eyes and don’t fit into the norm.

I’m happily building my sandcastle in Azeroth. I don’t know for how long I’ll keep doing it. Eventually I’ll probably want to do something else. Draw a picture. Watch the stars. Pick a bouquet of flowers. Who knows? Life is full of adventures. But right now it’s WoW. And there’s no reason why I should have to justify it – neither for myself, nor for others.

Monday, February 2, 2009

This round is on the house

Hello everyone!
Don’t be shy. Come forward and grab yourself the drink of your choice. Nethergarde Bitter is very popular. If you want something more exclusive, pick Plugger’s Blackrock Ale (I’m afraid we’ve only got a few bottles of it). Or get real drunk on Rumsay Rum Black Label. And there’s Fresh Apple Juice for the kids. Have whatever you want - it’s all on the house. You see, today we’re celebrating an anniversary. It’s exactly one year since I wrote my first blog post.

It wasn’t until a few months later that the blog achieved the name The Pink Pigtail Inn and went international. But I was born as a blogger on February 2 2008 and I wanted to acknowledge it somehow, even though I know it's a little bit self-centred.

I’ll quote a few passages from my first post:
“This blog will be about my second life. The life I live inside World of Warcraft in the shape of the gnome mage Larisa, born on Kul Tiras, nowadays living on the Stormrage server. I don't quite know where the blog will go. Maybe it will just be a few diary notes which no one but me will ever read. Maybe it will catch the interest of a few more people. Most of all it's a way to get out a few of all those things which are bubbling in my head. All the impressions, the questions, the experiences I've had along the road. A lot of things happen in the virtual world. When you think about it’s not ONE game, but many, there are so many ways to see it and play it. So... welcome to meet WoW from the point of view of Larísa.”

As you see my idea about what this blog would be about was pretty vague and I’m afraid it hasn’t cleared a bit over time. What I wrote one year ago is still valid. I write about stuff that comes into my mind and I don't have any system or idea about direction. It just happens.

What I didn’t know when I wrote those lines was that the blog actually would catch the interest of a few more than me and a couple of guildies. I’ve gone from almost zero readers to over 200 subscribers. To me that's a huge number, enough to make the inn feel nicely crowded, but not so many that I get scared. In comparison to many other blogs, PPI is still smallish. I know for instance that Gevlon, who got into blogging pretty recently, already has more than three times as many subscribers. When he started out I gave him a little piece of advice. I think he felt he wanted to return this service, so he wrote me a few lines, suggesting me how to gain a bigger audience:
If you have ideas that you are hiding because it does not match the "approved" and "nice" ideas, post them. Granted, you'll be bouncing trolls from your inn, but some really interesting people might come in.
He also added:
Or maybe you shouldn't take this advice and keep your inn a pleasant and nice
place where people love to come.

And it’s the second path that I’ve chosen to follow. I’ll never ever gain any huge audience since I honestly don’t provide any kind of useful information and never try to provoke people on purpose. But that doesn’t matter because I value what I’ve got higher: a relaxed atmosphere, no pressure and an infinite freedom to rant about whatever I want to, without considering the effects on my visitor counter.

During this year I’ve produced over 250 posts, which is amazing to me; I still can’t understand where all the words came from. It’s like a book when you put it together. I’ve had a ton of fun writing them, that’s for sure. Like when we fought that silly mage war, which forced me to actually look a little bit closer at my talent tree, even though I never managed to write anything insightful about it. (A continuation of it seems to be upcoming by the way.) Other posts have been rather sad or frustrated, rants about my struggles to cope with my shortcomings, losses of friends or my problems to make my gaming work with my real life. The blogging is no doubt an therapeutical outlet to me, as it is to many other bloggers.
After this first year, I feel as if I've eventually been accepted as one of many contributing members in the WoW Blogosphere. I’ve gone from trialist to member. Hey, I've even got a link from BRK! That was my proudest moment as a blogger ever, I all but fainted when I found out.

Enough of ranting. I've written enough of retrospective meta-blogging posts during this year. If you're a new reader of the blog and want to hear a bit more about the person behind this blog and her ideas (or lack of ideas) about blogging, I suggest that you read the post where I interviewed myself.
So. At last. Here’s to all of you who regularly come here and contribute, by reading, commenting and linking to the inn. Without you I wouldn’t be celebrating this anniversary. All credit goes to you for helping to keep this place going.
Thank you all. And cheers!