Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A Rant on Why We Want to Read About Guild Drama and Bad Stuff

WoW bloggers have always ranted about Pug experiences. Especially bad ones. However, the introduction of the random dungeon system has changed the frequency of it. We’ve gone from one amusing or upsetting story every month or so to one or several Fail-Pug stories a day.

Often those stories include calling out names, which seems to have a sort of cleansing effect on my fellow bloggers. They may have felt powerless against the stupidity and evilness of the player in the instance, but now they can apply this damaging little blog dot afterwards, and who knows, it might spread so the players on that realm will get to know about it and put him on their ignore list. The revenge is sweet! (At least I guess it is - I've actually never become angry enough to write a name-and-shame-post myself. And to be honest I don't think actually printing the name out is necessary - you can blow your steam off just as well without it.)

Good hearted approach
However, some bloggers think that this habit has gone too far. Gnomeaggeddon is challenging us to make a 180 degree flip, and stop writing about our bad experiences. Instead we should call out the best pugging people we meet in game.

Of course it's a good hearted and sweet idea. And it connects nicely into the declared policy of the new gossip column The Classifieds at WoW.com, which is to replace the previous Guildwatch. They've decided to weed out all the Guild drama news. From now on you can expect more of progression reports and recruitment ads from guilds on servers you’ve never heard of, and occasionally also some shoutouts to nice players people have met in pugs.
Yeah, it’s a nice approach and I can't really question it in any way. It's a sign of superior moral ideals and after all I if anyone approve of trying to make the world into a better place by encouraging people who do good things.

And yet – from an ex media employee perspective I have my doubts that this really will work as intended, at least not n the case of the WoW.com column. (Gnomeaggedon is another story - if anyone could make this pay-it-forwardish concept work, it's Gnome. Best of luck!).

What I’ve seen from The Classifieds, most of the stories shared so far aren’t any good stories – in fact they’re probably mostly interesting to the people involved, who can be happy to see their own names mentioned at a highly trafficked news site. But from the perspective of an outsider something is lacking.

News dramaturgy
I know this probably sounds weird, especially coming from a pink pigtailed gnome, the essence of cuteness and a positive attitude. In fact I sound like a complete dick, which is rather unusual, since I believe I have a reputation as being a "nice" blogger. But if you don’t rage quit right away and can cope with a rather long rant, I’ll try to explain what I mean.

The thing is that it’s far from easy to write in an interesting and entertaining way about things that work the way you expect them to work. In fact it’s extremely hard. I don’t say it’s impossible. Gnomeaggedon and Big Bear Butt are examples of bloggers who are capable of writing such posts, enchanting everyone with pure cosiness and goodwill, sharing stories about pugs that worked fine and wonderful players they've encoutered. But they are exceptions.

You see - the basic dramaturgy of storytelling isn't about being nice.

When I talk to people about my job I often get to hear “Oh, the media are just crap. They only focus on the negative news. They should talk more about positive things”. And my answer will inevitably be that this is how the news mechanism looks. This is the basic dramaturgy, the thumb rule of what we regard as a piece of news.

Think about it. You don’t hear on the news that “Today every single airplane landed safely and on time”. The reason why plane crashes are reported is that those events are rare and unexpected. (And I wouldn’t want it otherwise of course. Imagine living in a world where a day without plane crashes was something so unusual that the media find it worth reporting about…)

The lacking conflict
Hands on heart – even if there are a lot of fail pug stories these days, the majority of the pug runs we do work out pretty much ok. At least in my world they do. We wait our 10 minutes (if we’re dps), using the time to make errands at AH, questing, fishing, whatever. And then we breeze through the instance in 20 minutes, add or leave 5 minutes depending on instance. And people generally know their stuff well enough to get the job done.

This is nice and convenient, but normally it isn’t material for telling a good story!

Why? Well, for one thing it's happening way too often, there's nothing unusual about it. And secondly there’s nothing in it for the reader to identify with and react to. Nothing to make them amazed, surprised, entertained, annoyed or tickled.

You see, the nice-run stories lack an essential ingredient: there isn't any built-in conflict that needs to be resolved, there isn't any tension of opposing interests and wills. Good stories are somewhat bipolar. Black and white. Good and evil. Darkness and light. The little guy against the big guy. Them and us. If we’re all just a nice happy family, there’s no story to tell. It's just: "meh".

Sunshine and shades
Now, don’t take me wrong. I'm not completely cathagoric about it. In real life news you sometimes get those kind of sweet little stories towards the end of the show – something about a pet miraculously saving their owner or a letter coming through after 20 years. And of course there’s an equivalence of this in WoW – good, inspiring things going on that deserve a mentioning. At Wow.com and on different blogs we have for instance sometimes been told about how people have met and married thanks to wow or how a guild guild has taken an initiative to help out a member in trouble.

However, I think it’s a little bit naïve to say that from now on we’ll ONLY write about the good and ignore the bad things, as if this somehow would make the asshats, the morons and the drama and trouble they cause miraculously disappear. Because they won’t. Planes will crash even if we stop reporting about it. And the ones involved in the plane crash certainly won’t feel better about it just because people turn their eyes away and pretend it didn’t happen.

WoW.com has got quite a lot of negative reactions to the change of the Guildwatch column. Matticus suggested that someone would take over and start a blog picking up where Guildwatch left. Now Mike Schramm seems to be pondering upon actually doing it. I bet he'll get quite a few readers it becomes reality. Because regardless of the morality - it's entertainment. And maybe we can even learn something from reading it - about difficult situations that may appear and different ways to handle it.

TLDR version: Readers want good stories. About good stuff, about bad stuff, about the Azeroth we all know. To only write about the sunshine, deliberately omitting negative news, is a bit dishonest. And boring. There are shades i Azeroth too, just like in the real world. And we should be allowed to talk about them.


Klepsacovic said...

I like to aim for a fairly accurate representation of my play experience, which means mostly good with some bad. I avoid focusing on the negative because if I say all bad and no good, it's too easy to think that it's all bad. Remember your terrible week when we thought you were on the verge of quitting?

While there's risk of self-censoring in the positive direction, is it any better to do it in the negative direction?

Rhii said...

Sometimes I like to read about other bloggers's slice of Failcake, because it makes my own seem less bitter...

I don't know if I'm the only one who seems to hit WoW slumps where everything I do seems to go wrong, but when I'm in one of those places (not right now, don't worry) it makes me relieved to know even the blogging bigshots run into THAT PUG sometimes.

I don't know about you, but Lodur's story here http://www.worldofmatticus.com/2010/01/02/it-came-from-the-p-u-g-the-valanyr-curse/ made me realize that the crazy stuff happens to everybody... not just me! :)

Askevar said...

I run a weekly column "Ugly Pug" which are my tales of drama and QQ. Exceptional players get mentions during the week.

Gevlon said...

As the LFD goes, soon we can see "breaking news: every DPS was above the tank".

One can write about good things, but those must be rare enough to worth mentioning. And it's much easier to bump into something awful than something wonderful.

But we must keep looking!

Larísa said...

: oh no, I definitely don't advocate any kind of senf-censoring! I'm just trying to explain why news in general are more leaning towards the negative than the positive. Apart from that I think most bloggers - like me - write as a sort of therapy, from our hearts. And I think it's more common that we need to get out negative experiences from our system than positive ones.

Now blogging about LFGs isn't exactly the same as writing a column for wow.com. Maybe it was a bad idea of me to mix it up in one post.

@Rhii: yeah, and some of those stories are SOO entertaining. One of the most funny I've ever read was when Krizzlybear shared a horror run in BRD. I laughed so my stomach hurt.

@Gevlon: Are you actually talking about LFG from your own experience? I didn't think you had much reason to run it, not looking for any frost emblems...

The last quote was just wonderful! Something you would rather think the optimistic Larísa would write than the cynic Gevlon!
Of course I agree. We must keep looking!

We Fly Spitfires said...

I think most readers love drama but there are a few people who are very sensitive and, ironically, cause a lot of backslash by deriding the content and threatening the site with their RSS subscription. No doubt sites like WoW.com are worried that they will lose business if they become too controversial and thus want to play it safe. I don't blame them for that but it's not always what the public wants.

Carra said...

People are always interested in bad news.

In a way, it makes them feel good. Look at that horrible pug Larissa did! My run wasn't so bad after all. *happy*

Shintar said...

Good post. Writing about bad stuff happening is not the same as spreading negativity. When I write a failpug story I feel much better for having got it off my chest, and other people that read it can also feel good about it, be it because they are relieved that their pugs aren't as bad, or because it reassures them that they are not alone in having bad streaks with the dungeon finder. I also love reading other people's pug posts for entertainment. So I really don't think they are a bad thing, and it would be a sad blogosphere without these kinds of posts.

Dariush said...

I find it ironic that just as Blizzard is ramping up the Horde/Alliance conflicts in-game, they are doing their best to ignore conflict and drama within their game. Conflict is interesting, without it you have no news, no stories and certainly no World of Warcraft.

Everyone that's played for awhile has their share of horror stories: derailed raids, failed pugs, guild drama, or just that camper who won't leave you alone. Hearing about these frustrations resonates to all players. It reminds us that we don't suffer alone.

When my healer face-pulls 2 consecutive pulls then fails to toss me a single heal because he's too busy running away from me and into another patrol; it helps bring a smile to my lips to read about other peoples failures. Not because I bask in their misery, but because I can grin and say, "I know how that feels, I've been there."

Hatch said...

At this point, it *is* more rare and unexpected to have a good pug experience. People have figured out that the system enforces carrying because you can't kick people early enough. So if you are a halfway decent player, you are volunteering to put a yoke around your neck and drag some undergeared afk losers through an instance so you can get your frost emblems, which are currently by far the most valuable object in the game.

People also have a tendency to remember negative experiences more than positive ones, which is supposedly just how we are wired.

I think I will try to write an entertaining post about a positive experience and see if I can do it. I can't guarantee it will be very original though. :)

Prelimar said...

i'm not a blogger, so i don't know how it is to come up with new content on a regular basis, but i (for one) applauded Wow.com's decision to nix the drama stories. i see enough of it in-game, i really don't want to see it in the blogs i read. yeah, there's a bit of schadenfreude in reading about other people's bad pugs, but that is a brief pleasure. i was happy to see gnomeageddon take the higher ground and start posting about the great people he's encountered, too. this is FAR more productive. after all, isn't that what everyone's been complaining about and wanting? you know: better players? now that we're getting them, it's a *bad* thing, and we'd rather have an endless stream of fail players so we can write about them and all giggle and congratulate ourselves on being so leet and above them? pass.

Gronthe said...

I have read many books in my lifetime, and in every great, or even good and yes the bad ones, there is a conflict. You are right in describing the motives of news outlets, they report on conflict because that is what people buy.

I am all for the feely-goody pug stories, and I think they can be important to maintain a level perspective, else we think that all pugs are bad. But to relate stories of conflict is in line with the greatest story-telling minds this world has ever produced.

Holly said...

I like to think a balance would be the best. As for the "write happy things in the news" I do understand that the shockers, like the example plane crashes, and that 'average' isn't newsworthy. But on the otherside we rarely see the more positive news, the human interest stories, the one where the company donated 18 billion dollars to a charity that are -just- as rare as a plane crashing and would be more positive. I looked through the last 3 weeks of newspapers (that's a lot of articles to thumb through) and out of 3 weeks of daily newspapers, there is -one- positive human interest story on the 4th page, that is only a paragraph long. The issue is -not- that you report really bad news, the issue is -not- reporting really good news or when you do, it's shoved in the corner, without enough detail to light a match. I think the same is true of guild drama and pugs. Yes a guild working smoothly isn't news worthy, a guild that went through warcraft giving 5 gold to all the players that created a character and made it to the first town without a guild is a little more post worthy. Extraordinarily good pugs are news worthy, extraordinaly bad pugs are news worthy, normal ones aren't.

Zyfrain said...

You make a good point about the predominance of "negativity" in the news, and by extension the WoW blogosphere, but I would take a moment to attack the assumption that fail-PuG stories are inherently negative. Fail-PuG stories, and the Drama section of Guildwatch, serve an important social function as the most recognizable source of gossip in our largely anonymous community. While much ado has been made about the potentially negative side effects of gossip, the practice itself serves as an important social reinforcement of expected manners. Reading about another's anti-social behavior, and the hard feelings it generated, reinforces our perception of the appropriate way to conduct oneself. As Gevlon viciously demonstrates in his blog, there are few negative consequences for acting the jerk in WoW. The primary downsides to ass-hatery are the way it affects the others you interact with and consequently their reactions toward you in the future. Since the invention of the LFD tool, and the ability to get lost in the crowd of idiots, has largely removed the later consequence, one's respect for oneself and others is the major remaining motivator. Respect for the feelings of others is not something that comes easily to many otherwise intelligent people. Fail-PuG stories and articles like Guildwatch provide a welcome check, not in a punitive sense, but educationally by declaring in a public forum that these behaviors are not acceptable.

Larísa said...

@We Fly Spitfire: hm… But on the other hand Wow.com is really trying to be controversial in some manners, publishing news and rumours that seem to be pretty loosely confirmed. So I don’t get it why the ethics are different in this manner.

@Carra: yeah, reading about the crap that happens to others can somehow help you cope better with your own not-quite-as-bad crap.

@Shintar: I just guess the blogosphere might have gotten an overdoze of it, as an effect of the increase in pugging. But probably it will slow down when people have gotten their emblems and don’t pug as much. Still I agree I like to see a few of them. Not every day maybe, but from time to time.

@Dariush: oh yeah, the ”I can recognize that” factor is huge in those stories. And provided the horror stories are well written they leave me giggling rather than in a negative mood.

@Hatch: hm… you’re starting to sound like Gevlon! Is it really that bad? Oh you would insta-kick my rogue alt. I suck pretty badly at playing her – yet I do it for fun and for farming saronite-badges for my main… I wonder what horror stories they tell about me…

: Get me right: I don’t say that good players is a bad thing. It’s just hard to make interesting reads about it. Mind you I don’t much about fails myself – except for my own ones. But I don’t judge others who write such posts. They have their reasons.

@Gronthe: yeah, storytelling is much about finding the conflict imo. I guess there can be a conflict in a success-story as well. You’re managing to do something against all odds – and if nothing else you’re fighting an evil monster! But it requires some thinking to find it.

@Holly: the thing we can ask ourselves is: who is to blame? I believe that we basically have the media we’re asking for. It’s very much market driven. If people REALLY wanted positive stories, there would be newspapers focusing only on this. But for some reason there aren’t any…

@Zyfrain: Very well said! I hadn’t thought about the educational aspect of it, how those stories help to foster players into acceptable behaviour, defining the norms in our online universe. I think you’re spot on.

Sigrdrífa said...

I'm always late with reading and making a comment, but I have one. You said "it might spread so the players on that realm will get to know about it and put him on their ignore list.". My question is "him"? lol, I have ran into all sorts and one has no idea if it is male or female on the other end. Maybe the word "them" should be used?

gnomeaggedon said...

A few people took up my challenge...

PugPriest made it until yesterday before exploding.

TyphoonAndrew adopted the policy that if he couldn't write something positive, he wouldn't write at all...

So his blog has been silent.

As with all things in life, there needs to be a balance. You can be assured I will let rip if I feel the need, but when I see behavior that should be encouraged, you can be sure I will bring it up.

Perdissa said...

I keep reading about disastrous/ apocalyptic pugs, yet I've been in the new LFD since the day it started, used it at least once a day since, and I'm ashamed to say I don't have any amusing story to share.

Sure, there are obnoxious players whom I ignore, inexperienced players who I prod along, poor players who I have to kind of carry. But by and large, its been really good. The only time I had to drop group was one time when I was tanking in H POS, and the DPS was simply too low (sub 1k dps, single target trash took 2 minutes to die). Even then, there wasn't any drama. I explained that we probably won't be able to down the bosses, wished everyone a good day and left the group.

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