Friday, May 14, 2010

Apropos of Heroes

Whatever happened to the heroes? No more heroes anymore, no more heroes anymore…

Sorry. I’m just singing to myself. The song from 1977 by The Stranglers started to play in my head this week and I can’t turn it off. Never heard of it? Jump over to YouTube and check it out!

OK, now when we all have some background music going, it’s time to welcome you to yet another episode of the Friday Night Talk Show at The Pink Pigtail Inn. Have a seat and a pint and let’s end the week with some relaxed ranting about what’s been up lately.

The lack of heroes
The topic for the discussions by the barside tonight is "Heroes", or rather the lack of them in WoW, something that was brought up first by Copra and then in a follow-up post by Tobold.

Among other things Copra pointed out that there aren't that many world famous WoW players around. For instance very few would know or care about who was the first one to kill LK.

And he's right of course. We who stalk WoW news sites and blogs may occasionally mention the guilds Ensida and Paragon and a minority of us can name one or two of their players. But the harsh truth is that their fame is limited, and I’m not talking about limited in the sense that non-WoW players never heard of them. They’re completely unknown to 99 percent of the WoW subscribers. Someone might recognize a guy called Jenkins, but that's about how many player celebrities as there are. I think we can agree on that the fame of a player rarely - if ever - will spread any further than to your own home server.

When you’re playing WoW it’s easy to find yourself as one in the crowd – a small and rather insignificant cog in a huge machine, and according to Copra this will give you a sense of hollowness. It's a game where everyone is greeted as a hero and yet no one really is one.

Tobold commented on it, agreeing in the case of the hollow feeling, but also saying that you can't really expect to reach hero status by playing a video game. If you want to become a hero you should rather join the fire brigade.

I think the discussion is slightly confusing since we haven’t really nailed down what we're actually talking about and how we define different words. Is this about heroes, heroism, e-fame or about the risk/reward system in the game? What constitutes a hero and what exactly is it that gives you a heroic experience? When does the sense of “heroism” kick in for a player? I’m afraid I can’t sort it all out myself either, but I’ll ponder a bit upon a few of those aspects.

The hidden heroes
As a starter I'll highlight the fact that being a hero is far from equivalent with being famous. There’s nothing heroic at all over the vast majority of people in the world that are considered "famous". They're in the position they are for many different reasons and quite often it involves a bit of luck. Equally there are also countless numbers of heroes who no one will ever notice or hear about.

Small and big deeds are done every day – in real life as in WoW. Dedicated leaders will make guilds that were on the verge of extinction rise and flourish again. Game friendships will evolve into something far beyond what you would have expected when someone is going through real life hardships as unemployment, divorces, illness or even death.

There are ever so many untold stories of heroism out there and I bet there even are heroes hiding in stealth here at this inn, too humble to even consider themselves heroes.

We’re living in a world where it in one way is much easier to get the word out about heroic deeds than it used to be. You don’t have to pass any gate keeper who has the power over the established, traditional media channels. Anyone can call for attention thanks to free tools such as Twitter, blogs, YouTube and Facebook.

On the other hand I’m not certain it’s easier to become a World Famous Hero than in the past. Everyone is so occupied shouting and exposing themselves that they haven’t got much time and space to listen to others. And even if they bothered they wouldn't hear much anyway due to all the noise.

No more heroes anymore. The lack of heroes n the WoW universe reflects the time we’re living in. Is it for good or for bad? Mostly for good I think. As good as heroes can be as inspiring examples I prefer a world where everyone has the potential to become a Hero in their own life, rather than watching and worshiping a few Chosen ones from the sideline.

A hero in the game
Let’s move along to the in-game perspective on heroism. Does the game manage to convince us that our characters are the heroes of Azeroth?

No doubt there’s at least an underlying intention that WoW should evoke heroic feelings within the player, just check how Blizzard describes it in the game introduction at their website:

“Players from across the globe can leave the real world behind and undertake grand quests and heroic exploits in a land of fantastic adventure.”
So, what do we say about this? How often do we sense that our quests are grand, our exploits heroic and our adventures fantastic?

Speaking for myself I felt like a hero this more ore less constantly as I first started to play WoW three years ago. I was a young, small but dedicated gnome mage, ready to explore and conquer the world. However the spell appears to have diminishing returns. Sure, I fly high, in moments of relief, joy, wonder and excitement once in a while, but I have the feeling that it takes more to get me there and that it lasts me slightly shorter. Which of course is a bit sad. I suppose that eventually when the moments just won’t appear at all, it’s time to move over and do something else.

What the NPCs tell us
If we have forgotten that we are heroes in the game, there are still quite a few NPCs around that are willing to remind us.

There was a time when I kind of believed the NPC when she told me I had made the world a huge service liberating it from ten frenzied pigs. Nowadays it takes quite a bit more to convince me. The NPCs may praise my name and call on me enthusiastically as I randomly pass them at Krasus Landing in Dalaran, but this doesn’t make my heart swell with heroic pride.

It reminds me a bit of the celebrations of Saint Lucy’s Day in Sweden, where well-meaning preschool teachers decide that “everyone who wants to” could be Saint Lucy, making you end up with 25 Saint Lucy’s in the procession and not a single accompanying maid. It takes away quite a bit of the enjoyment and beauty of the performance and I don’t know if even the kids are happier about it. When everyone is greeted as a hero no one really is, I would give Bullcopra right in this.

This said, there are also a few scripted events that are supposed to make you feel like a hero, which are if not heroic, at least enjoyable. The best one I’ve seen so far was definitely the scene that follows when you turn in the last part in the chain that opens up the Ogrila quests in Blades Edge, Into the Soulgrinder. I remember ogres all over the place, kneeling and dancing with joy, hailing me as their queen. Oh gosh, I wish I could redo that quest again just to see it happen!

The other day I passed by the ogre camp and even if it was scripted and something they’ll tell anyone with a decent reputation, I couldn’t help being a bit charmed by their call-outs:
“It's amazing how much you have helped us out. We'd dare say that if it weren't for you we'd already have been overrun by the demons or fried to a crisp by the Black Dragonflight!”

“We still stand here only because of Larísa's help.”

"It's Larísa, mighty mage and sister to ogres everywhere!"
Probably it helped a bit that I was the only player around; somehow it’s more convincing when you don’t see another 25 players at the same spot getting the same reception.

Come to think of it, I wouldn't mind if they expanded it a bit. Maybe they could let themselves be inspired by the wonderful Swedish commercial where you're picture is put into an heroic context? (The link goes to a version with Larísa included, sent to me in a comment after the LK kill, thanks for that!)

Moments of heroism
The heroism discussion has also branched out to include the issue of challenges and risk taking.

Copra complained that there isn’t really any risk involved in WoW as opposed to in EVE, which can be one reason for his lack of a heroic experience.

“In a game with instant resurrection and no fear of losing anything this feeling is watered down to a point that it causes no feelings at all.”, as he put it in a comment at Tobold's post.

This isn’t the first time someone brings this up. Some bloggers have suggested that WoW should have a more severe punishment for death, thus making the game more exciting. But I beg to differ on this.

The game provides all the tools you need as it is. You can very well make an encounter so hard that you will wipe unless every cast, every interrupt, every move and every CD is done with perfection. And once you succeed despite the odds against you, you’ll certainly feel the heroism flooding in your veins.

It’s easy to get there if you want to. Turn off the ICC buff, raid in blue gear instead of overgeared, make the achievements, run with a smaller group. It’s your choice. All it takes is self discipline and dedication. If you’ve been wiping for three nights straight, I can assure you that the death penalty with repair bills and endless times spent on corpse runs (or help me God listening to Arthas 1 min monologue) are harsh enough to motivate you not to want to wipe anymore.

I can’t help wondering if those who suffer from lack of heroism just are victims of the habit to follow the path of least resistance. Maybe you'd feel more heroic if you challenged yourself with something harder?

Final words
To summarize this monster post (I'm so sorry, but sometimes I just can't shut up once I've got started):

There may not be that many heroes around in the world or in WoW these days. But this doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy moments of heroism – as the ogres are kneeling in front of you, as you’re giving a helping hand to someone in need or as you’re finally taking down that son-of-bitch-boss.

Now you’ve definitely heard enough of my voice for this week. So I'll turn up the volume again and lose myself in nostalgia, wondering whatever happened to the heroes of the 70s. But that's an entirely different story.



Ratshag said...

All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;

Bein' a hero ain't about fame. It ain't about glory. It ain't about about epic lewts. Some heroes get'em, some don't. If ya needs someone or sumthin' fer ta tell the world yer a hero, then you ain't. But if you does the hero gig, and saves the village from centaurs, or the bunny from wolves, or the world from Yoggolicious, then you is one. And elevin million other buggers can't take it away from you.

Chadrassa said...

What the wise orc said. I have the feeling that the people who complain the loudest about there being no heroes would be the ones who would like to shove their heroism into everyone's face.

Do they really mourn heroism, though, or being hardcore, a special snowflake who gets recognized by the plebes because they wear phat lootz the plebes couldn't even dream to obtain?

Redbeard said...

Actually, Larisa, you hit upon exactly why I prefer questing to raiding.

In my neverending quest for Loremaster and Seeker, you get many opportunities to be the hero in a one-shot deal. Sure, there are the dailies, but for the most part when a quest is done, it's done. You can't go back and farm it like a 5-man or a raid instance. And the way the quest chains in Dragonblight, Storm Peaks, and Icecrown operated, you had a physical impact on the game. It wasn't a matter of Dar'khan Drathir respawning for the next adventurers wandering by, Crusader's Pinnacle became a valid base for the Argent Crusade.

The focus is on you and your buddies, not what Paragon has been up to lately. The fact that there's no true metagame WoW heroes is a good thing, as it means that when someone tires of WoW and moves on they aren't taking boatloads of hangers-on with them.

Leah said...

Ratshag is a very wise orc :)

To me at least, being a hero isn't about the praise, its about doing what's right when its needed. Not becasue of the reward, but becasue its the right thing to do.

I guess that's why I never missed the heroic feeling in games, becasue I don't look for it, I just want adventures in a world that is magical and wonderful (and sometimes not so wonderful) those praises they sing to you on Krasus landing (and they used to do the same thing on the isle of quel Danas) they make me embarrassed, to be honest.

"I'm no hero, maam, I'm just doing my job"

Anonymous said...

I think the lack of heroic feeling can in part be traced to the fact that, for the most part, your actions don't alter the world in any lasting way. If you save the world from wild pigs one day, the next day they've returned and the NPC is still asking for help. Our actions rarely change even small things for the better unlike a real hero who might risk her own life to rescue somebody from a burning building. There are few heroes because there is little that changes in the world of WoW.

Tesh said...

*agrees with Ratshag*

Beyond that, if I want a game where I feel heroic, I'll play a single player game with a beautifully crafted story to that end (since, y'know, the world *changes* when I do something in the game, something that MMOs still don't do). When I play an MMO, I want to explore an interesting otherworld, and maybe have a little fun with other people in that world. Heroism is neither sought nor necessarily desired.

Vulpina said...

The Draenai loooong starter area quest which ends in cheers, dancing, and a neat-o tabard for you is pretty heroic too. And all in the wee days of level 20 (or so). :D

Anonymous said...

While I cannot fundamentally and in good conscience agree with the orc-beast's words - for they, by definition, are subhuman, he (it) does raise interesting points. Not yet having the honor of seeing my main toon's name pop-up in /chat due to some "heroic" deed (ala Que'dalar (sp?)or some other such thing) I can't comment on the server hero announcing thing, I do, however, feel a personal sort of pride upon completion of a long story-line quest chain which ends in my character being the King of the Ogres or some other such regality. As has been previously mentioned, I also feel kind of wierd when NPCs genuflect and show some sort of obsequiousness otherwise reserved for true heroes. I am more along Leah's thinking where, "I tweren't doing anything special, M'lady, merely my elven duty."

Interesting topic to ponder while downing my single malt. In any event, CHEERS and have a good weekend all.


Spinks said...

I agree with Ratshag, but am distracted by the mental image of your little gnome being kin to a big fat ogre.

But still, one of the most bizarre things to me in game is that we have a huge statue that plays videos in the middle of Dalaran in honor of ... whichever guild on the server first killed Arthas. But nowhere does it actually give the name of the guild and the date of the kill. That really gets to me. They could have added that.

Imoh said...


I've been wishing for the same thing, but extended slightly, I wish it would list the names of all the players involved in the first kill.

Then again, I may only wish for that as I was involved in the server first kill =P

Larísa said...

@Ratshag: Well spoken! By the hobbit as well as by you mister.

: True, true. Self appointed heroes rarely really are what they hope to be.

: I haven't been questing for ages, but when I just flew back to Blades Edge for that little nostalgic trip I described in this post, I also picked up a couple of quests I hadn't done and did them "just because". I was OP and all that stuff ofc, but thevertheless it felt a lot better than I had thought. I'm not aiming for Loremaster, not a chance, but I might go back and do some more actually. A bit here and there. And who knows, maybe that heroic feeling will appear from time to time.

@Leah: I kind of like the NPCs who call you by name. They don't always make me feel like a hero, as I said, but they make the world more believable and alive. I'm not just a spectator but a participant sort of. Those people know me!

. Yeah. That thing. It has happened a few times that we had an impact. Thinking of the opening of Sunwell Island. I wish there was some smart way they could give us more of that and still make the game work for people who are coming late to the party etc.

@Tesh: you have a point. Our characters are called heroes every now and then, but still MMOs isn't the place to look for a hero-story. hm...

@Vulpina: I've never done it to be honest. About time I roll a space goat alt maybe?

: having prejudices against orcs, have we? Now you go over and talk a bit more with mr Ratshag, I'm sure you have a lot in common.

@Spinks: hehe, I never thought about that that statue should be attributed to a certain guild. But ofc it should. Talking about it I think it's really really weird to have a spoiler like that in the middle of the city. I once clicked accidently on it, having no idea about what it was. It didn't matter to my own experience from the kill later on, but nevertheless... Some players are very sensitive about spoilers.

@Imoh: Oh imagine the whining that would come for that sort of regognition for other first-kills. "But we had the serverfirst of Yogg. Where are our names?" "We got LK hardmodes first. We SO deserve to have our names on a sign more than those noobs that only did him on normal". I think there's a reason why Blizzard hasn't started out on that road.

Fitz said...

If there's a definition of a heroic blog entry, I think the link should be to this. Wowza.

Heroes don't play professional sports or play in TV shows and movies. Heroes live down the street from you, and do wonderful things every day. Even if it's just killing 10 boars to clothe the poor draenei orphans this year.

nowiamtree said...

Always loved that song - even if they do insist on using the word "Shakesperoes"....

Thumbs up to Ratshag the Eloquent for those word. Even though it pains me as a Nelf to admit it.

2nd Nin said...

I would think that part of the problem with identifying heroes comes in two parts: the first is the separation of realms; and the second the fact that their achievements have no effect on us at all.

Looking at the first, my server has Inner Sanctum (formerly 5th or so in the world now 50th ish iirc), they down things way ahead of most guilds on the server however are still behind the likes of paragon. The two however are not on direct competition, it is not a race we can see on our server but instead a localised effort with global reporting. It's similar to the way we recognise Olympic competitors from our own country and maybe a few famous internationals.

Secondly their progress does nothing for us, we remember heroes from wars as people who did more for us or their soldiers. We rarely remember those who had no effect on our lives at all. If our servers progress was gated not by time but by the fastest guild on server then they would have some meaning to us. Say icc was gated two areas behind the furthest guild, to advance past putricide at all your guild would need to kill him, or have someone that has downed lk such that the other wings are opened.

To have a hero there must be a way for people to become famous and do more for us rather than their progress being purely selfish. Imagine a game where the competition actually mattered to your server and guild, where things like the icc buff are based on server contribution and guild efforts not simply on time.

Also heroes require media, you don't become famous generally through action alone but also through the approval and focus of the media. Generally however our media heroes are writers, theorycrafters and first tier but not work leading guilds while our first tiers are media shy.

Larísa said...

@Fitz: thanks! And yeah, I kind of like that hero definition too. The hidden ones are the best.

: There's nothing wrong about Shakespearoes! Emergency rhymes ftw!

@2ndNin: yay, you're back into commenting. It's been a while! :)

Actually wasn't it more like how you describe in the past, with the opening of... was it AQ? Way before my time though. I think it's an interesting idea to let the guild progression influence the conditions on your server. It could strenghten the feeling of a server community. On the other hand I suppose the risk is that people would gravitate towards the servers with the most progressed guilds. And considering the difficulties they already have balancing the populations I suppose they wouldn't want that.

Copra said...

Well, the more I ponder over this, the more I'm convinced that my poor mastery of English language has lead to all this misinterpretation of my initial posts general philosophy.

It's not about being a hero, but having the feeling of being heroic. When you know you can bang your head against that raid boss ten times, wipe each time, there is not much of feeling a hero left in the game. Instead, if you had only one shot on that same boss (or two for the story's sake), the feeling of accomplishing something great would be measured in the strength of a feeling rather than in the loot or achievement.

Contrary to the comments in this thread, I'm not looking for any praise on my deeds. I'm looking for the feeling of accomplishment, feeling of any sort. In WoW -for me, mind you- that feeling is lost for several reasons; the general atmosphere of min-maxing being one, alongside with the success-by-repetition mode the game offers us. Combined these lead to the path of least resistance mentioned being the sin of one "mourning for heroism".

Sure I remember the first time I embarked WoW, the amazement and joy of embarking on the long route. In this case all I can say is that the journey has been more important than the destination.

In the end, it's just a pass time, more serious to some than to others. More fun as it is to some than the others, too.

C out

Larísa said...

@Copra: Oh I'm struggling with the language as well as you know. And when a blind is leading a blind...
Anyway: the problem if you only had one shot at the boss is that it would either have to be face-roll difficulty or it would be extremely unforgiving for any new player and really putting newbies like myself off from it. Feeling heroic: yes, please, but also having some fun... Being ridiculously severely punished for failing is only fun for a very few SM-minded people I believe.

Anyway: don't regret the different ways your post could be interprated in. After all it sparked a bit of a good discussion and got us thinking, and that's the purpose, isn't it?

Ratshag said...

Ratshag is wise? Well-spoken? Eloquent? You buggers been smoking too much felweed - lay off the pipe fer a bit.

@Copra - I hear what yer sayin' Sometimes the magic goes away. Is mebbe yer brain tellin' ya is time fer ta find a new path. If so, I wishes ya the best in finding the right one. We all deserves ta have our funs.

2nd Nin said...

It is a little like that, however the trick is not to let servers fall behind for lack of progress but rather to let those that are fast push ahead slightly.

So a slow server will progress at something like the gating rate for ICC or Sunwell, ~ 1 boss per week / 4 bosses per month. This gives people time to learn and experience them as well as getting geared up enough for the next set of bosses.

A fast server however has the option to push ahead slightly through hardmodes and similar letting them unlock the next gate through "skill".

The system must still be slowed overall, so ICC might have looked like something:

Month 1: Unlocks
Lady Deathwhisper
-- Ramparts Event (destruction of anti-air defenses, dailies in Ice Crown + seasonal type boss)

Ramparts event can be downed in 2-4 weeks depending on # of kills and daily events representing the guys managing to actually destroy enough of the defenses to allow the ships to fly close.

GunShip Battle
Death Bringer Saurfang
-- Breaching the Door Event (2-4 weeks)

Plague Wing:
Professor Putricide
-- Stemming the flow event ...

repeat until we unlock all.

At each stage people are delayed no more than they would be naturally by their own progress rate, however a server can push forward by actively pushing the seasonal type bosses and mini-events to give a sense of flow to the game.

Why did we stop after Saurfang? Because we needed a special kind of explosive formed from the blood of Yogg Saron (daily + weekly PoS, Ulduar, Mining, etc dailies).

We had to wait on our gunships because the anti-air defenses were too strong for us to counter until we depleted their supplies and capabilities. Again icecrown dailies involving small sorties (5 man run along the ramparts + airships / bombers) and a 5/10/25 man temporary boss on the ramparts a little like the Frost Giant boss.

Stopping the plague, if we pushed forward too fast we might see the plague created by the professor run rampant, so we must help stem the flow and douse it.

Anyway, it would be kindof fun and interesting to have that kind of gating imo, actual story driven as to why we can't just push forward, but the speed at which we can push is dictated by our server and overall time (so small servers don't suffer much).

Larísa said...

@2ndNin: I really love your suggestion to connect gating to lore more than it was in ICC, having it make sense. I they'll continue gating bosses, that would really be something I'd appreciate, making it feel less artificial.

2nd Nin said...

Artificial is hard to stop, but making lore around it would be fun. Think of the beast boss in Karahzan, pointless but fun when you were starting to get a feeling of getting somewhere.

Eventually the gating content becomes a side-line, possibly even skipable however it seems like it would be worthwhile to actually force hardmodes within an area to actually being dependent on downing the event + boss that week. So Putricide can only be engaged in his omega form if you have quenched the plagues and killed Rotface and Festergut (who will have their hardmodes triggered by you stopping the plague).

Dyre42 said...

Part of the problem is that the game is extremely linear. You have no fixed opportunities to choose to go out of your way to help others at personal risk because you "happened" to be at the right place at the right time. You seem to only get that from saving other players bacon.

Super Hero MMOs have lots of random quests/events where you have a choice to either hero up or go back to your regularly scheduled leveling grind.
Translated into WoW it would look something like this:
A citizen runs up to you and says "I just saw 3 Defias Assassins slip into Stormwind keep!" and they offer you a quest to find and defeat them.

Or random world events like an army of Trogs (or Murlocs, Dark Iron Dwarves,Mimes) showing up at a city or village and attacking everything in sight.

Another option would be adding permadeath quests. This guy
has some good ideas on that.

The game could use a little more personal risk and definitely some more spontaneity.