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Guernication

My thoughts on games and the issues around them.

Author: Guernica

Is Level 80 a Journey or a Destination?

Posted by Guernica Wednesday November 26 2008 at 9:59AM
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The Wrath of the Lich King expansion for WoW has been out for nearly two weeks now. I love it. The new dungeons, new areas, new achievements, its all really really cool. And yet I've hardly played it. The reason - my daughter was born on launch day :) I was in fact in a queue for a midnight release at my local Tesco while my wife was starting to have contractions. I just about got the game installed before we had to go in to the local hospital.

Since then, as you can imagine, I've been busier than I've ever been before, taking care of my newborn and her mum and so I've had very little time to myself to play WoW. I've actually only had enough time to level up twice since WotLK  launched.

But that's not the only unusual thing about my toon. You see, I'm a paladin who is still Holy. Yes, unlike pretty much all my pally contemporaries, I did not respec to Retribution when the last patch made them so powerful and I have not respecced since WotLK  launch just to level up to 80.

Maybe I  would have if I had had more time to play - the temptation to 'level fast' might have been too much to resist. But I have to say I hope I would not have gone over to the Dark Side, taken the 'easy' route, if I had had the time.

I understand why so many Holy and Protection paladins went over to Ret until they got to 80. Everyone wants to see the 'endgame'. Get to the raids, get to the Heroics, get to the real phat lootz. But what about the content that comes before the end?

As a Holy Paladin I  can fill a specific slot in groups - the healer and debuffer. I've healed in the Nexus and Utgarde Keep several times already. I'm looking forward to the challenge of the rest of the dungeons in Northrend. The loot I get won't be kept for long, sure. But the experiences will be fun and good training for that endgame content everyone is so mad about when I eventually get to it.

Then there are all the quests along the way. All the beautiful zones, factions, and rewards to be found and seen. I  could respec to ret and powerlevel to 80 in a few days, but then again, I could just pay a professional service to do it for me and read dungeon guides on wowwiki.

The point is, there is more to WoW or any  MMO than the endgame. Endgame is the stuff developers put in to keep us playing once we've finished all the main game's content. It is an important part of the game sure, but not all of it. But a lot of players today don't seem to have the patience to enjoy the game itself - they just want to race through to the highest level possible. There's a sort of insecurity about being anything 'less'. But by doing so they deprive themselves and other players of a lot of fun. Players are being given the choice of being useful or powerful - and sadly seem to largely be choosing the latter.

Personally I'm glad I've been slowed down a little, that I'm being forced to take my time in Northrend. The slow rate of exposure means I'm seeing things more clearly, having more meaningful experiences than I would were I to be charging through the levels as fast as I can. I'm happy to level more slowly than I could (although I do still feel somewhat envious when I see guildmates getting all those cool achievements and fancy mounts and loot).

But that gives me something to look forward to. When I get to 80 (if my baby ever lets me!) it will be the end of a long journey. Hopefully I will have experienced a lot of the game along the way and been useful to a lot of groups too. And presumably I'll be that much further away from the burnout many players inevitably feel when they've rerun the same dungeons at max level and seen next to no progress for all the weeks and months in the meantime.

A little patience

Posted by Guernica Saturday September 27 2008 at 6:15PM
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I've been taking advantage of the lull in WoW activity this week to catch up on some console gaming. There's not much to do in Azeroth - I've got my Shatari Skyguard mount and the Brewfest dailies take up about 10 minutes of my time, so its time to see what I've been missing on the 360. A bit of GTAIV (got the 'Let Sleeping Rockstars Lie' achievement with my first ever kill on multiplayer!), some Battlefield BC, and a whole lot of The Force Unleashed (which is really good by the way, despite the repetition of cutscenes every time you die on a miniboss).

I'm playing TFU on the hardest setting available on purchase. Normally I play games on normal difficulty the first time through so I can see the most content as fast as possible. Then I go back to the beginning with a harder setting if I have time. But for some reason I just figured I'd make life tough for myself from the getgo here. Maybe its memories of how easy previous Star Wars games have been - Battlefront and Republic Commando for examples.

Its definitely a tough game - in places. Mini-bosses or staging areas and Bosses all take a few goes round to get the strategy down. I died many times at the hands of Rahm Kota before I mastered dodging his attacks, staying off the burning floor, and then forcing him onto it before administering the manually eas but visually impressive coup de grace. It struck me how different this experience is to WoW.

I have died during Boss fights in instances and sometimes it was even my fault the whole group wiped. But on the whole groups I am in prevail. I don't think I have ever been in a group going into a fight where at least one member knew the way the fight should go - someone always knew a winning strategy. Quite frankly, there are few really challenging fights available to me in WoW. I can get into a Kara group and generally do fine. I haven't tried higher riads yet, mostly due to not being in a good raiding guild right now and not feeling I am geared well enough to go for a pug. But even in Kara, the fact I have all purple gear, means I am rarely stretched in my role as a healer.

An exception to this occurred this morning. I went with a pug to kill the seasonal boss for Brewfest. I've done this fight one three days previously, each time with a pug. On every single visit we wiped the first time. The reason - lack of coordination between the DPS and tank as to who was going to pick up ads. But on every subsequent attempt the group has been successful. Except this morning where we wiped once, won once, then wiped again. The group immediately fell apart. One guy just up and quit. Then all the others started saying goodbye. We still had two attempts left!

This makes me wonder - have we WoW players become so used to success, so accustomed to being overgeared and rehearsed, that we can no longer stand it when something doesn't work out perfectly first time? Has our patience for pug's run out? Does noone understand anymore that sometimes the run doesn't work out 100% every time and that you have to keep trying at it until it clicks?

What's going to happen when WotLK ships and folks find themselves trying to complete quests that aren't in Alakazham or Questhelper yet? When they attempt bosses in instances noone has killed before and wipe a few times? I can see tempers being lost, toys being thrown out of the pram, and insults and blame quickly hurled around pugs - 'you should've DPS's more!', 'L2P huntard!', 'L2heal!', that sort of thing.

I am looking forward to the release of WotLK. I'm just not looking forward to all the frayed tempers and bad manners new content and challenges seems to bring out in some people.

Just spending a lot of time, doing, er, you know, not much.

Posted by Guernica Thursday September 18 2008 at 11:56AM
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I'm feeling like WoW's a bit of a deadzone right now. There just doesn't seem much point in doing anything. And its not just because of the usual summer slump. Its the expansion.

My main, a 70 pally, has been almost at a standstill since I got into the beta. Blizzard promised another gear reset, and sure enough, I found I have barely made 71 before my welfare epics were being replaced. What does this mean? Well, it means for one thing there's no point spending any more honour points on a gladiator's shield. Its going to be replaced soon after the expansion releases by a green. That just leaves me with more than 20k honour and a bunch of tokens burning a hole in my pocket.

And there's not much point raiding either. Sure, I could grind Kara a while to gear up for Gruul and Magtheridon. But now we know WotLK is just a couple of month's away, it seems unlikely I'll get sufficiently geared up in time to make a difference. I saw someone ask in chat the other day why noone wanted to do heroics. The answer was badges of justice will be effectively worthless by the end of the year.

I think Blizzard makes a major slip up here by not allowing players to switch off XP gain. If they allowed it, we would be able to keep some toons at 70, keep running heroics, keep gearing up, and have a stab at seeing some the TBC endgame content we otherwise never will. I understand why they set thigns the way they do - progress is important because it keeps players buying expansions, a major windfall of cash. But just as TBC made much of Azeroth worthless, so WotLK will make Outland something like the Coventry of WoW - somewhere you sometimes have to go through on your way to somewhere mroe interesting, but not somewhere you really want to live.

The game experience may still be great. I know for a fact Northrend offers more inspiring and entertaining sights and experiences. But it seems such a shame to cheapen so much of what the developers put out previously - to relegate all the hard work put into Coilfang, Auchindoun, and Hellfire to places you might go to once to finish a quest or farm to gear your 69 twink.

Its almost as if the term 'expansion pack' is actually quite inappropriate. Its more like a cheap sequel - WotLK will not make WoW a bigger better game as much as it will just replace the things we do already with more colourful versions. Instances, levelling, crafting - all will be much the same but with different skins. Azeroth and Outland won't be more fun - they will be obsolete and we will all decamp to Northrend.

If only Blizzard found a way of keeping the WoW/TBC factions relevant - make dungeons or quests in Northrend give rewards from the Aldor or Scryers or Netherwing.

In the meantime, there's not much to do in the World of Warcraft. I need a few thou rep to get a War Hiipogryph and a few to get Exalted with the Skyguard. Maybe I'll log in an hour a day to do Netherwing Dailies when I have the other mounts.

Same shit, different box

Posted by Guernica Monday September 15 2008 at 9:10PM
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Blizzard announced the release date for the WotLK expansion today - only a couple of months to wait. It should arrive about the same time as my firstborn child. They also gave out details of the content of the Collector's Edition and I'm disappointed. Its the exact same content as the TBC CE that came out two years ago. Art book, soundtrack, mousemat, an ingame pet. Its all nice stuff to look at, well, except for the particularly uninspiring mousemat, but it might have been nice to see something truly novel in there. I mean Blizzard have made a lot of money and continue to do so on a daily basis by putting together novel and entertaining content. Its one of the things I love the most about WoW - there's so much different stuff to do and see. But when it comes to the CE boxset - same old, same old. Bah - how about a t-shirt? Or a cap? Or some branded pens/desk tidy/stickers/calendars or any of the myriad of branded crap thats available today. I used to work in sales - I know there is cool stuff you can put a company's name on for little cost!

I was particularly dismayed to see the box will contain yet more trading card game cards. I hate these things. They are absolute rubbish to someone like me. I'll maybe play some Monopoly or Scrabble with the wife when she's feeling particularly pregnant and tired. But I'm never going to sit down with some kids and play the WoW card game. Let's face it - TCG giveaways are aimed at teenagers and are intended to get them hooked on the game so they spend more of their cash on more crappy cards. They only give Blizzard a few pounds a month in subscription fees, so Blizzard is looking for ways to get more of their cash. MMO's aren't like crack - its the TCG's that they give away free initially and then charge you through the nose for, no pun intended, when your habit is formed that are the true drug for gaming teens today.

They did this same crap at the WWI - gave us a 'goody bag' full oof promotional items for Blizzard spinoffs and other companies' product. If you give away stuff, give away stuff people actually want - don't give me adverts and call them gifts.

One of the nice new features in WoW's WotLK expansion is Achievements. This system runs exactly the same as Microsoft's Live Achievements - complete certain ingame objectives and you get points. I'm really looking forward to seeing this implemented in WoW.

There are achievements for exploration (visit named zones within the four continents), killing bosses in dungeons, completing quest chains, and equipping leet gear. There are points available for obtaining lots of vanity pets (the little novelty companions that follow you around and occasionally do some entertaining idle animations) and mounts. I'm particulalry excited about the PvP achievements though. As well as the endless grind for your welfare epics you can now also spice up bg's and world pvp by trying to win shutout matches, racking up massive amounts of damage/honour kills/healing, and completing various other PK-flavoured tasks.

In contrast to Live's system it does seem most of the WoW achievements cannot simply be boosted - there's very little chance an Alliance team could persuade a Horde side to throw an AB just so they could get a perfect 2000:0 score.

One thing that does seem to be missing from WoW's scheme though is a point to all the point's. I mean - I have 3000 achievement points - what does it get me? A couple of the achievements reward you with a title - an ever-popular option for WoW players. But apart from that..... nothing.

A major part of WoW's fun is getting hold of gear and adornments, such as the aforementioned vanity pets, to show off around town and in BG's. Rare mounts and armour show you have achieved a level of success in instances. Wearing the current season's gladiator gear instead of two seasons' past shows you have real pvp skills, not just the ability to play hours of AV's. Why not include items that can only be obtained through the redemption of Achievement points?

Exclusive mounts, tabards, buffs could all be quite nice. The latest invite-a-friend scheme allows you to allocate bonus levels to your lower level toons - why not allow players to buy levels through achievement points? After all, most of them require a certain level of dedication and investment in time, so why not recognise that by making the long haul to 80 withnew characters a little easier? (Surely Blizzard are going to have to speed up the journey from 70 to 80 anyway to save us from a plague of Death Knights in the endgame? Otherwise the LFG channel next summer will resound to the cries of 'Tank LFG for anything!)

So, its a good idea and this meta-game will breath fresh life into much of the content, both new and old, when WotLK is released. But it could do with a bit of polish at the back-end. Give us more reason to labour at the tasks you set, Blizzard, and make Achievements something we really want to get done, not jsut a pointless stat, good only for trade-chat battles.

How to Stop Saying 'WoW'

Posted by Guernica Thursday August 14 2008 at 2:30PM
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I just got through with the Death Knight starting zone quests - at least on the Alliance side. My first DK was a Tauren - nostalgia for my Tauren hunter, currently stranded on the US servers (come on Blizz! Allow cross-zone servers!). A couple of days ago I decided to try rolling a Draenei though. I've hardly played Alliance at all so I figured I'd see how the other two-thirds live.

Not a big deal of difference to report about the two sides from those first two days of play. There was a lot more German and French chat going on - more than I've ever seen on a Horde toon. But I doubt that's significant. What was obvious though was that there were no Horde DK's in the starting area. Don't ask me how they do it but it seems that the same starting zone on the same realm can be configured to only show Horde or Alliance players. I'm guessing this is something like the effect you get in Outlands when phase-shifting but its a nice touch.

Another nice surprise was finding that once I had finished the DK questline I found I now have access to every Alliance flight point in the game. There has been a lot speculation and grinding of teeth over DK's starting at a disadvantage when it comes to professions. Well, we can at least take comfort from the knowledge DK's will be able to fly to any zone they need to if they have to level up a gathering prof.

But this freedom of movement has given me another opportunity - to see the Alliance cities (I visited all the starting areas during the Midsummer Fire Festvial bonfire desecration orgy). Today was my first visit to Ironforge and later on I'll be flying over to the other capitals. I have to say that although I am a diehard Horde player, I am impressed and, as I was during the bonfire tour/ordeal (did anyone else try desecrating all the opposite faction's bonfires with a level 22 toon?), amazed at how much content there is in the WoW that I have never seen before.

This is the thing that keeps me playing WoW where other games only get my money periodically - there always seems to be something new to see or do. I found the game totally changed when I switched to a melee class after years of being a hunter - the mobs blink and have pretty colours! And now I'm seeing all the cool stuff the allies have been seeing for years (Deeprun Tram has an underwater observation area!).

This does make we wonder though how new games can compete against WoW's massive amounts of content. We read last week that Blizzard noticed a significant number of players leaving the game to try AoC. A lot came back though and there has been coverage in the press of player's complaining that although AoC starts out well and is a well made game there is little end-game content it quickly gets boring.

'What did you expect?', replied the dedicated Conanists. Their point, and its one I can sympathise with, was that a new game will be more detailed at the lower end of the game than the endgame. One of the beauties of MMOs' is that they develop over time. They are launched with content for new players to do to get them into the game and invested in the world and their toons. But then the dev's can use the continuing subscriptions to pay for more content to be added in.

But players are very very good at playing the leveling game now. Anyone that's played an MMO for a while probably knows how to quest-stack and maximise the return for their time. Grind is unfashionable - who wants to stand in a field slaughtering wildlife for hours just to level once every few days? Plus there are so many guides on the netz there are next to no bottlenecks or obstacles to leveling.

So I have to wonder how any new game is going to compete with a game like WoW where there is such a vast quantity of things to do. Its like Joost - the p2p PC TV system that is struggling to launch at the moment. Its a great idea on paper - you choose the TV you want to watch and host enough small fragments of shows on your pc that everyone in the network can quickly acces whole files. Theoretically this would be paid for by advertisers who would in return be able to target their offerings to the individual viewer. The problem is there's nothing on Joost you would want to watch. A few episodes of Robot Chicken, some NHL, and a few swimsuit models. Bleurhg. I've watched Joost twice this year - when my TV aerial was down and I had watched all my DVD's too many times. New games can come out slick as spit - gorgeous graphics, smooth combat, interesting crafting, you name it. But their players will drift away once they reach the level cap and find no more challenges.

We learnt from the Blizzard podcast this week that the original WoW release had 2 hours of music included. Nowadays the client has 16 hours. Taking that as an indication of how much the game's content has grown, it is really hard to see how any new game is not only going to release to favourable comparisons but add in new interesting and challenging content quickly enough to keep its playerbase coming back for more and still saying 'wow', not choosing WoW.

Manatronix

Posted by Guernica Sunday August 10 2008 at 4:07PM
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A quick note from the WotLK Beta. Haven't actually played too much of it recently for reasons I might blog about later, but I just wanted to record something of interest to casters.

Blizzard have rejigged the rules for bonuses to healing and spell damage. Essentially they have evened out, so items that used to be more beneficial for one type of spell are no longer. This means I in the current TBC version of WoW my shockadin pally has +792 spell damage and + 1374 healing unbuffed. But in Northrend, after all the balancing, I have a flat +820 to both stats. So, slightly more damage, a lot less healing. I would imagine if I was wearing Ornamented (the full healing specced gladiator armour) instead of Lamellar the difference would be even more noticeable.

Now, Blizzard say that this reduction in healing is balanced out by a bigger base effect from the spells themselves. So although I get a lower bonus to my Flash of Light, it basically heals a lot higher anyway. Quick thumbnail testing seems to confirm this. My Holy damage spells seem to do more damage as well - well, Holy Shock recharges a lot faster. I haven't paid a lot of attention to Consecrated ground and there is no seal of the Crusader any more. So generally it seems there is no real disadvantage to my spell power from the changes.

But, what has changed a lot, is my mana regen. In the TBC version I have 294mana/5 seconds when not casting and 67/5 seconds when casting. In WotLK I only get 126/5 and 25/5. This is a big change. It means that although I will heal party members at about the same level as before, I will run out of mana a lot faster. As things stand I can heal the main tank in Kara for a long long time before I get a little worried about mana. The Curator fight for example - using just Flash of Light I can heal that thing long enough for DPS to run out of mana (this has unfortunately been demonstrated far too many times!). But regenerating mana only half as fast - this could strain me and any other casters a lot sooner.

One other thought - I'm also at a bit of a loss as to why Blizzard are making these changes in the first place. There may well be some good reason. But surely they're not trying to homogenise all casters that can choose to heal or dps? Are they trying to remove that point of decision where you have to decide whether to spec your pally/priest/druid/shaman for damage or healing? Please tell me this is not true! I know Blizzard are under the mistaken impression that they need to make WoW as bland as possible in order to get the maximum number of subscribers, but surely eliminating specialised classes in the game that has largely defined group composition rules and raid tactics would be a step too far?

Beta Down

Posted by Guernica Tuesday July 29 2008 at 6:29AM
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Its turning into a bad week for my gaming. For a start the beta of WoW is proving hard work. Not because of having to file reports on all the quests and bugs I find. But because I just can't seem to get more than five minutes of play before it crashes. There was a new patch this morning and it seems to have caused more bugs than it solved.

Before I gave up playing though I did find a few changes to gameplay. One is that mounts are no longer objects in your inventory. You have to learn the skill to summon them, just like learning a spell. This does save some bag space, but it also means that currently you have to spend gold to rebuy non-magical mounts. There's a new tab for your mounts in your character page and a whole new page for pvp stuff - honour points, arena record, etc.

I managed to get to Warsong Hold as well. Very nice. I much prefer this over the Borean Tundra. Maybe its just the colours - Warsong is predominantly red and brown, while the Forsaken's base of operations is all grey and gloomy.

The other negative note this week has been the impending collapse of my guild. Again. For some reason our GM threw a fit last night, posting on our guild's board he wasn't happy with the officers. I tried to talk to him about this on vent, suggesting maybe he shouldn't have said what he said on a public board. He didn't get it. He also didn't seem to understand that part of the problem might be his management and expectations. I got singled out for criticism because apparently I had not done a good job of being the Assistant Raid Leader in Kara over the weekend. He said he had been bombarded with pm's during the raid and had had to deal with more than he was happy with - explaining loot rules and so on. I suggested maybe he could tell me what he wanted me to do before we went into a raid instead of just doing it himself and building up an attitude. Still didn't get it. Accused me of trying to 'get out of it'.

What's most disappointing is that I'm the only officer that actually does anything for the guild. Seriously - I'm the only one that's recruited anyone ever and the only one posting guides and messages on our forums. So it feels pretty unjust to be getting abused by the GM.

And I can't even take refuge in the beta.... :(

 

Stupid Spoiled Attention Whore Videogame

Posted by Guernica Monday July 28 2008 at 6:40AM
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Is it just me, or will gamers generally do anything to get a vanity trinket ingame?

A while ago, when I was playing SWG, there was some talk of serrver merges. Well, in SWG there is always talk of server merges. Almost as much as there is negative comments about the game from people who don't actually play it. But during this particular outbreak of merge-fever the question was raised about how SOE could persuade people to voluntarily move to another server in anticipation of closures. Some people wanted a t-shirt, others free game time. The truth, as I saw it, was that around 90% of the game's population could be persuaded to move server for the reward of yet another painting to hang on the wall of their virtual home. Many would probably also change their name to Buttkisser, swtich sides in the Civil War, and wear a dress for the remainder of their playing time.

I recently attended Blizzard's Worldwide Invitational event in Paris. Inside the goody bag every attendee received was a card. On the card were two codes. One for entry to an 'undecided' beta test of a future Blizzard game, the other for an ingame pet in WoW. Turns out the beta was WotLK and the pet was a mini-Tyrael (like the archangel in Diablo).

Both these gifts are pretty sweet. The pet dances with you and the beta is the beta. But both are still fetching quite amazing prices on ebay. A couple of cards I was watching both went for excess of £200 this week. In fact, the complete goody bags, full of promotional crap and a pack of cards for the WoW card-game, were going for £400 the week after the Invitational (when I saw this I bemoaned the fact I didn't buy my wife a ticket as well - we could have sold the spare pack and recouped the travel costs to get to France).

It just so happens that I needed a new bicycle last week. Long-story short: my old one is too small. I cycle a lot being self-employed in a small town. I checked out a few shops and found the perfect bike for me - for £210. I'm not made of money (not that succesfull as a small businessman yet!). So here was my dilemma: sell the card I had for just enough money for a new bike, thus saving £200 for other more noble purposes such as the impending birth of my child, or get a funky little pet and a chance at a beta.

Well, I reckon you can all guess which way I went with this.

I now have a nice little mini-Tyrael following me around in WoW and I am playing the beta for WotLK most days. And I blew 200 quid on a new bike. Its very nice, thanks for asking.

What kind of attention whore am I though, that I threw away the opportunity for a free bicycle, exchanged it for a vanity pet in a make-believe world populated only by people I have never met? One point of view is that I have spent £200 for a few admiring whispers and slight jealousy amongst my comrades. And, as mentioned earlier, the very dubious credibility of playing the beta or WoW's next expansion while everyone else is grinding out heroic badges in Kara.

Does anyone else find themselves making completely irrational decisions over ingame objects or gameplay benefits?

I think, therefore I am Unhappy

Posted by Guernica Saturday July 26 2008 at 10:09AM
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How many Einstein's have their been? How many Mozarts? Or Oppenheimers, Newtons, Pythagoruses (Pythagori?), or Socrateses?

I watched an interesting film the other night that many of you might be familiar with - The King of Kong. For those that have not seen it, it is the story of the battle for the world's highest recognised score at seminal arcade title 'Donkey Kong'. Essentially it is the story of two men, Billy Mitchell and Steve Wiebe, both of whom lay claim to being the GOAT. Mitchell had set the record decades ago at around 874k points and had been pretty much untouchable since then. His challenger, Wiebe, had come out of nowhere, practising on an arcade case in his garage for years until he was ready to lay claim to the title with a score of over a million. Suffice it to say his ascendency to the throne did not go unchallenged and the furore continues to this day.

Steve Wiebe, as talented as he is, is likely to only ever be the Greatest in the World at Donkey Kong. Even though he he is a competent drummer, having taught himself to play the kit he bought for his son, and artist and teaches science at a high school, he will probably never build a rocket, design a plane or bridge or building, or make the next breakthrough in quantum theory. If it wasn't for DK, his talents - his ability to recognise and work with complex patterns and timing, superb muscle coordination, and immense concentration span - would probably not even be known. If it wasn't for videogames then, it is quite possible Steve Wiebe would just be a good teacher who was known among his friends as a being pretty good with his hands, at being dedicated to whatever he was doing at the time and perhaps a little withdrawn sometimes.

The idea that there are hidden talents amongst the world's population is not new. There are people who make a career out of inventing ways to uncover the capabilities of our children, usually through their schooling. But videogames are, at least relative to human history. I believe videogames have the capacity to uncover talent and genius in a way we have never had access to before.

Think about it. There are six billion people on the planet today. This is believed to be more than the total number of people who have ever lived before, giving us a maximum number of humans to have existed at around the ten billion mark. Is it really likely that out of all these millions and millions, only one person ever had the intellectual capacity of Albert Einstein? Or Steven Hawking? Or Michelangelo? Of course not. But these particular men happened to be born at a time and in a place that enabled them to have the education and opportunities that developed their genius to a point where they could be recognised. All the others lived out their lives quietly. Some died as children. Others were peasants, farm labourers, or just worked in jobs that never presented them with kind of challenges that would allow their intellects to develop.

But the electronic games awe play today are becoming more varied in their content and more demanding of their players. Hand-eye coordination is no longer enough. To be good at Guitar Hero, to master songs at the hardest level, you need the kind of skills that would actually make you a pretty good guitar player (should you ever decide to actually pick one up!). End-game content for MMO's demand good teamwork at the least, and leaders must have the ability to coordinate, to lead, delegate, encourage and so on. New ways of controlling games such as those introduced by Nintendo are changing what we actually do when playing games, bringing more physical and spatial awareness into the picture. Games are no longer just about recreation - we do not relax when we play nowadays. For many of us, gaming is the most demanding part of our lives.

Take my guild-leader for example – let's call him French. By day French is a forklift operator. I'm not trying to be down on manual labourers. If that's what you do for a living, more power to you. Man's got to eat. But this cannot be the most stimulating job in the world. You get in the cab, start the engine, go pick up a palette, move it, put it down. And repeat. Limited variety, limited challenge. But by night (or whenever he's off-shift) French is responsible for a guild with two dozen members. He controls the guildbank, monitors member's progress, figures out what gear people need and where to get it, coordinates raids and groups, and so on. He built our website and runs the vent server. This weekend we're doing Karazhan – a ten-man raid. This requires recruitment skills, direction, resource management, diplomacy, and more. A range of emotions, challenges, rewards and setbacks await our leader. Is it likely French will ever have this level of responsibility in his work? Leadership over dozens? Charged with helping them all achieve success? Probably not.

I'd guess we're all familiar with the sentient AI scenario. Its been in a lot of films. Someone somewhere builds a computer to do a menial or repetitive task, the computer gets smarter and smarter until one day it achieves self-awareness and – pow! - the grey goo hits the fan. Think Terminator or 2001. But what if this self-awareness, this understanding of one's capabilities and the disparity between them and one's daily life expectations, actually happens to us, the meat-bags, before the computers? What would happen if all the thousands of keyboards wizards, Guild CEO's, and Guitar Hero prodigies, all suddenly realised one day that they are capable of taking over the world? That they have the same skills and brain-power as the leaders of industry and science? And what if they then also found that they never will work at that level because they did not go the right school, have the right parents, or just speak the wrong language? Will the uncovering of nascent genius and earth-shattering possibilities result in a new generation of bedroom Einsteins and Mozarts that bring forth art, culture, and technology that seems like magic to the rest of us? Or increasing dissatisfaction, ennui, and depression when these same genii realise they in fact trapped in their ordinary lives?

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