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Working and Playing Well with Others in MMO-Land

Sometimes serious, sometimes tongue-in-cheek. My thoughts on my experiences in the MMO community as a whole.

Author: Nifa

Regarding Freedom of Speech and Forums...

Posted by Nifa Thursday August 5 2010 at 11:07PM
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I can't believe I'm writing this.  I can't believe anyone has to write this.  I am certain that writing this will not make me many friends here...

 

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution, proposed in 1789 and ratified in 1791, states, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

I mention this because of a thread I read this evening here on MMORPG.com.  While somewhat amusing (I never knew it was possible to get so angry and full of rage over forum moderation!) and, frankly, somewhat astounding that the thread can actually still be read, the OP's forum handle and comically outraged choice of words clearly demonstrates why the moderation occurred in the first place.  In the midst of a colorful rant, the OP tosses out a comment about freedom of speech.

I have seen this argument over and over, usually on gaming forums owned by private entities such as MMORPG.com, Sony Online Entertainment, Blizzard Entertainment, Cryptic, BioWare (and all of their respective parent companies), and other, more loosely moderated gaming forums.  The problem with the "First Amendment/freedom of speech" argument is that many people tossing it around were not properly taught US History or Civics in school, because the argument does not apply in a forum situation.

Let's look at the First Amendment again:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

The key word here is "Congress."  This law - and it is a law - applies to the Federal Government.  It is illegal for the Federal Government - and specifically Congress - to make any law, or for law enforcement to attempt to enforce any law, that abridges (deprives, cuts off) freedom of speech. It is not, however, illegal or a violation of civil or human rights for a private enterprise to protect their own interests and/or the interests of their subscriber/customer base to limit speech to that which the private enterprise deems appropriate. On a forum owned by a private company, the Bill of Rights - specifically, the First Amendment - does not apply because the law was written to specifically prevent the government from denying the people the right to express themselves freely.  It was not written, and is not intended to, prevent private companies whose business is communication from developing and enforcing policies and standards of conduct.

Hope this helps clear that up a bit.

It's All About Money - Or Is It?

Posted by Nifa Wednesday August 4 2010 at 7:57PM
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As gamers, we gripe an awful lot about the companies and publishers who bring us our games.  We really are a particular lot - and when we are paying for a service, we have a right to be.

But it isn't very often that, when a company or publisher goes out of their way to do right by us, we give them the pat on the back that they deserve.  We often consider it a matter of them "doing their jobs" or simply a matter of us "getting what we're paying for."

But that isn't necessarily always the case.  Take the recent RealID debacle.  Blizzard Entertainment did their jobs when, after 44,000 player posts encompassing 2,000+ pages railed against the idea.  The playerbase got what they paid for when Blizzard Entertainment listened and backed off that plan.  Numerous players gave the company pats on the back on the forums over this, and numerous people - including myself - said, "That's nice, Blizzard, but your wording of 'not at this time' makes us nervous, and so does the fact that it took you a week, 44,000 complaints, and a public relations nightmare in the gaming and non-gaming press before you changed your minds." 


Then Blizzard took it one step further and developed a plan to allow players to opt out of the current "friends of friends" feature of RealID.  Well, okay...I must grudgingly admit that now you are starting to get my attention, Blizzard.  Maybe you are paying attention...Here's a Scooby snack and a tiny pat on the head, but don't tell anyone.

Fast forward a bit.  An e-mail arrives in my inbox, and it doesn't dump to spam.  This is a good indication that it may actually be from Blizzard Entertainment.  I carefully open it and immediately look at the details before I read it to see where it came from.  Oh - it is from Blizzard Entertainment and not Hotmail, so I guess I should actually read it:  it's an e-mail detailing the fact that they've backed off the decision to use real names on the forums and are developing a method to allow players to opt out of the friends of friends feature of RealID.  It also invites me to e-mail them back to address any more concerns I may have about RealID, and (of course!) hopes that they have assuaged any concerns that may have prompted my cancellation so that I will be comfortable resubscribing.


So, I e-mail them the following at the address they've indicated I should, not expecting any response in return:


To Whom It May Concern:

Last night, an e-mail arrived from Blizzard's "Customer Care & Loyalty Team" discussing the fact that I recently canceled my World of Warcraft subscription as a direct result of the proposed RealID forum policy.

While I am glad that Activision-Blizzard listened to the playerbase and backed off of such a monumentally stupid idea, I am still greatly disturbed by the wording used in various announcements and interviews since the scrapping of the plan: "at this time."

The problem with that wording is that Bobby Kotick and Mike Morhaime are leaving the door wide open to strip customers (that is what we are: paying customers.  We pay Activision-Blizzard for a service every month, something Mr. Kotick at least, seems blissfully unaware of, even if Mr. Morhaime seems to at least be cognizant of it) of their privacy at a later time of their choosing and until there is clarification on this point, I'm not entirely comfortable rewarding Activision-Blizzard with my business.

In short, Blizzard Entertainment, whether of their own volition or by accepting Activision's mandate, has severely tarnished its reputation and seriously undermined and eroded the trust.  I now categorize Blizzard just barely above Sony Online Entertainment in terms of how far they, as a company, can be trusted, and can point you in the direction of many, many gamers who feel likewise.

Sony couldn't be bothered to repair their reputation.  Can Blizzard?




So much for expectations.  At about 6:30 this evening (within about 6 hours of my having sent off the mail to Blizzard), I received a phone call.  From Blizzard.  And a follow-up e-mail in case I should wish to express further concerns about the issue in the future without jumping through hoops to do so.

Now, in the past, I've had both good and bad experiences with Blizzard and I have always made a point of highlighting the great experiences (I'm looking at you, Jonathan in Support - you, sir, are freakin' AWESOME!) in great detail in the surveys they always send.  Honestly, such is the way of any major company - you get really great help and sometimes you get really, really awful "help."  And part of me - the cynical, jaded part - is sitting here right now wondering just how many subscriptions and sales Blizzard lost over the RealID debacle for them to go to such lengths to regain not only subscriptions, but the trust of their customers.

But in the end, my cynicism doesn't matter.  What does matter is the fact of my experience:  Blizzard screwed up, big time.  Blizzard knows they screwed up, they know they have seriously eroded the trust and faith of their customers, and they know that making it right means more than giving some kind of in-game item that will eventually become worthless (I'm looking at you, Sony).  I can't remember the last time a game company with a AAA title could be bothered to go to such lengths to regain trust with their customers after making such a colossal mistake in the public relations realm.  Even Turbine, a company that, in my experience, is fairly good to their customers (giving customers useful in-game items for unexpectedly long server shutdowns as they've been known to do, as well as extremely good customer service in my experience), has not gone to such lengths that I know of.

I've not renewed my account, nor have I bought Starcraft II.  As I assured the gentleman that I spoke with on the phone, Blizzard Entertainment won't be getting my money again until Mike Morhaime gives assurance in writing that no plan will be implemented at any time that requires Blizzard customers to make their real names and locations available to other players, nor will any plan be implemented that requires players to allow Blizzard to create any kind of social networking page or site on their behalf and that any kind of social networking system enacted in Blizzard games will have a clear opt in or an opt out policy that will not affect gameplay  for those of us that value and/or require privacy.  

Still, I do have to give kudos and props to Blizzard for taking the steps that they are taking to regain the trust of their customers.  That's not the kind of thing most game companies can be bothered to do these days, and especially not companies that bring in the kind of profits that Blizzard Entertainment brings in.  That kind of effort alone, in my opinion, earns Blizzard the right to a second chance with me - provided they follow through and make the necessary changes to RealID to protect their customers' right to privacy.

Why I Oppose RealID

Posted by Nifa Monday July 12 2010 at 3:04PM
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My last blog on this topic discussed why the "RealID fight" isn't over.  Today, I'm going to talk about why RealID, as it is currently implemented in World of Warcraft specifically, scares the crap out of me and why Activision-Blizzard's non-refusal to implement RealID on the forums and across their entire stable of games ever should make anyone with a battle.net account think twice before buying any Activision-Blizzard product or re-subscribing to any of their products that you currently own.
 
I've already discussed why using your login credentials to create a friends list that utilizes the player's real first and last name within an online gaming community is not a wise idea.  The number one reason for that is account security.  RealID, in its current implementation, is a data miner's dream and an IT professional's nightmare.  How many times do notable internet security professionals warn the non-'net savvy repeatedly to take care with what information they plaster all over the internet?  And yet, Activision-Blizzard, probably the most successful online gaming company in the history of the internet, is now telling the customer to ignore common sense and the advice of security professionals the world over and make that information public.  Add to that the known and acknowledged by Blizzard fact that battle.net has more and bigger security holes than every Microsoft product ever created combined, and RealID becomes a datamining identity thief's wet dream.
 
Activision-Blizzard's success means that what the company does doesn't just affect those who play Activision-Blizzard games.  Anything Activision-Blizzard does and gets away with will eventually find its way into other games because, as the industry leader, other games companies watch what they do and emulate them.  Sony Online Entertainment, Funcom, EA - if you think that these companies will not follow suit in an effort to catch the lead horse in the race, you have foolishly and willfully deceived yourself and as much as I would like to feel sorry for you, I cannot until you take the blinders off and pay attention to what's happening in the world around you...
 
...which leads me to nexus1 here on the mmorpg.com forums.  He agrees with Blizzard and feels that people knowing your real name and what city you live in is no big deal.  His name is Kevin and he lives in Michigan.  His wife's name is Tina.  Kevin and Tina are perfectly content with random internet strangers knowing anything the internet spits out about them.  (We'll come back to Kevin and Tina later...) But Robert Kotick of Activision may not feel the same way about people having his home address, the cell phone number and personal e-mail of his wife, the names and photos of his three pre-teen daughters and the  names of their schools.  You see, the world is not all sunshine and roses and there is now a credible threat to Mr. Kotick's family because his wife and children's names and the actual address of his private residence are known to anyone who cares to go look up the blog that posted the information.
 
Speaking of real and credible threats that people like Kevin and Tina in Michigan don't seem to believe exist, Teala brought out a great point in her recent blog.  Members of the LGBT community are put at risk by RealID.  To paraphrase Teala's blog, Stephani is in the process of becoming a female.  Whether one agrees or disagrees with Stephani is immaterial - it's not your life and unless you have never once in your life misrepresented the entire truth (and that includes lying to your parents as a child), you have absolutely no right to judge Stephani for her actions or inactions in the matter.  The fact is that anyone who doesn't live under a rock knows that there is a very real prejudice against members of the LGBT community in the world.  If you're old enough to remember Matthew Shepherd, you know this.  If you're not old enough, Google it.  The Stephanis and Matthew Shepherds of the world are definitely put at risk by the concept of RealID. 
 
Then there are those who feel that women are overreacting when they state the very real threat of online gaming stalkers.  Felicia Day covers this topic brilliantly (and with a hefty dose of humor) in her show The Guild.  The character Zaboo may be harmless, and endearingly funny, but stalkers are not.  The CounterStrike player who was nearly murdered by another CounterStrike player who spent 6 months tracking him down in real life using nothing more than a gaming handle would not feel that he was overreacting in the least by being outraged over the concept of RealID.  Codex of The Guild probably would not feel that she was overreacting by being outraged about it either.  Now it's time for me to tell you a couple of stories not unlike the one Teala told in her blog on the subject.  Both of these stories are real and happened to people I personally know in real life, only the names have been changed to protect privacy:
 
 
Sarah
 
Sarah played an online game for years and over time, got to know a player in game named Zion.  Both were roleplayers and in-game, their characters fell in love, got married...all that jazz.  In real life, however, Sarah was happily married and not looking to change that.  Only one problem:  Zion couldn't distinguish between the in-game characters and real life.  He fell in love with Sarah.  No matter what game they played, Zion was always there, Sarah couldn't do anything at all by herself.  Eventually, Zion managed to find Sarah's phone number and started calling her house.  Expensive gifts started appearing on her doorstep and finally, one day, the doorbell rang...it was Zion.  Fortunately for her, Sarah was able to convince Zion that the game was just that: a game, and the broken-hearted stalker came to his senses before the police had to intervene, but still, it was a terrifying situation for Sarah and her husband.
 
 
Beth
 
Beth and her husband Ron played online games together throughout their marriage.  Their marriage didn't have many problems until Ron came home one day and tried to kill Beth, fairly out of the blue.  Wisely, Beth left and proceeded immediately to the courthouse to get restraining and no contact orders.  Upon receipt of the court orders, she faxed copies of the orders to the legal departments of the companies when Ron began creating level one toons and new forum accounts to harass her in game because she'd placed his toons and forum accounts on ignore.  But Ron went beyond that and started stalking her via trying to hack her e-mail accounts, hacking her cell phone records, trying to find her precise location...all by using nothing more than her name and the details that he knew about her.  As a result of the divorce, Beth changed her name and had the details of her location sealed, though she has moved more than a dozen times in the past three years to get away from Ron and stay hidden.
 
 
 
nexus1 and others would say that Sarah and Beth should simply not play any game with an online component because, well, after all, they're just games, right?  So that's the answer, then?  Women (and men - because internet stalkers can just as easily be women, though statistics show that women internet stalkers are simply not as prevalent as male internet stalkers) who have been victimized should remain victims and just not enjoy the same rights, privileges, and comforts as the rest of society because someone chose, for whatever reason, to attempt to victimize them?  Hmm..let's try that logic elsewhere, shall we?  A rape victim should never again wear anything that remotely reveals she is female, must always wear a locked chastity belt, may never go out in public without an armed male escort, and must stay at home unless she is going to work because she's been raped before and, after all, these are all small preventive measures and since going to a bar or on a date was what enabled her to be victimized in the first place, well, it's just a bar or just a date, right?  That is the logic people are asking to be applied.  It's not apples and oranges, it is the same exact thing, simply a different contextual analysis.
 
 
Then there are celebrities.  This doesn't even need elaboration, but, well...here goes.  One poster mentioned that s/he is in the music business.  I can't even begin to imagine the nightmare for them, and I have a cousin in the music business.  I also have a cousin in acting and I myself used to be in television production, so this is something I can speak to a bit.  The sheer number of requests to "listen to my demo," "get me on the set," etc., would be so staggering as to literally make one's head explode.  Personally, famous people don't faze me because they're just people, but then, I've worked 20 hour days with many of them and seen them without their makeup.  I know which ones are just genuinely nice people and which ones I was not as happy to work with.  But these are things that I know because I've worked alongside them as a professional, not because they ganked me in a battleground or because I disagreed with what they had to say about my class.
 
The fact is that gaming is still a subculture. It is not mainstream and it may never be.  There are places and fields where it is a horrible idea to have it known that you are a gamer and an even worse idea to have your real name known and those reason are varied but have nothing to do with how tactful you are on a game forum.  The intelligence professional in the military or the civilian sector does not want that information out there, period.  Nor does the law enforcement officer, paramedic, doctor, nurse, lawyer, judge, game developer - for any company (just ask the Burning Crusade producer whose wedding site got inundated thanks to the same blogger who revealed the names of Robert Kotick's children as well as his home address)...the list goes on.  My private life is none of my employer's business, especially if my employer knowing that I play online games can jeopardize promotions or even cost me my job because of the field that I work in.  The idea of "do nothing in private that you wouldn't do in public" doesn't hold water here because I'm pretty certain, Kevin, that you and your lovely wife Tina wouldn't have sex in the middle of the freeway even though you are married (if you would do so, I hope you enjoy jail, because it's illegal in most places to do so), because sex is a private act (generally speaking - those who engage in it publicly are called fetishists) even though there is absolutely nothing at all wrong with the act itself.  And so it is with gaming:  there is absolutely nothing wrong with games or gaming.  Many people who post on the forums may be helpful sorts that write guides and answer questions honestly and helpfully...but if their employers learned they played World of Warcraft, StarCraft, Diablo, EverQuest, Star Wars Galaxies, or any other online game, would look for reasons (in a non-at-will employment state where a reason is needed; in an at-will employment state, no reason at all is needed to terminate an employee and playing online games is as good a reason as "I don't like the shoes you wore to the company picnic.") to terminate or deny advancement to the employee who plays them.
 
In the end, the RealID debate is about the big picture:  how does RealID - as a whole - affect 11.5 million people?  I'm a straight, divorced, white woman who is fortunate enough to be able to avoid the issue of gaming having any impact on my employment, and who has a name that doesn't reveal my full descent - but I can certainly see the impact it could have on transgenders, individuals of races/countries of origin that would easily be discriminated against, people in career fields that would be seriously negatively affected, celebrities, abused/battered spouses & children who have had to run and hide for their lives, people who have been or are being stalked, families with children since there is no law preventing pedophiles from accessing the internet, anyone concerned with protecting their identity from fraud, anyone concerned with the security flaws in the battle.net system...the list goes on.  Then again, I don't often wear blinders because, as a general rule, I like to be able to see the disasters headed my way so I can avoid them.

RealID: The Fat Lady Has Not Yet Sung On This Nightmare

Posted by Nifa Saturday July 10 2010 at 10:44AM
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Yesterday, Activision-Blizzard wisely listened to their community (and the press) and backed away from the proposed policy to implement the mandatory use of RealID on their community forums.

That doesn't mean this fight is over.

RealID was implemented in-game in the latest patch in such a manner that allows players to opt-out simply by not participating, by refusing any friend requests through the system, or by enabling parental controls on their accounts.  The problem, however, is that the RealID system itself uses players' login credentials in order to work.  For a company that is known to have vast security holes the size of unexplored space in its battle.net system, this is an unwise move to begin with.

Let's also look at the fact that it is a violation of the TOS and EULA for anyone under the age of 13 to have their own World of Warcraft account, but it is well within the terms of service and the end-user license agreement for any adult to either open an account for their child or to allow their child to create characters on their account.  Opening an account for your child enables you to set parental controls specific to that account - no problem there.  But creating a character for your nine-year-old on your account, where you probably have not chosen to set parental controls...creates a problem.  If you do partake of the RealID system, your nine-year-old child could be mistaken for you - a situation that no reasonable adult really wants, I don't think.

RealID, as currently implemented, is poorly thought out:  it allows Joe Snuffy, the friend of my guildmate whom I do not know (and may not want to know), to see who I am, what games I play through Activision-Blizzard, what character I am playing within those games, and exactly where I am and what I am doing within any Activision-Blizzard game at any time that I happen to be logged in.  It is not controllable by individual character (which does not allow a parent to shield their child from this random Joe Snuffy guy that they do not know), and it uses the players' actual login credentials in a system that is already so full of security holes that gold spammers and sellers are able to hack accounts almost at will and cost both Activision-Blizzard and individual credit card companies millions of dollars per year in the costs associated with their scams.  In short, it is a security disaster.

The fact that Activision-Blizzard wanted to take this security nightmare a step farther and backed down for now doesn't count for much - odds are that the number of canceled preorders of StarCraft II as well as the numbers of canceled accounts in addition to the thousands of pages of outrage on the official forums showed the company that gamers take this breach of privacy and security very seriously.  The fact that, in the UK, the proposal violates the law certainly didn't hurt the cause of the RealID opponents, either (God save the Queen...and the House of Commons!  Can we get Congress to enact something similar over here across the big pond, please?), as having one policy for the United States, one policy for the UK (does Canada fall under its own laws in this, or does it fall under the laws of the UK in this matter - anyone?), one policy for the rest of the EU, one policy for China, and another policy for the rest of Asia cannot be terribly cost effective and must be a legal nightmare.

Still, gamers, as a rule, are different from the vast majority of folks in two things:  we do not tend to be apathetic in terms of legalities and knowing our rights, and we have memories that would make ancient societies pale in comparison.

Gamers rarely ignore fine print on documents.  We actually read pesky little things like terms of service agreements, end user license agreements, hell, some of us even read contracts and credit card agreements because we like to know what it is that we're getting ourselves into.  While the mythological stereotype exists that many of us are basement-dwelling, socially-inept, uneducated, jobless fools with monitor tans, the reality is that many of us are fairly sharp folks with jobs, spouses, children, homes, and two or more cars in the garage.  Many (but not all) of us are anal-retentive, detail-oriented individuals that read everything down to the finest of fine print, and so we hold companies strictly accountable to that which they've stated/promised/advertised.

Which brings me to the point of the memories of many gamers. Get a thousand gamers together in five years and ask them to raise their hands if they remember any of the following:

  • NGE
  • Age of Conan beta & launch
  • Mike Tyson's Punch Out (holy crap, I just dated myself there, didn't I?!)
  • Activision-Blizzard threatening to release gamers' real names on the forums


Odds are that every hand in the room will go up when each item is mentioned (except maybe for Punch Out...you'd have to be *covers mouth, mumbles age* to remember that one), and that all of them except the Punch Out reference (c'mon...that game was hella fun!) will elicit very strong negative reactions even five years from now - which they all should!

But just because Activision-Blizzard has backed down from sharing players' real names for now does not mean every single gamer on the planet does not still have a dog in this fight.  This is about profit, pure and simple.  Focused marketing, social networking, Facebook mergers - whatever they're doing, this is far from over.  To start giving Activision-Blizzard attaboys for backing down after creating a huge controversy with their unbelievable arrogance is foolish and shortsighted at best.  

RealID is not bad in and of itself...provided it doesn't use login credentials and personal information in order to create a social atmosphere within Activision-Blizzard products.  As it is currently implemented, though, it does force players to give real world information to people that they may not want having that information (via "friends of friends" being able to view such information).  Blizzard can and should be able to accomplish the same social atmosphere by using my universal account name - not my e-mail - and by not displaying my real name, and by allowing me to exempt certain characters from being displayed if I so desire, as well as giving me the option to show up as being offline (as a member of guild leadership, I may not want to be found that day if I'm playing my Alliance alt on another server).  

Until Activision-Blizzard starts showing some sense of responsibility in this area with RealID, in my opinion, Jon Wood's (Stradden) recent column is right on the money:  I've canceled and they're not getting another penny of my money - neither Activision nor Blizzard - until they show some sense and take some responsibility.  And no, you can't have my stuff. ;)
 

Dungeon Finder Combined with GearScore - Bad for the WoW Community?

Posted by Nifa Friday April 23 2010 at 6:10PM
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Yesterday, a post was made on the forums here at mmorpg.com.  It was most likely a parody, but it talked  about players who use the World of Warcraft addon GearScore for the sole purpose of excluding players from dungeons and raids based on the score this UI mod assigns their gear.  If the gear score isn't high enough, some players using the mod reason, the player will not be able to clear the dungeon or raid in what the group leader deems an acceptable amount of time.  Thus the low gear score player is excluded or kicked from the group - even if the World of Warcraft's Dungeon Finder tool's built-in gear scorer determines that the player's gear is sufficient to enter the dungeon or raid.
 
Let me explain:  I am not at all opposed to user-created UI mods.  I use several: Deadly Boss Mods, Paladin Tracker, Decursive, Vuhdo, Quartz, and Omen being just a few.  What I oppose vehemently is the use of tacitly-if-not-specifically-approved-by-the-developer (in this case, Blizzard) UI mods being used by the player base as a basis for exclusion from content.  
 
Again, don't get me wrong:  if a player is hurting the team by refusing to learn from his or her mistakes, if he or she is just generally behaving in an inappropriate manner that is offensive to any reasonable human being, if he or she is attempting to loot everything under the sun and taking items away from players who actually need those items, then that player does, in fact, need to go - and the game does provide group mechanics for that.  But using an external UI mod and an elitist mentality for the sole purpose of excluding players who need both the gear and the experience is, in my opinion, maybe not the best way to improve the World of Warcraft community's already severely tarnished reputation in the MMO industry.
 
The community in World of Warcraft is already nearly universally cited by both players and columnists alike as being "the worst community in any MMO," bar none.  The GearScore mod, as it is being used by many within the WoW playerbase, is not improving this opinion.  Do I use GearScore?  Yes I do.  I use it because it is a fact that the built-in scoring system within World of Warcraft requires a player's gear to be at certain levels to enter HFoS, HPoS, and HHoR, not to mention that it is extremely unwise to even consider going near ICC without a gear score of 5k or better.  But I have never once looked at another player's gear score because frankly, other players' equipment really isn't any of my business unless they ask me to look at it and help them make improvements.  I use the addon to check the score on gear that drops to see if it is worth my rolling or passing on and to check my own gear score on my own little army of toons and that is the only reason I use it.  
 
Unlike the players parodied in the forum post I read (and replied to with a few tongue-in-cheek alterations of my own) here yesterday, I don't mind wiping a few times in an instance or even a raid with other players on a gear run or experience run because it is a very rare thing that I have seen the same player make the same mistake twice (though, admittedly, it does happen) and because everyone has to learn sometime - and it's far better to learn with someone with the patience and willingness to let you make mistakes than with someone who will scream at you the entire time.  If a game feels more like you should be getting paid to play it because someone is screaming at you, and stressing you out than it does a fun leisure activity that you spend fifteen bucks a month of your entertainment budget on, then something is seriously wrong.
 
Community in MMOs is a difficult thing to foster.  It takes time.  It takes patience.  It takes a willingness to learn from one another.  It takes a willingness to teach, it takes a willingness to learn, and it takes a willingness to be taught and to be learned from.  I have been playing World of Warcraft for some time now and it is not a terribly difficult game, but I still find myself learning little things every day that I did not know...so how can I possibly expect someone who has been playing for a month and who has just reached level 80 to know everything that I know and to know everything about every boss encounter in every raid and dungeon?  The simple answer?  I can't - unless I am willing to throw their gear score and my attitude out the window and to teach and be taught.
 
Dungeon Finder and GearScore are not, in and of themselves, bad things.  Both are and can be very useful tools that can enhance the player's experience within the game.  Dungeon Finder in particular can be one of the most useful tools to players within World of Warcraft for getting things done both for questing purposes, general experience in learning how to play their character well in group settings, general experience in how to work and play well with others, and for getting a character equipped quickly for higher-level content.  GearScore can also be a particularly useful tool for players in helping them to know whether they are or are not ready for certain content in terms of the gear they have and for whether or not they should even bother rolling on a piece of loot or just let those enchanters duke it out for sharding rights.  But just as any tool can be especially useful in the hands of someone who uses it properly, that same item in the hands of someone intent on using it in a manner for which is was not intended is not useful but destructive.

Games As a Recovery Device? Not Likely, Given the Collective Community Attitude

Posted by Nifa Monday March 15 2010 at 4:02AM
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There are a lot of reports and articles which discuss the merits of video games when it comes to hand eye coordination, the merits of video games and problem solving skills, and even the social merits of video games.

 
But can games be a useful recovery device for people who have been injured?  This is a question I have been asking myself repeatedly over the past several months as I ponder whether to keep playing or if my MMO days are over for good.
 
I am an injured military veteran suffering from multiple traumatic brain injuries (TBI).  Because it pertains to the discussion, here is a list of some symptoms that someone with TBI may suffer (by no means a comprehensive list) which may affect their gaming, particularly in MMOs:
 
 
  • Inability to plan a sequence of complex movements needed to complete multi-stepped tasks
  • Loss of spontaneity in interacting with others
  • Loss of flexibility in thinking
  • Inability to focus on task
  • Mood changes
  • Changes in social behavior
  • Changes in personality
  • Difficulty with problem solving
  • Inability to express language
  • Inability to attend to more than one object at a time
  • Inability to name an object
  • Inability to locate the words for writing
  • Problems with reading
  • Difficulty in distinguishing left from right
  • Difficulty with doing mathematics
  • Inability to focus visual attention
  • Difficulties with eye and hand coordination
  • Defects in vision
  • Difficulty with locating objects in environment
  • Difficulty with identifying colors
  • Visual illusions - inaccurately seeing objects
  • Word blindness - inability to recognize words
  • Difficulty in recognizing drawn objects
  • Inability to recognize the movement of object
  • Difficulties with reading and writing
  • Difficulty in understanding spoken words
  • Disturbance with selective attention to what we see and hear
  • Difficulty with identification of, and verbalization about objects
  • Short term memory loss
  • Interference with long term memory
  • Inability to catagorize objects
  • Right lobe damage can cause persistent talking
  • Increased aggressive behavior
  • Difficulty with organization/perception of the environment
  • Loss of ability to coordinate fine movements
  • Slurred Speech
 
I like the way one person put it (to put it in terms gamers can easily understand):  "it is like someone has taken out your quad core processor and replaced it with a Pentium, then also took your 4 gigabytes of GSkill or Corsair RAM and replaced it with a 1 gig stick they bought on clearance at Office Depot."
 
As recently as two or three years ago, I was very good at my chosen games, to the point of being listed by other players in an informal forum poll as one of the best players on my server in the game I played at the time.  As recently as six or seven months ago, I was acceptably good enough to have been invited by those who knew me to almost every raid in the game I currently play.  A few months ago, that all changed as the symptoms of my injuries began to manifest themselves more profoundly.  
 
I couldn't remember something as simple as the 9-6-9-6-9 Pally rotation and couldn't tank effectively.  I couldn't pay attention in simple heroics like Violet Hold (turns out that it was partly the brain injuries and partly a type of seizure called an absence seizure, also caused by the brain injuries, that was causing the attention issues).  I refused to speak on vent (and still do) because my speech slurs and I have trouble finding the words I want to say (for someone with two college degrees and a Master's Degree-level education in the English language, there are not words to describe how that feels).  I used to be a big fan of number crunching and couldn't do even simple math - nothing on Elitist Jerks made a lick of sense to me (and still doesn't) anymore.  Hell, I couldn't even remember that I had been in certain dungeons and raids before (and sometimes still can't without checking my armory).
 
Now, my guild is a good guild.  I have been gaming with these people for years now in multiple games and these people are friends outside the game that I talk to daily.  Their goal is to help me get back on my feet in life as well as in the game and they have the concern for me as a person and the patience to work with my cognitive and memory deficits to help me do that - loot or no loot, repair bills or no repair bills.  They are good folks who know that the brain will rewire itself over time and that gaming is good for coordination, memory, and for problem solving.
 
But what about other gamers?  The fact is that games - especially MMOs - are a big cross section of the world and the other fact is that there are a lot of veterans, many of whom are probably suffering from TBI, who are gamers.  My guess is that those veterans (and non-veterans) suffering TBI are facing the same challenges and frustrations that I face and that, while none of us who are even remotely sane and reasonable expect anyone to make accommodation for us so that we can also have fun, we end up dealing with a lot more jerks than we do wonderful people like my guildmates.  Gaming, especially in games like World of Warcraft, is a very closed society despite the fact that it is rapidly growing.  The majority of people tend to expect you to be at the top of your game at all times and are not interested in having fun and learning.  And that, to me, is a real shame.  I do not want my gaming to be a job that I pay to go to and I do not need my gaming to be an additional stressor in my life.  I don't care how many times I wipe or what my repair bills are; I want to have fun with good people and I don't give a royal damn what your gearscore is so long as you put forth a good effort and aren't a complete killjoy.
 
I'm relearning to do everything I once knew how to do in the games I like to play and I'm finding it hard to have a good time outside of my guild.  My pride compels me to state for the record that I don't want anyone's pity or any 'handouts,' as it were, and I am certainly not whining because I know for a fact that there are many, many people in the world who are a lot worse off than I am...but my compassion for other human beings also compels me to say that the only time we should ever look down on someone is if we're giving them a hand up.  My "internal computer" may be a little slower these days, but that doesn't mean I'm not looking to have as much fun as everyone else, nor does it mean I can't do/am not willing to learn to do the same things - it'll just take me a little longer to figure it out and I might need you to calmly and slowly explain what's expected of me in the fight in easily digestable chunks and be a little more understanding if I make a few more mistakes than the other guys in the group.