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Thoughts of a Casual MMOer

My thoughts on gaming as a person who enjoys RP and gaming while balancing a full time job.

Author: haratu

Thoughts on Thinking in MMOs

Posted by haratu Wednesday July 15 2009 at 8:18PM
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I am a school teacher (hence why font is comic sans), and nothing makes me more enthusiastic than a good game that encourages thinking, and I don't mean calculating the best item to pull of a critical 23% of the time while increasing armour to resist fire 98%. I mean serious strategical thinking that alters as you play due to constantly changing through unpredictable situations. Let me explain in more detail.

Many MMOs focus on the concept of pick a class/race then outfit with specific items to get the best out of your character dependent on their role in the game. If I were a tank class, for example, then I would be expected to get items that increase my protective skills or rolls. If I were to be the same tank class and yet get items to increase my damage then I would generally get other players either criticizing or not grouping with me because most likely I have no idea how to play my character. As a result I am defined by the game mechanics and design and am not putting effort into determining new strategies for how to play a class outside of its box.

Class Strategy

Take now an example of a game where you select your class but you can select skills to step away from the normal. Lets say I choose a Tank but this time select skills related to ranged dps. I then become a ranged dps who hits less (due to my class stats) but lasts much longer. My strategies would reflect this by my ability to stand ground for longer, resist attacks from opposing ranged dps (and not hide), and pester, but not kill as fast, other dps. My thinking and adaptability is showing itself.

I am now going to use an example from my past experience in World of Warcraft: Burning Crusade (I stopped playing in 2008). My main character was a warlock and as such I was a definite dps. At the time most warlocks chose heavy destruction (fire) mixed with shadow skills in order to increase their dps. If you did not do such then you often got criticized in large raid for not pulling your weight. I was criticized for a while with my skills because I did not choose such skills... until they realized I actually had a larger damage over the whole dungeon. Why? Because my skills let me live longer... thereby letting me do more damage over time. I was so good at staying alive I often successfully off tanked in emergencies.

This is common in many games where people rely on not thinking about their strategy and their class. 

Map Strategy

Now WoW might have been a bad example as it is rather predictable, so I will move to a game where altering situations is more dominant, specifically Warhammer Online. I am choosing Warhammer as an example, there are better ones, but their situations are often more complex, so I am attempting to stick simple.

Warhammer Online has the common task of fighting the opposing player side in PvP (or RvR for pedantic people). Because different castles are taken by different sized groups, players are often forced to send out scouting parties and attack specific holdings to maintain superiority. there is often a give-take relationship where a war band will be forced to let the enemy take some land in order to take another piece of land. As well as this there is the constant shifting of numbers as people log in and out of the game, where once you my have had the upper hand you no longer do, therefore need to focus on getting a defensible position before you are overpowered. This constantly shifting position is the concept of strategy and thought where knowledge and wisdom take charge as opposed to mathematics and predictability and is more common in PvP games (although not always present).



So why choose a game that requires you to think about what you do?

The most important aspect to thought in an MMO is that it provides more of a feeling of having done something. Using the mind encourages you to feel like you have participated and are not just standing there to make sure the others have full hit points (yes, healing can be boring sometimes).

A second aspect is to teach you things, this is the same concept as the game of chess. By participating in a thinking MMO your mind is constantly learning about how people behave, how actions have consequences and thinking ahead (predictable instances rarely let you think further than the current monster).

The final aspect is that a thinking MMO encourages teamwork. By teamwork I do not mean "I tank, you heal", I mean your ability to adapt to the situation based upon how your team-mates work.

Remember: Chess is 3D, why can't an MMO require thought?


biggieheals writes:

 u should play GW lol, it has all this stuff.

Thu Jul 16 2009 4:49PM Report
Faelan writes:

Wait - you need to think in MMOs? But that's heresy! ;)

Just kidding. I love when an MMO encourages me to think, especially if I have to think a bit outside of the box (EVE is notoriously good at that and very unforgiving if you don't). Unfortunately, I'm not so sure if that's the case of everybody else.

No, I'm not trying to claim that MMO players are stupid or don't think in general. It's just that it sometimes -feels- like that to me and I've lost count of the /facepalm moments I've experienced. If someone feels insulted by this, I'm sorry - that's not my intention and I'm not trying to point my finger at you specifically, so be happy ;)

Anyway... time for an interesting story that this blog made me reflect on.

I remember one incident with a guild mate who always seemed to be online grinding achievement after achievement... on several alts even... which was cool. Then WotLK was released and we were all having fun questing and such... and the person of course made sure to grind out the new achievements whenever possible.

The thing is, some of the quests had you use your brain a bit, which I think was great for a change. But there was this one quest in particular where you had to control some abomination and use it to blow up other mobs if I remember correctly. It took me a little longer than usual to figure out because of tricky aggro and even though I was sure I had figured out the strategy, I looked it up on the net to verify, because at first it didn't work for me. But after two failed attempts or so of getting insane aggro, I nailed it and realized that it was relatively simple once you knew what to do.

Unfortunately, this guild mate stumbled into that same quest late a night. Apparently, the person died a couple of times trying to do the quest just like I did and then exploded in guild chat complaining about how retarded and impossible the quest was and that Blizzard needed to fix this atrocity ASAP because he most likely wouldn't be able to get his achievement because of this quest that he couldn't complete.

Raising an eyebrow in disbelief, I asked and confirmed that it was the quest I thought it was, then I told in a polite way that the quest was actually rather easy once you figured out the trick, but until you figured it out, the quest did indeed seem unbalanced or even broken and had me puzzled as well.

This unfortunately, just seemed to make the person even more upset. I then suggested to the person to look it up since I was too tired to explain what to do in a coherent fashion and the guide I found on a site did a good job at explaining what to do. Sadly the person somehow took it the wrong way and started complaining about how nobody in the guild ever helped out with completing quests (nevermind the fact that it was 2am on a weekday).

Well, this was not true in any way and of course some guild members chimed in and stated so. Then things went completely emo about how this person was blahblah and did blahblah which wasn't fair because of blahblah and was saying blahblah to blahblah behind his back.

I shook my head, finished up the quest I was on and logged because such guild drama is just beyond my comprehension. I seemed to remember seeing the person leave the guild just as I wrapped up things, but frankly didn't put much into it since I've seen too many people do the /gquit thing as a statement of disagrement over something, only to come back 15 minutes later once cooled off.

Guess what? Next day when I logged on, I had this bad feeling nagging my 6th sense. Maybe it was a disturbance in the dataflow or something. I decided to check things out and maybe see if I could clear up some misunderstandings or something. Well, it turned out that the person had either transfered all his character to another server, or deleted them, because they were all gone from the server.


All this because the person couldn't take 5 minutes to stop the mindless grind and consider an alternative approach?

Wow... just wow.

Somewhere in this madness, there's a lesson or two to be learned.

Anyway, grats on getting your blog on the front page :)

Thu Jul 16 2009 6:30PM Report
nekollx writes:

maybe he pissed of the Powers that Be Fae and got bitch slapped by the hand of Dog

Thu Jul 16 2009 6:54PM Report
Werewindle writes:

Maybe the op has a good point, but I could not tell, the post was too hard to read.  If she is a Teacher, those poor students.

Thu Jul 16 2009 7:25PM Report
Vendegaar writes:

My own thinking on this ENFORCED GROUPING is that it is seriously limiting on character developement. I MUCH prefer SOLOING to group activity.

Let me explain - I have entered a number of groups that (regardless of my class) expected ME to kill off all the mobs while they looted all the goodies - and then bailed out of the instance leaving me holding the bag. Most of the groups that I have encountered have had LESS than competent players that could not take down ONE much less SEVERAL opponents of equal level on their own.

I have CLOTHIES (Warlocks) that HAVE consistently taken up to FIVE opponents SOLO that were beating on them simultaneously - and beat them all - simply beacuse of TWO things. 1 - They knew what the class limitations and abilities were and 2 - THEY DID NOT PANIC.

With all due respect to our teachers (and I DO respect them - I have been in teaching positions myself - in industry NOT in school) Thinking "outside the box" is FAR more successful than regimented thinking.

I have gotten to the point that I will NOT group with ANYONE other than my son and my triplet granddaughters.


Thu Jul 16 2009 7:47PM Report
haratu writes:

My wife would be very surprised at your comment Werewindle, she was under the impression i was a man.

Unfortunately in writing you need to make a compromise on size and comprehension, I could give a dozen other examples but that would be a waste. As a teacher I would have a week to teach concepts as well as a science laboratory, videos, computers, colouring, paper, demonstrations, etc.

Thu Jul 16 2009 7:47PM Report
Faelan writes:

In response to nekollx.

You saying I ripped him a new one even though I was trying to be a nice doggy? Aww... I guess I really do need to get my claws cut, teeth cleaned and maybe take a bath once in a blue moon to keep the fleas away and not scare people to death ;)

I'll give you a point or two for being creative in your choice of words. Made me smile.

Thu Jul 16 2009 7:55PM Report
hogscraper writes:

That's why DAoC fanboys like myself will always feel it was the best MMO to date. 200v200v200 battles across miles of territory where you had to actually function like a real army, completely cohesive to win. Leaders giving orders, some holding some pushing forward, some feinting an obscure place to draw away the enemy and thin their ranks, so many things going on with different levels of command to direct the flow of battle. It really was like a giant game of chess at times.  

Thu Jul 16 2009 11:10PM Report
Auton writes:

The problem here isn't that people are stupid - they're not, as a rule, incapable of thought, far from it - the average guy is likely a lot sharper than most give him credit for. The problem, however, is that a lot of people simply never learn to think. Thinking, like any skill, is something you train, something you practice, and something you have to keep working at to be good at. You wouldn't expect John Q. Public to be able to walk in off the street and play a game of football or basketball competently, would you? However, you might say that thinking is a skill most of us will need (contrary to playing football - although athletic ability certainly has uses in everyday life!), and as such is a skill we should all have.

Teaching people to think is a tough job, since there's a lot of impetus in society that thinking is, well, somehow unworthy, for 'nerds', etc. Athletic ability is lauded, but someone competing in the science olympics is laughed at behind his back. Ask any middle-schooler whether they'd rather be a star quarterback or a star biochemist, and you know the answer. That part is what really needs changing. Thinking needs to be made sexy again.

Fri Jul 17 2009 3:25AM Report
arktiris writes:

Werewindle: I don't see it; I understood it perfectly. As did Auton, hogscraper, Faelan and Vendegaar. Not sure about nekollx, but I don't think nekollx is sure about themselves.

DO YOUR RESEARCH! That way you'll know the op is male, and you'll know what the actual quote is, and you won't make it lame by misquoting it on your profile....

Fri Jul 17 2009 4:06AM Report
Trucidation writes:

The main problem with F2P MMOs (I don't have much experience with the western pay ones like WoW, UO, DAoC, etc) is that there are very few viable builds. So of course you get pigeonholed into specific roles like "tank", "healer", "dps guy" etc.

It doesn't help that most of these crap games have limited skillsets and equipment, further restricting your options. If you deviate from the cookie cutter build then expect your character to suck instead of being able to do things differently. The name of the game is conformity instead of flexibility, which ironic since many of these crap games also feature item malls which are mostly full of eye candy, i.e. things that make you look different. lol.

Fri Jul 17 2009 6:23AM Report
Mirandel writes:

The problem with thinking in game is a bit complex. Thinking is for the players who "enjoy the journey not destination". And how many of those players are out there?
Strategy during the battle is another thing (this is why only 5% of gamers are raiding or PvP seriously). On the individual level it takes a lot of effort to observe you character development and to adjust that character to your specific play style. In addition, the game itself has to give you enough flexibility to choose one way of progress or another. Again, not all games do so. If the game is designed around linear progression with "tank-and-spank" strategy for the most encounters – you do have to follow the crowd or your "thinking" and experimenting will endanger the questing for those expecting certain things from you.
Three factors already (your commitment, games mechanic and readiness of others to support your experiments) and I am sure there is more. Not so simple…

Fri Jul 17 2009 8:28AM Report writes:
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