World of Warcraft: Endgame Ups and Downs
Editorial by David Souza
Have you ever played a team sport? Baseball, Basketball? How about doubles tennis? If you have, you know that personal interaction is the most crucial element of teamwork. Communication is key to keeping the relationship between you and your teammates healthy and progressive. Good communication will lead to personal and team growth. Adversely, poor communication will lead to breakdowns of functionality and conflicts of the team's collective interest.
I've just told you what you most likely already know. So what's my point? Well, for anyone who has played the high end of many of the MMO's out there you have likely seen the difference between the endgame and how it affects the guild social dynamic. The endgames of many MMOs (certainly almost all of the most popular ones) follow a similar paradigm.
This nuances of the paradigm shift slightly from game to game, often as the selling points for the more "hardcore" audience. Some promise less downtime, others smaller raid sizes and yet others dynamic and detailed progression tracking. What nearly all share is a greater investment of time, dedication and resources than any other content the virtual world has to offer.
Now imagine playing those sports I mentioned above and imagine going pro. You are still playing the sport you love but the undercurrents of the game have just shifted. You're now getting paid (many guilds in large MMOs use a type of currency, DKP, or Dragon Kill Points being the most popular and recognizable one to most gamers), have more demands on your time and interact with your teammates much more often than you likely have previously...and for longer periods of time. Often you must prepare for a match (raid) by getting your gear up to par, making certain you have materials required for high-end performance and scheduling larger blocks of time to play.
Oh, did I mention that your team size and playing field have grown? You're not playing three on three with the Buick being one end zone and the Nissan being the other. You're now on a full 100-yard field, with uprights for extra points, and crowds looking on. Gone are the days of touch as you now get hammered hard every time you have the pigskin, and you're wearing full pads to take those hits...shorts and a ripped Maiden shirt won't cut it anymore. Your team consists of eleven on the field and many more on the bench. (It's not just Timmy standing behind the Buick hoping George will get out of detention so it can go four to a team). There's more, but for argument's sake, we'll assume this is enough to carry the basic point to conclusion.
So it's the same game you've been playing from the start, just more grandiose, right? Wrong. In my experience playing endgame content in many of the leading MMO titles for nearly the last 10 years, the endgame is often an entirely different animal. While that statement is somewhat of a generalization, it holds true enough to illuminate my point. Is the payoff of the endgame content more exciting? Often, yes. Is it more rewarding? Almost without exception. Does it cause closer bonds with the friends within your online gaming group? Absolutely. Does it cause more stress between you and your friends in that same group? Absolutely.
You're thinking to yourself, "Wait, he just made a typo..."
No, I absolutely did not.
Just like any other social group, online gaming groups have the same obstacles to overcome. There are introverts and extroverts, optimists and pessimists. Caregivers, corrupters, mendicants and philanthropists. Idealists and realists. It parallels a large family...that you take to work...and to play. Of course I'm understating slightly...my current WoW guild boasts over 100 "brothers and sisters" of mine.
So you're now playing a game that you love, taking part in adventures that only a small population of the playerbase can even hope to glimpse. It's glorious and empowering. Then you discover the varied definitions of concepts like dedication (large amounts of time) focus (concentration without distraction), strategy (practicing with your team more often and more vigorously), etc. While still fun, the challenge of the high endgame is often fatiguing and monotonous in a similar way that doing the daily grind at work can become grey and doldrums. Keeping perspective on the line between "work" and "play" can often become taxing, and it's more than the occasional player that finds themselves in something akin to a love/hate relationship with their hobby.
So now you're asking yourself, "Is this guy trying to scare us away from hardcore endgame play?"
No, I'm simply trying to shed some light on the expectations that come with the game on such a level. It's really no different than any other social challenge in life. A healthy working environment, a good rapport between parent and child and close friendships based on trust all share similar elements. All are valuable things, and all take hard work...and can offer frustration and stress along the road when conflicts between people occur. But what can be gained from overcoming these challenges is worth more than any quest objective or item drop.
Here are a few tools and tips for dealing with the interactions of high end MMO gaming. I'll refer to the group as a guild here, since it's so popular in many MMOs, but feel free to substitute the proper term for your game (Super Team, Fellowship, Collective, Etc.)
Get Out Some: Log off, shower, put on some shoes and go out. Go to a movie with friends, dinner with your boyfriend or fishing with the guy from work. Get face to face social interaction. Being with people in a real life environment often reminds you of how human the people you play with online really are.
Communicate Effectively: Say what you mean and mean what you say. The majority of problems stem from poor communication and text-based interaction is often misinterpreted (experts say anywhere up to 70 percent of communication is lost without the addition of body language and tone of voice). Be as clear and concise as you can be, and ask for and offer clarifications when discussing topics.
Respect the Chain of Command: Guilds generally have hierarchies to keep the ball rolling. Let's face it, too many cooks spoil the soup. It's the responsibility of the leaders of the guild to gather information, make the best choices they can and then to communicate those choices to the guild as a whole. Sounds easy, doesn't it? Well, it takes more work than you may imagine, and helping to facilitate communication by using the proper channels and speaking to the correct people can go a long way towards smoothing the cogs in the guild machine. Use the right tools given you, whether it's a specified forum for bank requests, a specific individual to deal with certain guild aspects or an email address used for guild suggestions.
Keep an Open Mind: It takes all kinds...I love that saying. Cliché, maybe, but nonetheless true to the core. Although a guild will likely come together under the banner of mutual goals, the means to realize those ends will be varied and many. Though you may not agree with another player's viewpoint, he or she has a right to it. Learn what you can from others, adopt what feels right for you and steer clear of what doesn't. But respect how others play and ask the same of those you play with.
Take Time for Other Things: Gaming is a time-consuming hobby, and high-end gaming often goes into overtime. Make sure you get enjoyment from the other things in life that you love. Take your dogs for a walk, tend that garden in the backyard or go shoot some hoops with your brother. The game isn't going anywhere and will be waiting like a patient concubine when you return. You may find yourself appreciating your time in game a bit more as well.
Lighten Up!: It's a game. We've all dealt with it, either from ourselves or from others. Maybe your boss denied your raise, your dog ate your shoes or your wife ran away with your sister! In any case, the game is there to entertain and offer a fun and stress-relieving environment. If you find yourself in a poor mood in the game due to real life events try to put them aside for awhile, or, failing that, log off for a bit and come back when you're in state of mind more in parallel with having fun.
Know When to Hold Em...: And know when to fold em. Sometimes, no matter what, you're just in a group of people that's not right for you. It doesn't mean you're evil or they are space aliens...it simply means that the interests and personalities don't click. This isn't work, respectively tell them that you want to move on and find a group that's a better fit for you.