MMOs Can Teach Us How to be Better Human Beings

There’s nothing new to report on the Alpha/Beta front this fine morning, so I find myself at a bit of a loose end as to what you should be reading in this week’s column. I think that, considering the amount of vitriol in my social media feeds of late, it might be an idea to recount a story that many of you who read my blog may already be familiar with, but I think deserves a wider audience. Some days it isn’t about playing the game, but more about learning the lessons that MMOs can teach us how to be better human beings.

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Zul’Gurub launched in Patch 1.7, back in September 2005. For me, who was at that point supremely casual in game experience, completely clad in blue gear and in no position to get anywhere near 40 man raiding, ZG was a very attractive possibility. The problem of course was getting there, and finding a group of people in our Guild Back Then was a tough prospect. There weren’t even 20 people online on a good night. One night in late 2005 my husband was asked by someone on his Friends List (a lovely dwarf pally who was for many years a permanent fixture in Stormwind) if he’d like to come along and heal (because back in those days there was only one spec: for Mr Alt’s Pally that meant Holy) for a ZG run. They had a space for a dps too, and I was asked if I’d like to take part. As we congregated outside the instance with the other people I felt more than a little inadequate: these people were better geared and clearly all knew each other very well, if the chat in Raid was any indicator. I could only hope I’d be able to do my best. We despatched the first two bosses (Bat, Snake) with a surprising measure of ease: I learned later they’d never killed both in the same evening. I scored points for doing as I was told and throwing out decent dps, and made myself generally both useful and unobtrusive simultaneously. Loot drops were all handled by rolling: there was no obvious bias towards anyone, if you needed something you rolled. This seemed a great deal fairer than all the various loot systems I’d read about, far more preferable than DKP. Those three letters scared me.

Mostly I just stood at the back and kept quiet

Then we arrived at Bloodlord Mandokir. This boss was tough. We wiped several times and it got close to the scheduled finish time. I learned via a whisper that the group hadn’t as yet managed to kill him, despite considerable effort to do so. We ended up exploiting the spears in the boss area (which of course Blizzard subsequently removed for just this reason) and the Troll and his mount died on the last pull. There was subsequently much rejoicing, as this was a significant kill for the majority. When they cracked open the boss for loot, there was Mandokir’s Sting. I can even now remember how excited that piece of loot made me feel. It was my first ever chance at an Epic item in an Instance. I’d had Blue items drop before I’d felt the same way about, but this bow was different. This was actual proper Hunter Loot. There was only one other Hunter in the raid, a Night Elf, and I sat patiently and waited to be told when to roll. And I waited. When the call went out, I shut my eyes and pressed my macro button.

I won.

It was only after I was given the item that I realised something was not right. The hunter stopped talking to me. There were some awkward silences in raid too, but I assumed it was because people were tired. Paranoia was just silly, and I looked forward to going back to Ironforge to make a quiver for the arrows I’d now be using instead of my normal bullets. There was a great deal of internal squeeing too of course… It was only when I’d left the raid and was selling stuff in Ironforge that I found out what the problem was.

‘You won MY item 🙁 ‘

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The Nelf Hunter whispered me and decided she’d tell me how it was. Apparently the bow ‘was promised’ to her should it drop, and I shouldn’t even have been given a chance to roll on it. I was a Dwarf, my Racial was guns, what on earth was I thinking by rolling to begin with? I explained as politely as I could that I’d been told what the loot system was, I’d done as I’d been instructed and I’d rolled higher. Therefore, the item was mine inside the raid rules. She kept at me for nearly an hour until I logged in desperation. I’d never experienced Loot Rage before, but I knew now at first hand just how mind-blowingly destructive it could be. In the end, the Hunter got both my husband and I both thrown out of the group. We raided for a few months (with some fun times when AQ opened in 2006), I picked up a couple more items from ZG and AQ, but as a result of what happened the leaders introduced a ‘Wish List’ system where you had to say what item you wanted from the instance before you went again and after that you were only allowed to take items that no-one else wanted… it was a bad idea. In the end, their fairness to just let people /roll failed to take into account you need everyone to be prepared to be fair in the first place. If people won’t, no loot system will ever work properly. It actually helped me begin my journey into 20 and 40 man raiding on a note of caution: make sure you know and understand everything expected of you before embarking on any journey.

I’d see the Hunter wandering around in game from time to time, but I was on /ignore, so it didn’t matter. As time went on, the group of players began to vanish, because that’s how Warcraft has always existed: most people come and go, but players like me and my husband remain, permanent fixtures because the casual nature of the beast allows you to dip in and out as you see fit. Needless to say, I moved on, but the memory of that first moment never left.

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Fast forward to Wrath of the Lich King: I was up at the Tournament, LFG Chillmaw (as was my normal daily routine for some time) when I was invited to a group by a mage. As I joined I watched the bow-coveting Hunter first register my presence before promptly leaving. Thirty seconds later the mage made a lame-assed excuse about being needed somewhere else and disbanded the group (as both were in the same Guild, something I’d not even realised.) I thought long and hard and then whispered him, telling him that three years to hold a grudge really was a bit pointless, and he should say hi to the hunter from me. I found another group for Chillmaw, and went on my way.

Thirty minutes later, the hunter whispered me on an alt as I farmed in the Fjord for leather.

We spent the next hour or so chatting: about how she was sorry about the loot drama, how she’d left that group as well and gone to a Guild with a bunch of people who are now part of our Guild, how that had subsequently fallen apart and she’d gone to a third Guild and then back to where she was. She spoke about how she missed people who had left, and how things have changed over the years. The hunter seemed to be running 10 mans on her own (which I didn’t envy, I know how tough that is) and also appeared genuinely grateful to be able to talk to me about anything and everything. The fact she apologised speaks a lot: there’s really not much point in life if you don’t learn from your mistakes, and it was very satisfying to have someone be that honest and upfront. I also learned that a lot of those people from that first alliance had gone for good: burnout, abuse, general lack of interest in a game that still makes me want to play it every day. It just goes to show that people play this game for a huge number of reasons.

It also proves the point that it’s never too late to say you’re sorry.

It isn’t just the game that changes over time, it is the people too. The same things may drive us and motivate, but in the end it is only pixels and it doesn’t matter as much as the way you deal with the issues that arise. I’ve watched a lot of abuse and recrimination over who Blizzard have awarded Alpha/Beta invites to in the last couple of weeks and it makes me sad to think that all many people do is consider themselves before the Community they’re a part of. If you live somewhere you need to treat everyone else around you with respect, regardless of your personal feelings.

It is everyone’s responsibility to make Warcraft a great place to play, including yours.

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