Well, it’s been a long time since I wrote anything and I’m in a mulling sort of mood right now, so get comfy…Uncle’s going to be dropping a nice wall o’ text on all you fine people.
A little bit of news to put things in context: Bloodriver has just made our first kills of Magmaw and the Omnotron Defense System this weekend after a loooooooong hiatus from raiding. The last time we raided seriously (excepting Baradin Hold and things of that nature) was just after the pre-Cata patch, and since then it’s been heroics or nothing. With a new raid leader and a motivated team, it’s been an excellent experience (wiping for ~9 hours last week notwithstanding), but it did get me thinking of the changing sense of responsibility that a player must accept as they progress through the game.
When I first logged in to WoW, I was level one, alone in the world, with absolutely no obligation to anyone or anything. It was marvelous, for a long time, as I flitted from alt to alt, learning broadly of all the options before settling in with my shaman to finally reach towards endgame. As someone who soloed near-exclusively, it didn’t matter when I played, how long I had, or if I had disruptions—I was only accountable to myself. This lack of obligation to others makes for a fine game so long as you are personally excited about the game and what you are doing in it. Even the grindy parts of WoW didn’t seem bad, because I was heading for a goal and fresh new territory. However, during long stretches between the few friends I had in-game logging on, I did slowly become tired of what there was to do. Once the luster faded, the lack of ties started cutting both ways, and I felt I maybe shouldn’t be dropping my 15/month for something like this.
When I had more friends in-game and learned the joy of the 5-man dungeon, things changed quite a bit. It was new again, and my enthusiasm grew, but now there were obligations to deal with: you had to know at least a little of what you were doing or face the fact you were wasting everyone’s time, for example, and you could no longer lapse guiltless AFK. Additionally, things were more structured: if you didn’t have a healer AND a tank AND some DPS, and you no longer set your own pace. The social aspect was much heightened, cutting again both ways—you could do things directly WITH your friends, but on the other side of the coin, you could be leaving people out of a tight-knit group, and if someone was both a good friend and totally inept there were difficult choices to make about grouping. In the five-mans, especially at heroic-level, the first layers of complexity start folding around you: game mechanics, social networking and teamwork. It’s easy enough to get in, and the benefits are legion compared to solo work in both social and in-game rewards. However, from what I’ve seen from BC to Cata, the degree of perceived responsibility also depends hugely on the length and difficultly of the dungeons: the longer and more difficult heroics of Cata and BC meant that a heroic team was a weekend or all-night affair, in many cases, while the end of Wrath saw easy, casual heroics that were an easy way to spend time with friends and strangers alike.In both, however, there was little pressure to do more—you were always replaceable, and if you wanted to (for example <.<) wander off with your sweetheart to explore the sights of Outlands and talk, you weren’t letting anyone down.
Raiding is where I, at least, found things getting complicated. The requirements of skill and time alike are vastly magnified in order to get anywhere, and you need to negotiate at least ten people. For our little guild, this absolutely required scheduled times. Pressure for performance and reliability vastly increased with the jump to raids; you’re wasting a whole bunch of people’s time if you’re suddenly late, and finding replacements for critical roles that could negotiate the mechanics satisfactorily became very difficult. Tensions were higher as well—a single person’s mistake could frequently ruin the excellent work of all the rest, and people who were less prepared became more and more frustrating for those who did. Most of us took a lot of time researching stats and talents and rotations, and gathering money or materials to be buffed up and ready to go by raid time, only to wait up to an hour for others to arrive, filter in, and obtain the things they had all the week before to acquire. The increased sense of responsibility certainly caused more tension, and a number of nights spent in considerable frustration about lost time and wasted effort. However, on balance, it’s an incredibly intense experience to be part of the group that works week after week to drop that boss for the very first time in your guild, and all the focus and enthusiasm of the raid as a whole helps keep individual spirits high. Yet the longer I raid, the harder it is for me to enjoy the old solo fun I used to have…a once-dedicated quest junkie, I’ve barely scratched at the new zones and quests. Part of this may be available playtime, but I know another part is that once you have felt the joy of sharing experiences so tightly with another, or a group, it’s very difficult to find entertainment in the more lonely parts of WoW, or indeed any game with a similar structure. Raiding is without a doubt more fun to me than those activities, but it’s paid for with a substantial loss of freedom.
Recently, I’ve been a little dubious about raiding…I want to do it, Faeldray certainly wants to raid, and we are both fairly respected and valuable members of our raiding team…but some days, I do miss being able to just wander the world and do what I or we want without worrying about who might be offended by exclusion, or if one of the dozens of things outside my control makes all our effort vain, turn our fun into frustration that ends with curt farewalls after Mumble silence. It’s wonderful to raid with our guildies, without a doubt…but it is nice, sometimes, to be able to do exactly what you please on a weekend’s night, and which of those ideals seems best has never been clear to me.