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Not Mad, Just Disappointed: Shockadins and the Art of Scolding Your Foes to Death

October 16, 2012

This is not a post about critical analysis, material culture, or storytelling.

This is a post about holy paladins. This is a post for holy paladins who like playing holy paladins, and want to explore Azeroth as holy paladins.

Okay, we’ve gotten that out of the way.

While I’m always going to be Catulla at heart and still have plenty of things to do on her, after 5 years of playing as moonkin DPS I’ve put away my raiding antlers and picked up a sparkly golden hammer. (I blame the  switch on the fact that Waypoint’s Herald of the Titans effort needed a healer, but then I blame Waypoint for a lot of things.) When Mists was released, I wasn’t particularly keen on leveling in Pandaria as Ret or Prot. Just personal preference — nothing against either spec. So, I looked at the new 5.0 class changes, thought “hmm, there’s awful lot of offensive capability in these abilities that’s probably here for a reason”, slapped some talents and glyphs together, and accidentally fell in love with being a shockadin.

And then I wondered, why are more people not talking about playing shockadins? This is fun as hell. I leveled to 90 as holy, I do my dailies as holy (just hit revered with Golden Lotus today), no regrets. NO MERCY.

Here’s how I do it.  (If this post looks familiar to you, you’re right. I just wanted to post this somewhere a little less ephemeral.)




  • Holy Shock – buffs the damage of HS.
  • Denounce – occasional reduced cast time; handy, you’ll be spamming it a lot.
  • Harsh Words – turns Word of Glory into an offensive spell when used on a hostile target.


  • Falling Avenger — for those “oops, I accidentally walked off a cliff” moments
  • Righteous Retreat — are you seriously saying no to the Bubble Hearth glyph? What kind of paladin are you? Terrible.
  • The others are largely cosmetic, take your pick. I personally like Fire from the Heavens for maximum KILL IT WITH HOLY FLAME.


  • Speed of Light – good for bravely running away
  • Fist of Justice – reduced cooldown on one of your interrupts. This will make your life doing Golden Lotus dailies much easier.
  • Sacred Shield — mostly because Selfless Healer doesn’t have any utility for solo questing and Eternal Flame doesn’t work with the Harsh Words glyph and besides, EVERYBODY LOVES BUBBLES.
  • Unbreakable Spirit — reduces cooldown on your DS/LoH/DP, but honestly, I think any of the talents in this tier would be useful. Go with your preference.
  • Divine Purpose — when it procs, you can basically spam the equivalent of 3-HP Harsh Words at no cost. I like Divine Purpose because it’s passive and thus one less CD to think about while questing (as opposed to Holy Avenger). I would typically get two Harsh Words out of this, but sometimes up to 3 or 4. Sanctified Wrath has some nice aspects, but as a lot of its benefit is tied into using Avenging Wrath, it’s basically a buffed panic button. I want something that has a chance to help me constantly, not just when I get into trouble.
  • Light’s Hammer — a handy little bit of simultaneous self-heal and aoe damage, particularly when you’re doing That Sprite Quest in Mistfall.


Use Holy Shock to build HP just as if you were healing; as with most paladin specs, use your HP-sensitive spell (Harsh Words) at 3. Sometimes, if I was going in for a mini-boss or named quest mob, I’d try to build up 5 charges by healing myself or killing a less powerful mob and hope for a Divine Purpose proc.

Spam Denounce when you can’t do anything else.

Hammer of Wrath when applicable.

You can obviously use Crusader Strike to build HP as well, but bear in mind it will hit like a wet noodle. Use your other cooldowns as you normally would. Sparkle and be GLORIOUS at will.


Actually, no. I even timed my 12 mogu kills for my Golden Lotus daily today, FOR SCIENCE. The longest kill was 38 seconds, and the shortest was 24, with an average of 31.9 seconds. It’s not going to top any meters, but it gets the job done in the spec I have superior gear in.

I didn’t use Avenging Wrath on any of these mobs, and all of them involved judicious (see what I did there? that’s a PALADIN PUN) use of interrupts for abilities like Shield of Souls. I have an average ilvl of 463, but I haven’t optimized my gems/enchants/reforges yet.  I also had the Tangy Yogurt haste food buff and Blessing of Kings. I was not fighting any other mobs for any of these kills.

I thought about doing some target dummy practice and spouting some numbers out, but this isn’t a build that’s viable for sustained, raid-worthy DPS. This is a build to get you through your dailies in a reasonable amount of time without dying.

Aside from Light’s Hammer, the build doesn’t really have any strong aoe damage. I mostly pull one mob after another assembly-line style and save my panic buttons for when I accidentally aggro too many. I can *survive* several mobs (of course I can, I’m a paladin, I’m indestructible), but it isn’t always pleasant.


I’ve been thinking a lot about Challenge Modes because I absolutely want a set of Righteous Gundam armor, and I think that’s where this build will really shine. There are several encounters where heavy damage can be avoided by a smart group, meaning you can essentially run the dungeon with 3.5 DPS. This build nerfs your healing, but ideally, you should be able to get by on nerfed healing at that level.  I’m also really eager to try it out in some battlegrounds, but my priority for now has been getting geared for Waypoint’s raid start next week, so I’m afraid I can’t say much more than that on it. However, the PvP tier set bonuses do look like they’d be fantastic for this. 2pc gives a 10% buff to Holy Shock, and 4pc returns HP back.

I consider this build a work in progress, and I imagine I’ll continue to tweak it and discover more about being a hybrid-within-a-hybrid as the expac progresses and I find different ways to use it. My intent was just to be able to level and quest in my stronger gear, I haven’t crunched ***serious numbers*** on it or anything amd don’t plan to; it isn’t a viable spec for raid DPS. Anyway, I welcome feedback on it from anyone else who tries it out–let me know what you find, and I hope you found this post helpful! Salt to taste, see what works.

Perculia’s Peculiar Signet

August 27, 2012

Last week I found out there’s an item named after my character in Mists of PandariaPerculia’s Peculiar Signet. I’m completely thrilled about this tribute. I’m not usually floored by surprises or good news, but this time, I definitely was. The thought must pass through everyone’s mind how cool it would be to have a tangible reminder of their time spent in Azeroth, a place where so many things are transient yet wrapped up in memories. And well, that happened.

What do you say when you write a post like this? I didn’t just want to gush, which would bore everyone. Responding to the attention with self-deprecation or rattling off self-praise is equally abrasive. I have loved my time spent in Azeroth as a player, and think it’s the coolest thing ever that I get to write about it for work now. It’s a fan’s dream come true.

There’s a conundrum that every character in Azeroth is both a unique hero and part of a faceless crowd. Millions of us are a handful of survivors that vanquish foes and triumph on daredevil missions. We’ve all single-handedly restored greenery to Firelands and have a personal connection with Wrathion. So from that perspective as well, it’s great to picture my character stepping out from the shadowy composite of heroes into Azeroth’s meta-fabric, to feel that she’s been made “real” by this ring.

Community-themed items are something everyone knows about, but it’s too abstract and awe-inspiring to think about practically attaining. It’s presumptuous to do. I’d idly wondered about Angelista, coming across her belt, ring, and neck as I got more serious about raiding in AQ 40. And as I kept lurking on EJ, I appreciated when several generations of rogue theorycrafters showed up in items. To me, the players with named items had taken their enjoyment of WoW and turned it into a unique hobby that transcended progression patches or dangling carrots designed to hook the player base. I always hoped to get to that level of involvement with WoW, a calm place where I’d be unaffected by trivial things and parse the content in a uniquely tailored way. The end goal wasn’t to act in a way that would garner attention from the powers that be, but to find a unique niche that was both personally satisfying and beneficial to others.

So last week I was working on archaeology and legendary weapons posts when Esoth, writing up a MoP hunter gear list, linked me the ring and asked if I knew about it. Here’s a few of the highlights of what happened next:


I went back to screencap all the replies on my phone, since it was so heartwarming: the outpouring reminded me of dinging the Realm First Rogue announcement, except less temporal. Lots of people commented how genuinely happy they felt, how it’s less common to feel so intensely happy on someone else’s behalf. I tend not to squee about things or actively reach out for support, so to see my feed crit with well-wishes surpassed my expectations. It was different and overwhelming to be in a position where all I could do was accept thanks.

Specially-named items occupy a powerful part of Warcraft’s universe. There are many things players attribute elite status to that are transient–we can all remember exasperatedly waiting for an item to drop, only to wonder why it’s in our bags tiers later. Having a named item is in a completely different league from other unique character perks–it transcends the petty elitism tied to many aspects of the game that temporarily make players feel special. It’s not tied to an imaginary hardcore vs casual debate, or loses its lustre in hindsight. It’s something inspirational players look up to, but it’s an untouchable goal. Lots of players would love a named item, but there’s no actual plan to getting one, like you would farming achievements or mounts. You just do what’s natural and share your passion for the game with others.

And I’d just been writing about being in a transitional state myself–how for years I defined myself in-game as an enthusiastic well-rounded player that had both strong raid achievements and vanity item collections. That breadth of knowledge, paired with relevant professional skills, helped shape me into an ideal candidate for my current job as Wowhead’s Content manager. But in adjusting to a new schedule and responsibilities, I was unable to interact in my familiar way with WoW. Having something change after years of familiarity, even if it’s for the best, still feels disconcerting. I’d been so used to defining myself one way around Azeroth, that when that playstyle was yanked out from underneath me, it took some adjusting.

As a side note, I have felt a bit more adjusted recently–my current guild, Something Wicked, has been a great fit. The guild is full of people who are passionate about WoW: Anafielle runs a paladin blog, Derevka writes about priests and finds excuses not to visit me, Omega maintains Deadly Boss Mods, to name a few. They’re also incredibly kind and close-knit, making me feel valued and helping me achieve things in-game I had mostly given up on doing with my schedule like heroic mounts. They keep taking me along to Dragon Soul and asking excitedly how far along I am on the legendary each week–as someone who spent over two years finishing warlgaives, I’m always calmed amused by this. Last week I made a vague comment about trying for a Real ID heroic Firelands clear, and the next day there were three pages of forum responses. This really meant a lot to me because I had to step down from raiding in Firelands and I felt very ambivalent if I deserved to be carried along to Rag or not. People keep reassuring me that I’ve earned it with the work I’ve done–Anafielle has been especially eloquent about this–and every time someone in guild says something nice, I’m feel the same validation I did when I discovered the ring. It’s exactly what I needed getting into the home stretch of MoP beta coverage.

It makes me smile to look at the list of MoP BoEs and find my item next to Vulajin’s Vicious Chestpiece, named after one of the theorycrafting rogues I followed early on. I feel like things have come full circle: I’ve got a named item listed next to one named after a rogue theorycrafter. I remember how much his Theorycrafting Think Tank entry on rogues in TBC helped me, and how it was nice to chat with him a few minutes at Blizzcon about ways Killing Spree and void zones can be problematic. It’s scary and cool to realize that I occupy a place I revered when I started playing, and that I can serve as an inspiration to other players. I also realize there aren’t very many non-theorycrafters with named items, so I’m excited thinking about how this shows players a variety of interests and contributions can be recognized. It’s hard to put my finger exactly on what stood out–beta coverage? vanity guides? transmog sets? bad 50 Shades of WoW jokes?–but I like that it’s not straightforward, showing I’ve had fun with multiple areas of the game.

I absolutely believe my pre-Wowhead experiences shape the quality and nature of my work. I draw upon my variety of experiences–progression raider, vanity collector, lazy alt player, achievement hunter–to come up with articles and features that resonate with the wide-ranging player base. For example, this week I’m working on a series of broad-stroke class preview guides for 5.0.4 which my dusty alts will appreciate, while writing a guide to specific Scholomance and Scarlet Monastery vanity items being removed for dedicated transmog collectors. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the people who have shaped my gameplay and community experiences along the way, bringing their own types of enthusiasm and expertise to the game.

  • My coworker, Ashelia, saw my potential and convinced me to start writing at Wowhead. She’s come up with countless innovative decisions for the site and inspired me to grow and develop my position. We’ve been friends for a while, and collaborating for work has both strengthened the friendship and led to a mutally supportive work parternship.
  • My best friend and college roommate got me into WoW. She instilled in me a love for whimsical cloth robe collections and her dedication to being a GM in her progression guild inspired me when I became an officer in mine. She’s no longer playing, but she always reads my articles and we’re back to what we did before WoW–talking about RL fashion and planning mischief IRL.
  • The Flavor Text crew: an email chain with Narci, Lani, and Cat has been going on for several years at this point, through RL ups and downs. It started through a shared love of WoW lore and developed into a daily support network. The thread was nicknamed STAM as an anagram of our names that symbolized how we’ve helped each other stay afloat and survive with empathy, humor, and wit. We came up with the idea for this blog together: it was the first public blog space of any sort I wrote at.
  • I’ve mentioned several Something Wicked guildmates above, but I can’t stress enough how great it is that I can casually participate in a friendly progression-minded guild and feel valued thanks to my work. And while things changed in my old guild with the recent crop of raiders, I have nothing but respect for my raiding core during my officer days. They trusted me to lead them, and with their support, I learned how to have fun being in the spotlight and enjoying the responsibility. Many of them aren’t on twitter, didn’t run blogs, or led class analysis discussions but they were long-time fans, dedicated raiders, and humble achievement hunters. Above all, they were loyal players that worked harmoniously as a team and had quiet dedication that is often unsung.
  • Esoth gets a special mention as a Something Wicked raider. We started off being mock-competitive on twitter about achievements, but from that we developed a strong friendship. He’s always around to help with beta articles and offer constructive site feedback, as well as bad jokes. He recently posted his hunter spreadsheet to EJ and you should all check it out. Binkenstein is another twitter theorycrafter, over at Totem Spot, who tirelessly sends me daily site feedback and helps me with beta questions and articles, plus has fun costumes to boot. They’ve both been loyal friends that have patiently explained bugs and waited for fixes. Many others on twitter as well have chimed in with class feedback when I’ve asked for guide help, which is greatly appreciated.
  • The Blizzard staff I’ve gotten to know from work, most notably members on the community and items teams. From stumbling across a bunch of justice point gear named after poetry to helping a CM solve a complicated site problem without knowing their identity at the time, wonderful connections have developed. Another one of those things you always imagine would be really cool, but hard to picture how it would actually ever happen on its own.
  • Summarizing Hamlet‘s contributions and interactions is tricky. Many of you had first impressions of him on twitter as an analytical robot maintaining high-quality resto and moonkin spreadsheets for ages. And it’s true, his theorycrafting stuff is excellent and I hope one day his Druid Trainer t-shirt becomes a reality, I really do 🙂 He deserves it. However, I personally never was interested in playing a druid or knew Hamlet when he played WoW. Likewise, he doesn’t actually read many of my Wowhead articles and thinks Tyrande is a druid. But, we like bothering each other, so I moved in with him last week. Moving has been both exciting and anti-climatic: it’s something we’ve definitely looked forward to, but it feels like such the right thing to do, it doesn’t seem like a big decision at all. If you want sappiness, you can check our twitter favorites lists.

So, thanks for reading my articles and enjoying the database features. And, thank you, Blizzard.

Balancing WoW for Work and Fun: Then and Now/Sixth Screenshot Prompt

July 9, 2012

If there was a writing challenge to discuss the “Then and Now” shoofoff of the “Sixth Screenshot” prompt last year, I could have written a rosy entry on being a successful progression officer and vanity item collector, outlets that helped me relax while completing my newly-finished thesis at the time. A year later though, I’ve cleared DS normal twice and recently left the guild I was in for over four years. The missing piece of the puzzle that turns this trajectory around is that I also started work as the Content Manager for Wowhead.

I was stumped at the time of the prompt summarizing how I greatly enjoyed my current job, which I started during a period of many other changes, but ironically it prevented me from playing the game the way I was used to for six years. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s laced with some nostalgia. I gave up though, and went back to covering beta.

I thought again of writing this entry a month ago, when my guild suggested bringing officers-gone-casual, including myself, to heroic DS for chances at the mount. It would have made for a nice entry, writing about how I couldn’t raid yet the little community framework that motivated me so much in past years was still going strong as I moved into a new part of my life. My officer team, valuing loyal raiders both past and present, always brought guildmates along for achievement or vanity things for free, knowing it built community and helped reputation.

Instead, newer raiders didn’t bother showing up for my run. Someone left a passive-aggressive post about how they’d show up if there was someone more relevant, meaning, someone who would pay more gold. The Black Market Auction House came out so that was a convenient excuse with gold and buyable epics, but you won’t kill many things if you ignore an officer’s raid plans and don’t show up.

It’s funny, in spite of working on features millions of people use each day, and on a more personal scale, chatting with more community folks on twitter, finding out how much the little guild environment I built had changed stung. That selfish attitude wouldn’t have persisted if I was still an active officer, but I had to step down because I got a very fun creative job. I think we can all agree cutting back was for the right reasons, but it still feels strange, from a personal perspective.

So, onto the screenshots. My vanilla screenshots are mostly lost, but I saved the six earliest ones from my old computer:

From this, we can learn a few things. Even though I was on a terrible laptop, I cared about atmosphere, taking care to find places with dramatic lighting or snapping a picture mid-emote. My sense of exploration is present as well, as some of the pictures are taken in pre-BC Caverns of Time and pre-Naxx Eastern Plaguelands, yet I focused on nooks and interesting walls instead of sweeping vistas. And you can tell I had a large collection of cloth gear on my rogue even at this early point (one robe is even a horde starter one), a theme that would spiral into collecting imitation priest t6 and much more, culminating in creating “lookalike tier” transmog set entries for Wowhead.

The pictures don’t show everything. They don’t give much information about raid experience or how I enjoyed putting clown suits together for the best stats. (Two-piece Madness ZG and Aged Core Leather Gloves forever!)  They don’t show how being one of the first people on the server to win a ZG mount motivated me to stop caring about awful full tier, start lurking on EJ, and to show I was an awesome well-rounded player that deserved that amazing RNG. But they do show a fair amount of wonder at the world.

I went back through my current screenshots, and found this as the sixth one:

It was taken when my Burning Crusade guild quit raiding in Sunwell and I was waiting to hear back from new guilds. I had always wanted to join that guild in vanilla, and had a happy few tiers with them in BC until the core team was crit by outside scheduling issues. So in the twilight of BC, I flew around Azeroth after filling out several apps, taking pictures in my favorite zones like Feralas and Darkshore. I always liked this picture for how the sun and glaive flared together, as well as how my character’s head was slightly turned as if she heard a noise, hair swinging behind her. After Wrath hit, I also liked this picture for capturing the old look of Cursed Vision with glowing eyes. I had started to become interested in the lore in BC and demon hunters were the perfect hook to get me learning more–eventually leading to a burst of creativity where I wrote some stories about night elves. I’m pretty sure when I got the helm, I temporarily lost a set bonus and dps, but I just had to equip it since I was so excited.

If you had asked me to analyze the picture when it was taken though, I would have talked about gear worries. Anxiety that I was apping to Sunwell guilds without a full set of glaives, that I was using badge pants since they were ~20 dps higher than tier ones but most Sunwell rogues probably had the imba Felmyst legs, that I should scrounge up the gold to buy a crafted Leatherworking chest before raiding again. I always remembered that anxiety and how it ultimately proved useless. I did find a raid that cleared Sunwell pre-nerf, I did not see a full set of glaives or Felmyst pants drop for the rest of the tier, and I loved the guild. That taught me a valuable lesson about applicants, gear, and attitude when I did become an officer a year later.

I can’t tell you what I wore in later tiers (probably because there was clear BiS and alternative options were limited), but I can remember everything from Sunwell with striking clarity. How Sunwell tier and Felmyst pants were easy choices, but the 4th piece of Tier 6 and off-set items were contested. Thinking back to that moment, when I hopped servers in that outfit, all I wanted out of the game was a progression guild I felt comfortable in, and some gear to reflect the content I was working on.

I did get much more than that. After a Tier 7 slump where we failed Immortal, I became an officer and helped get us back on track to Death’s Demise and a bunch of other timely server firsts. People that left us over Immortal reported our recruitment thread out of spite when we started doing better, and yet I continued to handle recruitment in spite of my complaints to Blizzard not going anywhere. I dealt with the challenges of taking perceived 10-player “A teams” and ensuring everyone got their achievements and 10-player loot on offnights, instead of some players feeling excluded. A previous BC guild changed their minds about accepting me mid-xfer due to my gender, and so I always worked to ensure the guild was a place where women would feel comfortable.

We organized server-wide achievement runs to clear out all raid achievements in the game–I remember The Traitor King bugged for a large part of the raid, so we repeated it several times on 25s. We teamed up with another guild and finally got Immortal for all achievement-hunters. We ran two 25-player raids in late ICC to ensure everyone in the guild, even if they weren’t around for Death’s Demise, got a Mimiron’s Head and ensured every interested raider got a vanity item from the Shadowmourne box. We did vanity things like running AQ for the rare enchants and Black Temple to finish three glaive sets and had a party in Dalaran when we were done. Our officer core was a really strange mashup of Robert Baratheon, Stannis, and Tyrion if they peacefully ruled together on a council in an alternate universe, and it worked.

A vanilla raider that filled in for Ulduar 10 hardmodes helped me get a discount on some awesome clothing this spring. A former raid lead who filled in for me on Yogg +1 when I spilled a drink on my keyboard saved me a seat at BlizzCon’s costume contest. I answered some questions about work for a raider’s college essay, and he sent me a bunch of Darkmoon Faire books I needed as thanks. The most meaningful in-game interaction by far was the day of Cataclysm’s launch, where I had a pipe dream of getting the server first achievement but was unsure since beta had corrupted my old computer and I had no leveling experience. A group of us all aiming for Feats of Strength got on vent and dealt with my panicked quest questions for over 12 hours straight. Somehow I managed to not get lost, smash Escape in Uldum a lot, and pulled ahead of everyone else. One of my friends in vent was also a rogue, so I waited the few extra minutes for him to catch up, and then we coordinated hitting 85 in the same minute so we’d both get the Feat of Strength. To me, it represents how we blended competition and friendship well.

I had sensed my attitude was shifting in Tier 12 though: the week I handed my graduate thesis in was the week I asked to sit for the first time. The end of undergraduate was rocky and I had many demons to expel in grad school: spending my free time working hard to raid and get achievements helped me relax. Raiding as relaxation was entwined with an academic environment, and once freed from one, the other felt a bit untethered.

Soon after I graduated, I got my current job, which was vastly different from my previous one as a humanities and museum research assistant. And I realized my schedule had to be addressed as I covered Tier 13 previews during Heroic Rag attempts: it would only get worse when beta hit. It was time to move on, and since then, I’ve been struggling to redefine my relationship to WoW as a leisure activity. On one hand, things haven’t completely changed. I love sharing new things with people, and now I get to do that every day on the news blog for work! If I think something is cool in game, I can tie it into one of our features, like Transmog sets. But with an unpredictable schedule, many of the things I looked forward to doing every week simply aren’t possible. It’s odd covering heroic items on beta and realizing that I might not have time on live to actually get them. Last expansion I was thrilled to race to 85, but this time I’ll be writing guides and making sure the database is running smoothly when the expansion hits. And with how much WoW has changed, I’m not sure if I’d enjoy it in exactly the same way if I did have the time–plus, that’s a lot of WoW on a daily basis. I’ve been meaning to finish up my archaeology series and write some things on appearance/transmog/fashion theory, but it’s a really intense time at work with beta’s unpredictable schedule. Especially since private server coverage is sadly popular and unchecked, making it more of a challenge to deliver news from actual beta servers that doesn’t sound stale in comparison.

Tier 13 was a strange time to stop hardcore raiding and attempt to still consume content in my overly-picky style. It wasn’t easy subbing in to the newly-downsized 10s, because fitting in two rogues is silly and asking someone collecting legendary fragments to sit for one with flaky attendance is also silly for progression. Most other raids were full on everyone’s new alt wanting a legendary. Some friends put together alt runs and invited me along, but I never could commit with my schedule so unstable. I didn’t have many non-raid achievements and mounts left to chase, and logging on to farm Karazhan, archaeology, and Utgarde Pinnacle without luck wasn’t exciting. Many of my friends also cut back on WoW due to increasing job commitments, so I ended up talking more to them during the day than in-game. Which is valuable–it showed the friendship went more beyond the game and pixels–but it made logging on pretty strange. Realizing that something has helped you grow, and now you’ve outgrown that framework, is bittersweet.

As part of the growing though, I’ve channeled my interests into large projects–a refreshing change after my work for a radically different audience. Transmog is a great example of that, so is the “Same Model As” tab. I got to travel for work instead of being cooped up in a library, covering Blizzcon and the Mists press event. Many of my early blog posts were about guides to various quirky things in WoW, and now we have a section for user-submitted guides. I like coming up with screenshots for holiday guides and newsposts using the large collection of disguises I collected over the years. Plus, as someone that’s been around forever, I can draw upon my breadth of experiences when editing obscure parts of the database.  (And it has been a good opportunity to branch out into other things. For example: I grew up in a remote area where most things were heavily filtered away–from jeans to all TV shows to any video games–so there are always gaps I’m looking to fill and enjoy, which explains why I document every little detail in Ocarina of Time just because I can now.)

Coming up with a “Now” picture is interesting. Transmog lets people freeze their characters in a timeless moment instead of the present, how the player wants them to be remembered. An armory link, especially in my case, would lead to a misleading and more depressing conclusion without context. When I moved servers last week to relax in a healthier guild atmosphere, I put on my Sunwell set for Midsummer farming, since I felt uncomfortable in my reforging mess of LFR gear that was abandoned when beta hit. A lot of the memories of my previous transfer came back to me. This was the raiding set I always wanted to have because I thought it symbolized someone that had demonstrated skill and reliability. (I forgot about our old friend RNG, but, details.) I remembered sentimental things like loading up an alt with fireworks and firewater for good luck and logging out in the World’s End Tavern before I left.

In light of the old picture I found, I think a picture of my rogue idling in her idealized yet equally-outdated Sunwell gear for “Now” is fitting. I slowly collected the missing pieces with friends over the years, not least of which was my melee team farming Black Temple for over 6 months with me in ICC, and I don’t have any pressure to offer up a screenshot of current gear to show that things are good because I achieved something. The gear reminds me that I had a great time both raiding and collecting in WoW, hobbies that helped me get this current job, which I’ve now refined into something both enjoyable and professional. Collecting things at a slower pace now, I do miss how things were, but the past served me well. (Also, fun fact: I was so busy with work that I only realized this week I hadn’t purchased any Firelands vanity items.)

Transitional periods are always awkward, and there’s a certain irony that covering WoW for work made me redefine how I enjoy it in my personal time. I’m still in the process of sorting things out, and the recent guild situation made these feelings fresh again, but I’m glad I’m in this current place.

The Last Place I Expected; The First Place I Looked

April 10, 2012

As Cat has mentioned in the post immediately preceding this one, some time ago the authors of Flavor Text were tagged by Rades and Cynwise to participate in the Sixth Meme making its rounds along the WoW blogosphere. Cat’s done hers, and though her post is a tough act to follow, I will gladly make my own attempt. Because I am far too lazy to organize my screenshots into subfolders, I simply picked the sixth picture currently in my screenshot folder.

The above picture was taken shortly after the launch of patch 4.2. It features myself, Catulla, and Perculia sporting the new pigtail hairstyles, tier 8 druid helms (or the lookalike, Unwavering Stare), and whatever costume we felt put forth our best Sailor Moon impression. Then we found a rooftop in Stormwind, danced, and giggled together over Ventrilo, joking about the game, our characters, our lives, and whatever else came to mind. Sadly missing from the above screenshot is our fourth Flavor Text member, Narci, woefully excluded from Stormwind shenanigans because her main is a tauren. Oh, my dear, how the false barriers of faction do come between us! Alas, our celebrations were the poorer for your absence.

I was surprised to find this picture as the sixth in my folder, and the moment I saw it, the precise memories of what I was doing at the time jumped straight to the forefront of my mind. I could tell you about how my poor connection lagged terribly that day in Stormwind with all the post-patch crowding on the realm and how I got turned around in the north alley of the Trade District trying to find the barber shop (I very, very rarely use it). I could tell you how we searched for the perfect spot to dance and take screenshots. I could even tell you that this shot is not my favorite from that day; that honor belongs to one Catulla took and features some random toon flying by in the background, an oddly floating Worg Pup in tow, because the “flying non-combat pet” bug had yet to be fixed for pets that weren’t supposed to fly. Random gliding doggie is still an in-joke that makes me grin, though I acknowledge its lack of meaning to anyone but myself.

It speaks to the power of imagery that my memory is jogged so well through this one little screenshot. In all honestly I could not have chosen a better picture for my Sixth Meme entry if I had sifted through every screenshot I’ve taken since 2007. The most important element of my experience with World of Warcraft is summed up right there: the community I’ve discovered as a result of the game. World of Warcraft, more than any single other activity or hobby I’ve ever had, has brought me some of the best and most treasured friends of my life. It’s opened my eyes to new possibilities in my career pursuits. It’s challenged me to flex my creative drive in ways I never dreamed I would. It’s made me a published author. It’s encouraged me to step out of my comfort zones. Through World of Warcraft communities I discovered modern thinking on social justice and I met many people from diverse backgrounds who have challenged my perceptions in ways I will forever appreciate. I do not wish to insinuate that I never could have developed these things without World of Warcraft, because I certainly hope that I would have, however it just so happens that in my life Warcraft was the medium through which these things came to me. Surely that is something special.

Right now I am going through one of the more difficult periods of my recent life. Family and personal issues only marginally within my control have finally reached a breaking point and the fallout from that has been exhausting, demanding, and draining. The effort required of me to confront these events and their causes has taken from me the time I might normally be spending losing myself in my hobbies, including WoW, however, the constant that remains is the people the game has brought into my life. Those folks have been here for me in the past few weeks, buoying my spirit and renewing my faith in ways I have desperately needed, even if only through a few sympathetic words or a silly kitten picture on Facebook. Life sometimes takes us through dark places, and often the light we rediscover while there is cradled in the hands of other people. One of my favorite quotes is from the book Contact, by Carl Sagan, and it sums up what I feel rather well:

“You’re an interesting species, an interesting mix. You’re capable of such beautiful dreams, and such horrible nightmares. You feel so lost, so cut off, so alone. Only you’re not. See, in all our searching, the only thing we’ve found that makes the emptiness bearable… is each other.”

Thank you, World of Warcraft, for giving me more of the each other.

Notes on Ocarina of Time, Part 1

March 1, 2012


Hamlet: This is a project where we record our discussion while Perculia plays through a classic game, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. It’s a game I am deeply familiar with, having avidly played it starting on the day it came out in 1998, and a number of times since. Perc has almost no experience with non-MMO videogames of any kind, and when I got a 3DS a few weeks ago, it seemed a prime opportunity to have her try one of the most well-loved games that has ever been made. She was very interested to see what it was that had so captivated so many of her friends. As we started talking about the game I was having a lot of fun–while I’ve replayed Ocarina in the past and it’s one of my favorite games, it’s now been 14 years since I saw it through a new player’s eyes. We realized others might enjoy the same thing.

The following is a series of notes about things she noticed while playing, and various responses from me. There’s no promise that all aspects of the game are discussed, merely whatever topics we wind up talking about along the way. If you find it interesting, comment or even add your own memories of Ocarina. If there seems to be interest we’ll try to keep it up as she plays through the entire game. You can find us both on twitter as @HamletEJ and @perculia.

Without further ado:

Kokiri Forest

Perculia: Kokiri Forest was both an effective tutorial in introducing me to gameplay controls and the environment. You’ve spoken before both on how Ocarina was radical for the sheer scope of the world/player combat, but that every Zelda game elaborates on core tropes. So it was fun to see how Link was a commoner/nobody in his little village (knowing I’d be exploring a vast world soon), while haphazardly running around getting used to the 3D setting and jumping off rooftops.

Getting the initial shield and sword was both a lesson in gameplay and an introduction to one of the series’ standards–Link’s traditional gear. Instead of being found in a chest, the Deku Shield required me to explore the village for hidden rupees so I’d have enough for purchase at the store. In the midst of throwing rocks and bushes in the hopes of uncovering more rupees, I saw a 5 rupee coin noticably floating on top of a tower. The tower was reached by walking over a series of narrow bridges–which I did, slowly at first. It taught me to correctly use my movement controls and rewarded me for that little extra bit of explanation. When jumping over some rocks precisely, I was also rewarded by getting a rupee, reinforcing that carefully-executed behavior may give you an additional bonus. Of course, there weren’t rupees lurking behind every corner–just enough to make me want to explore every corner.

The Sword was obtained after successfully completing a tutorial section that introduced me to first to “L” targeting and associated strafing, rolls, and jump-slashes, taught me how to crawl through a tunnel, and successfully navigate a maze with a rolling rock. This started the pattern of completing puzzles (some that didn’t even require combat) and finding a reward at the end.

I’m also enjoying how a commoner from a tranquil green village can co-exist with throwing rocks over one’s head and chopping down signs 🙂

Hamlet: What’s great about the open Kokiri Forest segment is how effective of a tutorial it is. When I was 14 I didn’t even realize that’s what was going on. But as you’ll see, essentially nowhere else in this game do you have to grind up rupees to buy something to progress. It’s a mechanic introduced as literally your first task and never repeated. Why? Collecting Rupees by running around the forest area at random tutorializes the game’s basic movement functions. In 1998 it was the first or one of the first 3D action-adventures people would have played, possibly one of the first 3D games. With each new game the player had to acclimatize himself to a new grammar of basic movement.
Even the basic task of running in a straight line falls into this description. You see 5 rupees in a very visible spot, reachable only by walking across two long narrow bridges. Remember that this was not a 100% trivial task–camera logic then wasn’t what it is now and the camera wouldn’t stay lined up behind you easily. The game got you comfortable moving around naturally in a harmless environment while your mind was occupied with the task of getting 40 rupees, so that by the time you were doing things like combat and dungeons it was second nature.

One other thing I want to flag in the intro segment is how it teaches Z-targeting (or L-targeting as you know it in the 3DS version). It’s kind of crazy to look back now and think that “targeting stuff” in this way was actually an innovation at the time, especially if your gaming background is mostly WoW. Not that the concept was unheard of, but referring to its use as a means for controlling combat flow when the action-adventure game genre went 3D. By and large the 3D games we’d played before this were FPS’s (and Super Mario 64 which had no combat) and the idea of a 3D Zelda requiring you to “aim” your sword in that way seemed awkward at best. Z-targeting as the basic control concept driving the whole game seems like an incidental matter at first, but Ocarina wouldn’t have been what it is without it.

There’s so much more to talk about here but I’ll have to restrain myself for now–there’s a whole game coming up where we can discuss the artistic and world-building aspects you hinted at above.

Inside the Deku Tree

P: Starting the first instance (H: heh), I had a vague sense of expectations–that I’ll find a map and a new item which will allow me to defeat the final boss. The actual mechanics of the dungeon, the layout, and combat style are pretty foreign to me though (besides the “L” targeting function from WoW). Along the way, I tried to be mindful of subtle hints or motifs that were elaborated upon throughout the dungeon.

Fire. Fire is important in breaking webs–you first test this out on a wall and then move on to burning the floor towards the end. I also learned about the duration of lit sticks and how they’re an expendable, yet easily farmable, resource.

H: Also, when you first drop down to B1, the torch is unlit and covered in webbing. You press a button to light it and watch the web burn away, teaching you how to deal with the web across the room (not completely though, you have to add in what you know about Deku Sticks–but the game provided the requisite information about how the world works). Most readers know how a 2012 game would have popped up text saying “Fire burns webs!”, robbing you of the chance to make the mental connection, and probably interrupting game flow in some fashion in order to do it.

P: Deku Scrubs/Business Scrubs. As I’ve seen from later play sessions, these clueless merchants are more prevalent than I expected. The Forest tutorial emphasizing the importance of “L” targeting was helpful here, to instantly lock onto the Scrub and reflect the nut at the correct angle. One of the Scrubs gave me a clue halfway through the instance that I forgot about until I successfully realized that the mobs guarding the final boss were also Scrubs–and the clue applied to them. I haven’t been exposed to musical patterns and motif recognition at this point, but this puzzle trained me to focus more on visual similarities for clue solving.

Spiders. I learned to use the slingshot fairly quickly, when I was put into a position of being forced to use it on spiders blocking my only path on the wall. You have no other option but to use your new toy fairly quickly, but it feels like you’ve discovered a new type of combat instead of having no other option. When I first came across the spiders on the wall, before I had the slingshot, that was a hint that I’d be returning to that room in the future with an additional tool. (Which is similar to discovering an unlootable Skulltula early on, and assuming I’d be returning to the room and moving the nearby yet unreachable block at a later point.)

I found that jumping from the top level through the ground floor was a faulty puzzle. The floating hearts were a hint that I was meant to jump off, but I hadn’t encountered jumping before and it seemed risky (thinking of WoW fall damage), plus the floor looked opaque.

The boss fight was as expected–it drew upon color-changing eyeball trash mobs and utilized the slingshot–but I appreciated the flashy visual introduction, which you said was a hallmark of boss introductions in this game. Besides providing the player with an epic introduction, it also showed off the boss’ unique armor before combat began, which I appreciated from a visual perspective.

H: There’s something subtle here. You mentioned the vine-covered wall between levels 2 and 3 with spiders on it, and how you find the Slingshot on level 2 so you can proceed. So far all pretty obvious. What’s interesting is what happens after shooting the spiders off the wall and climbing up to 3. After getting the Compass in a side room, you come back out to the main shaft in level 3, and aren’t sure where to go next. As you point out, the solution, jumping down two floors to break through the web, is imperfectly hinted at. But there isn’t a great way down otherwise–it’s hard to shoot the spiders of the wall now that they’re below you. You can with some awkward positioning, but by being put in a situation where climbing down the way you came is difficult, you’re led to look for other options, like jumping down from the top floor.

Hyrule Castle Town

P: Besides the usual fun that comes along with exploring a new town with vendors, flavor dialogue, and funny NPCs that drop useful hints, two parts stood out in Hyrule Castle Town. One was an awesome room filled with pots that I could happily smash against the wall for rupees and hearts. Smashing pots is addictive, so when most of the pots in the room were broken, I practiced running and jumping off the boxes to perfectly land on the ledges that allowed me to climb up to the pots by the ceiling–which was fun to muse upon, seeing how I previously struggled to walk in a straight line. And in the process of idly rolling around the cleared-out room, I inadvertently smashed some boxes and discovered a Skulltula. Before I had previously thought that they were dungeon-only rewards, but now I viewed the outdoor world differently, as a place that was worth exploring too.

H: You mentioned once already how finding a hidden item made the world feel like it was something to explore. Exploration is the heart of all Zelda games–what you’re playing now grew out of the original Legend of Zelda, where this was more obvious because there was nothing else. No 3D, no fancy artwork and landscapes, no story to speak of–just Link, a huge grid-based environment, and lots of items to find. Ocarina is remembered as the game that brought this to 3D, and while many things changed between 1986 and 1998, it’s clear from your experience already (and from a generation of exaltation for this game) that it captured some of that adventuring spirit. Knowing that your own only background was an MMO, a goal-oriented multiplayer endeavor that shares little in common with something like Zelda, I couldn’t have guessed in advance whether you’d have fun doing things like smashing all the pots in the little room just inside Castle Town. But the funny part is, I know most people reading this remember exactly what room you’re talking about, because they did the same thing.

P: I also learned about how the time of day meaningfully impacts surroundings. I couldn’t get into Hyrule Castle Town in the dark, but I did come across zombies. Most of the town was deserted during the night, but a Potions store was open. When I was completing later outdoor quests, I remembered to keep the time of day in mind when completing key segments.

The stealth-like mission to meet Zelda reminded me of a fun version of “Assassinate Creed,” one of the Tier 13 legendary quests that has rogues stealthing around phased Gilneas, but not completely following traditional stealth and vanish mechanics. Here, there was more freedom to roam, no mechanics that seemed jarring with previous gameplay, alternate ways to avoid guards, and fun mini-games rewarding your dexterity like swimming in a striaght line or snatching rupees in the palace garden right next to a guard. And my initial observations on daytime accessibility were reinforced when I discovered I could only enter the palace during the day.

Learning Zelda’s Lullaby and later musical puzzles is a large topic on its own; I will address more fully in a later post.

H: We definitely will. Also, for those who don’t know Perc, she is really into music. In fact, in thinking Ocarina was a great game for her to try, a nontrivial factor in choosing it over other games is that it’s remembered for having a magnificent score. I’m sure we’ll have a lot of talk about both that and the iconic Ocarina in later segments.

P: It was easy to focus on the design issues and puzzle-solving at first because of how new everything was. But besides music in later posts, I want to talk more as well about the visual environment and the story narrative. I stopped writing here at the point when Link meets Zelda, so I think that’s a good starting place in the next blog to discuss both music and story more.

Your Justice Point Gear is Named After Famous Poetry

February 3, 2012

Update: Added some references to “Prufrock,” removed a few tenuous ones, and explained several elaborate metaphors.

Someone at Blizzard really likes the poetry of Keats and Eliot–and expressed this by naming over 100 blues and starter epics after their most famous works.

Keats’ poetry has a monopoly on Justice Point items, while Eliot’s “The Waste Land” shows up in most reputation-related gear. It sounds crazy, but here’s a teaser from “Ode to a Nightingale.”

Darkling I listen; and, for many a time
  I have been half in love with easeful Death,
Call’d him soft names in many a musèd rhyme,
  To take into the air my quiet breath;
Now more than ever seems it rich to die,   55
  To cease upon the midnight with no pain,
    While thou art pouring forth thy soul abroad
          In such an ecstasy!
  Still wouldst thou sing, and I have ears in vain—
    To thy high requiem become a sod.

As I continued working on Wowhead’s transmog features yesterday, I remembered an early comment that I made about the Pauldrons of the High Requiem being a reference to “Ode to a Nightingale.” I thought it would be amusing to link to twitter, but while scrolling through more sets and browsing the poem, I noticed Vest of the Waking Dream (referring to the famous ending) and kept going. Originally I assumed there were just references to the one ode using ilvl 346 vendor gear, but Hamlet found a handful of references to Wordsworth and suggested I search reputation gear as well to see if there were more literary references.  Turns out there was.

The end result: there’s four full poems by Keats, select parts from “The Waste Land,” and fragments by other famous poets. I’ve copied all the relevant poems I found here with links to the gear. You can mouseover the link to see the name of the gear inspired by a particular phrase, as well as click on the link to see the item in a new window. I’ve also included a list of items I haven’t found references for yet, if anyone wants to give that a try.

@gomatgo was curious about my thought process over at WoW Insider–I’ll try to explain it a bit better. As the Content Manager for Wowhead, I spent most of my day mucking around in the database, whether it’s finding outdated information, creating new matching armor sets for the transmog feature, or writing comprehensive guides for the site’s weekend content. Also a few months back, I manually sorted all the armor in the database into identical models–which taught me that Blizzard can create the strangest similarities and patterns. (It was kind of hellish, but I survived.)

Most gear is named following a theme–molten imagery for Firelands, Egyptian references in Halls of Origination, aquatic life in Throne of the Tides. To see so many strangely-worded items (even before I knew of their exact source) tied to gear vendors or bosses that had nothing to do with in-game lore was curious. I have a pretty good familiarity with items in the database so when I decided to seriously embark on this after noting references across armor types, some items popped out without me needing to consult Wowhead. I did approach it pretty methodically, making item filters for each type of gear, as well as noting what gear didn’t seem to fit into any poems. Some phrases also seemed suspicious–the Dragonmaw Clan would use a phrase like Aetherial Rumors? Err, no. Typing in distinctive phrases like that to google on a hunch brought up even more poems.

1. Keats
2. Eliot: “The Waste Land”
3. Fragments: Wordsworth, Shakespeare, Tennyson
4. Conclusion and Remaining Items

Read more…

In Defense of Exploiting

December 7, 2011

This blog is a collaboration between Perculia and Hamlet. It does not represent the views of FTL or any other communities at-large.

Edit: There was a blue post that explained the specifics of LFR, which adds to the evidence that Blizzard handled this situation better than other occurrences in the past.

Also again to clarify–LFR and similar extreme exploits are not the focus of the post–it’s about more general issues and the wider definition of an exploit. 


Few events are more irritating to the experience of a competitive or semi-competitive raider than the discovery of a potential exploit in the raid game. It immediately sparks debates within guilds and across the community over the most efficient and ethical way to proceed. We want to make the case, in short, that Blizzard should be disinclined to punish all but the most stark cases of abuse, and that guilds should have fewer qualms about taking advantage of unintended techniques that arise.

While this post was prompted by the recent LFR-related ban, it’s meant to be a general comment on how to approach these irregularities. We are not looking to rehash what many other bloggers have covered already about the recent situation. Instead, we are curious to analyze how raiding culture encourages creative problem-solving, leading to ambiguity over what truly counts as an exploit, and not just at a world-first progression level. In raiding, putative exploits create a tension between a competitive instinct to do anything necessary to succeed (cf. endless farming/wiping/class-stacking with alts) and a nebulous discomfort about whether this or that particular technique violates ill-defined community expectations.

When a debate over whether some technique is an “exploit” flares up, there is always one party that has clearly made a significant mistake: Blizzard. They’ve presented their players with a situation where the rules are unclear, anathema to any gaming endeavor. Setting the limits of what’s allowed and not allowed is Blizzard’s job (in fact, conceptually as creators of the game, it’s their entire job). The players are paying for the privilege of exploring a game space where the limits are thoughtfully crafted so as to create fun challenges. Whenever players start having to make their own decisions about what techniques are valid, they are doing Blizzard’s job. In this situation, Blizzard’s only duty is to rectify the deficiency in their product as painlessly as possible for their customers. We don’t expect Blizzard’s QA to always be perfect (or even close really)–this is merely about how to handle things when it’s not.

Suspending players from WoW in some unpredictable subset of cases is not a solution; at best, it’s a short-term action that does not free Blizzard from the onus of ensuring the rules and raiding parameters are clear and bug-free. The group of players who derive enjoyment from putting in great effort and doing what it takes to conquer new content have already been denied a clean and error-free experience for a tier.  (And by new content, we again aren’t thinking of LFR–if you follow our twitters, you know we have qualms about LFR existing in the first place. New content for raiders refers to appropriately challenging content for their skill level.) There are faulty player choices, but also errors on the part of Blizzard from failing to address well-publicized bugs to greyer areas that less-progressed raiders are relieved never got fixed.


By far the largest confusing point we see in all discussion of these issues is the nearly universal assumption that making use of a debated exploit is an action that carries some kind of moral gravity. They cheated. They deserve punishment. They should have known better. We say: why? What exactly is the ethical transgression here?

People who play games have encountered the word “cheating” in two contexts. Cheating in a competitive endeavor, which we’re taught not to do since childhood, denies an opponent their sought-after experience of entering into a fair contest. This is universally condemned for good reason. Cheating in single-player computer games (the ubiquitous God mode) on the other hand, is a  matter of personal preference. People with a well-curated understanding of video games tend not to, because it undermines aspects of the game they appreciate, but nobody would consider it some sort of misdemeanor if they did. It seems clear to us that gaining marginal advantages in raid progression is much more akin to the latter.

“But,” you interject, “it affects the other groups trying to compete.” Somewhat. The only way a team is materially affected by the rankings is that higher placement can give increased exposure for recruitment. First of all, have some perspective: if you are (to use the parlance of our times) in the 99%, you are unlikely to have any measurable effect from this. But more importantly, raid progression ladders are a creation of the community, not a product provided and supported by Blizzard. As we discuss soon, proper resolution of these situations is best done by the community. If the only actual benefit and harm related to an exploit takes place in third-party ranking sites, not even in the actual game, then those sites are best equipped to respond.

To use an well-known example from a recent tier, since the current scenario isn’t finished playing out: Atramedes was subject to variety of unintended strategies before falling into his final form. Indeed (despite the protestations of our friends in various high-end guilds), there was no evidence of a “legit” kill until he was nerfed heavily after many weeks, while hundreds of teams with no other measurable accomplishments mysteriously logged kills on the ranking sites before then. Let’s compare multiple ways this could have played out:

1) The “Punishment” model: Knowing there was a threat of punishment, but unsure whether it would be used here, top guilds would have heated internal debates over whether to kill him and risk sanction, or fall behind. Everyone watches the charade on rankings sites as some groups claim the extra kill and others don’t. Blizzard figures out how to detect who killed him by using extra gongs, or tanking him outside the room, or any of the other various tricks discovered (assume this is possible for purposes of discussion), and gives them a suspension. Ranking sites try to figure out which kills to remove. Guilds who are suspended are angry, for all the reasons described here. Guilds who aren’t now move up the rankings while some of their competition is offline–hard to say this is a fulfilling “victory.” In short: nobody is happy.

2) What actually happened: Nothing particularly dramatic. Many guilds came out of nowhere with a fake “top x” rank that meant nothing meaningful, as Atramedes in turn was counted as a legitimate encounter on all ranking sites. Guilds that put off the encounter were hurt by rankings, while guilds that got a false rankings boost soon saw their enterprising guild-hopping recruits leave when the numbers settled down.

As there were multiple tier 11 encounters that had unintended strategies (atonement in its original state on Halfus, tanks kiting constructs across BWD on Magmaw, players RP-walking on Nefarian), the raiding community was not particularly worried that killing Atramedes in various unintended forms would lead to severe consequences. But in general, adding the threat of punishment to the mix only heightens the uncomfortable tension when deciding to take advantage of a bugged encounter or not. You’re choosing between passing up an opportunity, and being suspended. At least without the punishment, it is up to individual teams what course of action they feel best comports with their goals in this game.

3) What we propose (the community handles it): Those who feel like killing Atramedes do so. Soon knowledge of the fight’s problems is well-known, and it’s accepted that killing him represents no accomplishment. Ranking sites choose a solution reflecting the common understanding (for example, by simply making him worth 0 points to everyone). Super-competitive guilds can kill him for their 3 pieces of loot, those who wish to “save” the fight for when it’s fixed are free to do so at no detriment. The result reflects the reality of the situation: 1 of the 13 encounters is wasted for progression purposes because Blizzard put it live in broken form.

We believe the latter is better for everyone involved. It’s not perfect, but given that the mistake was already made by Blizzard (putting faulty content live), the situation is mostly salvaged.

But in order to make the second option work, the raiding community would need to become more openly analytical of their progression. Currently, the raiding community tries to find unintended efficient ways to progress–but on the sly, disguised as “cleverness.” Time and time again, someone will post a recruitment add referencing top kills, later revealed to be the product of an unintended encounter. And even when encounters are not specifically cheesed–the community likes to cut corners and obfuscate the facts. A 13/13 Tier 11 guild could be farming all encounters every week, skipping boss, never repeating anything, or achieving Al’akir hardmode on 10. And all that–on a personal level–is fine. Raiding is a business and there’s a dwindling number of interested and qualified players able to put in the time commitment. You need to do what it takes to keep your guild afloat–whether it’s taking a week off to skip an encounter or downsize to 10s to secure a realm first Heroic Rag. You’re simply trying to operate within the constraints and unintended challenges Blizzard has set up.

When interacting in the general community, people like to feel that they are operating under the punishment/prestige binary–that they’re not in a top-world guild, so the temptation to exploit or find clever ways of completing encounters doesn’t apply to their realm of raiding. That’s not true. By constantly gloating over mid-level ranks on encounters like Atramedes, no progress will be achieved. A rank is what the community makes of it. If the community would critically view the progression system they’ve invented in the first place, then accomplishments would be weighed accurately. And if it turns out a rank is particularly hollow, then it would be stripped of meaning instead of falsely praised.


We want to just flag one other reason, which you may not have thought of, to go and do things that are arguable exploits: it’s fun. You may remember a theme in our last essay about how the little chinks in a game’s smooth perfection that can give it a lot of added life. People who play games a lot know the feeling of reading about a hilarious bug in their favorite game and simply wanting to go check it out (Skyrim players: don’t you dare try to deny it). Players in vanilla liked wall-jumping into Old Hyjal, the dancing troll village, and the Ironforge airport, even though they were technically off-limits, because the scenery was quirky and completely different from anything else in game (down to the cute “under construction” signs in Hyjal). There were safe spots from which to dps Heigen and Prince Malchezzar, as well as unintended bizarre strats like mindcontrolling UBRS trash to provide entire raids with fire resist debuffs on Ragnaros, or enslaving an imp from the Edge of Madness to nuke Jindo’s adds in old Zul’Gurub. While these additions trivialized the encounter, they were also novel, weird, and amusing to discover. For each of the above bosses, killing them once or twice the unintended way is a memory of WoW that adds some spice to our memory of killing them 50 times each the normal way.

To be clear, no part of this essay is arguing that Blizzard shouldn’t fix errors. The sole issue is whether players should get punishments (e.g. suspensions) that go beyond merely rectifying bugs. Everyone has been talking about last week’s heirloom transmogrification bug–you could send heirlooms to your main, transmogrify them into elite tier, and mail them to another character. Transmogrification has strict requirements–players can only transmogrify gear they currently own on a specific toon, but for one week, transmog fans got to run around with their low-level alts decked like level 85 raiders. Blizzard fixed this, but people got to have unintended fun in the interim–and nobody suggested they should be punished for it.


All of this said, we’re not proposing some kind of anarchy where players have free rein to whatever they want. When Overrated was banned for hacking the AQ environment models, we were right on-board with that. And we don’t purport to give a clear rule in this one article on what should be punished as an exploit and what shouldn’t–just to encourage far more leeway in situations where Blizzard has failed to provide clear guidance. The ambiguity in the boundary of what’s okay and what’s not is the whole point, in fact. People hardly ever agree on whether a particular irregular behavior was an exploit or not. And for that reason, selectively applied post-hoc punishments are very unlikely to produce satisfying results.

One simple guideline would be that anything Blizzard has publicly commented on is fair game. Back at Chromaggus, they were clear that meleeing a mob which can’t melee you back due to geometry is never correct. At Yogg-Saron, they were clear that evading adds so they attacked nobody during an encounter was also incorrect. All players now have a clear warning going forward that these activities will never be acceptable, and there’s no ambiguity as to whether they will be punished. It’s unclear why Blizzard couldn’t do this more often. [Edit: In the case of LFR, they publicly “ruled against” the exploit as soon as it became well-known, and those who continued to ignore it faced consequences. Statements like this leave no justifiable reason for people to continue doing it, and no grounds for complaint when they get suspended. But there are many other situations, both large and small, that have gone unchecked.]

There’s a very wide sliding scale between acceptable and abusive behavior, and the exploits people argue about always fall in that grey middle. Players will have quite different preferences as to how far along the scale to go, to maximize their enjoyment of the game. Even we don’t propose any particular boundary line that we feel is more correct than any other. We merely say that everyone shouldn’t be so quick to condemn players for how they handle situations that are by their nature unideal. The community at large is free to choose how impressed or nonplussed to be with anyone’s raiding accomplishments. So analyze the full situation, play how you want, and let others do the same. There’s a whole world of game mechanics awaiting our creative use.

Glass Houses: On Alyzande and Rape Culture in Azeroth

November 17, 2011

[Trigger Warning for discussion in links of rape, violent sexual assault, and hate speech.]

Last week, there was a great deal of activity in the feminist blog-and-twittersphere over the #mencallmethings hashtag. Men Call Me Things is a product of Sady Doyle’s post at In These Times, where she details the unfortunate issues surrounding being a visible female blogger.

What does this have to do with World of Warcraft?

Recently, Alyszande at The Gold Queen has been using her blog as a platform to discuss her feelings on being a victim of sexual assault. For more information on the resulting situation, we recommend reading Apple Cider Mage’s writeup, entitled When Blogging Imitates Real Life: Rape Culture.

Alyszande was brave enough to speak out about her experiences. For this, she is being called (among other unflattering things)  a liar.


  • Because she chose to look towards WoW as coping mechanism while she processes what can only be an unimaginable amount of trauma.
  • Because she turned to a community that has historically brought her joy, hoping to find a source of solace during a time of great personal duress.
  • Because maybe, for just a few moments, she wanted to have a few moments of something resembling normalcy.

The women of Flavor Text believe the strength of a community lies in discourse, not in attempting to silence through baseless accusations.

That’s rape culture, and like Eve Ensler, we are so over it.

We stand with Alyzande, the bloggers listed here at WoWEcon, and of course the men and women behind the White Ribbon Campaign.

Show your strength, Azeroth.

Mod note: The hyperlink under “a liar” goes to another post by Alyzande; in which a commenter calls her “full of shit.” There is a full blog post out there from someone who is cruel enough to challenge Alyzande’s right to speak publicly about her experiences. We are not linking said post because we have no wish to provide that person with page hits.

Pandystopia: Building A Zen New World Through Randy Panda Sex

October 26, 2011

We’ve been told we need to wait and see how serious the Pandaran world will be, that we should not assume the content will be “light and fluffy”. There have been a few excellent theories going around about what kind of conflicts we can expect to see in Pandaria. Please do check out Anne Stickney’s “5 Reasons You Should Love Mists of Pandaria”and Rades’, of Orcish Army Knife,  “Meet the New Races of Pandaria” post, to which I owe this extrapolation. One indicator that there are serious, mind-meltingly convoluted reasons to be excited to meet the Pandaren is in the Sha.  Welcome to my tinfoil hat speculation. Do I think any of this will make it into World of Warcraft? No. Do I think it’s badass awesome? Maybe a little.

“And finally we’ve got the Sha. The Sha are really unique. Sha are the manifestation of negative energy on Pandaria. So if you imagine whenever someone gets killed or a fight happens, something like that on the island, any sort of battle (essentially what’s happening with the Alliance and Horde once they get here), it releases Sha energy into the land. It’s kind of a Shadowform creature, you’re going to see it all over the place. Super aggressive…” – Cory Stockton, WoW Lead Content Designer

Okay, so they’re aggressive shadowform creatures that show up when people fight, blah blah. Hold up, “the manifestation of negative energy”? So, the Pandaren have evolved in a world where negative thoughts and actions literally turn into and feed hostile demons.  Can you imagine what that would do to your culture? Have a fight with your wife? Demon shows up. Kids won’t stop pulling each other’s ears? Demon. Go to war with the creepy bug people that live next door? Demons, everywhere. Demons rampaging your villages, demons killing your children.  I’d imagine you’d learn pretty quickly to reduce all signs of conflict in your culture.

What we know about the Pandaren makes them look like a placid, harmonious culture. Metzen says that they’re not motivated by hatred, that they’ve completely subsumed that set of emotions. We know that they’re interested in zen, in the balance of the light and dark, and in meditation, which they can use for physical confrontations and to perform magic, like healing. This is just the sort of culture that might evolve over time when anything short of gentle peace creates shadowy demons running amok.

The existence of the demons might explain why they’ve built a wall dividing them from the Mantids, who have happily stayed on the other side of the wall until an unknown force caused them to go mad and start invading the Pandaren’s land. What caused the Mantid and the Pandaren to build the wall in the first place? If one side had been naturally aggressive, a wall would not have stopped them for millenia. But why couldn’t two reasonably peaceful species learn to share the rich, fertile land of Pandaria? Maybe the natural conflicts of having two such different races, two such different, if equally peaceable and sentient, peoples living in close quarters ended up involuntarily feeding the demons? It would be so tragic if the Pandaren had been forced to choose isolation when confronted with the natural conflicts of interacting with others.


Speaking of interacting with others, what would Pandaren society do with dissenters? Remember, hostility amongst the people was not just a crime of disruption, theft, violence, etc, it also fed the Sha. If your society was beset by agitators, or even a multitude of people who couldn’t learn zen, you’d soon be overrun with negative energy beings.

It makes sense that the Pandaren would have to have force compliance amongst its population for the safety of all. Pandaren would learn to control their natural emotions and react peaceably, or die at the hands of a shadow monster, or be exiled or even killed in public defense. The Pandaren would naturally create a culture in which everyone’s actions would be everyone’s, perhaps even the government’s, business.  Perhaps the peaceful Pandaren culture we see today is the result of generations of bloody witchhunts for people unable or unwilling to control their emotions. What if the Asian influence was not so much tiger fairy tales as Mao’s Cultural Revolution, pitting family against neighbor, brother against sister, in an attempt to stay safe through orthodoxy?

In the light of this dystopian society, the existence of the Shadow Pandas, a fringe group of Pandaren located in the north, may be more sinister. [I can’t find my source here, so I’m going from memory from BlizzCon. If I say something wrong, please correct me] The Shadow Pandaren are a faction that embrace both the light and dark side of the Chi energies that flow through Pandaren. Perhaps they were formed out of exiles from mainstream Pandaren society, who insisted that only the light side could be indulged, to avoid spawning Sha. Perhaps the Shadow Pandaren are outcasts, or even escapees, who were willing to face down demons in order to honestly feel their own emotions, both light and dark. This trope comes from a rich historic line, of a camp of scorned rebels facing down injustice or drugged oblivion for authenticity, despite the many dangers.

It also throws sinister overtones onto the Pandaren’s love of scrolls, literature, and written histories, along with their Loremaster faction. When your culture has evolved to be stoic to the extreme, controlling information might be a primary interest for the Pandaren who protect society. The why and wherefore of the society’s inability to embrace conflict could be a well protected state secret, with a propaganda machine intended to explain and obfuscate the truth. After all, wouldn’t society be calmer if they were told “we’re calm because we’re zen masters” and not “we’re peaceable people because if you start a fight, a demon might show up and eat your daughter, if we don’t muzzle you first.”

Coping Mechanisms and Insane Tinfoil Hat Theories

The Pandaren are thus faced with a permanent enemy that they cannot control head-on. They cannot fight the Sha, because the violence inherent in conflict would simply empower the shadow creatures. Instead, they must come to terms with coping mechanisms.

As the hippies say, MAKE LOVE, NOT WAR. If there’s anything the opposite of violence, it’s positivity and love. Perhaps the Pandaren, millenia ago, discovered that love-making would disempower the Sha, maybe even cause them to hibernate or disappear. This also provides a hilarious contrast with the stereotypes of earth’s pandas, who are notoriously difficult to breed and notoriously disinterested in copulation. I’d love to imagine the almost gender neutral (to us outsiders) Pandaren as fat and furry Lotharios. Yes, bring on the naughty bear sex, Blizzard.

Then again, perhaps the Pandaren are not so unlike earth’s Pandas, and have difficulty copulating. Perhaps they have low libidos, or perhaps Pandaren just find the opposite sex horrifically unattractive.  In a world where sexytime is the best guard against demons, they would want to encourage any cultural activities that lower inhibitions and engender romance. Something like, perhaps, brew mastery? Ringing any bells? Oh yeah. Drunk panda orgies. That’s what you’re coming to Flavor Text Lore for.

Another element of natural good will bound to offset the negativity of the Sha would be Pandaren cubs. Panda cubs are insanely adorable, and Samwise’s concept art of Pandaren children, especially his daughter, is no exception.

Zookeepers feed and play with panda cubs

Look at that black and white furry cuteness. I am filled with inner peace just looking at this!

Samwise Didier's drawing of a Pandaren and son in a cart.

The love of a happy Pandaren family might be enough to keep the Sha at bay, with careful management.

If children were enough to keep the Sha under control, there would be strong evolutionary and cultural pressure for Pandaren to have many children. Many children. So very many children. So many children that it might begin to be difficult to feed them all. After all, the Pandaren do live in an isolated environment with no room for expansion, and have few, if any, natural predators. They evolved sharing the land with the Mantid, who are well known to cannibalize their children and mates. If just LOOKING at a Pandaren cub could soothe a Sha, can you imagine how potent they would be if… digested?

Can you imagine having to cope with a peaceful, benevolent society that gently sacrificed its children to keep their shadow demons hibernating? Would we blame them for their apparent callousness, or would we accept it as a tragic consequence of living in a world infested with demons, like Arthas culling Stratholme. That would be some stirring conflict that Blizzard will never in a million years put in this game.

A Sha holds a folk while examining a pile of sleeping panda cubs.

Delicious, Soothing Pandaren Babies

Reasonable Extrapolations

I think it’s safe to say we won’t have any “throw your cubs into the volcano to appease the angry shadow gods” subplots on Pandaria. But that’s not to say the idea of having malificent shadow energies couldn’t be used in less dramatic ways.

For example, perhaps the Pandaren are able to keep the Sha controlled through self-control and management. Eastern cultures often have family shrines where ancestors are worshipped and gods are honored. Let’s check in with the art panel….
A collection of small shrines from the Blizzcon Art Panel

Yup, there they are! Instead of honoring ancestors, though, what if the shrines were in fact housing compartments for the family’s Sha. Perhaps the Pandaren are able to channel the inevitable hostilities and negativity of daily life into a small demon, rather than letting it coalesce into a larger, more dangerous, and less controllable creature.  Then they can defuse the energy by careful meditation. Pandaren mothers put their children to bed, saying, “Be nice to your sister or the literal monster in your actual closet will come out and eat you.”

There’s also some legitimate connections to be made between a “Light” creature that mysteriously speaks Demonic. (Go read Rades’ post now if you haven’t yet!)  Pandaria has been separated from the rest of Azeroth since at least the Sundering, meaning they may have dealt with consequences from the Burning Legion’s attempts to take over Azeroth through the original Well of Eternity that would be utterly unfamilar to the rest of us. Perhaps the Sha are a harbringer under the control of the Burning Legion, a perfectly insidious plot, since the hostility required to destroy them would only make them stronger, a demon that feeds on healthy emotions twisted. Or perhaps they’re not under the Burning Legion, but an eddy, a swirl in the Light force created by the methods the Burning Legion use to break into new worlds. Perhaps they’re the shadow, the chi balance, to the destruction of the original Burning Legion?

I’d love to see how Blizzard explains this odd Demonic connection. Also, it provides a perfect tie in to some of the classic villains of Warcraft. We know there are forces controlling the Aspects, forces controlling even perhaps the Burning Legion. This expansion needs to move through some of these ideas from Thrall: Twilight of the Aspects to move us into the end of Mists of Pandaria and the future of Warcraft. We need to know how the Burning Legion, the Scourge, and  the Old Gods are just toys in some greater plan, even if the whole mystery is not solved immediately.

Failure, Challenge, and the Decline of WoW

October 6, 2011

This essay is a collaboration between Wowhead CM Perculia and guest poster Hamlet. Hamlet has been raiding since 2005, and is best known as the author of several Druid guides on Elitist Jerks. He can currently be found on Twitter at @HamletEJ.

Update: Their replies to comments can be found here and here.


If a game asks nothing of its players, what’s left of it as a game? It’s a harsh question, but it’s also the most informative lens through which to examine WoW’s current problem. Somewhere along the way, WoW has betrayed the spirit of games, by abandoning the fundamental concept of applying oneself to overcome challenges.

While we were writing this post, Blizzard implemented nerfs to the Firelands content, causing a newly invigorated furor over the appropriate difficulty level of the raiding game. The ideas we’re writing about though have been brewing for much longer, and if anything, we worry that the timing of this post will make it look like an obvious or even trite rehash of the WoW news item of the week. What we hope to express, however, are thoughts on the direction the whole game has been taking for a much longer period of time, at all levels of play.

We can’t talk about this without cutting through a number of well-worn forum tropes, none of which we find informative on any point: “casual vs. hardcore,” “risk vs. reward,” “people want to see all the content,” “raiding is easy” (that one could merit an equal-length post all on its own), and all the others you’ve seen. Let’s simply look at how WoW gives any individual player their perception of progress as they continue to play the game. The players’ perceived progress is the beating heart of the MMO experience. No matter what walk of WoW life you’re in, you log in hoping to add something to your character sheet before you log out again, something tangible when you log in the next time. Though the reward mechanisms vary between low-level and max-level WoW, they all exhibit the same pattern: rewards have become increasingly detached from the player’s ability to overcome challenges.

Background: Yin and Yang

“Games” covers an enormous breadth of media. They can involve one player or more, cooperatively or competitively. They can have a clear end point and a winner (StarCraft, chess) or not (SimCity, World of Warcraft). In all cases though, what defines it as a game, as opposed to a passive medium such as film, is that the player makes choices in an attempt to reach goals. Those goals can be set by the game, by other players, or by the player himself, but in some manner the way the he plays influences whether he reaches them. And yes, sometimes he fails. His StarCraft plans are outsmarted by his opponent and crushed, his SimCity collapses into depression, or his WoW character is overwhelmed and dies. A point to be emphasized early on is that it’s very hard to imagine a meaningful game which is devoid of at least occasional failures. Any chess player will tell you that losing games teaches you far more than winning them. In the case of single-player computer games, nothing makes a game so irrevocably boring as to realize that nothing has a chance of killing you anymore.

RPG’s in particular are driven by the twin engines of progression through content and improvement of your character’s abilities. These are the yin and yang of WoW. Each brings about the other, and conversely, neither is possible without the other working in counterpoint. And when either is missing, the game stops. Steady progression through content rewards the player with commensurate bonuses to her character sheet, and those increases to the character’s power level allow for further progression into increasingly difficult content (without requiring any sudden jumps in player skill). The bulk of this essay discusses how modern WoW has broken away from this bedrock, detaching progress and upgrades from each other. In doing so, they have ousted the player from his position at the helm of his own gaming experience.

The Raiding Game: Progress and Reward

In low-level WoW, progress is given by experience points. This singlehandedly solves the need for tangible rewards from a play session, no matter what activities you take part in. The problems with the low-level game will be discussed below. Once you reach the level cap, however, that all-encompassing incentive vanishes, and the designers are challenged with providing the player an incentive and reward structure to participate in various activities. The first major point is that gear is the only mode of actual improvement of your character. We’re going to put side cosmetic rewards and achievements for now, because they’re a side activity that each player values according to her own idiosyncrasies, but they don’t tie into the underlying RPG engine described above.

Then: If at First You Don’t Succeed

On the scale of one individual player, there is an ideal, natural method for gameplay to progress. That player should master a piece of content, obtain gear for doing so (generally by farming the content for some amount of time) and take her newly improved character to the next piece of content. Each iteration flows from the last in a robust, continuous, organic, RPG advancement. The player has a meaningful investment in the character that grows over time because each step was tied to the last. One point that’s not initially obvious, but which winds up being absolutely critical: after enough cycles of that process, the player finds that something truly magical has occurred. She has learned to play the game better than when she started. That improvement is a slow, inconsistent, and invisible process. But all readers (and there are still some of you out there) who at one point struggled at Magmadar only later to kill C’Thun, Illidan, and The Lich King need no further proof that somewhere along the way, somehow, they got better at WoW.

WoW raiding in years past was far from perfect, but here we want to talk about what it did right. Even though the class balance, encounter design, and surrounding aspects of the game (e.g. consumables) were not up to today’s standards, the game allowed for deeply rewarding experiences because it remained true to the above ideal. Raiding in The Burning Crusade provided a perfectly good example. Freshly capped characters could run Karazhan, Gruul’s Lair, and Magtheridon’s Lair—easy, entry-level instances (putting aside the initial tuning difficulties those fights had, which are irrelevant here). Raiding the next tier, Serpentshrine Cavern and Tempest Keep, required completing some or all of the first tier (initially by attunements, and later simply due to gear requirements—again, details of the implementation are not critical). What matters is that SSC and TK were “open” long before the vast majority of players were done with the starting tier, and each each player (with her guild) was able to move into those zones at a time determined by one factor: when she was ready.

Whether the player was ready was determined by a variety of factors: how much gear she had from the prior tier and how strong her raiding fundamentals were, most importantly. Notably, back then, relevant gear from the boss came from the previous tier (not from 5-mans), and conveniently, farming more gear also caused players to practice their raid skills. She found out whether she was ready for the new boss in a simple way, by attempting it with her raid team. This process required some effort from the players involved, and may have been frustrating at times. But what we want to emphasize is that it was genuine. Bosses provided a ladder of progression, and you prepared as much as you needed in each rung to ascend to the next. Ascension was determined by merit only: the player could kill the next boss or she couldn’t. Some people might need more gear than others, or more time building their skills on easier bosses. Some groups may kill a new boss earlier simply by having the drive to attempt it for longer. In any case, it was always there waiting for her to either kill it, or not. And for that reason, and that reason alone, when she killed it, it meant something.

And if she didn’t kill it? That meant something too. It meant she had to figure out how to improve in one or all of the above ways. How she went about it was up to her and her guild, but when the next tier was up for grabs as soon as they were ready to claim it, there was no incentive but to try to find a way there. This wasn’t even a state of failure—after all, there was always an upcoming boss yet to be killed (unless you were in a tiny minority). It was simply the order of things, and any given time, the goal was use what you had in term of gear and skills to take another step forward. The player described here was having a true gaming experience: each goal was attained whenever she found a way to reach it.

Now: Success, on Schedule

We come now to the thrust of this section: how the current system fails so completely to create anything approaching what’s described in the last paragraph. Our focus here is the lower-end raider, the one who takes some time to work through Normal bosses with his guild, and who is intimidated by Heroic bosses long after the mythical uber-guilds have killed them, and for whom the final Heroic boss of each tier may even be a pipe dream. How can we describe this player’s RPG progression, in the context of the above discussion? New content comes and he clears partway through before it becomes difficult. He gets gear, mostly by running 5-mans for Valor Points every day, time spent not practicing raid encounters with his raiding team. Gear acquisition is steady but slow, mostly unrelated to progression through the content (first red flag). Eventually the content is significantly nerfed, allowing him to suddenly complete some more bosses, progressing through content for no reason related to either character strength or player skill (second red flag). The kicker, though, is what happens when a patch hits and the whole system is blown out of the water.

New content arrives. Valor points now give gear commensurate with the new raid content. The player has a steady income of this new gear from clearing 5-mans and/or older content (now nerfed with extreme prejudice). He jumps into the new content, regardless of where he was in the prior content, what gear he has, or how good he is. He gets new gear steadily, regardless of his ability to master any part of the new content, and certainly without having to master anything more difficult than what he’s done before. In initial 4.3 Valor Point announcements, Blizzard stated that Tier 13 set items would not be obtainable from Valor Points, a hint of a welcome reversal that proved to be a red herring: later announcements clarified that VP can now buy T13-equivalent gear in nearly every slot. Yin and yang have unraveled at both ends—progression and reward neither feed each other nor even pay attention to each other. The player plods along getting gear and seeing content, both at a predetermined rate. And the saddest part of all is what’s not in this picture: nowhere is it the slightest bit relevant whether, from one tier to the next, he improved at the game.

Summary: Heroes No More

It should now be clear how vastly different these two worlds of older WoW and current WoW are. In the former game, the player experienced a game that was ongoing and natural, and most importantly, honest. At each step she succeeded or failed, and consequences flowed from that. She was Theseus, using whatever resources were available to overcome each foe. In the current game, without the chance of success or failure, there is no such drama. Blizzard, in their wisdom, have sought to protect the player from the dreaded nightmare of his own failure. In doing so, they have turned him into Sisyphus: proceeding along ever upwards, but with no ability to influence his own fate.

The Low-level Game: From Quest Progress to Progress Quest

Below max level, WoW is a different game. This is actually the game the majority of players play, and in particular it is of paramount importance to Blizzard, who has to draw new players in perpetually. The problems discussed so far are particular to the raiding game, but we find that low-level players are ultimately subject to the same fate. They have been overwhelmingly sheltered from that green-eyed monster: failure. And the result is the same. Without a chance of failure, there is no challenge. Without challenge, all that is left is a hollow shell that once contained the essence of a meaningful game.

New Cataclysm Quests: Grey and Green

A controversial aspect of Cataclysm was the decision to revamp the level 1-60 questing experience in Azeroth. This new questing experience streamlined the flow of many zones, and in the process, heightened faction tensions and killed off beloved characters. Each zone now provided properly-itemized rewards for all classes, questlines that logically progressed, and minor conveniences such as additional flight paths and mailboxes. These changes were helpful and allowed players to quest without irrelevant distractions. Each zone traces several relevant lore figures with unexpected twists, even in the starting zones, providing an effective narrative as well as decent rewards. The revamp was handled well, except for one part: the XP curve.

This new leveling content is touted as one of the most important parts of the expansion. Players won’t be experiencing it, though, if they take advantage of any XP bonus. Heirlooms (helm, chest, cape, shoulders), guild perks, and zone-wide or holiday buffs are utilized by most players. Gathering nodes provide experience boosts that quickly add up over time, as does Archaeology. Taking a break from questing to run any dungeon or participate in PvP will find the player several levels higher with a mix of grey and green quests in his log. Even without doing any of these, players so far outstrip the quest curve that it’s difficult to complete zones properly. Because of Blizzard’s zeal to make absolutely sure no player following the scripted path will ever manage to encounter a quest that’s even slightly above level, the new zones can’t even be experienced in full without becoming trivial and pointless. The fear of challenge is so extreme that it ruins the content.

Combat: God Mode, or Deal with the Devil?

Even if a player is missing some appropriate-level gear after skipping a few zones, it hardly matters: combat is much more forgiving in Cataclysm. A player wearing imperfect gear and using subpar skills/talents will still not struggle to kill outdoor mobs, and even this is a huge understatement. Better to say, a player wearing a complete mishmash of gear and using clueless skills/talents can pull a large group of outdoor mobs, haplessly slaughter them, and come away completely unscathed.

While instances currently serve as a vehicle to quickly obtain rare-quality loot and complete quests for large amounts of experience, before the addition of LFD, clearing instances with an at-level group required additional amounts of planning. Wailing Caverns and Sunken Temple had additional confusing wings. Deadmines required players to navigate a maze of Defias even before stepping foot in the instance. Everyone has fond memories of aggroing too many trolls on the Zul’Farrak stairs. Something as simple as removing keys from several instances demonstrates how expectations have changed for low-level characters. Instead of preparing for an instance and then learning how to do it better each time, there is now only one requirement for the accelerated rewards given by dungeons: show up.

Two iconic quest chains were removed in Cataclysm: the Hunter and Priest class quests for Rhok’delar and Benediction, respectively. While it may be argued that the removal of these quests was simply an unfortunate casualty of reworked zones, the loss of quests forcing players to sharpen their playstyles has deeper repercussions, than say, wondering where Nibsy the Almighty has gone. These quests presented players with meaningful failure. Priests aiding Eris Havenfire were forced to wait 15 minutes in between failed attempts, and their failure was broadcast throughout Eastern Kingdoms with a yell. Hunters, after being defeated, were unable to fight the same demon again for several hours. This type of failure forced players to read up on strategies, min/max even on solo content, and learn patience. Compare this to current legendaries, which are acquired in roughly the same way as the Molten Front title. Show up daily for several weeks, receive weapon components from ordinary Normal-mode bosses, and have your diligence rewarded with much fanfare.

The cycle of mindless leveling leads to monotony and stagnation, where success and failure are measured in terms of hitting max-level quickly with the proper heroic-level accoutrement, instead of learning how to master a character. Leveling is not an meaningful process for many, but rather an accelerated experience for alts. After a player has finished grinding out Valor Point gear on his main, they are encouraged to buy some BoA gear and repeat the process on an alt while waiting for the newest round of raid nerfs. Much can be written about the evils of maintaining a bevy of alts, but the relevant part is that repeatedly rushing through leveling to endlessly grind Valor Points on each new alt has become the expected mode of progress for many players.

It is tempting to react cheerfully to every new announcement that makes things superficially easier: nerfed content, better epics, a new quest hub with vanity items. Players who are overwhelmed by the large amounts of required daily grinds outside of raiding are only too happy for some temporary relief. But it is important to note that these short-term changes are a result of the game’s current environment: if the existing situation were different, these drastic changes would not be needed. While many view heirlooms as a convenience and may find this section perplexing, it’s really the same principle as the problems with Valor Points: immediate benefits mask long-term problems. It’s a Faustian bargain, where characters easily gain impermanent power at the expense of genuine player knowledge, in a vicious unsustainable cycle.

A Look Back and a Look Forward: Ah, Fresh Meat

The best piece of low-level content ever created by Blizzard is found not in current WoW, nor even in old WoW, but 15 years ago in Diablo. The Butcher.

Every NPC in town warns you about The Butcher before your first trip into the dungeon. In case you didn’t bother talking to them, just outside the dungeon entrance you find the previous adventurer who tried to delve in, bloody and dying. Before killing your first mob, a villain is set up. The first half hour of dungeon crawling goes by uneventfully. But somewhere on the second level down, starting to get a little comfortable with your level 4 character, you come upon a small square room completely covered with blood. Maybe you remember the warning, maybe you didn’t, but in either case, it’s your first time playing and you want to know what’s in there, so you open the door. And you get Butchered.

This experience is hard to convey in text to people who’ve never played Diablo. Ask anyone who has if they remember their first time being killed by him. It’s sudden, surprising, and scary. It’s probably your first character death. He does a huge amount of damage, stuns you, and holds you in melee range. He has a loud yell the moment you open the door, an elaborate bloody apron, and a ridiculously-sized cleaver. You’re mostly likely dead before you take in everything that’s happening. And for some reason, it’s the one moment that makes everyone’s eyes briefly glass over in nostalgia.

Thinking back on this now, especially in juxtaposition with the WoW changes described in the previous section, one thought keeps returning to us: they would never do this today. When it happened to Diablo players in 1996, we laughed, we said “this game is great,” and we resurrected in town. Some people tried it again, maybe with a friend or two. Others left the door of that square red room firmly shut until they’d gained a few more levels. But for all of these people, it brought the whole game to life. And in the world where any chance of player death is eschewed (it’s all too easy to imagine an executive saying, “if you let the player die, it’s just a chance for him to log out and go back to FarmVille”), a new generation of players are protected from ever having that experience.

Similar events have happened on a smaller scale within WoW itself. Perhaps some veterans reading this once had a Hogger experience that’s reminiscent of the above. In all cases, we hate to see the richest and most memorable moments ironed out in the name of the perfectly smooth, straightforward gaming experience. But events that are unexpected, unusual, or or otherwise “imperfect” prevent the game from being sterile. When the game is too perfect, each quest leading to another that you know in advance won’t present any new challenge, you can follow directions and go through the motions as much as you like, but nothing will ever stand out or be remembered.

So where do we go from here? WoW has been amazingly successful at attracting people who have no background in older games like Diablo, instead often coming from free-to-play or casual games. Each of these new players has decided to spend $15 per month on a game (including those stepping up from free-to-play WoW), and as gamers, we want to welcome them. But as gamers, we also know that bringing new people into the nascent gaming culture isn’t a mere matter of having them pay money to Blizzard: what we want is for former nongamers to care about games, experience gaming moments like many that we’ve described here, and move on to other games once they’re done with WoW. If WoW walked the middle ground between the Diablo player’s experience and the FarmVille player’s comfort zone, it might be able to accomplish this, thus truly enriching the gaming community. But moving WoW all the way to the latter end of that spectrum is the easy way out, achieving nothing in the long run. WoW gets the immediate rush of players, but those new subscribers haven’t actually made any lasting jump into the world of games. WoW got their immediate business by compromising whatever was necessary to do so, and we’ve all come along for the ride.

Conclusion: An Exhortation

Without darkness, we cannot know the light. True in games as it is in life. Without the chance of failure, there is no chance of success. Failure, in current WoW, has been twisted beyond recognition as the game becomes an unsophisticated to-do list: failure to cap Valor Points, failure to level an alt quickly, failure to receive loot from a PuG clear. And it can all simply be remedied by logging on another day. The rewards from Valor Points will improve, alts will plow through a few more identical quests, raid content will be nerfed. There is no constructive and useful failure that pushes you to think about how you play the game. And the hidden casualty is even more painful: there are no moments of true victory.

In the end, the only thing players of all types can do is send a message to Blizzard. And the message we exhort you to send is: you have some pride. In order to make a game for you, they do not need to coddle you and make it impossible for you to fail. You are not children who will take your ball and go home at the first whiff of difficulty. You do not want a game which gives you rewards without asking anything of you, stripping them of all meaning. You’re not blindly appeased by content nerfs that give an empty veneer of success. If that’s not who you are, tell them. Tell them on the forums, in feedback on changes to WoW, or by exploring the fulfillment other games can give you. Because if you don’t, they will continue to treat you like the kind of player who needs to be sheltered at every moment. And you will wake up one day and find that, in your name, they have sold the soul of WoW.