Mar 172009

Back in December I wrote about how I wasn’t excited about getting back into the World of Warcraft raid game.  At the time, part of my reasoning behind that is because I did not feel that there was much of a challenge in it for me, and the hope was that future expansions would ramp up the difficulty a bit.

Well, that has and has not happened.  From everything I’ve read, they are going to continue to have “hard mode” versions of certain encounters in the raids that are optional but keep the base difficulty level fairly low.

This, along with some fairly drastic changes in my work schedule recently, has pretty much killed any remaining interest I have in raiding (and may honestly be the final nail in the coffin that gets me to cancel my subscription to the game).

I’ve seen a lot written about how the game has changed for the worse (and, in all fairness, how some think it is much better now), but to date I haven’t seen anyone really put their finger on why that has disappointed me.

I can sum it up in a three word sentence : Difficulty builds community.

To explain, I have to take you back to my old Everquest days (yeah, I know…it’s the old gamer grandad sitting on his porch and telling stories about how rough he had it when he was a kid.  Get off my virtual lawn, ya punks).  Everquest was a really hard game.  Once you hit a certain level it was virtually impossible to solo in that game.  Dying sucked (not only did you lose experience, and potentially levels, you came back to life naked and had to go get your corpse back from wherever you died).  If you were a support class that’s pretty much all you could do – support other players.  Highly valuable monsters could take hours to respawn and getting that “one drop” could literally take days of camping.  If you had to run away from a monster because you were about to die, it followed you until you left the zone and it would bring every single monster you passed along the way with it.  On top of all that, there were very few actual quests or anything like that.  It was pretty much “find monsters, kill monsters, get experience and treasure, rinse, repeat.”  People who complain about the “grind” in World of Warcraft have never spent 8 hours in the same spot killing the same monsters simply because the experience and loot was decent (and if they tried they’d likely have to move on well before that because the leveling curve would kick in and you wouldn’t get that kind of xp for long).

What was the upshot of all this?  If you made virtual enemies with the other players in the game you were pretty much fucked.  Don’t get me wrong – there were assholes in the game, but in the 2 years or so I spent playing it I can probably count on one hand the number of them I ran in to.  People were courteous.  If they saw you camping an area they would leave it alone, or at most send you a whisper asking how much longer you were planning to get there.  People didn’t ninja loot.  Getting decent groups was easy, because if you sucked at your class you couldn’t coast along on someone else’s coattails.  There was a true community there of people working together towards a common goal.

World of Warcraft removed a lot of that difficulty, and the ease of the game meant there was a significant increase in the number of rude and/or incompetent players in the game.   That is, until you hit the “endgame.”  Once you were there if you wanted to see the content you had to work together with other folks to get there.  Attunements were a way to force players to find some kind of common ground to achieve their goals, and many guilds built a sense of community working towards those goals.  Even a very casual guild like ours had a sense of progression.  We all had to work together to beat Zul’Gurub.  We had to work together to get keyed for Molten Core, and we had to find other guilds to work with to beat that.  When The Burning Crusade came out, we had to work together to get attuned for Karazhan.  We had to throw ourselves at THAT raid for months before we finally managed to get it done, and then we took the players who had learned to work together in that enviornment against Grull, Magetheridon, and Serpentshrine Cavern.  We had a common sense of purpose.  “Beat this encounter so we can move on to the next one.”  If we didn’t work together, that was never going to happen.

Enter Wrath of the Lich King. Attunements are gone.  Raids are easy (unless you specifically opt to make them harder, and there really isn’t much motivation to do that other than being able to say you did).  The last game mechanic that was holding any sense of community into this little virtual world.  You don’t have to help your guild mates in order to see content anymore.  Hell, if your guild isn’t in the raid you want to be in just get a pick up group.

Progression was the glue that held many guilds, like ours, together (even the paltry progression we had as a casual guild).  That common goal even helped players get over personality conflicts.  Now?  I just don’t see it.  Everyone is on their own little island in game, working towards personal goals.  There is no sense of common purpose.  No sense of accomplishment.  The guild just got to the point where they are getting the “normal” version of Naxxaramus down on a regular basis, which would really feel like a big deal if a good chunk of them had not already been working on the “heroic” version for months now.

Raiding no longer gives you a sense of accomplishment.  It no longer makes you feel like you’ve done something unique.  For me?  The amount of time is no longer worth the investment.  With my free time being cut drastically due to losing my ability to work from home, I just don’t see the point of spending what little of it I have working towards something that, ultimately, means very little.

Fortunately I still have a personal connection with the folks I knew in the game from before Wrath came out, and as such I’m not quitting just yet…but with money being as tight as it is right now the thought has crossed my mind on more than one occasion.  I have, officially, removed myself from raiding altogether.  If I happen to be on at some point and they happen to need a replacement I might fill in, but I’m not going to make raiding fit into my life when I’m not going to get any kind of sense of personal satisfaction out of it.

I’m probably in the minority in the way that I feel.  For a lot of folks, gaming is something they do to relax.  They don’t want to be challenged – they want to always be rewarded.  I could say this was an entitlement complex, but maybe it’s just more of “I’m paying to play this so I don’t understand why I should be frustrated.”  I’m just not one of those people.  Dedicating myself to an MMO requires far too much sacrifice in other parts of my life for me to spend that kind of time to do something that, ultimately, just isn’t that impressive.

Considering how much I’ve let slide in my life outside of the game (my health, the cleanliness of my home, some personal relationships) that probably isn’t such a bad thing.

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