Hello and welcome to the newest column on the System Mastery website, Politics of Gaming. Instead of looking at the game itself, we will be looking at the people sitting behind the keyboard, rolling the dice or shuffling the deck. The culture of gamers is a diverse and interesting one with plenty of overlap between the video gamers and the table toppers. I first started really thinking about the way in which we interact with games and how it has developed over time while discussing the change that has occurred in MMOs and, more specifically, in World of Warcraft since the advent of players having advanced knowledge of the game becoming not only common but expected.
In the earliest days of MMOs, such as Everquest, most people really didn’t have a great grasp on a lot of the finer mechanics of the game. Hell, even some of the developers seemed to not really understand exactly how to balance races, classes and abilities within the scope of their game. Information on optimization was scarce and mostly built upon players feeling their way in the dark without anything from the game to really guide them along. Nobody really expected someone to be a master of their class and you were more likely to see people be amazed at truly excellent gameplay rather than being upset at poor play.
As information started to become more and more readily available, the shift to knowing your role and how to play your class became the domain of the guilds. This was especially true once the shift started to more instanced game play. When you were together with a group of indeterminate size killing a randomly spawning monster out in the world, it was particularly easy to get lost in the crowd such that having some less than stellar gear or not really doing the best DPS wasn’t anything that was noticeable. With WoW and the changeover to raiding as a structured thing with a specific number of people with more or less decided upon numbers of roles, it became more and more apparent to those around you if you weren’t pulling your weight. If you were in a guild that was looking to do high end content, they now started looking at their players and required them to put more into the game. Knowing the boss fights, knowing the best spec, and having the right gear was now something that would bar your entrance into end game content.
For the most part, though, the casual gamer in WoW was still able to pretty much get away with playing however they pleased. Since the true end game content was only ever seen by a miniscule percentage of the player base, that level of in-depth knowledge became more an indicator of someone that was taking the game too seriously. Then a shift began to happen in the game. Once raids were no longer 40 people by default and instead got bumped down to only 25 or 10, it became easier and easier for people to get enough players together in order to raid. Raiding was no longer something that was an for an elite group of people but instead started to become the standard of what was expected of any given player. With that shift to raiding as an expectation there also came more and more an expectation that people should know what to do. There were videos of strategies online and numerous sites that broke down how the optimal builds would mathematically be better. With damage meters running, people would begin to not only worry about their own output but begin to look down on anyone that was performing under their own level.
With the advent of all these new tools to help players tell at a glance exactly how well geared someone was or how well they performed in comparison to yourself, the game became more and more about wanting people to meet a certain threshold. Whether that be a gear score or a DPS number or any other deciding factor, people would start to be kicked from groups or stopped from joining in at all even in dungeon groups where the high end performance needed for top end raiding was not even remotely applicable. This was amplified with the inclusion of the Looking For Group and, later, Looking For Raid options. Any new tank that needed a fight’s mechanic explained or a DPSer that wasn’t “pulling their weight” was now able to be kicked and a replacement would be supplied for you without needing to go looking. It was then that a strange switch began to happen in the game where now it was more and more necessary to be invested in the game in order to play outside of a guild.
Guilds became the place that a new player would be able to figure out how to play. Guild runs of dungeons and raids would be more willing to talk a player through how to do a fight and not care if they were just carrying a member through a dungeon. In stark contrast, the addition of LFR to World of Warcraft was originally seen as a way for casuals to do content and not really something for “real” raiders to do outside of getting a few extra rewards for the week but eventually turned into a place where anyone that is not entirely familiar with the fights or in suboptimal gear is kicked or harassed until they leave. Even when time and again guilds will prove that you can do content in less than cutting edge gear, the easier raids for casual people remain some of the most nitpicking outside of the high end raiding guilds.
This isn’t exclusive to WoW or even MMOs, though. Any time a game has a level of system mastery (hey!) required to get the best results, there will be people that will mock or dismiss other players for not having the same degree of knowledge that they have. For the most part, doing homework generally shouldn’t be a requirement to playing a game for fun. While some people enjoy both the act of researching itself and the increased effectiveness that comes with it in games, not wanting to participate in that shouldn’t be a barrier to entry for playing a game you’ve already paid for. Imagine sitting down to play a Mario Bros. game where you are required to answer questions on the most efficient way to kill Bowser before you can start the game. As players we need to understand that not everyone is as invested or as interested in optimization as we might be. We are all here to have fun and we didn’t all start as experts. Next time maybe try to help out those that need it and cut some slack to the ones that aren’t as knowledgeable.