Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Fighting the Need to be Perfect

I give full credit to Larisa for providing me with a topic that I've been inspired to write today. There are some things that ruffle my invisible feathers (not imaginary, I know I have them, I believe I can fly AND touch the sky), and player behavior is one of them. I am no expert in human behavior, and I'm pretty sure nobody else is either, so let's just have a nice little chat about things we observe, and try and make connections where possible that make some sense.

Let's talk about Classical Conditioning, a behaviorist model of behaviorism psychology.

"It posited that behavioral tendencies are determined by immediate associations between various environmental stimuli and the degree of pleasure or pain that follows. Behavioral patterns, then, were understood to consist of organisms' conditioned responses to the stimuli in their environment. The stimuli were held to exert influence in proportion to their prior repetition or to the previous intensity of their associated pain or pleasure."

To put it simply, stimuli > response. Ghostcrawler is apparently taking the Classical Conditioning approach by taking blame for the player base's phobiaa of being "WRONG" when choosing our talents, creating inefficient specs that are not desireable to many raid leaders.

"But I do wish there was some way to turn around this virtual phobia of inefficiency -- this terror of being WRONG -- that we have managed to instill in our player base."

It looks like he is saying that the devs created the stimulus with their development choices, and the players' response to this, the response that is the safest and creates the greatest pleasure, is a community of players afraid to be wrong, to follow the tried and tested wisdom of "cookie cutter" specs, of raid leaders demanding X gear score and Y achievement in order to non-fail their way through a raid. We all know the behavior, we're familiar with it either because we see it constantly in trade chat or we've been subjected to such scrutiny ourselves. We can't deny that the min/maxing attitude has permiated into a majority of the player base at end game. In many it has created a phobia, a fear of being left out for choosing one talent over another, a fear of being WRONG according to those who have the power to decide such things (i.e. raid leaders).

I do not question whether or not the devs have created an environment condusive to these attitudes and behaviors, I think that Larisa has treated that subject nicely, as have many of her wonderful readers/commenters. Many agree that these attitudes have been around for a long time, and there are many factors which led to them. I'd like to take the discussion into a slightly different direction. You see, Ghostcrawler wants to fix the player's attitudes and behaviors. He doesn't want people to feel afraid of talenting the WRONG spec. He doesn't want raid leaders to choose people for a group based on cookie cutter criteria of GS/Achieve/Spec, etc. But...the devs also are afraid to take away some of the environmental conditions, the stimuli, that allows for these behaviors because, in part, the player base has obtained pleasure in many of the changes.

But if GC is right, and the blame is 100% the developers, if they instilled these behaviors in us through their game design, then Classical Conditioning is hard at work in WoW. Personally, I think it's all a big pile of cow dung. Personally, I don't believe myself so conditionable (is that even a word? Well I'm going with it...) as Pavlov's dog. I point to my personal experience here. I think GC takes too much on himself and we, the players, are not as accountable for our behavior as we ought to be.

It's not a lack of choices in talents, it's not min/maxers who instill fear in the new 80 with "inefficient" talents, it's not ONLY the environment, it's a horrifying lack of leadership that is of equal blame of game design which encourages the behavior that GC does not like to see. When I did raid, I came to a point where I was sick of being held to unreasonable gear and achievement standards by pug raid leaders, so I started to raid lead pugs on my own. They were never a steamrolling experience, and there were often wipes and challenges, but never did any group I lead ever fail to complete the goal set out at the beginning of the raid. And in the process I was able to include people that would have otherwise been excluded becuase they did not choose to follow some cookie cutter spec, or other reasons.

What we fail from is bad leadership, ignorant leadership, tyrannical leadership, unreasonable leadership, stubborn leadership, greedy leadership, lazy leadership, need I go on? What we suffer from is people wanting to force other people to play "the right way", or the way that that leader desires, at not only the exclusion of others but outright public demeaning of specs and gs and achieves that are undesireable. I am not talking to any of my readers specifically, but for as much as environment influences the players, it's the players who choose to be led by said influences and whether to reinforce behavior or punish it. (Please read this on reinforcement and punishment, etc, it will help you understand).

What we have is a player base void of sufficient leadership. We need not place blame needlessly or in undue amounts. In such a reciprocal relationship nobody should shoulder all the blame. But let's not hide from a situation just because we're afraid to hurt each others feelings. I do not claim to be a perfect raid leader, nor hold all those qualities which I most desire in a leader. But I have tried to take a stand in the past and learn to become a better leader. I don't say this, again, to suggest that I'm any better than anyone, but at least I know that I have tried to fight against the norm. Can you say the same about yourself? I know some of you can, you've shared your experiences with me before.

Ghostcrawler will never fix the problems of behavior that he sees by tweaking the stimuli connected, to whatever degree you personally believe. No, you can't change a nation all at once, but you can change yourself, and encourage other individuals to do the same. In the process, as individuals change their paradigm, the nation begins to change, but from the inside and not from external stimuli.

I think that there are a lot of people lying comfortably in their shells, capable of doing great things and being great leaders. But timidity gets the best of most of us when faced with an angry mob demanding GS/Achieve/Cookie Cutter Spec. So how will you combat such demands? Not you as in "ya'lls", but you personally. What will you do individually to change the overall tone of raid leadership, pugging, talent specs, etc? Will you fall in line with the least degree of resistance? Many will, it brings pleasure to not have to face conflict. Larisa asked for ideas on what things could change to help the situation. My solution, become a leader. Make the change in yourself and ask others to follow.

How would you respond to local chat that said:

LFM raiders for Tol Barad. I care how you play, not GS or Achieve. I care if you know what you're doing, but don't demand any specific talent combination in your spec. Let's rock this place! Let's be honest with ourselves and with each other. Dont' send tell if you know you are not up to the challenge. But if you are let's join forces and have fun in the process. Who's with me?

Ok, maybe not the most eloquent speech, I'm no King Henry V. Leaders, come out of your shells and lead! Show everyone that there are a lot more people than we think with open minds and a willingness to learn and to teach. If GC wants things to change, allow him and the devs to make changes they feel will help (with your suggesions, of course), but YOU have to do your part as well, which may be more important than anything any developer can do.


LarĂ­sa said...

Oh, you're treating this topic way better than I do. It was a very inspiring read and I think you're right: even if the dev's decisions DO matter, it's not the one and only answer to the the problems we see. We need to do something ourselves and the revolution starts here and now. By you and me. Not "someone".

I loved that little ad you put together and yes I'd reply to it, while I despise the GS more and more every time I hear them.

Gronthe said...

@ Larisa: Like I said, I think GC takes too much blame on himself, and although the dev team did create the environment we all play in, we're human, not animals so easily conditioned. I'm a huge believer in the POWER of personal choice IN SPITE OF environmental influences.

There are a lot of examples in the world of attitudes that seemed too deeply ingrained in people that were conquered because enough individuals made the CHOICE to act differently.

Glad you liked the ad. :)

Syl said...

I think I'd put the blame 50-50: I certainly agree that solely blaming blizzard for this is wrong: it's a player's or raidguild's choice if they want to go the min-max way. wow is a rather forgivable and user-friendly game, there's no time when you must min-max to beat an encounter. maybe you do if you need to be the fastest, but that again is your choice to make.

at the same time, perfectionism has a competitive quality. if you enter a group of people of which half are perfectionists (or min-maxers in wow's case) you will slowly but surely be drawn into the same dynamic, feeling pressured to copy them. it can be hard to oppose that pressure, depending on what guild you're in.
our leadership was always one of common sense, whereby we'd not judge trialists on superficial criteria like gems, gear and specs alone, but that's not a given in the wow community.

the fact that blizzard is pushing player 'transparency' to such a degree in wow, a degree i have certainly never ever encountered in any other game, does not help matters.

Gronthe said...

@ Syl: Oh it's definately hard to oppose the pressure of min/maxing perfectionists (or if not perfectionists, then people who feel strongly about it). I've given in to it.

Transparency is a big issue, that is for darn sure. It's nice that the devs see that they have played a role in this, which might...maybe, who knows...might motivate them to change some things on their side. Meanwhile we do what we (the players) can to help and not make things worse.

Pai said...

Oh lord, please make this mean they will find a way to permanently disable GearScore!

...I got into an argument with a min/maxing guildie over this topic just a few days ago. Apparently, it doesn't matter if a Hunter min/maxes 99% of their character, unless they also have a Wolf (the pet which currently provides the highest dps buff to a hunter) then they're deadweight slackers who don't care about their team.

The micromanaging obsession some WoW players have developed (which has only been fed by crap like GS) really boggles my mind. Thank gawd my guild has enough casual raiders that people who don't care to play like that can still raid (rather successfully I might add) and have fun the way they want.

Nils said...

This is a well written post and it has some emotional impact, but I think I disagree.

Some time ago there was an event called "love parade" in Dortmund, Germany. It ended in catastrophe. A lot of people died to a very bad organisation.

Now, who is to blame?

According to your text (forgive me if the analogy is not appropiate) not only the organisers are to blame, but also the participants. After all they could have stopped walking and if all had done that, nobody would have died.

The problem is that this was a crowd. And crowds cannot bear responsibility. They are actually predictable - even if any single person in the crowd is not.

Back to Blizzard.
The efficiency craze is not some unforseeable event! It is a direct consequence of the actions of the developers. The individual player might be free in his choices, but how the crowd of WoW players would react is determined within some high percentage of propability.

You cannot blame a crowd for acting like a crowd. Since a crowd acts predictable, the blame is with the developers who need to be able to predict the behaviour of their crowd of players as part of their job.

In this case it would not even have been hard to predict player behaviour. A lot of bloggers wrote about the unwanted consequences of some past decisions of Blizzard developers.

On a related note:
I am not even certain that the EJ cookie cutter speccs are perfect to beat WoW. In fact, I am pretty sure they are not. I wrote about that in May.

Gronthe said...

@ Pai: A skilled player can be a great benefit to any team, even if he/she isn't min/maxed out 100%, and may even be the best despite it all...and have fun. Glad to see your guild has a lot of people who enjoy fun their own way. :)

@ Nils: Thank you for your insight. You are right in that crowds are predictable, and to that degree I blame the devs for creating an environment that promotes the behavior they are now trying to eliminate.

Perhaps the best way to sum up my sentiments is this: I am making a call for MORE individuals to search their own behavioral patterns and take a stand against the environment. Leadership! If there were more individuals who were also GREAT LEADERS, then there would be more crowds following the leaders in spite of the environment the devs created.

Predictable never equates to predestined, not in life and not in games, therefore I can never blame the devs 100%. Did they mess up? Of course, all I'm saying is we need more individuals to do their part to lead crowds (sure, they may be small compared to the whole, but it'll be something) into a belief system of performance that doesn't include GS/Achieve, etc.

Thanks to everyone for stopping by and taking a read (and sometimes commenting too). I do appreciate it.