Seasons Change

04 May

Seems the time of year for changes in play habits.  Not too suprisingly, Tobold has decided to put WoW back on the shelf a while.  Huzzah to him.  Doesn’t matter what it is, if its not something you are enjoying, its time to take a break.

I’ve been hitting Eve hard for a while as our WoW group had been on hiatus.  Now that its back on and we all seem to be hitting on most cylinders, its pretty darned good.  Eve seems to be my during the week game and WoW is back as the weekend game with the group and some altage and side activities outside of normal sanctioned group activity.  Its been a while since I’ve found myself sucked back into WoW.  Mrs. P is a big part of that and she’s been stuck on a project that has prevented a lot of casual, mutual play.

I really value that time and the shared experience, so if Mrs. P is on a restricted play budget (or I am for that matter), we tend to curtail our mutual activities.  Its no fun having perpetual “oh I already did that [yawn]” conversations.  Its much more fun to explore and discover things together.

I can feel a little distance creeping into my Eve play of late.  The irony of Eve is that you can’t just brute force your way through.  Time based skill training is the great mitigator that will meter your ability to engage in certain play.  This is good.  It can also be a bit grating at times.  If you push too hard and you find yourself up against protracted skill training schedules, it can be hard.  I’m at a point where my next set of self-directed initiatives will require both a modest amount of isk which will take a bit of time to earn and ideally a couple of weeks to complete training.  Patience in Eve is a virtue.  Time to idle back a bit.

Our little WoW group has taken a few breaks, some by design and some by cirumstance.  Our first static WoW group went from 5 to 4 and then finally to 3 when burnout and frustration made Mrs. P and I take our first major break.  I remember it distinctly.  We refer to it as the “incident’ (Of course, we refer to almost anything as the “incident” in our house if for no other reason than to add some intrigue and a sense of excitement to the mundanities of everyday life (real or virtual).  There is the grocery store “incident” and the workplace “incident” and actually any number of game-related “incidents”…).

We had capped at 60 finally– having done so on New Year’s Eve 2005.  Several months later when all that remained of our core static group was ironically a trinity of tank, dps and healer, the wheels came off.  The irony of massively multiplayer games these-a-days is that they tend to be centered around two modalities of game play– the Soloist and the Progression Guild.

WoW and other games have tried to maximize their audiences by largely catering to the limitations of the solo gamer.  This is not necessarily a good thing(tm) or a bad thing(tm).  The Soloist can largely progress through the game without the often frustrating dependency on the timely presence of other players of dubious quality.  The Progression Guild player is largely a Soloist writ large.  The Progression Guild is a meta soloist swapping in players like so many pieces of gear optimized for a role or a task to master group and extended (i.e. raid) group content.  Nonetheless, the individual parts are largely fungible and are often interchanged with like or similar classes.

We, however, adhered to neither paradigm and were a small static group– and by the time April 2006 rolled around were less than the quantum of 5 players.  Most of the true solo content had been exhausted.  At the time in WoW 1.0, Soloists were running PUGs for 5 man instances or as 8 man raids of several of the then-end game instances:  Scholomance, Stratholme, Lower Blackrock Spire and Upper Blackrock Spire.

WoW PUGs were bad then too.  However, if you gritted your teeth a bit, you could almost stand it.  Set gear dropped randomly from the end bosses, so 8 people was optimal (one of each class, so no competition) and 8 people tended to almost assure a successful run.

Almost I say.

So we were three and not one, one and one.  We liked playing together.  We used Skype among ourselves.  More organized guilds tended to use Ventrilo or Teamspeak, WoW had no native voice and few Soloists adopted voice.  Target marking wasn’t yet in the game.

The eco system worked quite well for either of the two extremes– many PUGs consisted of lots of soloists of widely varying degrees of knowledge and expertise united only by the coincidence of necessity and opportunity.  Likewise, the bigger guilds could organize runs regularly for their membership and fill it up with whomever of the appropriate class was available at the time.

As a healer, I had the opportunity to join in a few “guild runs” which needed an extra healer.  They tended to be well organized, the players reasonably disciplined and generally knew what they were doing.  They had played together or had iterated on the content to the point where everyone knew the game plan.  It was instructive to see how it was done and quite frankly, in many of them, they probably would have done fine without me.

3 of 5 is an odd number.  4 of 5 is a guild run with an extra.  2 of 5 is basically a coincidence that 2 guildies are in the same PUG, but PUG it is at that point.  3 of 5 is particularly difficult.  3 couldn’t “carry” 2 others nor could we completely dominate strategy and tactics.

So it was during one of these 3+2 runs where the wheels came off.  It doesn’t even bear examination because all bad pug groups end up like this– the group wipes repeatedly, recriminations are exchanged and the group is abandoned.

Now, was a time when it was considered SERIOUS to bail out on a group in the middle of an instance run.  Yes, even in WoW.  You didn’t start one or join one unless you were in it for the duration.  So it was SERIOUS that folks were abandoning a run.

That was the first clue.  It was SERIOUS, except it wasn’t.  It was SERIOUS because it had stopped being fun a long time ago.  It was SERIOUS because there were no personal relationships to salvage or mantain which would claim primacy over some poorly socialized pixelated representation of human relations.  What we really enjoyed– sharing the experience of exploring new content together– had ceased to be present in the game yet we kept playing.

Step away from the computer.  Its a hobby, its a game, its even a lifestyle, but if the negative is outweighing the positive, step away from the keyboard.  Change is good.

I remember I went to the far side of the spectrum for a while.  Oblivion found its way on to my hard drive, but great game though it was, it lacked the living breathing essence of a massive game (with all the good and the bad).  I even managed to time it to get in on the very early stages of the third telling of A Tale In the Desert.  Several Diablo clones also found there way into our house.  Not the same.

Four or five months later though, the old itch returned.  It wasn’t an itch for WoW per se, but it was for the sense of common social space and shared experience we had had with our small group.  Ultimately, we came back to WoW with the same core group with some modifications– we added long time friend Wil, the Ancient Gaming Noob and were forced by circumstance to structure a play budget that would work with parental duties, work schedules and responsibilities and ultimately would still allow us to have a shared experience without going bonkers.  It was a fundamental prerequisite to the formation of our little group and likely the smartest thing we’ve ever done.

Life had put us on a restricted WoW diet and by and large we’ve all respected the fundamental “we’re all in this together” ethos and stayed largely +1/-1 level of each other throughout.  Since September 2006, our group characters only have about 25 days /played or about 4.5 hours per week on average.

Even so, RL necessities have required that we shelve the group from time to time.  Our tank moved from the west coast to the east coast.  Our priest and mage moved several states and all those other things which are far more important than gaming have taken precedence from time to time.

After surviving a few hiatuses of indeterminate length, we all know at this point that its never likely The End but rather a break to ensure that we can all retain balance.  Its much better together.

Must be something about the seasons, particularly spring and fall, that seem to foster changes in the mix of gaming.  Change is good.  If you’re not having fun, yer doin it wrong, so change it up.

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Posted by on May 4, 2009 in Eve Online, World of Warcraft


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